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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Dan Dares
Thomasina Gibson, Cult Times #57, Jun 00

A visit to the Stargate SG-1 set in British Columbia is always a delight, particularly when it affords an opportunity to sit and chat with the gorgeous Dr. Daniel Jackson, alias Michael Shanks. As per usual, despite numerous claims to the contrary, there is no sign of rain, clouds or biting winds during this trip. Nevertheless, during a break in filming, we're snuggled in his trailer along with Christopher Judge (Teal'c) and Kim Cowan (the show's publicist) watching Braveheart with the sound turned down. "I really love this movie and watch it over and over," whispers Shanks, "But Kim can't bear to hear the gory bits so I just replay the soundtrack in my head." Tactfully withholding the fact that, as a true Scot and the star's namesake, I can't bear to watch Mel Gibson running around in a skirt with his face dyed blue, I dutifully ask why the film holds such appeal for a native of Vancouver.

Before Shanks can answer, a colleague bursts in with; "He just likes the idea of wearing a kilt." But Shanks rises above such sarcasm to suggest, "I guess it's because it brings out my respect for my Scottish ancestry. That and the fact that the story is such a testament to human fortitude and endurance."

As the SG-1 team's civilian anthropologist, Shanks's character has had to display a fair amount of fortitude of his own during the past three years. He's won a wife, lost her and, in a bout of extreme carelessness, her child. He's overcome madness, despair, and a galaxy of Jack O'Neill's jokes to become the strong, determined yet playful Dr. Jackson we all know and love. "Daniel has been through a lot in our previous seasons," he agrees. "When we started out, the executive producer of the show at the time wanted to get as close to the original characterization of the role as possible, but then followed my lead with regard to giving him more depth and scope to explore the darker side of his personality. I think what's happening now is that we've come full circle and it's time to return to Daniel's lighter side."

"He does have one, you know." Although he's been described as one of the more serious and studious members of the SG-1 family, many of his fellow cast and crew members will testify that the actor has an incredibly mischievous light side. Insisting that, "The quiet ones are always the worst," Amanda Tapping (Sam Carter) maintains, "Shanks has the wickedest sense of humor and is the best mimic on the set. He can just sit in a meeting or a read-through looking as though he's really concentrating on the matter in hand, but then will set us all off with a well-timed little phrase or action guaranteed to make us dissolve into hysterics."

The man in question protests his innocence simply by giving his patented 'Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth - this woman is clearly delusional' wide-eyed stare. Having watched Mr. Shanks reduce Christopher Judge (Teal'c) to a giggling wreck on several occasions, his expression is not wholly convincing. Smiling, Shanks says, "A lot of the stuff we do on the show is not exactly rocket science. There has to be a certain amount of levity when we do the things we do."

Classically trained and predisposed towards the deeper elements of his craft, the past few years have seen Shanks throw himself wholeheartedly into the less realistic side of performing for a television audience. Admitting that, "It was a little difficult" to come to terms with the differences between the "one shot" allowed with live performance and "the opportunity to do one scene over and over till you get it right," Shanks laughs that he's "a lot more blasť about it now. I get right in there and just do it."

Season Three's The Crystal Skull illustrates the point. Although not particularly dark, the episode revolved around some serious issues involving the relationship between Dr. Jackson, his grandfather and their attitudes towards their life's work, and it remains one of the actor's favorites from last year. "Working with Jan Rubes as my grandfather was a real treat and we had a lot of fun working together, even if a lot of it was against a green screen." The fact that Shanks is comfortable working in such a bizarre environment shows how far the actor has come since the beginnings of the show, when the transition from treading the boards to acting to nothing proved a real challenge. "In those days the though would often cross my mind that what I was doing was insane." Those of us who shudder at the mere thought of acting out a game of charades, never mind performing in from of a camera would have to agree with his sentiment.

© 2000, Cult Times. Buy Cult Times #57 online.

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