Tahmoh Penikett is a man of many traits and trades. He is well known for iconic roles in most of your fan favorite shows, including (but not limited to) Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, Dollhouse and the short film Portal, which is coming out as the “Riftworld Chronicles” webseries on CBC Punchline tomorrow! As we were curious about what drives this multipassionate serial artist, we got in touch with him and asked him all about it.
BSGM: Judging your social media, you’re a very socially committed person.
Tahmoh Penikett: There are many, but one that has been important to me since I was a child is the David Suzuki Foundation. It is such an important organization working on many different fronts to educate people about the environment and sustainability. As their site so importantly states “Our vision is that within a generation, Canadians act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature.” My mother actually volunteered and worked at the DSF for a period of time and I got the opportunity to meet that great man whom the organization is named after. Dr. David Suzuki has done so much for this country because of his passion for the earth and passion for education. Because of my background growing up in the Yukon and spending time camping and being in the woods with my native Grandma and my cousins I learned a deep connection with the land and that our actions are not separate from the land we walk on. If we use the water, build or abuse the land in any way it in the end affects as; it comes back to us. We can see our current technology, while its brought us many comforts and benefits we’ve been ignoring its impact on the environment. Therefore I’m very drawn to any organization which works with educating the public about our natural world.
BSGM: What are some of the charities or projects you support or work with?
Tahmoh Penikett: For a number of years I volunteered with DreamCatcher Mentoring an organization that pairs northern youth with mentors from whatever vocation the youth might be interested in pursuing. Growing up in the North myself, I know the challenges it presents and how sometimes being from a small and isolated community your dreams can seem unachievable. The passion these kids have and their unique outlook on life in the North often makes me nostalgic and I find the kids inspiring. It’s been very rewarding to me helping them take steps necessary to follow those dreams.
BSGM: Where does that social commitment come from?
Tahmoh Penikett: It comes from trying to do my part as a responsible and ethical human being on this planet. I was raised to be respectful of others, to appreciate Mother Earth and be grateful for all its gifts. My sense of social commitment comes from my parents with my mother working in projects which helped native people and my father being considered one of the most progressive Premiers in Canada with the many social programs he brought in as well as signing off the land claim negotiations with 10 of the 14 First Nations. My Grandmother, Nelnah, had the local school in Beaver Creek named after her due to her work in trying to preserve her language and culture. With role models like that it means giving back and doing as much as I can and whatever capacity I can to the whole community. My Grandma used to say ‘we are all one’; meaning both native and non-native people.
BSGM: What do you think are some of the main issues mankind is facing today?
Tahmoh Penikett: We live in a world right now with so much strife and conflict. There is so much intolerance and violence. There is such excessive consumption of goods made in a non-sustainable way and we have a dangerous and harmful dependency on fossil fuels. The planet is hurting and we are responsible. As dire as things seem though, we can still make the changes to save it. We owe it to the next generations. Anyone and everyone can make a difference by doing a little every day. Apathy has cost us already though and being ignorant is no excuse.
(Large corporate interests are at the root of much of the conflict in the world, fuelling intolerance and violence.) Destructive and irresponsible forms of fossil fuel extraction, fracking and mining need to be regulated and changed immediately. We need to demand our Governments do more to regulate these large corporate entities and punish them with fines large enough that they don’t run loose with environmental laws or when they use unsafe practices which harm the environment. Right now they get small slaps on the wrist which has become the norm even while they damage our very drinking water, soil that we grow our food in and pollute the air we breathe. Unfortunately in Canada today we have a Government that appears to back big oil because they’ve done little to stop the practices which poison the environment. There are more than 50% of the Fort McMurray First Nation which has had some form of cancer in the last 40 years and yet the government chooses to ignore the reports that it might be connected with the bitumen big oil is extracting. The press is virtually ignoring the research and so you wonder if it is just money and bad actions which get you the press.
Water is another major issue on the planet today, the problem being so dire that immediate conservation tactics need to be taken across the board in large metropolises and nationwide. Look what’s happening in California, a state with 33 million people. Years of unregulated and wasteful water consumption brought the state to the point where it has only enough water for a year! What kind of corruption and absolute negligence brings California, a jurisdiction with the 8th biggest GDP in the world, to let things get to this state?
