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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Gate Expectations: Michael Shanks And Christopher Judge
Sharon Gosling, Dreamwatch #115, Mar 04

 
Stargate SG1 seems to be the sci-fi series that just won't die. For the past three years, it has managed to get renewed at the eleventh hour, and filming on the show's eighth season is about to get underway.

Unlike it's predecessors, though, Stargate SG-1's eighth season will bring some major changes, both in front and behind the camera. This year, the cast will be missing two familiar faces, while the SGC will be run by none other than the newly promoted General Jack O'Neill. Meanwhile right across the lot at Bridge Studios, Vancouver, the series spawned it's first spin off show, Stargate Atlantis.

So what will all these monumental changes do for the show and it's original cast? And are there any other changes in store for the remaining members of SG1? Pausing in London on their busy European tour, actors Michael Shanks and Christopher Judge fill Dreamwatch in on what viewers can expect from the new season and reveal how they are dealing with the new look Stargate SG1.

You're about to start filming season eight and you've got scripts for the season's opening four episodes. What's your feeling on how the new season is shaping up?

MS: There are going to be some changes, for sure. I think it's interesting and we're very curious to find out how those changes are going to sit. We are doing the spin off at the same time, and having that creative dynamic right across the lot from us will be interesting. Rick's character, Jack O'Neill, will be a General this year, so it will be interesting to see how that works. It's going to be very weird to see General O'Neill sitting in that big red chair. It's going to be like the brat kid sitting in the principles chair (Laughs)

CJ: You know what's going to be great? Trying to get him to fall into how a General should be. He'll have to salute and all that, that's going to be hilarious.

How do you think the changes will affect the team dynamic on the show?

MS: I actually think you may end up seeing a lot more of the team dynamic. You certainly will in terms of setting up the episodes. A lot of the set up always takes place in the briefing room and quite a lot of stuff has to circulate through the General, so you may see a lot more team interaction than you saw in season seven as a result of that. In terms of what will happen in their relationships, I believe the dynamic will remain consistent. But we certainly are feeling our way with General O'Neill. Rick will probably have the most fun.

MS: As for people missing Jack O'Neill in season seven, I understand that to a large degree. But at the same time we had a lot more fun shooting the season, because when you have four people and only one of them is doing the bulk of the talking, the other actors end up spending a lot of days just standing around and not really doing a lot but having to be on the set. I also think if we hadn't told people that there was going to be less Rick in it, people micht not have been as quick to jump all over the fact that he wasn't in a lot of episodes, because the character is utilised for the time he's there and not utilised in the times he's not. If we hadn't warned people in advance that he was going to be in the show less, then people might not have felt the need to say, "Hey, he's not in that scene, I'm going to write somebody a letter" So next season, I don't think it will be detrimental to the dynamic, but it will be different, and I'm looking forward to it.

Are there any big changes happening for your own characters next season?

CJ: Oh yes, it's going to be a season of big change for Teal'c. Of the first four episodes, two are just so unlike anything Teal'c has ever done before. It's going to be great. We've slowly brought Teal'c to the point where he's not human but is definitely trying to assimilate human culture, and from the scripts that I've seen, we're taking that a step forward. So yeah, there are already changes onboard. I've tried to do that every year. I probably could have brought it along a little quicker, but I wanted it to really seem like a natural progression. But that will definitely continue. The day's of the frown are over.

MS: In terms of the character's growth this year, I don't think the Ascension thing has been properly knocked on the head in terms of dealing with it. It got blown past so that we could move on with the rest of the show, but I think there's still some life in there in terms of dealing with what actually happened when Daniel was an ascended being and how that affects him now. In terms of how the character came back, the idea was that he was making a conscious choice to be more proactive and less of a passive observer in season seven. They tried to focus on that and I've tried to focus on it as well. So I'm very content with that Evolution.

Is there anything you would specifically like to happen to your characters?

CJ: It's happened. It's to have hair. It's something I've lobbied for during the past seven seasons and it's finally come to fruition. It's in the works for Jolene Blalock to come back. And I still want to see the freedom of the Jaffa, even if we do go on after this season, I would like to see that ended this year, and SG1 can face some new obstacles. I think that's pretty much all we can get out of that. And did I say that Teal'c gets hair? I'm really excited about not having to shave my head every morning.

