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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Daniel In The Lion's Den
Sharon Gosling, XPose #66, Mar 02

Michael Shanks' decision to leave Stargate...

It’s not a decision that has been accepted easily by his thousands of fans, a fact that evidently bemuses him. While he has taken pains to assure the ‘Danielites’ that it was, in the end, his decision to make, the dedication of these viewers has taken him by surprise. In an action that is largely unprecedented, one group of fans took out several advertisements in magazines such as the Hollywood Reporter, campaigning for his return. Looking at one such advert he smiles wryly.

“It’s very flattering, is the best way to put it, I guess. It’s very nice to see a group of people go to that amount of effort to bring it into the public eye even more than the show would do itself, in a way. At the same time it feels like a little bit too much in the sense that if people have the money to do something like that, you really wish it was going towards something that was helping people. You know,” he continues, indicating the article in question, “arguably that does, but the same time, I wish it had gone to a better cause. But the point is, no, I've never seen anything like that before and yes, it’s very flattering.”

Despite his attempts at diplomacy, it’s easy to see that Shanks is an angry young man. The fans’ reactions have been fueled in part by a frenzied ‘did he jump or he pushed’ debate that the actor isn’t particularly eager to avoid.  Although he’s again quick reiterate the fact that it was indeed his own decision to leave, he pinpoints his growing discontent with his role as reason for his choice, and adds that it’s a problem that coould have easily been resolved way that would have made him more willing to stay.

Shanks explains his unhappiness with the writers’ treatment of the character, which to his mind had become more and more  two-dimensional as the seasons progressed.  “I think me leaving is a kind of indicator of how satisfied I was [with Season Five]. I found last two years of the show to be a winding down lack of the character's usefulness and the lack of desire of the producers to incorporate that character and use him properly was at times very frustrating for me. There were certainly moments when that came to the fore. It just seemed that there was a painting into a corner of the character which was done early in the Fourth Season. There was a gradual decline, in the sense that there wasn’t a big effort to include him in the big scene.

"As an actor, that’s frustrating: when you are there all the time but you are not contributing in any way. I guess it’s like playing with a sports team where you are sitting on the bench. You know, you’re happy to be there but at the same time you also want to get your name in, and so it became frustrating. I wasn’t content with the way it was going. My early enthusiasm for the show may have propelled me through the rougher points, but then after such a long length of time doing a similar thing each week, that enthusiasm wore down to a point where it couldn’t even get me through the days any more.”

Going on to outline what would have made him happy to continue portraying Daniel Jackson, Shanks describes how it would have made a difference if the writers had been more enthusiastic on behalf of the character. “It didn’t really seem to be important, if that character didn’t fit in [to a particular scene], to give him a reason to fit in, to make a point of saying that he has this conditional skill that is required, something like that. But again, the more I seemed to be vocal about it, the less I saw happening, and the more my frustration built up. So that led to the eventual decision.”

His choice to leave was met with dismay not only from the fans but also from his fellow cast members. Don Davis and Amanda Tapping were particularly upset over his departure, and fans have noticed the gradual decline in team spirits that bled through from the set onto the screen. Once the cast had finally accepted that he was leaving, the mood on set for the filming of the last episodes of season five was increasingly depressed, a testament to how close this small ensemble had become in the five years since Stargate SG-1 went into production.

“I think it was very emotional for a lot of people. It is a tight knit group for the most part, I think that there was a general sadness overall, a loss of a family member of sorts — that we were losing part of something that was never going to be seen again. That went for all of us — those that stayed and would have to continue the next year. They were harder hit than I was in the sense that I was the one making the decision and they were the ones being left behind. They were in an emotionally effected spot because they were trying to picture life ‘around the house’ without such-and-such. So there was a general malaise, a tone or mood of anger and sadness at the same time.”

So this open affection for him as a part of the ‘family’ wasn’t enough to persuade him to change his mind? He becomes animated as he explains, “I went through a lot of periods of second thought, because you make a decision based on the negatives outweighing the positives, and then as soon as you make that decision, all you can think of are the positives that you are going to be leaving behind! So yeah, I had all these second thoughts.”

