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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Boys, Boobs and Biscuits
Jayne Dearsley, SFX #117, May 04

 
Picture it. Two guys and a girl in the basement of a building in Soho. It's not what you think, honest- not some shady strip joint or lap dancing venue, but a plain white room containing a table, four uncomfortable chairs, a pile of Stargate scripts waiting to be autographed and a plate of biscuits. Oh, and a copy of The Sun, which is currently drawing the attention of Christopher Judge, who's sitting at the table staring at page three and grinning from ear to ear.

"Did you see Janet Jackson's nipple?" asks Michael Shanks. Judge nods still smiling. A few days ago Miss Jackson famously popped out of her costume at the Superbowl. A discussion of wardrobe malfunctions ensues, although somehow SFX's tale of Judy Finnegan's sensible bra saying hello at the National TV Awards doesn't carry that same weight as Jackson's boob. Those pesky Yanks have overshadowed us reserved Brits once again. It's been only a few days since we last ran into Shanks and Judge at the slightly more respectable signing they held in Swindon. Although 'respectable' might be the wrong word, considering that we cheekily asked to measure their biceps while they were there.

"I still think that was an odd choice," grumbles Judge, putting aside his newspaper. "You could have measured anything you wanted."

But the room was packed with people, we point out.

"They'd better stand back," Judge rumbles, reliving the moment and making suggestive gestures. Then he laughs so deeply that the room seems to vibrate.

Shanks picks up the dictaphone sitting innocently on the table next to the complementary biscuits. "You getting all this?" he mutters into the mike.

Perhaps the reason for the guys' boisterous behaviour is that they were up all night clubbing and are still pretty psyched. Or it could just be that they're going stir crazy after travelling so much in the past few days on a signing tour. "After Swindon we went to Glasgow, then to Frankfurt and Barcelona," Shanks lists, taking another swig from an ever present can of Diet Coke. "Apparently it ws the first ever science fiction convention to be held in Spain. It was great."

They certainly attracted the crowds in the not so glamorous confines of Swindon. 5000, or thereabouts. Both men look shocked when they find out the number. "They did have to cut off the line because it never stopped getting bigger" Shanks recalls.

"When we were three hours into it, the line was longer than when we started, " Judge agrees.

Does that happen wherever they go? Judge nods. "Really, it's flabbergasting to see how the show has been accepted and embraced, and how we're..."

He struggles to find the word. We suggest "Loved"

"Well, that sounds kind of egocentric." He chuckles again - not like his stoic alter-ego, Teal'c, at all. It's something he does so often, and with such relish, that you cant help but think of the Riddler from Batman. ("Riddle me this, Anubis!") It's also an echoey room, so every laugh lasts twice as long as it should.

"There was one particular location," Shanks continues cheerfully, "That was minus five degrees celsius in a snowstorm, and we still had a lineup of people round the block. People were coming in with their hands frozen. It was unbelievable that people would do that. It gives you a tremendous sense of responsibility and an obligation to make sure that those people get what they want."

"And to be somewhat sober when they show up."

Shanks considers this. "You didn't say anything about when we leave, though."

All that hero worship and adoration following them around the world! Oh to be famous.

"Here's a good start," says Judge, taking a less than fatherly interest in my career prospects and picking up The Sun. "Just get a couple of shots of yourself in here and there you go."

Erm...It's a thought. However, that's not what inspires Stargate fans to stand in blizzards waiting to meet their heroes (unless there's been a page three shot we're not aware of) Why do people do it?

"Well we're both really good looking, "Judge deadpans, and Shanks howls with laughter. "What? People can see!" Judge emphasises.

"Yes, well...um..." Shanks stammers. "I see, the court jester therows out a funny line and then I have to actually answer the question!"

Yes, Michael, you act like you're on Parkinson while we'll leave Judge being So Graham Norton...

