Christopher Heyerdahl has been part of the Stargate: Atlantis universe since the pilot, ‘Rising’, though in his current incarnation, the Canadian actor is completely unrecognizable. Heryerdahl was originally cast as Teyla’s Athosian confidant and advisor Halling, who moved to the City along with his son. Gradually, however, we saw less and less of Halling, and when Teyla’s people moved to the mainland, he disappeared completely. Heyerdahl’s work commitments had meant he’d been unable to return… but in season three, he got a call from the producers, asking if he’d like to come back. This time, however, he wouldn’t be appearing as Halling – but as a Wraith.
“James [Lafazanos] decided to go on and do other things,â€ explains Heyerdahl of the original actor behind the Wraith make-up, “and they wanted to see what different direction they could take with the Wraith. With James stepping away, they said, ‘Okay, what can we do with this guy?’ They approached myself and another guy to basically step in and take the job, so that when I wasn’t available he could do it and when he wasn’t available, I could do it.â€
Heyerdahl reports that with the opportunity to play the Wraith came the chance to show something a little different to the predator viewers had come to know.
“I wanted to make my own mark with the character, to try and take it a step further,â€ he says. “But the thing is that I walked in and the script was already there. It was such an easy thing to do because what I had in my mind fit so easily into what that script was. It’s a full, three-dimensional character. Previously the Wraith had been two-dimensional, if that. They were just these nasty beasts that go around killing people. There wasn’t a lot going on aside from that. The first episode that came along was ‘Common Ground’, which was taking the Wraith in a completely different direction. It wasn’t so black and white, and you understood a little more about the nature of the beast. So, [it was] a new approach. You get to meet this guy who has been sitting in a cell for years and years and years, being tortured. You have a soul that is much more complicated than what we’ve been seeing in the past. That challenge was something that you can’t resist. It was a delicious character to get your teeth into. I brought what I had in my head, but the stuff was already there. So it was just a wonderful combination of where they wanted to take the Wraith and what I wanted to do myself. I think he’s certainly had a bit of time to reflect on himself and the nature of pain. It’s a fascinating thing because he’s with his quarry. They work together to get the heck out of the place, knowing that ultimately they’re going to end up on the other side of the fence. There’s no way they can be friends. It was a fascinating thing – to jump into those shoes was great.â€
Of course, one of the major aspects of the Wraith is the forbidding make-up that goes with the role. Besides the physical stresses involved with such complex prosthetics, there is also the sheer amount of time it takes to apply and remove.
It means that you’ve got to get up four hours before everybody else and get in there with all these crazy special effects make up folks,â€ Heyerdahl laughs. “They’re a wild bunch! I’ve never encountered a group of people that are so ready to go at 4 o’clock in the morning! They are wild people to hang out with. It’s like a party room! You walk into the room and these guys are in there, smiles on their faces, the music is cranked… “Sit down! Let’s go!â€ It certainly makes it a lot easier to deal with. So by the time we get on set – everybody’s just walking in and we’ve been there for hours. When you’re doing a prosthetic character, it’s a big time commitment. But the people that you’re working with every day, that are sticking pencils in your face for hours, are a blast to deal with, so it makes it a lot easier.â€
The other odd thing about prosthetics as severe as those Heyerdahl wears to play the Wraith is the fact that there are people in the world that have worked with him, several times but have no idea what he actually looks like. Though the Atlantis crew is largely the same since the pilot and know him from his days as Halling, there are those that have joined since that didn’t have a clue what Heyerdahl really looked like.
“There’s a certain anonymity that goes along with it,â€ agrees the actor. “Some of the directors in this season I had never met before. I was shooting something else in Montreal, and was flying in – they’d rush me to set, rush me into make up, I’d be in make up for 3-4 hours and then go on to set. The same thing would happen day after day, so I would never get a chance to sit and hang out with the guys, and they never knew what I actually looked like. Which was pretty funny. One day, Jason’s mum was on set – and this was an amazing [statement about] a mother’s instinct – I’m hanging out with Jason for all these episodes and he has no idea what I look like. I had met his mum, and we were talking on set while I had the mask on. We wrapped up, off I go – they take off, Jason’s driving along in his pink Cadillac and he’s got his mum in the passenger seat. Everyone’s honking at him as they’re driving along – I mean, how often do you see one of these beautiful pink caddys driving along? They’re all waving. I was driving along in this old car, and I drive by and I start screaming at them and shaking my fist. His mother just smiled and waved. And Jason’s looking at me with his eyebrows up, as if to say, ‘That guy, I’m gonna get that guy…’ and his mum says, ‘Oh no, that’s the guy that plays the Wraith’. She’d never seen my face. But she knew in a second!â€
Interview courtesy of the Official Stargate Website