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Originally published Friday, October 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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TV | Star's new role more than a change of accents

Amanda Tapping goes from playing the no-nonsense Col. Samantha Carter on "Stargate" to the mysterious Helen Magnus, who works to protect the abnormal creatures of the world, on the new Sci-Fi Channel series "Sanctuary."

McClatchy Newspapers

On TV

"Sanctuary"

10 p.m. Fridays, Sci-Fi Channel.

LOS ANGELES — Network and cable-television shows are filled with actresses from other countries using American accents to play their roles. Lena Headey hides her British accent as she battles robots from the future on "Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles." And both Yvonne Strahovski on "Chuck" and Anna Torv on "Fringe," who play hard-hitting American government agents, are Australians.

So Amanda Tapping, who was born in Britain but raised in Canada, turns the tables by taking on an English accent for a television role. It's part of her transformation from the no-nonsense Col. Samantha Carter on "Stargate" to the mysterious Helen Magnus on the new Sci-Fi Channel series "Sanctuary."

"It's part of her history," says Tapping during an interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. "Helen Magnus dates back to Victorian-era England, and it's an important part of who she is. It informs a lot about her eccentricities and where she came from.

"So it was important to me as an actor that she stayed true to that part of her lineage, and one of her eccentricities is that she fiercely holds on to the Britishisms that she was born with. So she will only drink tea, and she speaks with the Queen's English, even though I've tried to broaden the accent a little bit because she's lived around the world and is 157 years old."

There's one thing that's not really British or American about the Magnus character. She has made it her life's work to protect the abnormal creatures of the world. While others might hunt a werewolf to its death, she prefers to "bag and tag" them to track their movements. She has a basement filled with mermaids, weird lizards and at least one guy who can toss flames. It's "Heroes" meets "Dr. Who."

"It's weird having played an American on television for the last 11 years to suddenly make that switch from American to British. And army boots to stilettos has been fun," Tapping says.

Some viewers may be aware of the program, which launched last week, through a series of short episodes that were shown on the Web. Close to 4 million people checked out the program in its Internet incarnation.

Executive producer Damian Kindler explains the Webisodes were a way to introduce the show and figure out how the special-effects-heavy program would be produced. While the show will look like it takes place in a major city, the entire series will be shot against a green screen in a studio.

"The series on television is a complete overhaul, like a reboot of the concept. Even though it has the same cast and the same concept, it's much broader in scope and deeper and the characters are more dimensional. I think it's far more accessible to a wider audience," Kindler says.

Tapping has been acting since 1994. Her work, other than "Stargate," has included "The X-Files," "Outer Limits" and the miniseries "Traffic." After 11 years on "Stargate," this new role is a way for Tapping to reach a wider audience. The actress was convinced she needed to make a dramatic change personally and professionally.

"I didn't want there to be any vestiges of Sam Carter because that was such a unique and a cherished experience for me," Tapping says. "And though I will still revisit Sam Carter apparently in the future, Helen Magnus had to be a completely different animal."

And the accent to that change is the accent.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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