Actress Jewel Staite is no stranger to the odd things that a performer can be asked to do as part of a science fiction television program. After all, she not only starred in Firefly, but her first introduction to the Pegasus galaxy was as a young Wraith. For the episode ‘The Seed’, however, she found herself in an even stranger environment, as Jennifer Keller finds herself infected with an alien organism.
“I knew there was going to be prosthetics involved, which made me nervous, because that means a lot of early mornings!â€ says the actress with a laugh, remembering her initial reaction to the script. “But they assured me it wasn’t going to be too bad. And I actually really liked the fact that I was able to go to a dark place. That was fun – I haven’t had to do that too much with Keller yet, and that was exciting for me.â€
It wasn’t just the emotional challenges of portraying Keller being taken over by the organism, however. Though the prosthetics that she had to wear were actually minimal, that was only a fraction of what was needed to transform her into the organism’s host.
“There was a bit on the face and neck, but mostly it was this cage-like apparatus that they built,â€ she explains. “So they would open the cage, and I would get into the bed and then they would close the cage and drape a very heavy latex blanket of vines over me. And then they would take a few tendrils from that blanket and glue them to my neck and face. It was really odd, actually, filming those scenes, because I was completely immobile. I was literally glued to the bed. So it was just this bizarre way of working, because I watched everybody run around and set up the shot – and I just lay there, for hours! It was surreal. I feared it was going to be really uncomfortable, but it wasn’t at all – it was quite nice! I remember in the operating scenes, when Beckett’s trying to operate on me, I kept falling asleep,â€ Staite laughs, “because I was so relaxed! There was really nothing I could do, so I just went to this Zen place, and kept zoning out! Luckily I’m not a snorer or that would have been really bad!â€
Being stuck in the ‘cage’ of vines, however, also meant no breaks. But ever-stoic, the actress came up with ways to keep herself going through the four days of filming in that set – with the reluctant help with one of her cast mates!
“It took about 20 minutes to re-set every time I got in and out, to unglue the tendrils and then re-glue them once I got back in. So I just figured, ‘You know what, I’m not going to drink too much fluid this week, and just hope for the best,â€ she says with another laugh. “I just sat there and waited it out. It wasn’t too bad. I think it was about 4-5 days in total. It wasn’t too bad, just a really surreal way of working. I remember David Hewlett was feeding me at one point. I couldn’t move my arms, and the fruit tray came out and I wanted a piece of fruit. David standing their next to me, eating, and he said, ‘No. I am not feeding you’. And I just gave him a look,â€ she laughs again, “and lo and behold, he’s feeding me pineapple while I’m sitting under prosthetics. It was just totally bizarre!â€
Keller’s situation in ‘The Seed’ is a desperate one – trapped and helpless, the young doctor can do nothing but wait for the inevitable to happen.
“She’s a vulnerable character, and I really like playing that in her,â€ Staite reveals. “I enjoy portraying the reality of a situation. I always try to portray Keller’s feelings and reactions and emotions like any normal person would in these really dire, scary situations. So I approached it as if it was her worst nightmare and she couldn’t wake up from it – and then eventually she starts to lose her mind and knows she is being taken over by this dark force. So it was a lot of exploring to do with such a new character, but at the same time, I just love to do that kind of stuff. It’s juicy acting! So it was fun.â€
Having to act those heavy scenes without the use of her body was a real challenge, however. After all, part of Keller’s affliction is that she’s paralyzed, and yet Staite still had to find a way of showing her terror – and her pain.
“The acting was all in the face,â€ she agrees. “I had a conversation with the director about that. I knew she was paralyzed – there’s actually a line of dialogue where she says, ‘I can’t feel anything – I can’t move.’ We decided that maybe she would be able to move her head, but literally everything from the neck down was totally immobile. So it was tough –especially in the finale scene, where Sheppard shoots and takes out this entity. To portray the seizure part of that just in the face was tough work. And it was actually really exhausting, even though I was lying down. But it was a good acting work out!â€
Another element of the episode is the little frisson between Keller and the ever-irascible Dr. Rodney McKay. Staite is happy that the writers have chosen to explore their relationship a little more, even so early in the season.
“I really like that McKay is sort of letting his guard down, and everyone’s going, ‘Why do you care so much about what kind of state she’s in?’â€ says the actress. “I think it shows that he definitely has feelings for her, and especially through the later episodes of season five things definitely start to heat up in that department.â€
Of course, it’s also great to see Dr. Beckett finally released from his stasis – and ready and willing to help the Atlantis team with their problem. Staite has been off-screen friends with much-loved star Paul McGillion for many years, and says that working with him in ‘The Seed’ was particularly great.
“It was awesome,â€ she says. “Paul and I had a conversation about how long Beckett and Keller had known each other, and I think that Beckett was a bit of a mentor for Keller. I think she holds him in high regard, and has a lot of respect for him. Certainly at the beginning of that episode, she felt such a responsibility for saving him, and knew he was counting on her. And then when he reciprocates that in the end, I think it shows the mutual respect that they have for each other. And since Paul is such a good friend of mine, it’s a riot working with him. I love it. It’s a lot of fun and we have a really good time.â€
And, having put so much effort into the filming of the episode, what does Staite think of the finished episode? She hasn’t seen it!
“To be honest they never give us actors copies of the episode,â€ she laughs. “We just move on and keep filming – so I’m going to be watching with the viewers, I’m really excited!â€
News article courtesy of the official Stargate Website