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Pulling Strings
Beware SPOILERS for Season Five of Stargate Atlantis in the interview below.

It takes a team of people to bring an Asgard to life. But that team needs a leader to helm the group and channel the performance of five puppeteers into a performance of one.

For Stargate, that lead is Morris Chapdelaine, who also has acted as numerous alien figures in the franchise, from creepy Priors to newborn Wraith drones.

GateWorld recently took time to chat with this master of multiple arts, to learn what goes on behind the workings of Thor and his Asgard brethren, showing him off at conventions, and occasionally donning Oranian prosthetics!

This interview runs approximately 23 minutes and is available in audio. It's also transcribed below!

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GateWorld: Can you tell me about what you do?

Morris Chapdelaine: Essentially I’ve been puppeteering and performing – acting – as a couple different aliens on Stargate since I think Season Five of SG-1. I think I’ve done a total of 25 or 26 different episodes. And they certainly aren’t all listed [on IMDb]. They sort of sometimes just go by season.

But, yeah, I started in Season Five – working as an apprentice, actually – with the make-up artists and the puppeteers there. And really quickly, because I was an actor, they had me doing a lot of work. I learned, and apprenticed, all of the animatronics stuff.

And then in Season Six I basically took over as lead puppeteer and hired the other puppeteers and started being in charge of all the rehearsals and pre-production meetings and doing all the Asgard characters. And there were several of them. I mean, it started with Thor, but, as you know, there was Loki and Hermiod ...

GW: Kvasir. [Laughter]

MC: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Jeny Cassady and Morris Chapdelaine introduce the "real" Asgard puppet to convention-goers in 2007.
GW: You know, it’s nice that you’ve got a very nice, mixed bag. You’ve got the puppeteering, yes, but then the Wraith drone that was in "Spoils of War." You’ve played Priors. There’s always something – and one of my favorites was Tenat – it shows that there’s always something to be done in the Stargate universe.

MC: Well, that’s what’s so exciting for me. And because I was playing different aliens and Robert Cooper and Brad Wright and everyone was comfortable with me and knew I could do the job, it was kind of a given sometimes. If there was some sort of strange creature, they’d say, "Hey! Call Morris!" [Laughter]

So, yeah, because nobody’s really ever seen my face on the show, so I could do multiple, different guys. In a way, it ended up being better for me than going out and doing a one-off over a few episodes. I was able to do multiple.

GW: Yeah. Soldier number five. Right.

MC: Yeah. Exactly.

GW: How’d you first get involved with Stargate?

MC: In Season Five. I can’t remember the exact first episode, but John Lenic had called me and said, "Hey we need somebody who’s good on set," and I had been doing other shows, "Who could work with the puppeteers." And I was like, "I don’t really know anything about puppeteering or anything."

He basically introduced me to the whole art and said, "I think you might really enjoy it." So, he brought me in. And, like I said, I was working with Todd Masters and the guys at Masters Effects. And I just loved it so much that I learned as much as I could and quickly moved up the ranks.

And I’m also a sci-fi fan so, it was exciting for me. Being in and working as a performer in Vancouver, you can’t help but not be exposed to all kinds of different sci-fi. You know, between Battlestar Galactica and Andromeda back in the old days. I mean, now it's just so much. It’s either sci-fi or horror.

GW: [Laughter] Because they’re expensive and we can get away with a lot up there.

MC: Yeah. And we’ve got all these sets. They love the fact that you can shoot out in the woods or the swamp or in the mountains or in the dessert all within half an hour of each other.

GW: Exactly. I’m betting the episode in Season Five that you’re referring to is "Red Sky." O’Neill comes to the Asgard High Council Chamber and there are a bunch of different Asgard on that set. Does that ring any bells?

MC: That’s probably it, yes. Yes, it does.

GW: You call puppeteering an "art." Tell us about how this all works. Tell us about what you find really rewarding about it.

MC: Well, puppeteering is such an art because it’s always a team working together. It’s probably the most theatrical aspect of television or film performing. Puppeteers all usually come from a very creative background. Not only are they performers or voice actors, they’re also technical people.

Director Andy Mikita carries on a conversation with Thor in SyFy's "Stargate to Atlantis" lowdown.
And because it’s a team, you have to work together during rehearsals and conceiving ideas and coming up with specific movements and gestures and sounds as a group for one particular entity.

And when a group of people, whether that’s three or five or seven, gel together on one particular character it can be kind of magical because you really have to be all synced up with your fifth eye. All your brain's working together to make one life happen.

So, that’s why I feel it’s pretty artistic. And we’re all a little over-the-top – theatrical. We’re the ones go in and get to rehearse a couple days beforehand.

And then the crew always loves when we show up on set. They’re like, "Oh, this is going to be a long day. Puppeteers are here." [Laughter] But yeah, we have a riot. It’s really great.

Some of us are sort of off ... I’m one of the guys that uses the animatronic controller. It’s like a remote controller that you use for operating remote control airplanes or cars.

And because when I’m doing it I often do the face stuff and I do the voice as well, so I work really closely with the actors. I’m able to often times sit right with the director and explain how we’re hoping to do it. So I’m the one who gets directed as the actor and then we work with the whole team to bring whatever notes the director has into play in the different takes.

GW: Well, the Asgard is obviously the big one here, so let’s approach that. So I’m gathering there are some people actually behind the Asgard controlling him and then you’re off with a remote control somewhere, right?

MC: Yes, absolutely.

GW: How many people does it take to run an Asgard fully?

MC: With an Asgard it’s four.

GW: Wow.

MC: There are two on the body – one that does the head and torso and then one that does the arms and hands. And they’re both usually in black and tiny and on the floor and behind it. They have a real physical, laborious job. It can be a lot of work getting that body to move and articulate its movements properly.

" Puppeteering is such an art because it’s always a team working together."
And then it would be myself and another puppeteer working the face. And on the Asgard puppet, I, for example, would do the jaw and the lips and then the head tilts and turns. And the other puppeteer would do all the eye and brow movements. And ear wiggles – things like that.

GW: Ear wiggles. [Laughter]

MC: [Laughter] Well, you know, actually, no. On the Asgard, we haven’t had any "ear wiggles" per se. But what’s funny ... as we worked all together over the years we ended up finding ... and because we had different ... it was the same puppet... really. We had two of them, but we’d want ... You know, Thor was very different from Kvasir who was very different from Hermiod, who was very different from Loki. So we needed to come up with – even though there was the same body – different mannerisms.

GW: Different expressions.

MC: Yeah. Different expressions.

GW: Now, I was under the impression that there was a new Asgard puppet kicked out every two or three years. Is that wrong?

MC: No, no. That’s absolutely right, because the latex body would often deteriorate. It’s an expensive thing to take care of and we’d end up dragging him all over the place. So, yeah, they’d need to put a new one up ever couple of years.

And we also did ... at one point, Jeny Cassady and I spoke at a convention. And that was the first time people had seen him at a live audience. And that was really, really an amazing experience. The auditorium was sold out. People were just so stoked to see the puppet in person. We’d done photo sessions before, like a year before at another convention and that was fun. But to be able to get him up on stage and to just show them the controllers and how he works, that was great.

And we’d actually been invited to go to conventions in Europe and in New Zealand and in Australia, but the logistics of sending this huge box with the puppet in it and myself … It was really quite funny. It became complicated and expensive. And the idea of sending this puppet all the way to do a convention with the chance that maybe damage could happen to him?
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