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Interview

Stargate | The Heart of SG-1 – An Interview with Teryl Rothery

From Stargate SG-1 to Smallville, from Caprica to Eureka, we covered it all with one of science fiction’s most ubiquitous actresses – Teryl Rothery.

She may not boast a title like the “Grand High Empress of Sci-Fi” (that’d be pal Amanda Tapping), but prolific actress Teryl Rothery—with almost 200 screen credits—has been one of the busiest performers in the genre. Although she started out as a dancer (fans treasure clips of her cavorting with Tom Jones in a TV special), Rothery moved into voice-over work, then screen acting 35 years ago, and hasn’t had time to look back since.  

Rothery’s career can be roughly divided into three periods. First came the Lifetime Channel era,  in which she graced lurid titles such as Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? (1996). Currently, she’s in the  Hallmark Channel phase, appearing in the likes of period drama When Calls the Heart.  

In the middle would be what might be termed her SciFi Channel years, when got her biggest break. She parlayed a stunning supporting turn in The Outer Limits episode ‘Trial by Fire’ (S2, Ep9) (written by Brad Wright and directed by Jonathan Glassier, co-developers of Stargate SG-1) into 76 appearances (counting clip shows) as the beloved Dr. Janet Fraiser on Stargate, on which she also portrayed the Asgard scientist Heimdall (only once, alas).  

Stargate | SG-1’s ‘Rite of Passage’, Adolescence, and Cassandra’s Two Moms

In the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Rite of Passage’, Janet Fraiser and Samantha Carter confront a coming-of-age story rooted in fairytale archetypes.

Together with close friend Don S. Davis’ General George Hammond, Rothery was the heart and soul of Stargate Command, and, for some viewers, the show never quite recovered from their joint departure at the end of Season Seven. She has remained a popular fixture of the convention circuit and recently teamed up with Tapping in Chicago to reprise their ‘Terlene and Minnie’  shtick for a delightedly surprised audience. 

But Rothery’s career didn’t skip a beat, post-Stargate and she seems to get busier every year, as well as continuing to put her distinctive yet versatile tones to good use as a voice artist, starting with 1986’s Dragon Ball: Curse of the Blood Rubies and continuing through Amanda Panda in Netflix’s Chip and Potato. Fresh off a murder-mystery shoot in Winnipeg, Rothery took some time out of a hectic schedule to speak with The Companion before reporting back on to work on the Virgin River set. Whether (as is often the case) or not she’s playing a doctor, Rothery is always on the case. 

We’re speaking with actress Teryl Rothery, currently appearing in Virgin River on Netflix and in The Good Doctor. She’s been in 77 episodes of Stargate SG-1, three seasons of Cedar  Cove, and 13 Christmas-themed movies. What’s with you and Christmas? 

I love Christmas. I love the warm-and-fuzzy and I love happy endings. 

Teryl Rothery out of character with short blonde hair and floral shawl.
Teryl Rothery herself. She began her acting career as a teenager, giving her an impressive array of credits that we couldn’t even begin to cover. If you ever want to do a book, Teryl – you know where we are! | Courtesy of Teryl Rothery.

You’ve had an incredibly prolific career as a screen actress without leaving your hometown of Vancouver. What does that mean to you?

It’s very convenient, especially when you’re a single mom who’s got a young daughter who’s now a teenager. But it’s a testament to the fact that we have beautiful locations here in Vancouver. There are beautiful locations everywhere but I think it’s that and the fact that we have had some phenomenal crews over the years. There’s been so much filming here that it just made sense that there’s a lot of great experience in the city. So we’re very blessed and we’re all happy. 

Your first onscreen credit was in a 1987 episode of Stingray. What do you remember about that? 

Being extremely nervous, as that was my first. We shot that in a set of a plane… just being so excited and that I loved it, knowing that this for sure was what I wanted to do. I’d been doing it awhile in theater and whatnot but it was a whole new experience to not have the audience and to have to learn and adjust, to know where to hit your mark. I can still picture myself on that plane. It was great. 

I first saw you in 1994’s Andre. Is it true that you shouldn’t work with children and animals? You did both in that movie. 

