AMANDA TAPPING: Life & Work
Amanda Tapping is best known for her acting roles as Samantha Carter in the series Stargate: SG-1 and as Helen Magnus in Sanctuary, although, in the last few years, she has also made a name for herself as a successful director in several well-known television series such as Supernatural or The 100.
She was born in Essex on August 28th, 1965, and her family moved to Toronto when she was three, where she subsequently spent her childhood and adolescence. In 1997, after being selected for the role of Samantha Carter, she settled down in Vancouver and has been living there ever since. She is married to Alan Kovacs and has a daughter, Olivia B Kovacs, who was born on March 22, 2005. Puppy Riley joined the family in July 2018. Riley is a Bouvier/Mastiff/Rottweiler/Boxer mix.
I’ve been lucky in my career that I’ve generally been cast as smart strong women. Sam and Helen have both been gifts for me as an actress. So much depth and courage. Sam is a great role model for many reasons. She helped make Amanda a stronger person.
~ Amanda Tapping, Q&A at Joseph Malozzi’s Weblog, 2009 ~
Amanda had always wanted to become an actor, an interest that grew when she had the opportunity to play Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz in fifth grade and Oliver in Oliver in sixth grade. At 18, after graduating from high school, her father decided to take her to a theatre audition for the role of Alais Capet in the play The Lion in Winter thinking she would not get the part and that the experience of rejection would discourage her from pursuing that path. Amanda succeeded, however, and that audition became the definitive moment for her decision to pursue a career in acting.
After studying drama at the University of Windsor School of Dramatic Arts, she was involved with several stage productions and spent four more years studying theatre.
Amanda Tapping’s original plan had been to work in theatre only, on Broadway as well as London’s theatre district, but she found an agent who convinced her to audition for a Tim Hortons’ commercial. She got the role and the experience sparked her interest in television, so she then took a film acting course in order to learn about the differences between stage-acting and screen-acting. That Tim Hortons’ commercial would be the first of several commercials, followed by guest roles in series and movies like Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Disney’s Flash Foward and Golden Will: The Silken Laumann Story.
The income from the commercials helped her to finance a comedy troupe she co-founded together with two other women she had met through auditions. The title of the troupe, Random Acts, was inspired by the adage “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” and the troupe performed feminist-based political satire. They performed all over Toronto at Comedy Festivals in plays like On Becoming a Woman. The group disbanded after several years, as a result of its members moving to different places.
In 1997, she landed the role of Samantha Carter, an Air Force officer and scientist, in the series Stargate SG-1, a role that she continued to play for the next 12 years in the series as well as in spinoff series (Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe) and movies (Ark of Truth, Continuum).
From 2008 on, she played the lead character, Dr. Helen Magnus, on the series Sanctuary, which ran for eight episodes on the web and four seasons on television.
Since then, she has starred in movies such as Taken Back: Finding Haley and Random Acts of Romance, appeared in series such as Motive and Killjoys, and had recurring roles on the series Travelers and Supernatural.
Her acting work has been recognized with several nominations and six awards.
I know I sound like Pollyanna here, but you’ve got to find joy in what you do, otherwise there is no creative process, and no one feels creative around you if you don’t create a joyful atmosphere. When you feel joy on-set, those around you will respond, and when you’re invigorated and joyful about the experience, people are, too. I’ve been really blessed that I love what I do, and there’s a joy in being around fantastic people to do it with.
~ Amanda Tapping on directing, interview at SciFi and TV talk, 2014 ~
During her time on Stargate Amanda quickly developed an interest in the technical aspects of filmmaking. She observed what each department did and had the opportunity to shadow Martin Wood on the set of Jeremiah. Already in season 3 of Stargate SG-1 she asked for the opportunity to direct an episode, she was given the chance only in season 7, though, when she directed the episode “Resurrection”. That earned her a Leo Award nomination for Best Direction. Three episodes in her own series Sanctuary followed.
After Sanctuary, her directing career came to occupy center stage, as she was looking for new niches, given the relative scarcity of roles for older female actors.
She has since directed over 50 episodes of series like Supernatural, Travelers, X-Company, The 100 and Blindspot as well as a movie, a short film and part of a music video.
Activism within the Film Industry
Amanda has been engaged in the promotion of the local film industry, participating, for example, in the PSA #SaveBCFilm.
She speaks out about gender-related struggles and the discrimination faced by women in the industry (and in society more generally), such as the pressure to live up to certain beauty standards, as well as the obstacles to achieving certain positions or being given equal opportunities in a field that is still heavily dominated by men.
The film industry has been traditionally run by men, financed by men, controlled by men and there are certain positions that are “considered” traditionally male and I think busting those stereotypes and starting to break out of that ideology that it’s a man’s job is vitally important. […] If we don’t change what we see on sets and in the executive realm and in the show running realm and in writers and all capacities of this industry, if we don’t make ourselves more visible, then there’s nothing to aspire to. So, you can only aspire to what you can see so it’s important to me that people see that women can take these positions.
~ Amanda Tapping, video interview for Reel Women Seen, 2016 ~
She has also talked about the difficulties she has personally faced as a woman in the film industry, as a female actor and as a director, and about the responsibility that comes from her characters, as well as herself, being seen as role models, particularly by women and girls. Since she feels that it is really important for women to support and empower each other, she has mentored women, tutored in the program Flashforward, allowed others to shadow her while directing, shown others the green screen technology on Sanctuary, done masterclasses, for example with the Women In The Director’s Chair program, taught at The Actor’s Foundry and more. Currently she’s on the board of directors of Crazy8s.
Asked what advice she would give to young actors, she has emphasized various points over the years, including the importance of following that path even if other people tell you that you can’t do it, the advantages of performing on stage even if you aim for a career in the film industry and the importance of continuously taking classes.
