As the number of TV's lesbian characters has seriously dwindled over the past year, Stargate Universe, a show that falls into a genre notorious for pushing social and political boundaries, is poised to make history with it's premiere Oct. 2. It's fitting that Ming-Na, the actress who voiced Disney's only real proto-feminist, the warrior Mulan, steps into Stargate Universe (SGU) as Dr. Camile Wray, marking the Stargate franchise's --Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis preceded SGU-- first gay character and the first Asian-American lesbian series' regular on television.
A theatrically trained actress, Ming-Na, 45, really landed on fans' radars with her role in 1993's Joy Luck Club, based on Amy Tan's beloved novel. She subsequently amassed a loyal fan base doing battle in the ER for six seasons as Dr. Jing-Mei "Deb" Chen.
Now, Ming-Na steps into Camile's form-fitting space uniform a force to be reckoned with. A no-nonsense International Oversight Member with a background in human resources, Camile faces off with the men aboard Destiny, including Robert Carlyle's brilliant scientist Nicholas Rush.
While Camile tangles with the men away from home, SGU has provided her with a lesbian-life partner back on earth, who'll be played by 24's Reiko Aylesworth. And rumor has it, fans can expect a fleshed-out relationship replete with some on-screen intimacy.
As rumors on the Web go viral in a matter of minutes --which Ming-Na, a self-confessed "Twit-aholic" well knows --a leaked plot point about her character in a tryst with a man, sent the lesbian community into a tailspin anticipating the old "lesbian until she meets the right man" stereotype television has so often utilized. But as Ming-Na explains, things aren't always what they seem and SGU hopes to do justice to her character and to the gay community at large.
SheWired: First off, congratulations on the role of Camile Wray. The lesbian community is really excited that you are playing what amounts to the first lesbian character in this franchise, on Syfy and one of the few on basic cable or on network television this season.
Ming-Na: That’s what I keep hearing. Is that fact correct?
I think you and Jessica Capshaw on Grey’s will be the only full-time lesbians on television.
Right, but that’s network.
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Exactly. So you are in a league of your own.
Wow. I feel very privileged to carry that crown. (laughs)
I hate to admit this… I was not up on my Stargate history.
That’s okay. Neither was and then I was hired.
Bad sci-fi lesbian that I am, I was not aware that this franchise had been going since 1994. What sort of research did you do to get into this world?
I had known about Stargate but I never really watched too many of the episodes. I would be channel surfing and Beau Bridges would catch my attention or maybe some action sequence…and I watch a little bit of it but I wasn’t a follower.
When my agent called and presented this project to me I immediately rented some DVD’s. I was a little hesitant because I am a sci-fi fan and I used to enjoy that genre of sci-fi where it’s a little campy and a little bit light. But I’m more into heavier sci-fi… I had a conversation with Robert Cooper (Stargate writer and producer). I’m not in a lot of the pilot episode – I mean Camile Wray isn’t— and I was a little hesitant about that, but he expressed a real desire to develop a strong female character who would be in contention with the military, with the men in her life, battling out decisions, ideas and power struggles. And that really interested me. And the fact that she would also have a side to her that you might dislike at first, where she kind of comes on as someone who’s ambitious or very strong…
Well, strong women are often not appreciated at first.
Especially one with a title and some power. I didn’t want her to be disliked. That’s why they wanted to hire me to, I guess, bring some warmth to the character. And I didn’t find out about her being a lesbian until I was hired actually.
Is that something you think developed over time and out of the character’s development or did they just drop it on you last minute?
According to Brad Wright (executive producer), in writing the series – I don’t know if it’s a risk for Syfy as this juncture – but they were taking so many risks with SGU as far as changing the look of this amazing franchise, as far as developing more character-driven storylines, they felt that there was a void in representing the gay community and they wanted to take on that task. So they approached me about that and my eyebrows when up. I was like “Oh, wow. I’ve never played a lesbian before.” And that fascinated and challenged me.
You know, I always want to do something I’ve never done before – like kiss a girl (laughs).
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Rumor has it that happens this season.
That does happen.
Have you already shot that?
And Reiko Aylesworth plays your love interest. She’s stunning. And she was on ER as well…
She was. Our paths didn’t cross. I was a fan of her work from 24 and she did a few episodes of Lost. I just thought she would be lovely, nurturing… She has that kind of nurturing quality about her. And we just hit it off right away.
You may not want to comment or admit it but I have to say you make a hot looking couple and that’s always a plus!
Oh! Well, I’m really excited. They wrote some really lovely scenes and I think the lesbian community should look forward to viewing it, especially on Syfy.
Syfy has previously featured characters that could have easily involved lesbian storylines. The main character in Painkiller Jane and of course Starbuck on Battlestar Gallactica.
Well, Starbuck was buff but I think she was definitely not a lesbian.
Although, everybody hoped she’d go there.
Absolutely…the short hair, the buff cut arms, the woman warrior.
You got it down it down. You know what the girls like.