MS: I'm excited about Chris having hair. Really. In fact, I'm going to start shaving my head. I really enjoy the discovery as much as I enjoy the scripts for the characters. So I never try and second guess it. I don't think in terms of character arcs and things like that. I think it's better to have the character grow according to his experiences, as long ass it's within the realms of the show. I'm happy with that.

Are you both writing episodes of season eight?

MS: Chris definitely is. I wanted to pitch a story, but I haven't been home long enough to do that. So I'll have to wait.

CJ: Yeah, I am definitely writing one. I think right now it's slotted for episode seven or eight, but that depends on availability.

How do you think having Atlantis produced alongside Stargate SG1 will affect the making of your series?

MS: I have no idea. There's probably not a lot of opportunity for crossovers after the pilot and I don't know how it will affect our on set dynamic. It certainly won't affect our lives to a great degree. We have creative staff working on both shows, so it will affect the writing staff, because they have to produce both shows at the same time.

CJ: I've been in the production office quite a few times. You know, I'd love to be under that workload, but I'd also hate to be under that workload. We've seen the first couple of scripts, and they are really good. Brad Wright and Rob Cooper are very creative, fertile minds. I would love to write and episode of Atlantis. I've been putting that in Brad Wright's ear, but I don't know if it will take hold and grow fruit. We've seen the script for Atlantis' pilot and it should be fantastic. There are new villains, and it's obviously the Stargate Universe, but it's a different perspective.

Michael, you're actually guest starring with RDA in Atlantis' pilot episode, Rising.

MS: We are in the first two acts of the ten-act show.

Finally, coming back to Stargate SG1, were either of you tempted not to sign on for another season?

MS: No, not me, because I already quit! Coming back to the show was really a lot of fun. I had a great year, and when the notion that we could do it again came up, I was like 'Oh cool', while everyone else was going 'I don't know'. I was saying 'What? What's the problem?' I was telling everybody the best thing for suffering from fatigue from the show is to have a year off. It's great, you can do other things, you can travel, you can get some rest, spend some time with your loved ones, and then you get back into it. And everyone was looking at me and saying 'Shut up!' So no, I'm really excited about this year.

CJ: No, I never thought stopping made sense in the first place. A few episodes into season seven, we introduced these new super soldiers, and I was like, 'We're going to different levels now, so why quit?' And we got Michael back and it was a fresh start, so I was excited. I was happy to do another year, because in all honesty I was going, 'Why would we stop now? Our ratings are higher than they have ever been and we've got all this new stuff going on that's really cool. As long as it keeps up the quality of the writing, the acting and the filmic components of the series, it's a great show to be on.

Both Teryl Rothery and Don S Davis are not going to be a part of season eight. You've all been together for the best part of a decade, so does it feel as if the family is breaking up?

MS: You know what? In all honesty, we've seen them in the hiatus and I don't think it will really impact on us until we get there, go up and see General Hammonds office and General Hammond's not there anymore. And all of a sudden it will be, 'Wait a minute, that's not right!' We haven't really done that many episodes without Teryl as well, so it will probably be something that we will have to discover as we go along. You never know what you have until you lose it.

CJ: Michael's right. We've been together. They came over for New years and I've talked to Teryl several times, so that part of it hasn't really changed. But yeah, it's going to be weird to go to the briefing room and Donny's not at the table, and it'll be strange to be in the infirmary without Teryl.

Do you wish the producers hadn't decided to kill Dr Fraiser off, especially in light of the US Sci Fi Channel's decision to commission Season Eight?

CJ: I do.

MS: Yeah, Teryl's a wonderful, generous person and a wonderful actress. It's certainly a difficult thing to accept, especially given the circumstances, the fact that it was decided to do another season after that decision was already made. I was like 'What?' Change something! But they couldn't, it was too late.

CJ: I think everyone regrets it. I think the writers and producers, if they could have changed it, they would have. I really believe that. As we were shooting Heroes, that's when the rumbles were going on about season eight and it was like 'oh boy' From a personal standpoint, it's going to be very, very strange to do the show without her.

2004, Dreamwatch.  Buy Dreamwatch #115 online.

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