Tony Amendola Interview ~ The Fandom.Com

Chase Interviews Tony on thefandom.com
This interview transcribed by Jamie (thanks!)

Date: 12/20/04 
Time: 5:00pm PT

(Please note, ... indicates a pause, fading out, or an interruption)

CM: Hey everybody thanks so much for joining us. I am really excited to have our special guest here today. He is an actor of a favorite show of yours and also has a very rich history in television and in film. I have a quote for you that I think that everything I know about Tony describes him. Turk Pipkin said, "He's the kind of actor you always dream will say your words. A man of infinite moods, Tony moves from light to darkness and back again so that I wish I could be his full-time scribe, whispering everyday lines into his ear just to hear him make me sound so brilliant." Ladies and gentlemen we are so pleased to have with us, Tony Amendola!

TA: Thank you.

CM: Thanks so much for coming here.

TA: Thank you for asking.

CM: Absolutely. I know that your history is so rich, and that's the kind of history and work record that has these people, both in front of the camera and behind the camera and also innumerable fans out there, just loving and respecting you. We've got a lot of Stargate fans out there. Are you guys out there and have some questions? ... (of course we're all whooping and hollering the loudest we can in the chat room) :) Okay, tell me, you've been a recurring actor on Stargate for how many years is it, I guess maybe...7 years?

TA: Oh god... going into my 8th.

CM: Going into your 8th year...

TA: Ya, if I come back. <laughs>

CM: <laughing> I'm sure you will. For those of you who've wondered when Tony's going to be back, you've got 3 episodes coming up.

TA: Ya, 3 episodes that haven't aired, that are very, very interesting episodes. That should be coming up I believe... probably in April or May is my guess. Toward the end of the arc.

CM: Great. Well talk to us about your experience on Stargate. First of all, start at the beginning. How did you get cast in the role?

TA: Well, I'd just returned from Mexico and I had been doing the Mask of Zorro and I was lounging around over July 4th thinking, "Oh isn't nice just to lounge," and my agent said I have this sort of interesting audition. He said, "It's for this odd sort of alien warrior, he's 133 years old," which is... give me a break. And so I looked at it and it was great fun and it was something... I like variety, so I had just lived in 19th century Mexico and I thought okay, this will be fun. Although it's contemporary, I'll go to a different world. And I went down and met Paul Webber and did the audition. And luckily from Zorro my hair was actually sort of long, because I didn't know about the cap or anything like that. And it went very, very well. They called me and I went and I was very pleased to find out, no prosthetics. Which you know I was pleased but I was also sort of somewhat insulted. <laughs> No. But they assured me these beings were in great shape and that Bra'tac was in great shape.

CM: Great shape you are.

TA: From then on the only other thing about that is that you know as an actress so many people will say, "oh, oh this is a recurring role". Generally what that means is they're trying to get you, cheap. They're going to pay you in the future. And I'm pleased to say Stargate never said that. I went up to do a guest spot and as often happens that when there's no sort of premeditation or any sort of looking toward the future, you just do your job on the day. It turned into a terrific guest spot and I've done probably, I don't know... 28, 26, and it's really been a gift. And I love the people up there, they write very well for me, and basically I'm paired a lot with Christopher Judge and the fans that know Chris realize what a delight that is. 

CM: Know and love him. That is so fabulous. So as far as the role of Master Bra'tac, there are so many things that you've gotten to do and so many triumphs that speak so allegorically and historically, for all the reason I think sci-fi fans love sci-fi. What is it about playing him specifically that's been a rich experience for you, as far as the character?

TA: Well... it's primarily that he's got a lot of sides to him. He has a very gruff warrior side, a no-nonsense side, a fight-to-the-end side. He's also got a real spiritual side and in fact he is a teacher, and he's got this very, very odd sense of humor. And primarily... with the actors I've had a chance to work with, again going back to Chris, what made it very easy because you go up there, the wheel hasn't been invented, this guy does not exist. And you're going up there, it's difficult as you know, as a guest spot...

