Have you ever wondered where you’ve seen Jewel Staite before? chances are you were a fan of the critically-acclaimed Joss Whedon TV series Firefly. Jewl Belair Staite played the ever-cheery mechanic Kaylee Frye in the popular sci-fi western.
While the critically praised show was cancelled after just one season, its huge fan base helped ensure the cast would return for a 2005 big screen movie called Serenity. (In fact, Jewl visited Wellington in 2006 to plug it while she was a guest at the Armageddon Expo.) Now she’s back on TV in the Prime series Stargate: Atlantis – part of the most successful sci-fi franchise in television history. She plays Dr Jennifer Keller, the new chief of medicine in the city-world, replacing actor Paul McGillion, aka Dr Carson Beckett.
“Actually, the first time I was on Stargate: Atlantis was not as Dr Keller,” says Jewel, 26. Hidden under extensive prosthetic makeup in the season two episode Instinct, she played a Wraith child called Ellia “a Wraith with a heart of gold! She was raised by humans and all she wanted was to be loved and accepted.”
As fans of the show will know, Ellia could not suppress her true evil genetic nature, snapped, and “they had to shoot her”, Staite recalls. Her success in the role led to her being written in as show regular Dr Keller.
The Canadian, who has been acting since she was 6, says it has been a refreshing change of pace. “Lots of people are used to seeing me as Kaylee from Firefly, who is very innocent and naive and sweet. She’s loving and kind of wears her heart on her sleeve. And Dr Keller is not that. She has secrets. She is reserved. She has a lot of anxiety about her. She doesn’t really warm to people right away. But she also has that same quality that Kaylee had, where she’s pretty much friends with everybody,” she explains.
“That’s fun to play because I get to interact with all different types of characters on my show.” Viewers will get to see her character truly come into her own in tomorrow’s episode, Missing. “Keller and Teyla [Rachel Luttrell] are kidnapped and they go through this really perilous situation. And she has to step up to the plate and let go of her ‘fraidy cat instincts.” Staite hints that as the season develops there’ll be romance ahead, too.
“She develops a little bit of a bond, I’ll call it, with Ronon (Jason Mamoa). And then she starts to develop a really, really strong friendship with McKay (David Hewlett). So there is dating in space? “Wow, I hope so! Gets lonely out here,” says the actress, who has been married for five years.
“I think Keller knows in her heart that she should not pursue her relationship with Ronon but it’s just this physical attraction. But she has a very intellectual attraction with McKay. And I think she understands him in a way that a lot of other people don’t.
When he’s complaining and going on and on about how terrible things are and how sick he is or whatever she just kind of has a way of dissipating that in him and going ‘okay, you know what, Rodney? Just chill out.’ So yeah, with those two she’s eventually going to have to make a choice.”