BSGM: What do you think people can do to change that?
Tahmoh Penikett: Things need to change and fortunately there are people who are demanding it and taking their own steps. It’s happening with First Nations across this country and around the world. It’s happening with socially conscious people who are seeing firsthand the blatant destruction and poisoning of delicate ecosystems and who will not stand for it to continue but who often cannot trust their Governments to responsibly respond.
In Canada, we have a Government that muzzles its environmental and fishery scientists and has aggressively tried to push through major oil and gas pipelines without proper consultation with the First Nations and other communities whose land it will cross. Without consultation, this government used a budget bill to strip environmental protection from aboriginal lands and waters, lakes and rivers. The prime minister has a Calgary constituency and he is proud to be a servant of Big Oil, fracking and pipelines. This Government has also just passed Bill C-51, which grants sweeping powers to Canada’s spy agencies, CSIS and the RCMP, to intrude on the privacy of citizens with no parliamentary oversight. A tame parliament has now given this prime minister the ability to potentially label peaceful protestors, First Nations leaders who are protecting their land and people who simply care about the environment and their children’s future, a threat to national security. In violation of their constitutional rights, the Government can now spy on innocent citizens, imprison them and restrict their ability to travel. For democrats, this law is an outrage.
Canadians who care about democracy, the environment and justice are finally smarting up to the fact that large corporations and the Governments that support them will not protect the Earth. As things stand presently with this party in power, we cannot expect or hope for ethical and moral decisions from them regarding our planet.
So much damage has been done, but we as humans have the intelligence and ingenuity to do so much better and create and prosper collectively with sustainable, ethical technologies.
BSGM: Something you also seem very interested in is science and technology.
Tahmoh Penikett: Given how fast we are progressing with Science and technology it’s hard not to be a fan of it. I’m very excited for the visionaries out there who are working hard at renewable and sustainable technologies. Elon Musk is a man who’s doing so many incredible things in sustainable and green technology. This is a man who released patents to his electric car technologies, Tesla, because he wanted everyone to benefit from it and make the technology better. The Hyper Loop that he’s actively working on making a reality is also fascinating. A clean, efficient and incredibly fast method of transporting humans and cargo over great distances with a low carbon footprint. His dream of taking us and colonizing Mars is really incredible, because if there’s a man who’s done nothing but follow through with his plans, it’s him.
BSGM: Which new developments are you excited about?
Tahmoh Penikett: I’m excited about the next generation of passionate and ethical youth who are making positive change regionally and internationally using the internet, our ever expanding technologies and its vast resources to their advantage and doing things no one since has imagined. People like the young Colorado man who’s designed prosthetic limbs and made them open source. Basically downloadable and 3D printable for free. Or Jordan Konek, a young Inuit man from Nunavut who’s using film and social media to educate and bring attention to the struggles youth face in isolated northern communities.
BSGM: Are there things about the latest technology that perhaps scare you, in a way?
Tahmoh Penikett: What scares me about technology is how rapidly it’s moving without us understanding its impact on the people or the environment. I can’t help but be concerned about how wired-in we all are constantly to our technology. We’re able to communicate and be connected 24 hours a day and yet it seems as though a lot of people are feeling more distant and lonely than they ever have. I find it unsettling that some people find it hard to be ‘present’ or can’t have conversations anymore without constantly checking their phone. I also do worry about AI getting to the point where it could likely surpass us in all ways. One of the greatest minds of our generation, Stephen Hawking recently warned us about this. I think we’ve got some years before that could happen, but it’s fascinating and scary to think about it. There’s been many examples of it in film and books, most recently Ex-Machina and Her.
BSGM: You haven’t just acted in – but also co-produced a short called “Check, Please”, which also stars James Callis. Tell us a bit about it?
Tahmoh Penikett: The lovely and driven AnnaMaria De Mara wrote, produced and starred in “Check Please.” AnnaMaria asked me to get involved and I had a lot of fun on this project. I wore many hats, mostly the producer hat, which, of course, entailed everything from driving around for equipment and managing budget constraints, to keeping on schedule and calming cranky neighbors. The Cannes Short Film Corner accepted “Check Please” as have two other prestigious festivals.
