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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Resurrection Dan
Jayne Dearsley and Lorraine Brumpton, SFX #107, Aug 03

Maybe Michael Shanks' current enthusiasm has something to do with the hysterical screaming that has greeted his appearances on stage this weekend: the women at SFX: The Event haven't kept their appreciation for him quiet.  He's a popular fella and the screams have been ear-splitting.  Ouch.

Because the last interview we did with Shanks covered a few rather racy topics, it seemed prudent to stick to more, um, professional subjects for Round Two.

He has other ideas.

It all starts innocently enough.  We begin by mentioning the fact that SFX is giving away a pair of Daniel Jackson's glasses in a raffle this weekend, all framed and mounted.  Which brings up the subject of other items "touched by Michael" that have found their way into the hands of appreciative fans with deep pockets.

"Wardrobe from way back when, lousy $18 shirts that the costume department got from Best Buy or something like that," Shanks recalls.  "They were selling them at charity events.  They were getting, like, $1,000 for a piece of my wardrobe."

Doesn't he find that very strange - people playing ridiculous amounts to own something associated with him?  The actor seems to take it in his stride.  "It is kind of weird, but it's the nature of the business," he points out, rather endearingly unaffected by his situation.

What about the reverse effect, though?  Has he ever been handed anything by an avid Stargate viewer that has terrified him?  Or has he seen anything that gave him nightmares?  Shanks pauses for a moment to think and a little crease appears on his forehead.

"There are these t-shirts that have been printed," he begins, slowly. "They show my face and Rick's face [Richard Dean Anderson], from different scenes, and they've blended them close together so it looks like we're moving in for a kiss. I don't know how they did it; maybe they cut out the other half of the picture of me kissing Sha're or something! And they wore them in front of us. 'Hey, we're the slashers!' They see that the characters of Daniel and Jack are not..." he stops, carefully searching for the right phrase, "... as heterosexual as they may seem. Rick and I joke about it all the time. That's the funny thing. Rick and I joke around during scenes that they're blocking, especially those argument scenes that we sometimes have. We'll do it with lisps and we'll sound bitchy with each other. The scenes kind of lend themselves to that! I think some people take it a little further than we'd expect, though."

Michael Shanks is returning to Stargate SG-1 for its seventh season after a year-long absence.  Here's the official lowdown on why he decided to come back to the roost.  Bear in mind that when SFX last spoke to Shanks, he was disenchanted with the way the show had been treating him...

"Absolutely," he agrees.

In fact, as we recall, he was pretty damn pissed off...at the way his character had been treated and had been made to feel as though he wasn't needed in the show.

"Yeah," he nods. "At that particular time that was the way that things were, and there's nothing about that situation now that's different.  During the course of the year the situation itself changed. They wanted to bring the character back, they thought that the sixth year was gonna be the last year; they were planning on bringing the character back for the feature franchise, anyway, but they realized they had another year and that Rick would be taking more time off.  They wanted to have a familiar face back in the mix and so they came to me.  [Producer] Rob Cooper and I had a talk, and we both agreed it was the right move for both the franchise and the actor.  And it's been great!"

They didn't do any grovelling, did they?

"No!  Absolutely not. I knew that question was gonna be asked.  Rob and I had this talk and it was one of the most congenial, equal-sided talks.  And the whole notion that I came grovelling back to get a job is bollocks!  It was just one of those situations where they could've carried on doing what they were doing, and I could easily have carried on doing what I was doing."

He frowns. "There was a fictional animosity myself and the production department.  If something is happening within the course of the dynamics of the show, if my character is not being used enough, that's not necessarily any individual's fault or the writers' fault; there's always agendas rolling downhill and they're just a cog in the machine.  Early in the sixth year we straightened that stuff out, and at the end of the year we clarified it, and then we had a nice chat about what the future vas gonna hold."

Shanks admits to not having had a chance to keep up with the show in Season Six because it wasn't airing in Canada.   "So I couldn't see it as much as I would've liked to, and I've been playing catch-up ever since then, to find out what the hell happened."

He laughs, pretending to look perplexed.  "For the first few episodes they were talking about characters and certain things, like tretonin and the other mythology things that had come into the mix while I was away.  I was going, 'What are they talking about?'"

As to how the ascended Daniel Jackson will be returning to Earth..."Daniel has to make a choice about whether or not he feels satisfied following the path he's chosen with them [the Ancients/Ascended] or whether he's got unfinished business with his friends," explains Shanks seriously.  "He loses all memory of himself.  'Who am I and why am I back?'  He remembers his phone number eventually," Shanks assures us with a wry smile.  "But they've garage-saled all his things, he's gotta buy new stuff...the works.  Let's just hope someone remembered to feed his fish while he was away."