CM: Oh sure, the character's a clean slate, you've got to prove yourself.

TA: Right now, immediately.

CM: Or not come back.

TA: Right, or not come back or not feel good about the work. And I went up and I remember I had two nice things that happened. One of which is a gentleman named Mario Azzopardi was directing, who is this wonderful director, very, very crazy and very, very big. A big gentleman. You know you're going up, you're working on the character throughout, on your way up to do the role you're looking around trying to make some sense of it, your antenna is sort of up. And Mario, I realized, was actually a very good image for Bra'tac because he was just... there was something bold about him. And then primarily my key relationship was with Chris Judge, and ever so often you go on and you meet people, there is no connection. You know you're either married to them or they're your favorite student, or there is something and you have to fabricate. Somehow I was able to look in Chris' eyes and we just sort of smiled and just sort of nodded and I knew it was going to be okay. I knew, it was easy, he was available. And you know TV's very quick and so that's a huge, huge benefit to have people that you like. Amanda Tapping is terrific, because she's a little bit like the welcome wagon.

CM: Is she? Interesting. How is that? 

TA: She's just very available to the actors. She's very interested. We're guys, we go about doing our stuff and every so often I think the mother comes out in her and the warmth, "How are you doing, is everything okay?" 

CM: Which should suit her well these days.

TA: Yes, exactly. But that was very helpful.

CM: That's great. And I know Chris, he's just a good human. It helps so much when there's an actor that you're working with that doesn't have an ego like that, you know...

TA: Well I'm not saying he doesn't have an ego.

CM: Oh I know what you mean.

TA: I'm saying he is a lot of fun and very, very good. We all have egos.

CM: That's true, that's true, but not when it gets in the way. 

TA: Absolutely.

CM: You know what I mean, not one that prevents you or he from doing your job... And all the other wonderful themes that you have. Bra'tac and Teal'c with the father kind of thing, and now you're passing that along to Teal'c's son, how is that? What is that like for you? Are you a father yourself?

TA: No, unfortunately. I'm a godfather many times and I take an active part in my god children's lives, but we don't have kids. Hence I'm an actor, it gives me a lot of freedom.

CM: That's such a wonderful theme for people who are watching and listening to see that...

TA: You know, you get it where you can get it. I love that aspect of the story line I love the sort of parental figure, the sort of mentor figure. And what's been great is that when you do it long enough, it begins to change. That there are points that Teal'c was always very sort of deferring to me, and looking to me and nodding to me. And there was one great moment in an episode, I don't even recall exactly which one, I'd have to think... where Teal'c did something or took command in a certain way and I made a special point of nodding to him as the master. If he wasn't the master we were now at least equals. And with his son Rya'c coming up, having to go through the same battles with his son, the stubbornness of his son. When Teal'c is angry at Rya'c, inevitably, well it's funny. The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. And the same thing with Rya'c saying, "Well my dad is this, and my dad..." you know the kind of mediator. Although tough love, he's not always soft. He can get quite angry at Rya'c and Teal'c sometimes too. But it's wonderful.

CM: Now that you've come full circle with Teal'c you're there with that redemptive aspect.

TA: Absolutely. And the motion, particularly with Teal'c, of mentoring and then trusting enough to share what was the most intimate secret for Bra'tac. You know because he was operating covertly as a teacher of these elite warriors and then he finds one that he can share the truth with, which is the Goa'uld are not gods. And that rocks the world. Because it happens in the great episode, the great segment in Threshold.

CM: Threshold, your favorite episode.

TA: My favorite episode. Where Teal'c comes running back because he's been promoted, and he knows the truth, but now he falling. He's got the nice outfit, he got the new tattoo brand on his head, he's like almost, sort of in love with the exteriors. You know we stare each other down and say "That's not your life, if you choose that life line but that's not you, is it?" It's remarkable to have, the sense of questing for freedom, the sense of hungering for something that is so tangible... it's a weight that you carry around with you, it's really terrific. It's a nice arc and it's been great. 