"Somebody has to answer the damn questions!" Shanks grins. " Because I'm from a small town, I know that if we had the same kind of signing in London as we had in Swindon (only an American could think of Swindon as a small town) we might no cecessarily get the same kind of enthusiastic crowd. It's very rare for people to come to small towns. People are so chuffed that you'd actually go there."

"There so what?" Judge is bemused. Again.

"Chuffed"

Judge looks blank, "What does that mean?"

"It means pleased," I offer. "It's a Britishism. If, um, Britishism is a word..."

"Britishism is a language!" Judge declares. He points to his newspaper. "This is Britishism."

Yikes-perish the thought. Now, seeing as Christopher Judge is proving to be absolutely nothing like his onscreen persona (The hair poking out from under his hat is testament to their physical difference, and we've never heard Teal'c guffaw), we're wondering whether he minds the fact that he gets an average of two lines per episode? Does it annoy him when everyone else is saying stuff, and he's just given, "Indeed" or "I concur"

"No, no, because it works the other way too," Judge replies, good-naturedly. "To me, it's a very enviable position as an actor when, every time your character talks, it's something important. There's nothing thrown away, you know, every line has some gravitas to it. And occasionally I get a bit of exposition here and there, which is kind of daunting to me as i have to learn more than one or two lines of dialogue! The funny thing is, when I've written scripts, I still had to go to the script supervisor and relearn my lines."

That's a bit odd. "Of course, you write it months before you actually film it," he adds. "We do one episode and as soon as it's over, I can't remember what happened. It's like my brain has been compartmentalised, so that when one part's full, one has to be emptied to let everything new be absorbed!"

Teal'c doesn't get many episodes to himself, though, so there can't be too much to remember, frankly. "It's difficult for the writers to write Teal'c episodes," Judge agrees, "Because they're usually centred in the world of the Jaffa. Peter DeLuise has taken on the mantle of that. He's the one who writes the majority of Teal'c and Jaffa episodes, season eight, though..."

"You know you want one."

For some reason Michael Shanks is suddenly waving the plate of biscuits under my nose. Not wanting to be impolite, I stash a Jammie Dodger away for later consumption.

"You know you want one!" mimics Judge, with much Sid James-ian relish.

Shanks sniggers. "That'll be in The Sun by tomorrow morning! Sorry, you were talking"

Judge shrugs, "I dunno. That was more interesting."

Last night the first part of the double episode "Heroes" aired. We watched it too, on Sky," Shanks reveals, before going on a brief tirade about the shocking placement of the ad breaks. Join the club, Michael, join the club.

"Not that we're, like, you know, these wankers that sit around and watch their own shows, "Judge is quick to point out.

We briefly discuss Firefly's Adam Baldwin, who, at the time of this interview, was rumoured to be a possible regular on Stargate Atlantis after his appearance in "Heroes" (Sadly it was just a rumour)/ At the briefest mention of Firefly, however, a curious, cheeky grin creeps across Judges face.

"Who was the space hooker?"

Shanks blinks "What?"

"Dude, in the advertisement for Firefly there was a space prostitute! She was hot!"

He's talking about Morena Baccarin's character, Inara. She's trained in the art of seduction, don'tchaknow...

"Oh, boy," growls Judge.

So: Stargate Atlantis. O'Neill and Jackson will appear in the pilot episode, but none of the other regular SG1 members will. "It's some rule that I don't completely understand," says Shanks, " But all I know is that the only characters that can be in the pilot are Richard and myself. The series itself is much more open."

"I think they want Atlantis to find wings on its own as a viable commodity," Judge explains. "Rob and Brad have worked on the pilot and it's fantastic."

The writers work so hard on the show that we have to wonder when they sleep. "In between golf rounds, " Offers Shanks, and both guys laugh.

We know that Stargate is definitely getting an eighth season. Could there be more? "I think there's a possibility of a ninth season because of our rating spiking in America," Shanks ponders. "I'm not saying that that's a sure thing at all, I'm just saying that business logic dictates that they say, 'Um, maybe we don't want this to go away!"