BSGM: Is there anything on your schedule that people should really know about?
Tahmoh Penikett: Lots of fans are eagerly awaiting the release of “Riftworld Chronicles” and I am happy to announce that, we are launching July 14th on CBC’s Punchline website!
Also I have been writing recently and am excited about the ideas I’m finally putting down on paper and hope to be shooting in near future.
BSGM: Speaking of the release of the “Riftworld Chronicles” webseries: It originates from the short film “The Portal”, Was the short-to-webseries transformation always in the books or did it come up after the success of the short?
Tahmoh Penikett: All involved, starting with our talented writer and direct Jonathan Williams and producer team Laura Perlmutter and Andrew Nicolas Mccan Smith and most recently the CBC, imagined “Riftworld” either as a series or something more. They’ve worked incredibly hard to make “Riftworld” a reality, but the success of “The Portal,” its predecessor, and subsequent crowd funding campaign definitely solidified the desire from the fans for the production.
BSGM: What can people expect from the webseries? Will it be a continuation, or a completely different story?
Tahmoh Penikett: Fans can expect very much the same with the story centered around Alar and Kim with an extremely talented supporting cast but in a web series format. The tone, idea and humor are the same, just better! And 8 whole episodes for the fans to enjoy.
BSGM: What are some of the things you’re currently working on?
Tahmoh Penikett: I’m currently taking some time getting settled in Vancouver again for the summer and as I mentioned already doing some writing. There’s a couple of projects I am looking at right now and I’ll let people know what comes of them when I can.
BSGM: “Painkillers” has recently premiered in Canada, can you elaborate on your character and what drove you to say “yes” to the project?
Tahmoh Penikett: “Painkillers” has premiered on Superchannel in Canada and will soon be released in the United States. I had a great time shooting this project, made some really good friends and got to work with an idol of mine, Colm Feore. I’ve been watching his work since I was a kid and it was an honor to work with that exceptional actor. Peter Winther our Director is an absolute sweetheart and Lesley Anne Brandt is such a talent. We also had really capable actors in our supporting cast. Perhaps, we had a little too much fun working together, but I hope we’ll all be able to work together soon.
BSGM: Any writing/Producing/Directing in your future? Is it something you aspire to do?
Tahmoh Penikett: All of the above. I just need to reach out to all the Directors I know and get some shadowing time in.
BSGM: Often times, we see you in the role of the patriarch or protector? Is this something that comes natural to you/is in your character?
Tahmoh Penikett: I think the role of patriarch or protector comes naturally because I am 7 years older than my twin sisters and often helped my mother look after them. I had many strong patriarch figures in my life ,starting with my father of course and then my uncles and grandfathers too. I’m comfortable in that role when I play it. I also think all the incredible Matriarchs in my life played as significant or more of a role in shaping the man I am today. I have recently become a father to a beautiful baby and I’m excited and blessed to take this adventure of life with him, guiding him as best I can on his path.
BSGM: You’ve been in Continuum, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural and a lot of the fan favorite shows out there. Is that something you’re actively (being made) aware of/Is it something you recognize yourself?
Tahmoh Penikett: It is a privilege to work on some many of the fan favorite shows—though there’s so many more that I’d love to work in, shows like “Vikings,” “Orphan Black,”“Daredevil” and “Agents of Shield”.
BSGM: Last question; You have a very busy convention schedule. Is there a difference in US/Canadian conventions V European or Australian conventions, their audience and the questions you get. What are some of the main differences?
Tahmoh Penikett: I actually don’t find a lot of differences country to country, other than the well-known cultural and language differences. That passion and loyalty that makes you a fan enough of a show that you’ll go to a convention is true of them all, regardless of where their country of origin. That’s actually one of my favorite things about Conventions. Regardless of the Convention location, fans from across the globe are there. They form such a fan community and a big show, which creates opportunities for them to travel and see the friends they’ve made from previous conventions. It’s such a unique community. They truly are so loyal and eager for any new projects that you may have, I have mad love and respect for the fans.
We would like to thank Tahmoh Penikett for his time, answering these questions!
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