[laughs] The little girl that I worked with, Tina Majorino, was beyond brilliant, just an amazing little talent. And yes, there is something to be said about the animals, especially seals. They can be very flatulent. We all know what seals eat and they can also be quite potent, shall we say? But oh my gosh, I had the best time getting up close and personal with a seal. 

Dr. Janet Fraiser smiles. She is wearing a white coat with rank bars on the collar and a blue blouse beneath.
Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) makes her debut in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘The Broca Divide’ (S1, Ep5) when SG-1 encounters a civilization divided into two cultures, the Bronze Age Untouched and the animalistic Touched. Contact with a pathogen turns the former into the latter, and it soon begins to infect members of SGC. | MGM, 1997.

I’m going to ask you to play analyst for a moment. You’ve just done a Stargate convention in Chicago, 25 years after your first appearance, in ‘The Broca Divide’ (S1, Ep5). Why is that series so enduringly popular? 

Because you had, in my opinion—and obviously other people think so too, as far as coming and wanting to chat to us about it—it was such an amazing cast, an amazing crew. The writing was strong. We had well-rounded characters and relationships. We had the special effects. I have goosebumps when I think about it. It was just a phenomenal show to be on all those years. And, as I’ve said before, it’s the gift that keeps on giving because of what you just said. That we get to still go, and get out and meet the people that supported that show, and that brought it to the success that it has achieved over these years.

That’s the beauty of the sci-fi genre: The fans are amazing, so loyal, and they follow your work regardless of whether it’s in the science fiction world or wherever it is. It was the best thing that happened to all of us. 

Teryl Rothery

Your character, Dr. Janet Fraiser, has been a role model for many young people. What is it about Janet that made her so inspirational? 

Janet had that feel because the majority of her work was done at the base. She did go off-planet every once in a while but there was something about her that … she was maternal. They would go off and do the exploring and bring back whatever disease was there, and there was a trust that they knew they were going to be taken care of by Dr. Fraiser. So there’s that familiarity of somebody who’s going to soothe, somebody who’s going to protect, somebody’s who going to make them feel better.

I think that’s why they embraced Janet and she also had compassion: She was a doctor, still a scientist, in the service. She was a major in the Air Force but there was such a mothering instinct in her that I think people just felt safe. 

Teryl Rothery
Samantha Carter and Janet Fraiser both look concerned. They are in the infirmary and the lights are low.
Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) and Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) keep watch over Cassandra in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Rite of Passage’ (S5, Ep6). We wrote a great piece of analysis on this episode and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should… | MGM, 2001.

You have amazing onscreen chemistry with Amanda Tapping. When did the two of you realize this and when did the writers start writing to it? 

Right from the get-go. When Fraiser came in on ‘The Broca Divide,’ how Rick played that part in that episode where he said, “Use me. Experiment on me,” I thought he did such a  phenomenal job. It’s still to this day one of my favorite episodes. But there was just this bond that happened with Amanda and it’s just continued. It’s really a blessing and they wrote that.

It was great for Sam Carter to have another woman there with her—and look how they grew to co-parent Cassandra as well. 

Teryl Rothery

As a ubiquitous actress in science fiction, what about the genre so fascinates us, do you think? 

The fact that it’s entertaining, that it’s using the imagination and going somewhere where you just want to explore. I remember even when I was little, I’d look up at the stars and moon and  think, “Oh, I just want to go there!” It’s that living through imagination and having it quit before you want to scream. That’s the beauty of it. The same as science fiction books. It’s all there.  There’s so much detail—and character. 

Because you’ve been in so many genre series and films, I’d like to play a word-association game. What’s the first image, person, or thought that comes to mind when I mention the  following titles: 

The Outer Limits 

Stretching the imagination. Totally going beyond. Everything can happen now. I loved that about it: Future meets present. 

The X-Files 

Ooooh, scary, exciting. 

Jeremiah 

I feel warm and fuzzy. I think of the cast. And fear and excitement. I got to do one of my own stunts, which I loved.

The Collector, my single favorite of your performances, in which you play a medium who’s sold her soul to the devil. 

Oh my gosh, I loved that. Fun. Laughter. Challenge. Digging deep into that emotion and pain and loss. 

