Entertainment Stargate

Everything You Need to Know about Jewel Staite and Firefly

People latched onto [“Firefly”] because it was beautifully written, but also because it was the underdog

There are dozens of Jewel Staite movies and TV shows. The talented actress has wowed audiences in her roles on Supernatural, Space Cases, and Hallmark movies. But she’s perhaps best known for her characters on Firefly and Stargate Atlantis.

Who is Jewel Staite?

I’ve been an actor for 35 years (gasp. How did that happen?), Canadian born and raised, and still living in my home province of BC. I got my start on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, and moved into mainstream television with Firefly when I was 19.  

I was in the right place at the right time and got lucky enough to be chosen to play the farm girl spaceship mechanic, Kaylee.  The show was short-lived but became a cult hit, and it opened a lot of doors for me in the industry and actually led to my role on Stargate: Atlantis. The producers happened to have seen Firefly (I saw the ship “Serenity” as a screen saver on one of their computers in the production office but I’ll save them the embarrassment of naming names).  

I was originally hired to play Ellia the wraith, which required approximately a ton of prosthetic makeup, so I wasn’t exactly overjoyed to potentially return as that character.

Jewel Staite woke up at 3am for her first day filming “Instinct” to get into the costume and makeup for the character of Ellia. Credit: Joe Mallozzi.

A year later, since no one would recognize me out of the wraith makeup, they asked me to be the new doctor.

You can imagine how stoked I was to get that call!  An already well-loved series with devoted fans, shooting in my home town?


Why does Jewel Staite think fans still love her Firefly and Stargate characters?

I think with Firefly, for many it was “the one that got away” because of its untimely demise (understatement in my opinion).  

People latched onto the show because it was beautifully written, but also because it was the underdog, and the fans worked really hard to try to save it.  Kaylee in particular was such a warmhearted little charmer, a girly girl who also loved machines, complicated and multi-layered, like all women are.  

She was the type of person you wanted to be best friends with, and it’s always been such a wonderful thing to carry with me, the feeling I get from fans that meet me where they feel like they know me and already like me!  

With Jen Keller, I didn’t want it to matter too much whether she was “liked” or not.  As an actor, it was most important for me to depict her to be as real and as human as possible.  

Here’s a girl thrown completely out of her comfort zone in a land literally far, far away, thrust into a position she’s not sure she’s ready for—the anti-hero in a lot of respects. But when she’s in the zone in the med lab, in surgery, taking care of patients, she’s completely dialed-in and at ease.  

As the show progressed, she grew in so many ways, let go of her fears and learned to help save the day after all.  I feel really protective of and attached to that character, and I’m quite proud of the realism she maintained throughout the series, as fantastical as the situations she was in were. 

Jewel Staite first appeared as Jennifer Keller on Season 4 of ‘Stargate: Atlantis’ and became a series regular the next year. Credit: Gateworld.

What are some of Jewel Staite’s lesser-known roles?

One of my all-time favorite roles I’ve ever played was the role of “Raquel” on The LA Complex. My friend Martin Gero, who was one of the writers and producers on SGA, wrote it, and it was such a brilliant show that deserved to be seen a lot more than it was. That role in particular was so juicy, full of drama and bad decisions and craziness, and I just had a blast.  

Lately, on Netflix’s The Order, I got to play twin necromancing sisters, who I fondly refer to as Psycho and More Psycho. Renee, twin #1, is a conniving, snarky, very funny and devious wild woman who always gets what she wants, and her sister Josette is just plain demonic, dangerous, and lethal.  It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had at work, and I hope to do it again soon!

How did Jewel Staite find out that Firefly got cancelled?

We always knew we were the underdog, so it wasn’t a huge surprise.  It was like we were all waiting for the ball to drop the entire time we were shooting.  It’s not such a great feeling.

So when we finally got the news, it was like the bandaid finally got ripped off and at least we knew our fate. Sorta like, “Break up with me already!”  

