Close Up With Jewel Staite

Having been introduced as Atlantis‘ new chief of medicine in season four, Doctor Jennifer Keller quickly established herself as an essential member of the crew – so much so that for season five, she returns as a regular. The addition continues Stargate‘s tradition of adopting cast members from other respected science fiction franchises, since the role is played by actress Jewel Staite, who first became popular with audiences as Firefly‘s bright and breezy mechanic, Kaylee.

Doctor Keller isn’t Staite’s first Stargate Atlantis appearance, either, although anyone seeing her earlier role may have struggled to associate the two. She played Ellia, the half-Wraith youngster in season two’s ‘Instinct’. Keller, however, gave Staite a chance to work without the heavy prosthetics, and after appearing as a semi-regular character in season four, the actress reports that she jumped at the chance of signing on for more screen time.

“They called in the fall and told me that we had been picked up for a fifth season,” recalls the actress, “and once contract negotiations began, they asked if I was willing to come on for more time. It’s a great show, a great cast, the hours are great… It’s a very easy set to be on but at the same time, there’s all these extreme situations that we’re playing out every week, so it’s kind of fun. You never really know what your character is going to go through next, so it’s a bit of a challenge as well, which is good. It shoots in my home town and I’ve bonded with everybody – I definitely wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I was happy to keep exploring the character.”

As is to be expected, this season viewers will see a lot more of Keller. If season four was an initial sketch of a character, season five is a chance for the writers to add further detail and color to her personality. Viewers had already learned a little about her rather isolated years as a young adult in ‘Quarantine’, her resilience under pressure in ‘Missing’, and her overall brilliance as a medic. Now though, Keller will get to show other sides of herself.

“Keller has definitely become more comfortable with the group,” Staite reports. “There are more scenes with Sheppard, which I really like because I didn’t have a lot of scenes with him last year. There’s been more development with the Ronon situation and the McKay situation, but of course, it being Atlantis the stakes are high and we’re in constant danger! There’s been lots of stunt work. So it’s the same old, same old, really,” she laughs.

Keller has also been seeing a lot more of life in the Pegasus galaxy so far, as Staite reveals that the Doctor has found herself going out as part of the team.

“I got a new leather jacket to wear off world,” the actress enthuses, “They’ve given me this off-world outfit and solidified me as more a part of the team, so that’s really cool. She’s still a little bit of a ‘fraidy cat,” Staite laughs, “but what I really like about Keller is that she seems to react the way a normal, ordinary person would in a death-defying situation. I think there’s a lot of humor and a lot of realism in that. But she’s learning and she’s definitely becoming used to being in dangerous situations and stepping up to the plate a bit more. So, slowly but surely, she’s getting the hang of it.”

Staite also hints that the season will hold a few shocks as far as Keller is concerned. “There’s a surprise coming,” she teases. “I think Keller’s definitely going to take the audience by huge surprise! She has some skills that we don’t know about – and that’s all I’ll say about that!”

This year will also see the return of Carson Beckett, whom the Keller character was designed to replace following his untimely demise. Staite couldn’t be happier to welcome both Beckett and his alter-ego, actor Paul McGillion, back to the Stargate Atlantis fold.

“Paul and I have a ton of scenes together. He’s actually one of my closest friends, which is just coincidental and really strange, so it’s been really cool to have him around. He’s coming back for a few more, too, so I’m excited about that. I think Keller and Beckett had a friendship of sorts previously, but it hasn’t really been established how well they knew each other, how close they were or how they met, even. But I think it’s quite clear that they’ve known each other for a while. Now that the producers have realised how close Paul and I are, they’ve maybe started to build that into the storylines a little bit more. We have good chemistry on screen and off screen, so I think they’re just working with what they already have.”

It’s clear that the actress is very happy to be a part of the Stargate Atlantis cast. Joining an established line-up that’s been together for a few years can be difficult, but Staite appears to fit right in.

“I feel very comfortable here,” she agrees. “I feel like I know everybody very well and they know me very well. I just feel trusted and confident in letting loose with what I can do. I don’t second guess what I’m doing and I don’t worry about whether my choice about something in a scene is going to be wrong, because I feel like I now own this character, and it’s a great feeling. It’s hard to grasp that when you’re just starting a job, especially since you’re essentially replacing somebody who was very well loved in the fandom. It was a little touch and go at first, and I was feeling like the new kid – but that was good because I think Keller felt the same way, so it just seemed to work on set and feel very real. I don’t feel so new anymore. I just feel like one of the gang, which is awesome.

“We were saying yesterday that this season seems very relaxed – everybody’s very laid back, for some reason. I can’t believe we’re already on episode five. That’s just crazy, it’s really flown by.”

Interview  courtesy of the Official Stargate Website