Nevertheless, Shanks didn’t relent, a turn of events he again attributes to the lackadaisical attitude of the producers. “From the moment I said that I was going to go, there didn’t seem to be any sort of fight from the producers to try to keep me,” he says, the anger still evident in his voice despite the months since the events in question. “It almost seemed as if it were something that they were hoping I’d do,” he continues frankly, “so that they could have a fresh perspective for season six, which pissed me off. That angered me — and any second thoughts I had after that were quelled by the fact that it didn’t seem as if the door was even open for me to change my mind. If I changed my mind, that door wasn’t going to be open anyway, so it was almost as if the moment I said I was going to go, then that was the way it was going to be and live with it.” As far as Michael was concerned, the producers hadn’t even considered the possibility of taking him back if he decided to stay, “It didn’t even go on in their minds.”

This discontent with his treatment continued as the Fifth Season continued, creating an atmosphere that the actor admits probably affected his performance. “I think my performances suffered and were affected by both the feelings of ‘It’s almost over’ mixed with the exasperation and frustration of not doing anything. There was also this feeling of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and scrambling towards it as opposed to finishing what I was doing properly.”

Meridian

“I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know how happy I’m going to be with the overall result. With the script, the best way to put it is that there were a lot of agendas that the writer was trying to solve. I like Rob Cooper’s work a lot, so I really like the fact that he was writing the episode but he had a number of different agendas — one of which was the introduction of a new character.”

Here, the actor’s discontent surfaces once again as he attempts to explain how he felt about the appearance of Corin Nemec, who is set to take his place in the final season, in his finale episode. “That to me was the major sticking point — I mean, it’s not a big deal, they had to do it. I know they as producers had to make these changes for themselves, they have to live life after you are gone anyway — but, at the same time, I also felt that they could have been a little more tasteful about the time and the way that the introduction into the show could have happened. It could have happened at the beginning of season six but they chose that specific episode for some reason.”

Shaking his head, he continues, “I was trying to do a job, in the middle of a family that was very emotional, it was emotional for me and for them — and then you have this different dynamic. No offence against the actor but there was the most awkward kind of situation... and it just seemed to be one of these things that was just like ‘Well, tough cookies, live with it’! I was kind of reading it and going ‘Oh my God, even in the last episode! You can’t just give me — the character — a proper send off, you have to include this other element.’ I thought it was a bit disrespectful.”

Given the level of displeasure with which Shanks evidently regards the powers that be on Stargate SC-i, is a reprisal of his role in the final season at all likely? Shanks takes a deep breath at the question, frowning slightly as he steeples his fingers. “It’s tough to say at this point in time. I think my focus is lying outside of that, and I think the more I say about this, the more they are going to dig their heels in and just say ‘Fine’, you know, ‘stick it in your pipe and smoke it.”’

“The problem is that I really like the character. I really liked the show, in all honesty, especially in the early days, and it would be a shame to not live a portion of that character’s life again on some level, but at the same time right now I think my focus lies in other places in my career and so it is a decision I will have to make day by day.”

Directing on the show doesn’t seem to be likely either, despite the success with which he rose to the challenge of his directorial debut on the series, Double Jeopardy. “I don’t think that would be an option,” he laughs dryly, “I think that would be even less of an option in terms of acting on the show. But directing in general in my career — that’s something I want to do much later. That’s a place where my interest lies, but I have too much to do in the acting world before I focus on that.”

Speaking of the acting world, Shanks has been ‘out of the loop’, shooting in a Hollywood satellite, for five years, meaning that despite his high profile it’ll be hard work to become established in Tinseltown again. “I know it will be a problem,” he nods, “but I knew it was a place I was going to end up, so to do another year on the show and to delay the inevitability of having to do something I was planning to do in my life anyway would have been difficult. You can’t just show up in LA and say ‘Here I am!’ Although the show gave me it’s not one of these things that means I am easily recognizable away from the Sci-Fi community. It hasn’t really hurt my career, but it hasn’t really helped my career either, I’ll still have to line up in the same fashion as I always would nave had to do.”

What is clear is that wherever Michael Shanks chooses to go from here, his time as Doctor Daniel Jackson of SG-1 will be remembered by the fans as one of the distinct highlights of the show. For Shanks, his route now is flexible, “wherever I end up next, as long as it’s growth, I’m going to be happy with it.”

2002, XPose.  Buy XPose #66 online.

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