Linda the Realtor is standing in the living room of a home talking to someone off-camera. She is wearing a brown jacket and turtleneck jumper, and holding a leather document file.
Teryl Rothery as Linda the Realtor in the Dead Like Me episode ‘The Ledger’ (S2, Ep2). Something of a cult show, Dead Like Me was created by Bryan Fuller, now best known as co-creator of Star Trek: Discovery, Hannibal, and American Gods. | MGM, 2004.

Dead Like Me 

So much fun. Chain-smoking realtor. 

The Dead Zone 

Oh, that’s a flash from the past. I’m getting snippets of all these different areas that we shot in. Exciting, again. Fun, laughter. Anthony Michael Hall would make us all laugh. 

White Noise 2: The Light 

Oh, Nathan Fillion, Nathan Fillion, Nathan Fillion, that’s all I have to say. Nathan is just this fun,  fabulous actor, a nice human being. And again, it was scary. How fun. 

Whisper 

Dark, twisted. Playing with that evil character but at the same time the little boy, Blake Woodruff, just being so brilliant. Behind the scenes tap-dancing with the cast. Joy. 

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales 

Oh, Bruce! Being with Bruce Boxleitner, who I just absolutely adore. Our paths have crossed so many times. Bruce was there for me at my very, very, very first science-fiction convention. Not knowing what to expect, not knowing what I was getting into, Bruce was there to lead the way and since then has played my husband, and of course, we spend three years together on Cedar Cove,  so a lovely friendship. 

Eureka 

Oh my gosh, Colin Ferguson. Laughing, fun, joyful, and sad. Challenges, too. Bringing the tears on cue. 

Smallville 

What a joy, as well. Annette O’Toole, John Schneider. I just loved being on that set and with those people. So much kindness and talent.

Olivette has a bloody nose and is looking resentfully up at someone off-camera. She is heavily made-up with curled blonde hair and a red dress.
Teryl Rothery as Olivette in the Supernatural episode ‘Paint it Black’ (S10, Ep16). Rothery previously appeared on the show as a medical examiner eight seasons and almost a decade earlier in the 2007 episode ‘Heart’ (S2, Ep17). | The CW, 2016.

Supernatural 

Yummy working with those two boys, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Everybody, all these  years later, still call them “the boys.” Such a phenomenal show. Getting to play this—I mean,  I’ve been on it a couple of times—the one that I loved was playing the queen of the witches and being turned into a hamster. Now, who can say that they have been turned into a hamster in their career? That’s so much fun. 

Bates Motel 

The experience of working with this major music artist, Rihanna. It’s a whole different ballgame,  working with such a big name like that, such a big, huge star personality, and finding her absolutely just as glorious and beautiful in person—kind as she is to the music world. It was a  treat. And working with the director, Nestor Carbonell. I’ve been able to work with him before as well. Lovely, great experience. 

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Arrow 

Again, loved the cast. Fun, loved being able to play an arc over the years, popping in when I can with that character. Just being a part of that universe as well is just a treat, an absolute treat. 

Caprica 

Oh, warm and fuzzy again. What a great cast and a great show, and we all wished it had gone on beyond just one season. Phenomenal actors to work with. It was a joy to be a part of that. 

And you had to make out with Esai Morales

[Ironically] You know, sometimes you just have to do what you’re supposed to do. And I gotta tell you guys, he is so lovely. We had so much fun, with him in particular but with the whole cast. They were just great. The directors, the crew, it was a great time. 

You’ve been involved with virtually every major science fiction franchise except Star Trek.  But you did get to work with Sir Patrick Stewart on Masterminds. How was that experience? 

Ah, that gives me goosebumps because I remember telling the girls in the hair-and-makeup trailer how I had such a mad crush on him, and just loved his work, everything he’s done. They  were all excited when he was coming in and I’m so boisterous and chatty, and as soon as he  came into the trailer they were all excited to see what I was going to do, so they went, “Patrick,  have you met Teryl yet?” And I just went [makes a tiny, timid wave] “Hi.” And that’s it.