CM: Absolutely. I know one reason that science fiction fans love the genre, I know one reason that I've loved the genre and respect the writing in it so much, is because of the allegorical nature of the story, for the most part. Where do you see this, if you would, in terms of what's going on in the world, what has gone on? Do you see any really strong obvious parallels, do you think this is something new or maybe there's something the writers are really trying to get at? In terms of political things, whether you subscribe to them or not. What do you think is the allegory here?

TA: Well, I can't speak for the writers but certainly the quest for freedom, the quest for a kind of justice in the world, and people being able to determine their own destiny. I mean it's not just pertinent to the 21st century, it will be pertinent probably to the 23rd century unfortunately. I wish those problems can be resolved.

CM: There are so many parallels we could draw and not just World War II but...

TA: Absolutely, there's World War II and the interesting thing, and that's one of the interesting things about Stargate, is often the allegory is not far, it's not futuristic, it's contemporary sci-fi which is really sort of wonderful. It's something I think that sets the show apart in a kind of way. The weapons that the crew of SG-1 use as often as not are real weapons. And they have advisers and anything that is cutting edge you'll see them use it. So they try not to cheat, obviously you do have to cheat a little bit. But I think there are parallels to everything that exists around the world. And I don't want to get into deep political things, I mean I certainly have my politics...

CM: Oh ya, just in terms of what the parallels might be in general. I have some questions from the fans out there if you would. Vulcan Priestess says, "Hi Tony. I think you're phenomenal as Bra'tac. Are there any aspects of your own character that you bring to your performance of him?" I'm sure, but tell me the similarities between Tony and the Master. 

TA: Oh God... stubbornness, silliness I'd like to say occasionally... kind of a belief in education and the belief in the importance of mentors. And still to this day a hunger, for experience and knowledge and to just somehow make myself and the world better. And somehow make life more enjoyable for us all. Luckily I don't have anything to fight for as radically as life and death as Bra'tac and Teal'c do.

  Tony Amendola Interview ~ Continues

CM: Well there you go. And in our way we certainly do all we can for thebetterment of the world, don't you think? Lets see, Sparklegem says, "Have you picked up any Goa'uld phrases that never made it in the final cut of the show?"

TA: <laughs> Ahhh...

CM: Any banter that you kinda wish you had been able to say or did say?

TA: Well there's a bible, a Goa'uld bible, and early on if they needed something you could fabricate something and we could use it. They get very careful. You have to stick to a certain format but every so often we would like to throw things in. Hasshak is a great word, one of the first things I called O'Neill...

CM: What does Hasshak mean, I'm sorry but... <laughs>

TA: <laughing> It can mean many, many, many things. Sort of means... it's a derogatory term you know, basically it's an a-hole in a  way. <laughs> It's also sort of calling into question maybe a person's masculinity...

CM: Okay, got it. Here's another one from Sparklegem, these are some great questions. Well, this in-depth, "Other than what we've gathered from the show do you know anything about what Bra'tac's political position has changed, and what his function was on Chulak as different developments with Apophis happened?"

TA: Initially... this is all back stories, it's nice that you ask this. Obviously he's from a warrior class and as we all know he was one of the best warriors. He was then entrusted the training of all the younger warriors, the best of the best, the elite of Chulak. You get the impression that there is these other camps going on and after they graduate from these camps, then are they sent to Bra'tac. It's a lit bit like Kill Bill, you know, a little bit. And at that point Bra'tac, it's sort of a covert thing, his realization. It's a troubling thing, he doesn't know who to share it with. And he finds this student and he expresses the truth to this student, at great risk because if you want to use the parallels to the past it's sort of like Nazi youth, where parents were exposed, etc. But he trusts that the truth might take in this person, and that person is Teal'c. And it does.

CM: What is it that you see in Teal'c? I mean I know there are several things but what is it you choose to see in him rather than anyone else? It could have been one of the others. What was it about him? 

