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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

The Gate Escape
Jayne Dearsley, SFX #90, Apr 02

It’s no secret that the actor left the series with more of a whimper than a bang, suffering a huge radiation overdose and popping his clogs wrapped in a bundle of bandages. Daniel Jackson didn’t really die, however: he “ascended”, becoming a big squid-like special FX shot. A peculiar way for a main character to leave a series, we have to admit. But no more peculiar than the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that caused him to leave. Go on, tell us the truth, Michael. Spill the beans! Leave nothing out! Dish the dirt!

“You want the un-politically correct version?” he asks, with a smile.

“Yes!” We get all excited at the prospect of some juicy goss.

“Well, if I want a career in the industry, I can’t tell you,” he counters. Bugger.

We settle reluctantly for the “my character had been written into a corner and wasn’t being used that much any more” explanation, but things perk up a bit when Shanks mentions how the producers reacted to his artistic concerns. “I was told that it was ‘just a phase we’re going through, and it’s not deliberate’. After two years I thought that this was bullshit. It’s either a massive conspiracy or you just don’t care, one way or the other.” And the producers’ reaction when he handed in his notice? “It wasn’t like they did everything they could to keep me. They just acted like they didn’t really care at the end of the day.”

Considering that Daniel was one of the original characters from the Stargate movie (“So I didn’t just dream that?” Shanks mutters, wistfully) you’d have thought that his decision to leave would have caused a bit more of a stir. Far from it. “The bottom line is that my leaving the show didn’t seem to faze them at all. After five years, it was, Well, take it or leave it... if you wanna go, there’s a door, don’t let it hit you on the ass on the way out’. That was the part that was the most hurtful; that nobody came to ask why. Certainly nobody came to try and talk me out of it.”

Hmm. Sounds a bit odd, we point out. “You think it’s odd from your perspective?” he chuckles, raising his eyebrows. “From my own, being in the inner workings and knowing exactly how much I had contributed to the show, it was the most shocking thing in the world, and all the more a slap in the face.”

Oh dear. All this makes it sound as though they were happy to see him go..

"You gettin’ that sense?” Shanks nods,  half joking, half serious. “I’ve had that sense for quite some time now!” Then he backtracks slightly, as though worried that he’s sounding a little too vengeful. “It’s the nature of the business. It’s not even that important to me; it’s really their loss. I’m at peace with it. Deep down I know the reasons for all this but I can’t say them. I’ll let you speculate on them. The truth behind it is the true irony of it.” Which is....? Shanks is very reluctant to elaborate, but adds carefully, “It’s almost that the success of the character was the character’s downfall.”

He won’t say any more on the subject.

What was it like filming the final episode (“Meridian”)? Did anybody even care that he was going? “I’m referring more to the studio that runs the show. MGM television, the producers. The crew themselves, and the other actors — mostly the other actors — were the ones I had the closest attachment to, because they’d been there every step of the way, they knew the real stories behind everything. There was a strong reaction from people within the crew. ‘You can’t go! This can’t be happening!’ And I’d be like, well, you’re talking to the wrong person!”

What did he think of his final script? “I found it in line with how expendable the character had become anyway; that he was a speed bump on the way to the cliffhanger at the end of the season. Kind of like, ‘We’ll zip along, and —oh, he dies — and then we go onto the cliffhanger’. You could argue that it should have been a two-parter, a good way to end the season and have that final impact, but they just seemed determined to cast that aside and go on with their show. And I understand that from a production aspect, but it shows the irreverence that they had.”

Shanks has also got an axe to grind about the new Stargate cast member, Corin Nemec. Well, not about him (in fact, he’s quite sympathetic towards the actor), but about the way he was brought into the series. “They introduced this other character who will be Daniel Jackson’s replacement in that episode, and I think that was poor form. Really tasteless.” The character in question, Jonas Quinn, has been the subject of a backlash from many fans. “Exactly!” Shanks agrees. “‘What are you doing here? Come back in an hour! Get out of this story!’ That’s how I felt, too. The character’s not even cold yet and you’re bringing in someone to pick up his bags and carry on!”

However, all may not be lost. Those producers did announce that Shanks would return in season six. Is that true? “Privately, they’ve made no such commitment to me. There’s nothing on the slate, as of right now.”

Still, he can rely on his fans to fight the good fight on his behalf. Many have reacted badly to the treatment their favourite character has received, swearing that they won’t watch the series any more. Others have formed torch-wielding lynch mobs and yelled from the rooftops that they love Daniel and want him back.

“It’s very flattering,” is Shanks’ response. “It’s nice to know that you must be doing something right if you have that kind of debate with the fans going on. If people are expressing themselves then at least you’ve made some impact, for better or for worse! I’ve read one site — some fans have a website called www.savedanieljackson.com — with a whole brochure of information on it. For the most part I agreed with it! I couldn’t really sit there and go, ‘Well, you shouldn’t really say that...’ I just go, ‘They’ve got a point!’ I can’t say these things, but these people will.”

There can be no denying that Michael Shanks has become a bit of a sex symbol after five years playing his gate-hopping archaeologist, which goes some way towards explaining his fans’ fervour. The odd thing is that during that time Daniel Jackson didn’t really do anything sexy. There seems to be no such thing as sex in the world of SG-1... “Well, on camera, no,” he teases. “I think O’Neill got nookie once, and then after that nobody ever got in bed with anybody ever again. The women are all walkin’ around wearing green army pants and military boots. Maybe we gotta start asking ourselves which demographic we’re specifically aiming at!”

Which brings him onto the internet. For somebody who describes himself as “technologically incompetent”, Shanks seems to have the world of net fandom sussed. The mention of sex steers the conversation onto those fans who write about Carter and Dr Frasier shacking up together, and then... “There’s a large contingent of Jack and Daniel, er ~ what are they, slashers?” he breezes. "I don't know! Whatever floats your boat, whatever stirs your coffee! I think it’s kind of amusing from the fan perspective but I can’t help but wonder where that comes from.”

But that’s not all! Shanks, it seems, has inspired more than one off-the-wall internet shrine. “I know that there's a website devoted to my feet as well. [SDJ: The Toe Zone!] The publicists of Stargate pointed it out to me,” he laughs, and everybody in the room unconsciously stares at his shoes. Then, in case I thought that was all, there’s a phenomenon known as Danny Whumping, which is a law unto itself. “One of the producers came to me and said, you know there’s a contingent of people, fans of the show, who really like to see Daniel get the shit kicked out of him. I said, ‘Whaddva mean, don’t they like the character?’ And he said, ‘No, they love the character!’ What the hell is that all about? They like to see the character get beat up! Well, that’s an interesting fan demographic there.”

And his opinion on this deluge of dodgy webwork?

“I just work here, man!”

Suffice it to say, Shanks has probably had his fill of playing geeky archaeologists for the time being...This Spring Shanks will be in India making a movie about female prostitution, before heading off to LA for pilot season. “I wanna spread my wings and see what I m capable of,” he announces, pouring himself another of coffee. “Playing one character for that length of time. you wanna do anything! Like, give me something else to play besides this! An evil bastard, an even more geeky person, a cross-dressing herbal aromatherapist...”

2002, SFX.  Buy SFX #90 online

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