Humanitarian Work and Environmental Activism
I just have always felt like – specially in this industry – there’s so much excess, there’s so much privilege. And… I felt guilty. I was like ‘Wow, I’m really… I always wanted to do this and now I’m doing it and I’m SO lucky.’ And I think I’ve always – even as a kid – I always saw somebody in trouble or somebody, you know, downtrodden or marginalized people in society and it broke my heart. And so, I think I still have that sort of empathy gene – and my daughter definitely has it. And I just… you can’t ignore it. You sort of listen to your heart and go, ‘Okay, well, my heart is telling me I gotta do something.’
~ Amanda Tapping, interview at Peace Fund Radio, 2013 ~
When asked what she’d like to be remembered for at a convention in 2013, she has answered “Sanctuary for Kids.”
Sanctuary for Kids was a charitable organization founded by Amanda Tapping together with Damian Kindler and Jill Bodie while she was working on Sanctuary. Its aim was to support small charities that work with children by using the power and enthusiasm of fans. Sanctuary for Kids supported charities in Vancouver (Watari), Nepal (NOH, NGN, Asha Nepal) and Haiti, and raised over one million CAD over the course of ten years. It closed at the end of 2018. Amanda keeps supporting the charities privately and is additionally supporting the Obakki Foundation now. She also did the narration in the documentary “What It Takes to Be Extraordinary”, a documentary about Nepal Orphans Home.
For years Amanda has also been supporting several other charities and organizations such as the Coast Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Pollution Probe, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. She sits on the leadership council for the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Amanda is a spokesperson for UNICEF, which involves visiting local schools and educating the pupils about the struggles children in some countries face, such as a lack of clean water and medical supplies.
She has participated in further projects and fundraising/awareness events, for example the PinUps for Pink calendar, supporting the fight against breast cancer, the fundraising event Once Upon A Cure, raising money for therapy research for Mucopolysaccharidosis, and V-Day, where she performed in The Vagina Monologues to help end violence against girls and women. In 2018, she performed in two events, one to raise money for a boy fighting cancer and to increase awareness about bone marrow donation, the other to raise money for two charities supporting children in critical situations (VACFFS and KIND).
Amanda has been in PSAs aimed at raising awareness of environmental issues. She has been driving a Tesla Roadster since 2011. Her concern for the environment also influenced her production work on Sanctuary where she aimed to make the show as green as possible by encouraging the crew members to use stainless-steel water bottles, to bring their own plates and cutlery for lunch and to recycle, among other things.
For her activism she has received awards such as the Women of Vision Award, the YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award and the Jules Verne Award. She was also ACTRA’s 2015 Woman of the Year.
I would hope that I’d be remembered for being kind. For being a good daughter and a good wife and most importantly a good friend. I’d like it to be remembered that I loved passionately and that I loved a lot and that I cared.
~ Amanda Tapping, article at Frontier, 1998 ~
Amanda Tapping is well-loved by her fans and highly spoken of by people who have worked with her.
Those who meet her are touched by her kindness and grace, by how she genuinely listens and cares and by how humble and down-to-earth she is. At the same time, she is very entertaining and funny, making convention panels and the experience of working with her even more enjoyable.
She continually emphasizes the importance that kindness, respect and empowering others have for her in interviews and at conventions and stresses how she tries to make her corner of the world better, for example by undertaking a small project where she aims to smile at a stranger every day, in order to make someone’s day better and to spread love.
Success is not a bank account, or a job title. Success is waking up in the morning and looking forward to that day. Success is putting your head on your pillow at night and being proud of how you lived that day. Success is choosing a path, or a partner, or a job, or a hobby that makes you smile and that makes you laugh. Success is living a life with compassion and joy and genuine wonder and giving that compassion, joy and wonder back to others. Always, always give back. Believe me when I say it is the most satisfying and meaningful thing that you will ever do.
~ Amanda Tapping, convocation speech at the University of Windsor, 2014 ~
She has spoken openly about very personal topics, such as her deceased brother who had a disability and experienced bullying as a kid, in order to raise awareness about the importance of being kind to people who might seem strange and act differently as well as to people who struggle with mental health issues. In 2013 she talked about her miscarriages in an interview in order to break down the taboo around that topic and to empower other women who have gone through a similar experience. More recently, she’s talked about her own struggles with self-esteem and self-worth in Farrah Aviva’s social impact campaign Bite the Bullet.
Hence, next to being a role model on a professional level to people aspiring a career in the film industry, she is also inspiring on a personal level.
Podcast with Amanda Tapping at YVR Screen Scene, 2019
Bite the Bullet: Amanda Tapping for Self Worth and the MeToo Movement, 2019
Bite the Bullet: Amanda Tapping for Self Worth – Bonus Video, 2019
After Stargate at GateWorld, 2018
The unstoppable Amanda Tapping at YVR Screen Scene, 2017
Women Behind Canadian TV: Amanda Tapping at The TV Junkies, 2015
Convocation Speech at the University of Windsor: Spring Convocation Session 3, 2014
Meet Amanda Tapping, Director/Actor/Producer & Contest Mentor at Women in Film and Television Vancouver, 2014
Amanda Tapping on directing Continuum and Arctic Air at SciFi and TV talk, 2014
Interview about Sanctuary for Kids at Peace Fund Radio, 2013
Amanda Tapping finds Sanctuary at Myria, 2014
Amanda Tapping on coping with miscarriage at Westender, 2013
Tapping into Grace at Westender, 2013
Stargate’s Sam Carter Speaks at IGN, 2008
Interview with Amanda Tapping at IGN, 2004