It’s a well-known mantra in show-business – never work with children or animals. Both can be unpredictable, stubborn and unruly. But then, the Stargate Atlantis producers have never been sticklers for the rules, and why should they be when there is talent such as that of young Canadian actress Jodelle Ferland to be tapped? Ferland previously appeared as an incarnation of Vala’s Ori-manipulated offspring Adria, and her performance stuck in the mind of writer Martin Gero.
“We wanted to do a funny one,â€ he explains, of the episode’s beginnings. “We thought we hadn’t really done a funny one in a bit – the one that we thought was going to be a funny one, ‘Miller’s Crossing’, turned out to be not that funny. It was pretty dark. So we were just tossing around ideas, and I think it was Carl [Binder] who came up with the genesis of it, which was McKay and Sheppard are conned into taking this little prince kid out on some sort of adventure and it all goes bad. I quickly decided that it should really be a princess, because there would be way more beats to play with a little girl. When you write scripts like that, that are so dependent on a guest star, it really helps to have someone in mind. I would never have written this show if we couldn’t have had [Jodelle]. Because in television you don’t have an enormous amount of time to cast. So before I even started writing we booked Jodelle.â€
It was unusual for casting to happen so early on in an episode – when Ferland’s agent asked for a copy of the script, the producers had to explain that as yet, there was no script. But Gero knew that the only way to pull off an episode with such a youngster as its focus was to know who he was writing for, and be confident in her abilities.
“That was my idea,â€ he says, of the early casting. “We’re writers and producers here, so whenever I have a good idea I have to think three weeks down the line to when the script is going to be finished and how I’m going to produce it. A lot of the time when its early on and you’re writing, you’ll do something as a writer that really shoots yourself in the foot as a producer. It’s kind of like slapping your future self in the face! So I just thought ‘If I’m going to do this I want to know if I can find the girl.’ Jodelle was so great and I feel like we didn’t really burn her in [Stargate SG-1]. She played such a small role in the series but it was such a great one, a memorable one. And so that’s how it started.â€
Once the lead guest actor was in place and locked down, the writers had to finalize just what her role was in the story. As with all Stargate Atlantis stories, the writers and producers sat in a story meeting and ‘broke’ the story together, deciding just what was going to happen.
“It happened pretty quickly,â€ Gero recalls. “I think we broke that story within a day, just all of us in the room. Then I just sat down and wrote it. Originally, Ronon was in it and it was the three of them. But then we ran into some problems scheduling-wise. We needed Jason for ‘Outcast’ and for ‘Quarantine’. We had some days left over where it was just him and Keller that we had to shoot during the body of that episode, which was just going to be impossible. So at the last minute I wrote him out, and I think it worked for the best. There’s magic in that number three.â€
And, crucially, the writer had no problems whatsoever creating perfect dialogue for his young lead… “It came surprisingly easily.â€ he laughs. “A lot of the women that work in the office came up to me and were like, ‘Wow, you really nailed the voice of a 13 year old girl!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, thanks… It’s a special talent of mine!’â€
Despite his confidence in Ferland’s abilities, Gero was relieved to confirm that his instincts had been right when the episode had finished shooting.
“With these episodes, it’s always a kind of leap of faith effort,â€ he explains. “You’re writing an episode that rests all of its success on the shoulders of a [young] girl. That’s a kind of terrifying thing to do. Also we were shooting out in the middle of nowhere for this one. There were some great vistas that we don’t usually get, especially at the beginning of the episode, because we drove an hour and half outside of Vancouver. It was just a very difficult episode to produce. So when you sit there in the editing room and you see it all play back, you’re like, ‘Okay, we might have something here…’ That’s always very rewarding.â€
So rewarding, in fact, that Gero loved the idea of seeing Harmony again at some point. It would, for a start, give him a chance to use some of the material he dropped in writing Ronon out of the final version.
“We have no ideas yet,â€ he cautions, “but it’s something I think we’d all like to do. It’s a great character, Jodelle’s great and certainly David and Joe really loved working with her. So it’s definitely on the back burner, and we’re trying to figure out what we can do with it. But let’s see how the fans react first!â€