Rachel Luttrell is an African-born Canadian actress currently best known for her role as Teyla Emmagan on Sci-Fi channel’s Stargate: Atlantis. In broad strokes, Teyla is an alien warrior who, through her contact with the Atlantis team from Earth, takes on an active role in the fight against the Pegasus galaxy’s Big Bad: The Wraith. It would easy to write her off at the Atlantis version of SG-1’s Teal’c, but from the very beginning Luttrell impressed viewers with her range and skill. Teyla quickly became a fan favorite as Luttrell proved her to be much more than the simple “Noble Warrior” archetype.
Before landing the role on Atlantis, Luttrell earned her geek cred guest starring on Charmed and Forever Knight. Before that she studied ballet, piano, and voice in some of Canada’s most prestigious arts institutions. She’s a triple threat–but Atlantis fans are glad she stuck with acting.
With the show coming to an end, we asked Jacqueline Gross to talk with Rachel about Teyla’s evolution, how the show has changed both character and actress, and her plans for the future.
Jacqueline Gross: What are some of the ways you think Teyla has changed from season 1 until now?
Rachel Luttrell: She’s matured, definitely. She’s come into her own and she’s become stronger. Her journey has become quite broad and extensive. She’s become a very grounded and stronger just because that’s what the situation has called for. I mean just the fact that she’s had a baby definitely has caused her to change.
JG: Speaking of Teyla’s son, we saw the difficulty that Teyla had in deciding between her family and her work on the team, is that something she will continue to struggle with?
RL: I think that she’s pretty much made up her mind at this point, not so much where she’s going to put her focus but where she’s going to divide her energies. She’s still part of the team. She’s come to terms with the fact that what she does is dangerous, that when she goes out on a mission it might be the last time that she’s sees her child but she’s determined to make the galaxy a safer place, especially for him.
JG: How do you think the changes within the cast have allowed fans to see different sides of your character?
RL: With each character and each personality, Teyla responds in a different way. We have Robert Picardo this year as Richard Woolsey. Woolsey is kind of prickly, but Teyla is inclined to give people the chance to show their true nature. She shows compassion towards him, and in the end, he’s won her over.
Last season we had two new female characters, which for me as a female actress has been great. I’m sad that we lost Dr. Weir. And shifts in casts have been bittersweet. But Jewel [Staite] has been great and same goes for Amanda Tapping.
Last year we had the episode with Teyla and Dr. Keller on their own and Teyla was in the position of having to really care for this other person who didn’t know that much.
With each new character, Teyla adjusts and takes them as they are.
JG: Personally, Missing was my favorite episode from last season.
RL: Awww, thank you! Missing was a really trippy episode for me. I was three months pregnant, and nobody knew. There were the fight scenes and so much going on so I really appreciate that.
JG: Ideally, where would you want to see Teyla go next on her personal journey?
RL: Throughout the past few years, I’ve grown with Teyla, and the shifts she’s undergone have been reminiscent of my own life. I’ve become a mother as well. I think I’d like to see her have a little more fun (laughs). I would! I’d love for her to have some fun and light in her life. To have a moment where she has a sigh of relief. A moment to relax and show a softer side.
Me: It always seems that she’s on edge.
RL: Always on the edge!
Me: My friends and I talk about the fact that we’d love to see Teyla and Rodney go off and have an adventure and everyone else shows up when they’re mopping up.
RL: Really? That would be great! David [Hewlett] and I talk about that too. I love working with David and we don’t get to do it very often. We’re in scenes together but we don’t really do a lot of one on one work. So thank you for that.
JG: What character on the show, other than Teyla, do you most connect with?
RL: I connect with all of them in different ways; even with Woolsey there’s a connection. I mean, Teyla leaves Torin with Woolsey and trusts him to find the dad. With each of the team members she has a personal kind of affection towards them.
After Missing she has an affection for Dr. Keller. Dr. Keller rises to the challenge and she knows about the pregnancy first. And of course with Sheppard there’s a kindred spirit connection between them that’s been there from the beginning.
With Ronon there’s the great relationship that they have since he’s also from Pegasus. And the only one to share any connection to what she’s gone through. But they all are important to her in different ways.
JG: What would your dream project be?
RL: My dream project… wow, I have so many but I would love to do a feature. Clearly, I love theater as well as singing and dancing. But right now, I’m focusing on features and it would be really great to focus on something different that Teyla. She’s difficult because she has this really ethereal side but I’d love to be able to play someone a little more closer to home (laughs).
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