TA: Well, it was the total package. And again this goes back to, if you had some sort of callow youth, sort of wispy... something like that, knowing Chris, this is what made it so easy that I believed. Incredible physical strength and prowess, incredible spirit, incredible intelligence. That package is not often found in an actor. That complete package there. Chris Judge as an actor has what he brings to Teal'c, so he made my job so much easier. He sees in Teal'c the possibility of change, he sees the possibility of revolution, the possibility of freedom, he sees all those things. One of the other things, Bra'tac is pressured by time because he knows this has to happen sooner rather than later.

CM: Because of the risk to the people?

TA: Because of the risk to the people, because I'm reaching sort of the arc of my life, although I lived...

CM: How long have you lived though...

TA: Right. Here's the thing, Junior's gone. You know who Junior is? Junior's the symbiote. [The Mean and Evil Symbiote ~ not to be confused with cute and cuddl,y warm and fuzzy me ~ Sel] Chris and I call him Junior, and actually O'Neill calls him Junior too. So he's gone and they've devised Tretonin, which is a drug that will sustain us. So I don't know how long I can live now...

CM: With Junior you'd live longer?

TA: Yes...

CM: But thankfully you've gotten rid of him.

TA: Although... no... this would be my last Junior. I didn't feel like I was an appropriate host nor did I want to have another Junior, I didn't, because I had seen the truth of what is was.

CM: That it enslaves you.

TA: So I was not going to accept another symbiote, and there's a sense, because I talk many times that "my time has come, and it's in your hands now, we need young warriors," and Teal'c brushes me off saying, "no old man, you'll out live me," this and that. But I was not going to accept one, and there's a great episode where in a matter of fact my symbiote fails because I've been wounded. (Note: Referring to The Changeling) And it's actually a beautiful thing where Teal'c literally removes his and gives it to me. I'm completely passed out and, it's sort of like underwater sharing a...<fades off as Chase understands what he's trying to say> It's a good question about what you see in Teal'c, it's a great thing. I think everyone sees something different, but for me it was the things that I stressed.

CM: Yes, I see that and also strong willed. You won him over, but not easily right? I mean there's something about him as an actor and a character too.

TA: Stubborn.

CM: But that can be a great quality in a warrior you know. 

TA: Absolutely. And one of the other things I really admire about Chris. As actors we both know sometimes you can feel... you lack empowerment, you lack that kind of control over your destiny. And you hear so many actors saying...<mutters>. Chris, he just writes scripts. When he's got time he just writes his own scripts. Several of the episodes were written by Chris and boy do I encourage it because he seems to include me and he writes really, really wonderful stuff. Because he's writing from the understanding of our world.

CM: Right, he's really into it. He loves the show, that's a very important quality. Here's a question from somebody very special. I would like to say a special thanks to Jamie. Jamie is the webmistress of tonyamendola.com. [The website which is sadly no longer up and running] And I think she's just done a fabulous job and everybody who hasn't been there, I'm sure most of you have been there several times, but if you haven't checked it out there's some great stuff on there. One thing I really enjoyed was that Bra'tac has his own bio. You know it's kind of nice, you don't often see that on a fan site. So Jamie asks, and Jamie's Tributetotony, "Do you have a theory on why Bra'tac does not have a wife or family of his own?"

TA: First of all, Jamie let me say thank you so much for doing what you've done and setting up a terrific website. So, thank you. That's a very good question. I've often sort of joked about that with Chris that somewhere in the back there is a family, and it's a similar thing I think, that Bra'tac sort of had to put that behind him and push it away as he realized what was going on with the Goa'uld, and this rebellion, and all this stuff.

CM: Was your calling, your mission in life.

TA: Yes. My point is I think there is one very pissed off lady operating on Chulak. And I just keep waiting for her to show up.

CM: We may see in a future episode.

TA: Ya, I keep waiting for her to show up.

CM: He may have to pay the consequences of having left her. 

TA: I don't think children, frankly I don't think he got that far. I think simply because of this truth that he had, that he had to do this.