The return of Daniel Jackson means that his replacement, Jonas Quinn, will be downsized considerably.

"I had limited interaction with him [Corin]. Our characters rarely crossed paths. We had a two-parter this year to sort of get to know each other a little bit, and I think a lot of that dynamic was left unsaid because it was the new situation. We didn't have a sit-down to discover how we felt about things. People were expecting for him and I not to get along, like there'd be some sort of catty relationship behind the scenes, but we got along just fine."

"The situation prescribes that you two should be at each other's throats.  That's bullshit!  People are always digging for dirt.  Not that that isn't to say that in every building there isn't some, and there are always disagreements and strange politics going on, whatever, but... I've been around the business for not even as long as Corin, and I think he understands not to take everything personally."

Meanwhile, Shanks is broadening his own horizons.  He's already directed an episode of Stargate; now he's writing one, following the footsteps of co-star Christopher Judge last season.  "I'm banging my head against the wall, writing as we speak!" Shanks grins.  "That's part of my catch-up process, getting to grips with the new mythology.  They asked me beforehand to get as much on the page as I could before I started, and I was like, 'Ah, I got lots of time.'  Then of course the season starts and we've just been in the mill, and I am so far behind in terms of writing!  It's difficult to catch up because we're sometimes shooting two episodes at the same time and the season has been really compressed this year.  We're in Mid-May and we've already done over half the episodes.  We started mid-February.  So we're three months in!"

Is that incredibly fast?

"It is.  Usually we take a full eight months to shoot.  We're gonna be done, possibly, in August, and that's two months before we normally are/  It's a little bit abbreviated this year and time has been precious."

"This trip [to SFX: The Event] has been great.  I got some writing done on the plane over, I'm in a nice quiet little hotel next door, so it'll be a great opportunity to let me catch up."

After reflecting on the script handed to him featuring the character of a cross-dressing aromatherapist Shanks had referenced at a previous convention attendance, SFX asked if he had ever been asked to do something on Stargate SG-1 that has made him say, "I just can't do that"?

Shanks ponders for a few seconds, and then leans forward to speak with surprising intensity. "There was one scene from the first episode back ["Fallen"], a strange scene that Robert Cooper had written, about Daniel recognising something again about Jack because he's lost his memory. They're in the locker room getting changed and he sees a picture on Jack's locker of Charlie, and says, `Is that your son?' It's a strange conversation that takes place. Except that it was originally written with Daniel walking in after just having had a shower, with a towel wrapped around his waist, and he starts getting into this personal conversation with Jack! I was just like, `Oh my God, this is so... so... like a "drop-the-soap" kind of conversation!"'

He laughs like a schoolboy.

"I don't know if Robert had written it to get that point across, or whatever, but we just said, 'Look here...!' Because the actual interaction in the conversation was very personal, and it was upstaged by this whole not-so-heterosexual context. So we asked if we could remove the distraction, so to speak, and make it about the content of the scene, so we did that. They're pretty savvy and they've gotten better over the years with not asking you to do things that you're not comfortable with."

So that's at least one occasion where Daniel's shirt wasn't removed...Does the actor ever have to worry about having to take off clothing for a role?

"It is strange to think that you're just a piece of meat on the screen acting.  A fortunately play a character who isn't asked to do that a great deal, which be a disappointment to some people, least of all me.  Um...but that's part of the job description.  People have no right to complain at having to work out and have a good diet if you're a model.  There's a thousand people out there waiting in line to have your job, so it comes with the territory.  You're in the public eye, you're there for entertainment purposes."

Last year, Shanks popped back to the set to film what was definitely Season Six's finest house, 'Abyss', in which Daniel visits an incarcerated O'Neill and helps him stay sane as he's tortured.  What was it like, filming such an intense episode after so long away from the show?

"I read something that Rick had said which I thought was an absolutely brilliant analogy," Shanks says thoughtfully. "I call it, `Sticking the two of us in a broom closet and making us act with no props.' He called it, `Sticking the two of us in a paper bag and shaking it up a little bit.' That's exactly what it is. For our banter dynamic, we've gotten to the point in our personal relationship... you know when you've had a friend from a long time and you can look at them across a room, and someone will say something, and you know exactly what they're thinking? That's kind of how we are. The bounce-back-and-forth is so organic and so natural; we don't have to work with each other, it's just fun. 'Abyss' was the one episode where we had four or five scenes together where we just got to bounce the ball back and forth. We had a hoot for two days, working together. That was some of the best work I've seen Rick do on the show, period."

It's time for Michael Shanks to return to the stage and endure the wave of shrieking that proves Daniel Jackson is a lust object...

(c) SFX, 2003.  Buy SFX  #107 online.

2002,

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