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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Back To The Gate
Miwa Hirai, CFQ Magazine Aug/Sep, Jul 03


Daniel Jackson’s journey began in 1994, when Stargate, the feature film created by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin hit the big screen. In the film, Dr. Jackson (played by James Spader) discovered the code that unlocked the Stargate, a massive ancient artifact found in the Egyptian desert. Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil (Kurt Russell), led Dr. Jackson and a troop of soldiers through the Gate to explore an unknown universe on the other side. Three years later, Brad Wright gave the film new life as a television show: Stargate SG-1. Now back on earth, Daniel Jackson’s journey continues with the SG-1 team after a detour that took him off the show between Stargate’s tenure on Showtime and its repositioning on the Sci Fi Channel.

“It’s been crazy since we started shooting season seven in February, but that’s fine with me,” actor Michael Shanks says, who has played Dr. Jackson for the past five years on SG-1.

“I don’t regret my decision to leave the show when I did. But I also think I made the right decision to come back. It’s always wonderful to be busy with a schedule rather than waiting for a casting call. Sometimes it’s going to feel like it’s too crazy, but work is good. Time always flies when you’re busy. I like to be busy, so it’s turned out to be a good year for me. I’m very happy about that.”

“I only did three episodes last season as a guest [“Abyss”, “Changeling” and “Full Circle”], so I can’t tell you much about season six,” he says. “Although, throughout the series, I think that some of the characters have slowly changed. O’Neill became more progressive. He has become more human, less military-oriented. He’s loosened up and has begun to sometimes see things from Daniel’s point of view.”

With a laugh he notes, “And Carter’s hair has changed several times. No really, I’m kidding, she has become a much more capable leader. And Christopher [Judge]’s character [Teal’c] has reached a greater level of understanding. That’s been interesting to see, that evolution.”

Shanks left the show for reasons that he termed “artistic differences,” but a vocal — and largely female — organization of fans mounted a controversial campaign to get the actor back on SG-1.

With the show’s success on the Sci Fi Channel, Shanks has been brought back into the mix, and the actor insists he’s grateful for the chance to return.

“It’s been a philosophical journey, but I think that the real reason the show’s a success is because it involves what every human quests for, the search for answers,” he explains. “Modern-day people have a chance to step through this amazing portal and go to some place completely unknown, where there are no guarantees, just like on the original Star Trek. As human beings, we all ask the same thing: What is out there, how did I get here, who am I? I think Stargate plays into that universal curiosity, and here we have a doorway that opens out into those answers. And also — even though it’s an alien perspective — it’s intriguing to think that there are other people out there who want to know about us. That kind of scale is somehow relevant to the form we’re taking in the show.

I think that’s pretty rare.”

After the Jackson character “ascended” in the episode “Meridian” and effectively departed from the show, Shanks made several guest appearances, helping O’Neill through an ordeal of torture and death in “Abyss” and reappearing later to ask for assistance to save the people on the planet Abydos from series heavy Anubis in “Full Circle.”

“In trying to save Abydos, Daniel crossed a forbidden line among the Ascended,” Shanks says, explaining the rationale behind the character’s return. “He got kicked out the club, so to speak. In the season seven opener [“Fallen”] he’s found alone in the woods with no memories, neither of who he was nor what he had done.”

Shanks sees the Jackson character as an essential antidote to the SG-1 team’s often military mindset. “Daniel was a peaceful explorer, an archaeologist, a linguist and a member of SG-1,” Shanks describes. “He was the person who, when dealing with a military organization, was bent on resolving that organization’s agenda. Daniel thought he had to be that voice reminding them not to wave flags. He had to be the one to suggest that maybe there was a better way. No matter what circumstances he was in, he always thought peace was a better solution for everyone. His soul is pure, and sensitive, and he has a shyness and passion within him. But now, since his descent, the character has changed dramatically,”

Shanks pauses for a moment and adds, “In a lot of ways, he’s more enthusiastic, but he’s also more stubborn, more of a soldier. He’s more confident and he knows he has a clear duty to his people. He’s had to make tough decisions, and those decisions led to his return. In an episode called ‘Orpheus’, he realizes he’s come back to do something proactive, to push forward their cause, not just be the passive observer all the time. He realizes that his journey is not the end. It’s just the beginning.“

The relationship between Jackson and the headstrong Jack O’Neil (series lead Richard Dean Anderson) has taken off from the conflicting dynamic established in the film to become one of the most popular elements of the series.

“The Jack and Daniel relationship is at more of a crucible,” Shanks says. “Daniel is getting his memories back, and the love/hate relationship creeps back on them. There’s a lot more gentleness and appreciation for one another. Less bantering will happen this year between the two. They’ll be trying to put things back in proper perspective. They are like good brothers, like a father and a son, and you know, also like an old married couple. I think that it’s getting much tighter, stronger, and closer in every way than before.”

According to the actor, star Richard Dean Anderson’s availability is a major factor in the show’s production.

“He only works three days a week, so they are finding a way to spread him out over the episodes,” Shanks explains. “As a result, there’s a lot more interaction with the other cast members of the show, too. Usually the characters are satellites of the O’Neill character, but this year they’re having to spend a lot more time together to solve their problems. That gives the other characters a lot more independence and authority for themselves so that leads to more challenges. Also, you’re going to see more of Daniel’s struggles.”

Shanks cites writer Brad Wright’s script for ‘Life Boat’ as a particularly challenging story to play. “I think five different personalities get downloaded from a computer into Daniel’s head and get trapped inside his body,” the actor says. “It required a lot of preparation. How I played that was to take different archetypes, personalities that I saw on the page, and attach a recognizable quirk or trait to each of them. You try to make the character your own, find a trigger to it.”

He laughs, “It’s sort of like having a conversation with yourself. Which is what I do most of the time anyway.”

Shanks says SG-1’s basic mission hasn’t changed. “We’re still discovering new planets, and opening up new ones, and I think that’s all building up to a climax,” he says. “We’re trying to find the ‘hidden’ city of the Ancients, trying to find the technology and capability. Also, we’re threatening Anubis. So everything is building towards that direction.”

So what’s in the future for SG-1? Shanks offers, “After this season? We don’t know exactly if there will be a next season or a feature film. It’s a bit ambiguous at the moment, but it would be great if we had yet another season. I’d be very happy to keep playing Daniel Jackson.”

2003, CFQ Magazine.  Buy CFQ online.

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