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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Jacking It In
Thomasina Gibson, Cult Times #77, Jan 02

Stargate SG-1’s Michael Shanks explains why he’s turning his back on the series.

Unless you’ve been stuck in a wormhole for an extended period, you’d be hard pushed not to know that for almost five seasons Shanks has played Dr Daniel Jackson, the brilliant scholar whose nimble mind translated the very symbols that showed how to activate the Stargate and transport him and his companions to other worlds. He’s been the moral heart of a team that has often stood against the will of the military monument as represented by the United States Air Force. He’s been the perfect foil for the irreverent Colonel Jack O’Neill, supporter of the stoic Jaffa Teal’c, and been like a brother to Major Samantha Carter.

As anyone who has even an inkling of the debacle surrounding the news of Daniel Jackson’s departure from arguably the best Sci Fi show on the box will know, there are several other reasons [than travelling while he's still young enough to enjoy it] why Mr. Shanks packed away his artefacts and jumped gate. “I know this isn’t the usual reason for an actor to leave a show,” he offers, “but I’m not quitting Stargate to go onto another project or to kick-start my film career, I’m actually leaving to explore the possibilities.”

“From the outset my take on the whole Daniel Jackson slant was based on how I saw him in the original movie, where the character had a heavy part in the proceedings. I also thought that the relationship between Daniel and Jack O’Neill would be the focus of the show. Although the chemistry between the two characters did become an important part of SG-1, by the end of the third season the show had started to move in a different direction. One that didn’t seem to leave much for an archaeologist and linguist to do.”

Having broached his concerns with the producers of the show, Shanks explains, “I talked with them and said that I felt that Stargate had become a show steeped in the inner workings of the military and the things the military members of the team, i.e. Jack, Sam and General Hammond, had to deal with. But my character, as the only civilian besides Teal’c, who is a warrior in his own right, was not included in the loop of those things. I mean, an archaeologist wouldn’t normally be included in those things.”

Trying to find the right words, he goes on, “I guess what I’m saying is I feel that Daniel’s continuing distance from the NID conspiracy and the military machinations that were permeating the series was a problem I saw developing. Ultimately it became the needle in my side that the character wasn’t involved in those scenarios when the episodes came up which eventually prompted my request to leave the show.

“It wasn’t that the ‘shoot-em up’ and Maybourne conspiracy stories weren’t good stories. On the contrary, they were great...but I saw that trend developing more and more, especially throughout the fifth season, and I knew I couldn’t let that continue.”

Shanks is careful not to lay all of the blame for his discontent on the shoulders of the writers or the executive producers of the show with whom he still has the warmest relationship.  "...naturally you want to be doing more as the show progresses, yet I found myself going in the opposite direction and saw the character being involved less in stories. So with all these things in mind it was not without a heavy heart that I said, ‘Well, okay, if this is the way it’s going to go then I don’t want to be here’.

“You know, although the decision to leave was mine entirely, I do mean it when I say it was with a heavy heart. We started something and built something very special and I’m not ecstatic to think that the show will be carrying on with me not part of it. But at the same time, I am a very stubborn principled person and couldn’t see myself being happy carrying on as I was.”

As it was, the determined and dynamic sides of Shanks’s personality came to the fore and the drastic decision was made. "There are lots of things I want to do, including film, theatre and more television if it comes up, but basically I just want to work. I want to feel that I’m not just spinning my wheels. I want to grow as an actor and that desire comes at a price. Even though I could have stayed through Season Six - Brad [Wright], the show’s co-creator, did ask me to stay - I was prepared to take advantage of the question mark of the future rather than carry on in what I knew was going to be a very trying situation. I felt that when feelings were still, to a certain degree, positive, it was time to move on.”

Fan reaction to Daniel's demise has been passionate and prolific, with thousands of messages bandying to and fro about the unfairness of it all. Much has been mooted on the Internet and in various printed publications about the fact that Shanks's last episode on Stargate SG-1 concentrated less on his departure and, instead, more on the introduction of a new character.

Brad Wright is already penning a Season Six episode especially for Daniel, saying, "I have extended the invitation to Michael to return." Wright also revealed that Daniel Jackson plays a pivotal role in the Stargate SG-1 feature currently being scripted by himself and Robert C. Cooper.  Shanks' role depends very much on the actor's other commitments but, says Wright, "We've got our fingers crossed it works out."

2002, Cult Times.  Buy Cult Times #77 online.

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