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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks Star/Director
Isabelle Meunier, SFX #67, Aug 00

The thought of his impending debut in the directorial seat for Stargate is giving the actor who plays Jackson a new perspective on the way TV and films are made....

"Directing is something I've been wanting to dabble in," Michael (Jackson) Shanks enthuses, keeping a vigilant eye on his little girl who's running around in his trailer. And what better place to first try out calling the shots than on the show you've been starring in for the past four years?

"You have your heavy episodes and your lighter where you're not that involved," he explains, "so when I was doing the lighter episodes, I realised that I had the opportunity to learn a whole other craft in a very relaxed and supportive medium, and would be a fool not to take advantage of the situation put in front of me. I found myself becoming involved in a more behind-the-scenes capacity, and when it came to dealing with stories and scripts, in certain ways, my input was valued more than I thought it would be. In an environment like this, there can't be a better opportunity to try and learn something; in a way, this show directs itself, there are so many people knowing how to do their job so well after many years of doing it! If I make a suggestion as a director and I'm wrong, I won't be allowed to shoot and make that mistake; they'll correct me and we'll fix the problem there and then."

But nerves are beginning to show as his day of reckoning is looming on the horizon. "All of a sudden," he reveals, "I'm realising what directors have to go through in terms of making actors do things for the camera."

He pauses, readying himself for a candid admission.

"I used to be quite difficult, in a self-centred way. But it's important to work together a little bit more and now that I'm gonna have to deal with the actors, I realise that maybe I should be more helpful."

He gets up to pick up his daughter and settles back down, the toddler nestled in his arms. "It's important to let creativity flow if we're gonna have good interaction and good chemistry," he continues. "This works with someone like [director] Peter DeLuise who has a good sense of humour. He enjoys that kind of thing; he enjoys fuelling it, saying, ‘take it further, I know it's a screw around but it's funny, so take it even further.' To me, working in an environment where you're allowed to experiment is invaluable in terms of being an actor."

Talking of DeLuise, does the director's tactic work? "Every now and again I'm a bit of a stubborn actor," he confesses with a sly grin. "It bothers me a lot less than I actually try to make it appear it does, so in order to shut me up he's bribing me. I've been a lot better at going along with it..... because I'm gonna be directing in September, so the shoe's gonna be on the other foot!"

It sounds like he's getting ready for his fellow actors to conspire in giving him a "hard time". "Exactly," he laughs. "Peter, I'm going to hire him as an actor so he can get back at me for all the things I did!"

Although there isn't any director he'd particularly use as a role model, there is one, however, whose technique he has kept an eye on. "I think the only director that I would admire in that capacity and can honestly say I would take something from would be James Cameron," he discloses. "I find that his attention to detail in both his writing and his directing is so thorough... which is why I've understood he's a bit of a screamer on set. He's a bit of a control freak but his attention to detail is so specific. I would like that ability."

That is to say, minus the screaming?

"Minus the screaming, hopefully," he laughs. "That's something that's not productive to anyone. Working in any situation, if you're achieving a a strong result you want to have enjoyed the experience, you don't want to walk away from working on a James Cameron film hating the man, hating the experience. Then when the film comes out, people go, ‘It's great!' and you go, ‘Yeah, but I'd never do it again.' I mean, I haven't worked with James Cameron directing so I wouldn't know, but although I definitely enjoy his end product, the means may not be the way I'd want to go about it."

2000, SFX. Buy SFX online.

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