CM: Right. And that would hurt your loyalty, that would really be very difficult.

TA: And somehow I think it's harder... I think it's just harder to leave young ones. You can reason with your mate of why you need to do what you're doing.

CM: If it's for a greater cause.

TA: If it's for a greater cause. And either side would be infuriated, and they should be. It makes for good drama. 

CM: And happens much in the world today. The reality of life.

TA: So there is someone out there, she just hasn't made an appearance yet and hopefully she will at some point.

CM: That's a fabulous answer. We will be waiting for that. There are a lot of other things I want to ask but first there are a couple of Stargate questions before we start asking about some of the other work. Do you know of any scenes you were in that didn't make the final cut of Stargate? I know that doesn't happen a lot in TV but ...

TA: You know it happens very, very rarely, but it does happen. And generally it has nothing to do with the quality of material, of the acting or the writing, it just has to do with time. Things get spread out. As a matter of fact some times your on a shoot for a certain episode and they're running short. So now they're trying to say, "ahhh, you know those pauses we always hated, can you give us a little..." <laughs> but ya, I'll tell you two stories. One thing I'm thrilled by is in Threshold, Brad Wright sought me out and said that he did not cut a single frame of what I had filmed. Because he was very pleased with it, I was only there a couple or three at that point. And it was very kind of him to say.

CM: That was a great compliment.

TA: There is one, what was it called... there was an episode where I had a scene, it's actually quite a funny scene. Amanda and Michael in the cafeteria where I'm explaining what's going on and why Teal'c is pissed off. But the great thing is for the fans that know the way Jaffa eat, we have a hardy appetite. So I'm just chowing down <laughs> and that sort of lunch tray is just, as many desserts as I can get. I was sorry that didn't go.

CM: That's funny, oh that's funny.

TA: But is just wasn't necessary because it was explained later on and I understood completely why they cut it, and it was also Michael and Amanda's scene as well. And that happens. The thing you have to watch out for as an actor is when you have scenes, you're always much better off having a scene with one of the stars, be it film or television. The likely hood of that staying in is much, much greater.

CM: Absolutely. Those are things we learn sometimes the hard way. That's great. Do you have any stories you can share with us from behind-the-scenes on the set? What is Richard Dean Anderson like?

TA: I'm going to be repeating myself a little bit, just for the fans who have heard this, bear with me. He's very dry. Dry humor. He's actually quite funny. I love the way he tries... in many shows, the quote to quote star. You'll get a script and you read the script. You have some nice stuff, you have some very regular stuff to forward the plot, etc., exposition. Then you go in and the last time your lines come out, you have less and less nice stuff. But somehow it's gravitated over to the star. This never happens with Richard. As a matter of fact Richard's style is just the opposite. Richard does not want lines, he does not want the big speeches. He wants... it's sort of like the image in Richard II about the king being filled with air and the fool coming along with a little pin and just pops it. And thats what Richard loves to do. He loves to be in a scene I've found and listen to two pages of exposition and just zing it. And the great thing about this is that it's in the writing, clearly the writers know this and write for him. And secondly, he's often working on spot... it's really great. It keeps him going, keeps him occupied and keeps him out of our hair.

He's fun and I've told fans this, but early on, I think it was the second episode I did. It was a fan favorite because I came in to rescue the team and what pissed me off is they got themselves into trouble and I was trying to do something else. (Note: Referring to Serpent's Lair) He tried to come up to me and I was one of the first actors who actually backhanded him. I just gave him a boomp. Fans loved that. And growing up with brothers, that's actually sort of affection. I had a chance to be locked in a glider with him for about a couple or three hours. And when I say locked in a glider they literally put us up on a camera arm, it was probably 20 feet off the air. And they got the bolt gun and bolted us in. There were no potty breaks. My fondest memory of him, singing songs to musicals. <laughs> Richard's been doing this so long, he's very busy sometimes, but he's great fun I have to say.

CM: That's great. That's a fabulous thing to say about a person.