Jewel Staite talks about her reaction to news that Firefly had been cancelled.

We were shooting scenes for the episode “The Message” when Joss Whedon came down to the set to let us all know.  Our director, Tim Minear, thought it best to stop filming for the day.  

So we all just went to Nathan Fillion’s house and did what we did best: drank margaritas.

And cried. 

What most stands out from Jewel Staite’s three days of post-cancellation Firefly filming?

The joy we had. I guess because we knew it was coming to an end, we all just let go and tried to make the most of it.  We ruined take after take laughing like idiots, hugged a lot, vowed to stay in touch.

 I’m so happy to say that we held true to that and are still close, and still supporting each other, very much like a family, with a big group text that goes off with all kinds of inappropriate jokes at all hours of the day.

Seriously, I might have to mute it. 

One of your fans asks, “When was the last time you got together with the Firefly cast and what did y’all do?”

We’re all rather spread out throughout the world at this point with our own families and gigs going on, so it’s hard to get everybody together as much as we used to. We’re in Canada, LA, Texas, Detroit, New York.

I talk to a few of them quite often though, and we FaceTime too. But when we’re in the same place, like at a convention, it’s pretty much the best. All bets are off during those Q&As.

Would Jewel Staite come back for a fourth Stargate?

I wouldn’t dare to hope for such a wonderful thing, but YES of course I would.

That show was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I’ve literally compared every job since to it which isn’t exactly fair…

Describe Stargate: Atlantis for someone new to the Stargate world.

Imagine the lost city of Atlantis was real. Imagine you could step through a portal and get to it in seconds.  But enemies abound in this new galaxy!  Oh yeah, and the city can fly. 

Who was most and least like their characters on Stargate: Atlantis?

The most like their character was David Hewlett.  Sorry, David darling, but it’s true. Brilliant and loquacious and reluctant to any sort of heroism that requires physical activity or getting your hands dirty… and that’s exactly why I love you, David!  

Least like their character in the main cast was maybe Rachel?

Rachel’s a badass in her own way, don’t get me wrong. But she’s also silly and so funny and sweet, sweet, sweet.  She’s just always smiling and warm and friendly. 

Why is Jewel Staite a better actor because of her time on Firefly and Stargate: Atlantis?

I think as an actor, you never stop learning. I’m constantly trying to get better and learn as I go, and as much as I don’t like to watch my work, I force myself to because that’s the only way I’m going to keep learning!  

But more than anything, these two shows in particular have changed my life in almost every way possible.  

With Firefly, I created and held on to some powerful friendships, and did a lot of growing up throughout the show and movie, as well as the years that followed while I traveled around the world doing the convention circuit. I was a teenager when it began, and those people I worked with have seen me through so much.  

With Stargate, I think I was maturing a little bit into my own person and still figuring out who I was when I began that role, and I think Jennifer was in a lot of ways, too.

Both shows have taught me the importance of a fan base and how integral it is to nurture it and do your part to keep it going.

I really do love meeting the fans in person, especially now when it’s been so many years since we’ve been on the air. To know people still care, and are passing it on to new generations, is an incredibly touching thing to be a small part of. 

What is a creative way for McKay to die in a crossover in which he temporarily becomes part of the Serenity crew?

HA!  Oh my god, poor McKay.  I’m not sure he would last very long in the Firefly world, and I’m almost positive he wouldn’t enjoy it.  

An old and dirty ship with a crew barely making ends meet and settling most differences with some sort of violence? Yeah, not his bag.

David Hewlett grimaces as Rodney McKay in ‘Stargate: Atlantis,’ but he could very well be thinking of his character joining the crew of the Serenity on ‘Firefly.’ Credit: Gateworld.

I suppose he would get caught in the crossfire at a job gone wrong, but I feel pretty confident that between River, Zoe, Mal, and Jayne, his ass would be saved.

I think Kaylee would drive him insane, though. All of that cheer would get under his skin in minutes. 

Further reading

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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