That’s all  I could say. Tongue-tied. I couldn’t even speak to him, you know when you’re just in such awe.  It was terrible. I mean we worked together, we sat together but I was just so shy. I used to be a real shy kid but never that much since I was a wee one.

Teryl Rothery

You were Andie MacDowell’s second banana on Cedar Cove but you weren’t in the pilot.  How did that wonderful role of Grace Sherman come to you? 

It was again another gift. I was again attending another convention, in Australia, and they had  shot the pilot and my agent said, “They want to audition you for Cedar Cove.” “I already did,” I  said, “That’s gone now.” “No, they want to audition you again.” So I said okay. Here I am in my hotel room. Fortunately one of my best friends was there because I had my daughter with me.  She lives in New Zealand, so she flew over to spend some time and sort of look after Londyn for me when I was doing my work. So she was there in the hotel room with us. Londyn was sleeping. I said, “I’ve got to do this audition. Will you read with me and tape me?” She said, “Of  course.” So there she is with her cell phone and I’m sitting at my desk, and we do the audition,  and we sent it. That was a chore, figuring out how I could send this. Thankfully she’s in the IT world, so she’s like, “Relax, I can do this.” So she sent it off and it was over a two-week thing.  We were touring in different parts over there, so I guess it was while I was still overseas that I  got the e-mail saying, “You got the job.” 

I know we all miss it. That was one of my favorite characters ever. I loved her chutzpah and her sense of humor, and the relationships she had with Olivia and all of the characters. There’s always a hope. You can’t help it. You always hope that—oh!—maybe they’ll revisit it in a movie or something, right? But again, you just go “Okay.” You can’t hold on to that forever. You’re just grateful for the three seasons that we had because it was just an absolute blessing and a joy to work on that show. And just a phenomenal character. I loved Grace. 

I’m curious about a couple of short films that you’ve done—The Fisherman and his Wife with Tom McBeath (Harry Maybourne from Stargate SG-1) and Coffee Diva—what can you tell us about them? 

I love doing short films. There have been others. They’re a joy to do because it’s from the heart.  Everybody bands together and devotes their time, and volunteers. Fisherman and his Wife, that was years and years ago [1998]. That was fun because it was a period piece, set in the Fifties.  There was probably no dialogue: It was this artistic piece. It was just great to work with Tom, a  joy. Coffee Diva was through a special effects artist, Geoff Redknap, who was wanting to get into directing. He and his wife did this project, so there was a bunch of us from the film world. So we all knew each other, so it was a fun get-together, hanging out together in a hotel room because we shot in a couple of days. But as our hair was done, makeup was done, wardrobe, everything,  you just had to make do but it turned out beautifully and was so much fun to place this diva, very high maintenance 

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In your theater work, what roles have been your favorites

To be honest, there are so many. The musical theatre world is where I started, so the dancing in West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Bye Bye Birdie, and Anything Goes. That would be one of my absolute favorites, playing Bonnie. I loved playing that character. I was obviously never the ingenue. I was always the character role in theatre. I lose track of all of it but I was in Titus Andronicus. It was a dark role, Tamora, queen of the Goths. It was one of the darker Shakespeare plays. Something by Edward Albee … A Delicate Balance. That sums up for sure my favorite. It was a phenomenal character to play [Claire] and the interesting thing was I was originally cast in another role, and as the rehearsal process was going on it was a real quick decision on the director’s part: There was a swap of the roles and I took the role that I ended up getting nominated for in that play. She was just this piece of work, fighting her own demons and the animosity between her old sister and her sister’s husband. It’s a brilliant play and to be able to play that part was an absolute gift. Thank you for reminding me. 

Lastly, is Terlene in the house?  

[in a thick Southern drawl] She’ll come in a little bit but it’s mostly when she’s with Minnie. She needs her sidekick with her but Terlene’s always there when she needs to be pulled out. 

If so, which Stargate SG-1 star’s hair would you most like to do? 

Oh, I think she’d like to take on Teal’c. [laughs] Makes my job so much easier. Those were good times. I miss that.

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David McKee works as a business reporter and editor by day in order to feed his science-fiction habit on nights and weekends. He caught the bug way back when Space: 1999 was airing. He lives in Augusta, Georgia, with his wife and their cat.

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