"It's show business, so you have a responsibility to the shareholders and all that," declares Judge.

Would they sign up for a ninth year? Noth men are evasive. It's far too early to know such things. "Creatively, if the scripts for season eight are the same quality and integrity as they have been this past year then I'll be interested," is all that Shanks will say. In that case, we think there's a good chance. The latter half of Stargate's rediscovered some lost energy reserve, and all the characters have had their moment to shine.

"That's because of Rick's lesser involvement with the season," nods Shanks. "I mean, obviously we miss Rick's everyday diatribe of humour and things like that, but it's given us a lot more ability to see all the things that really flesh out our world. We have a chance to do that a little bit more without having one star there who's always gonna be there, and always gonna be in every scene."

Judge, to use a Teal'c word, concurs. "Also it validates something that the fans have been saying for a long time, something that we've been trying to get across too. That the show is not always Rick. So the fact that the ratings have been higher is lending credence to what we thought all along."

Surely it's not that people don't like Richard Dean Anderson. "Oh no, it's not that!" Shanks corrects. "No, no, no, they tuned into him in the first place and he's wonderful! He always finds a way of making it work. Even in the smaller scenes, he finds a way fo making his presence felt. And we do miss him. I certainly miss interacting with him on and off the screen. However, rather than getting down about that missing actor, I get up because I get to do a scene every now and then."

There's a sudden clunk! as Judge's armrest falls on the floor. "Some fat guy broke the chair!" he laughs.

So, anyway, um...er... what were we talking about?

Shanks laughs. "Look how easily you get sidetracked!"

Alaright, time to get serious...about nookie. Is there any copping off on the horizon for Daniel and Teal'c? Not together, obviously, I add before Judge gets his chance. No need to worry. He's been distracted. He has that puzzled look again, this time at the phrase "copping off". "This is English right? We need a dictionary."

"I certainly don't premeditate or seek any of that character interaction stuff," Shanks gamely tries to answer the question with some thought. "I don't like getting dredged down with relationship stuff."

But don't they find it odd that they're both playing characters who've barely had any action for seven years now? Shanks isn't convinced. " I always like to look at a series, especially a series like Stargate, like this. The audience needs to see all the good bits. The characters live all the slightly more life bits off camera."

Hang on, sex is the good bits, isn't it?

"Sex in front of the camera isn't!" Shanks chortles.

"Anyway I have no idea what's on the plate for my character. There's a little bit of stuff coming up."

"This is gonna be a freaky season eight," Judge states. "It's so good that this year Teal'c got hair, and they've started writing the character a little bit differently. It's always been my complaint, about Hollywood in general, and in sci-fi especially, that the black man is always the alien. And generally, he's not dealt with. He's dealt with in strength and size, but never his intellect or his sexuality. Season eight's gonna be very different. The writers are showing more of that side of Teal'c. I'm excited about that." (Fact fans will also be pleased to hear that Jolene Blalock's Ishta will be returning, so Teal'c's definitely going to be showing some of his sexuality)

The actors have come a long way since the show started seven years ago. "We have teenage girls who come up to us and say, 'we've been watching your show since we were five years old"' "Shanks recalls. "And we go, 'What? No, you did not just say that!' We look back on season one episodes and think, 'Who are those kids?'"

"I was 26 and single when I started the show," reflects Shanks, "and now I'm on my second relationship and I have a five year old daughter! So a lot of life has passed under the bridge. The work itself has been relatively consistent and linear: it's how your life changes underneath it all that you remember the most."

Judge finishes the thought for his companion. "We mark the passage of time by the show. Like, 'Do you remember when that happened, that was season two...?' World events, you know - 9/11 was season five. It's amazing, when you think about i, how much of our lives we have spent with the show. Seven years later we're still loving what we do, and to get that genuine love from people is just remarkable."

Just check out the next blizzard swept autograph queue for proof.

2004, SFX.  Buy SFX #117 online.

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