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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Actor Hyphenate
Ben Strait, MGM Newsletter, Mar 03

Star Interview: ACTOR HYPHENATE: Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks Joins the Ranks of Writers (Part 2 of 2)

In the second half of our two-part interview with actor Michael Shanks, who returned to Stargate SG-1 after leaving the show at the end of its fifth season, the actor gives us insight into the direction of his beloved character (archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson) upon returning to the SGC, what he did while on hiatus during Season 6, his adventures in the writing trade, the future of Stargate SG-1, and more. Read on...

SCI-FI NEWSLETTER: Can you talk about Daniel's character development in Season 7?

MICHAEL SHANKS: Again, I've read the first four scripts of the season and I think the character's arc this year will be a type of redefining his role. There's a red flag hoisted to go. . .Uh oh! Danger, danger, Will Robinson! But at the same time you can't have a stagnant character. You can't leave and have the character come back from the situation he was in and be unchanged. Yet, at the same time, in order for the stories to continue to have weight, the character went to a place where he learned all the knowledge of the universe. And you can't throw a character like that back into a television show about real people because you have the easy answers all the time through one character's exposition. I think that's a real danger when you want to put your characters in jeopardy and some guy's walking around knowing all the information.

So, we had to give him a little bit of amnesia. We had to make all of his experiences be somewhat of a figment in his mind. We're going to try to access who he was, as well as what happened to him when he was away. These experiences will slowly come back, I assume, in convenient ways to help explain situations that we need explaining. So, the character will be recollecting himself, because he's also trying to decide why he came back, which is a forward-moving thing. I guess the best way to put it is: he came back for a reason. He chose to come back for a reason. And I think that reason is going to redefine the character in [his] being a little bit more active and forward-moving as opposed to a passive observer. And that's the collaboration on our parts. We'll find a fine line to be able to keep the good qualities of the character from before. So, we're not bringing back somebody completely different, and yet [we're] having him have characteristics that make him a forward-moving presence instead of just a stagnant one.

SFN: Any places you personally would like to see him go?

MS: What I would really like to know-and this is actually more from a fan-ish point of view than anything else, from myself as being a fan of the character-I would really like either to write a story myself or have someone write a story where he does recollect, not necessarily what he's learned from his experiences when he was away, but what actually happened to him. Where did he go? Who did he meet? What did he learn? What experiences did he have in this other world, and they don't necessarily have to reflect on him all of a sudden gaining superpowers mysteriously or anything like that, but we [would] just sort of learn. A guy disappears for a year. It's enigmatic in a way. It's like Kazoo from The Flintstones. He keeps popping in, but where does he live? I want to see where he goes when he poofs in and out. I want to see a little bit of the world that he comes from. And just to give a taste to get a sense of what his experience was is just something that I want to hear about. In terms of what this character does, we'll have to redefine whatever role within that group himself, and I think that'll be up to the stories and the collaboration between myself and the writers.

SFN: Speaking of writing, have you talked to the writers?

MS: We're throwing around a couple of. So, we'll wait and see. I don't want to create too much expectation.

SFN: Have you sat down and faced the blank page?

MS: I sure have. I call it the "beating my head against the desk" sessions. I think it's relatively easy to form your own idea and write your own story. Especially using an outline and point form, the same way as writing an essay involving a set group of characters and a set mythology. It is a little more difficult when you [collaborate with] writers because your ideas mutate. Yet, when they mutate, you go, "I don't know what to do with that; I knew what to do with this, but I don't know what to do with it now." So, it's a little bit frustrating that way. But at the same time I understand the nature of it. There have to be voices of reason; and, especially with television, there have to be voices of economics, saying we can't build that, or we did a story like that before, or we don't want to go there because of the ramifications of the future. You do need those voices, but it does make it a lot more frustrating to have people looking over your shoulder when you're writing and to have to take those voices into consideration.

SFN: Where do you see the Stargate franchise going after SG-1 and what level of involvement would you like to have in that?

MS: That's a tough question. Where I see it going, I tend to. . .it's a strange business we're in, and I have my own notion of where I'd like it to go. But that's up to, again, the economics of the business, meaning the economics of the artistic side of things. I would like to see Stargate wrap up with a nice feature film. I really would. I really think that would be a wise place to go, given the evolution of both the characters and the visual effects, and the production people. I think it would be a great send-off for what has been a long run of a series. Especially since it started on the big screen, it would be nice to go out the same way. In regards to the future of it, I don't know. That sits in the hands of a lot of different people other than me, and they're all trying to figure that out themselves. So, what may happen with that, I don't know.

SFN: Can you tell us about some of the things you did while on hiatus?

MS: I did a couple of television shows, The Chris Isaak Show, The Twilight Zone. I had a couple of independent films that were just about to go into production, and certain factors came in-as often happens with independent films-and killed them. And then I ended up popping in and out of Stargate. And I ended up finishing up the year in South Africa doing a science-fiction feature film called "Sumuru," which is a German, Canadian and British production. . .and South African. That will be a bit of a fun frolic, so I'll expect to see it in the B-movie rack at Blockbuster sometime soon.

SFN: Who do you play in the film?

MS: I play a bit of a swashbuckler, a pseudo-antihero-the reluctant hero who crash-lands on a planet that's loaded up with a bunch of beautiful women and [who] must find a way to escape a dying planet. He's a bit more of an O'Neil type character from Stargate, where he's a lot more cynical and quips a few bad one-liners to take the curse off of a rather B-movie situation. Which was an important factor in keeping the feet firmly planted on the ground, and from over-committing to the material because you go, "but there's danger." So, it's a bit more of a departure. It's a bit more of the hero character than the passive intellectual that I play on Stargate.

SFN: Was it a fun experience?

MS: It was great. I call it my paid vacation. It was wonderful. It was 32C degrees in South Africa and every day, beautiful locations. And the culture difference there, and the political difference there, was an eye-opening experience. The movie is the movie, and it was fun to do. There were a lot of great people on it, and I had a positive, pleasant experience. I keep my expectations in the realistic category in terms of where the movie will sit. And I think, at the end of the day, if it's taken with a huge boulder of salt, it will be a fun movie to watch. So, I think the experience overall was what I cherish the most out of it.

SFN: Since a lot of fans read our newsletter, is there any kind of message you'd like to send out to them?

MS: Can't we all just get along (laughs). Put the war drums and the knives down and go back and watch a television show. No, I think that I'm looking forward to this year. I think everybody's looking forward to the direction that we're going in this year. And it's going to be a fun ride.

2003, MGM.

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