For me, I didn’t want to stereotype my character. This isn’t something that she wears on her chest like a scarlet letter, like the big ‘L.’ This is just part of her being and that was important to me that she was a well-rounded character above all else.
You say Camile bumps heads with the men she works with, which must be different for you since your character on ER continually went toe to toe with Laura Innes’s Kerry Weaver…
Oh…That’s right! (laughs)
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She tortured your character.
It’s interesting, “Deb” Chen, was always so unsure about what she really wanted to do. I think we all have that in us where a lot of times we doubt ourselves and we don’t know if we’re choosing the right path. And with Camile, that’s an area that I hope becomes stronger once she realizes what she is capable of doing.
I think when she was following a very clear path within her world on Icarus Base. This is what you do, these are the things you do to get ahead and become a high-ranking officer in IOA. When suddenly that’s all stripped from her --the rules of how to succeed, and she’s left without her support system and her partner, suddenly she has to make decisions on the fly and follow her own instincts about what to do, there’s a lot of internal struggle for her.
A lot of times she might appear like she’s confused or lost. I’m hoping as the show progresses, and if we get a second and a third season, that those vulnerabilities and securities really develop into where she has greater confidence.
Let’s hope it pans out and that you and Camile get to stick around for quite some time!
I hope you all like the character.
I have confidence we will. You said you are a sci-fi fan. In case you aren’t aware, by taking on this role you are really tapping into two wildly loyal fan bases: sci-fi and lesbian. Lesbians , if we like what we see, are so loyal. I guess I just want to be the first to tell you that you might want to prepare yourself for screaming women whenever you make appearances for Stargate.
Really? (laughs) Oh, how should I dress?
However you like. But I have a sense you’re already in because you always seem to work with such integrity, and I think people really like that—you know, without sounding like I have an inside line to the entire lesbian community.
Thank you so much. I don’t know if your site Twitters but I’m a Twit-aholic and if you can put it in the article, my Twitter is Ms. Ming-Na.
I love it. It’s got some alliteration.
We live in such an isolated world when we work and I’m from the theater, so it’s so lovely to get such an immediate, instant response. I can’t wait for the show to air and then find out from my Twitterbugs what their thoughts are. If I can hear back from the lesbian community, that would be just lovely.
I’m sure you will get feedback now that you’ve suggested it. I have to ask, what sort of things have you been Tweeting?
I like to pass on funny links and of course stuff about SGU…some of the reviews. It gives me goose bumps. I’m s
o excited. I Twitter with my costars so we keep in touch with each other because I fly back and forth between Vancouver and LA. I throw a couple of little contests and here and there.
Getting back to SGU, did you know there had been a bit of a controversy when Camile's consciousness is exchanged with another character and she ostensibly has sex with a man.
Did I know??? That’s what’s so great. It’s instantaneous. Otherwise we live in this vacuum. I hate when any leaks get out because I love the element of surprise.
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Why do you think people responded so vigorously to that plot point in which outwardly, it seemed as though the writers copped out on the whole lesbian aspect of you character?
There was a lot of misunderstanding, because when you get a breakdown, it’s never what the end product is—at all. It was an eye opener because I did see the passion from the lesbian community.
I wish my own community, the Asian-American community, would be as passionate about stuff. I really respect that. I think the producers were definitely aware of it and then they tried to correct some of the wrong impression that was made based on the breakdown. And to me, it was just truly an incredible episode. I’m kind of nervous about just watching the outcome –not what the reaction is – because I think once you watch it you’ll realize that it’s about what we take for granted and if that is stripped away from us, how do people deal with what they’ve lost?
And that’s sort of the crux of our show. All these people stranded on Destiny have lost everything except the shirt on their back and all they’re left with is really facing themselves. There are a lot of great morality plays to be dealt with. It’s about life. It’s about all of us. We’re so distracted by the computer, by Twitter…by television, shopping, and all this bombardment of commercialism, but if you take it all away? Who are you really?
Ming-Na, Alaina Huffman, Elyse Levesque
And sci-fi is such a great format for exploring these basic issues. Going back to sci-fi flicks of the fifties, even the most outwardly over-the-top films had some underlying political, social or moral message underlying.
Exactly. And that’s why I’ve always loved sci-fi, because it takes you to these other imaginary things that people can do, but the bottom line is that it’s about humanity. It’s almost like children’s’ books that I read to my kids. When you strip away the cartoons, the animation and the cute simplistic words there’s really a lesson to be learned.
While we are talking about sci-fi in general, do you have a favorite science fiction film?
Star Wars is my ultimate favorite. Loved Alien. Sigourney Weaver ROCKS! Did you see how she looked at the Emmys? Isn’t she amazing
She looked absolutely stunning.
She was my idol for a long time…that strong female character. I’m hoping down the line they’ll have Camile doing some action sequences.
That would be great! Did you have anything else you’d like to mention about SGU?
I just hope we find our fan base who will love our show for our entity because it really is. Stargate is the star of the show but ultimately it’s our own baby!
Stargate Universe -- a two-hour movie event--premieres Friday, Oct. 2, at 9 p.m on Syfy.