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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael's Jackson
Jonathan Wright, Xpose #27, Oct 98

When the original Stargate movie was released in 1994, a lot of critics were less than impressed with the film, but still singled out one performance for special praise. As eccentric Egyptologist Professor Daniel Jackson, James Spader got most of the best lines and seemed to relish the chance of for once not playing a bad guy. Fine for James, but maybe not so good for Michael Shanks, the Canadian actor who took over the part for the follow-up TV series Stargate SG-1. He, after all, inherited a role that was a massive favorite with audiences.

"I had a lot of apprehensions about it to begin with because of the whole Spader thing," Shanks tells Xpose. "I really enjoyed his interpretation and characterization, and I agree with you -Jackson is the everyman, he is the person the audience would see the most of themselves in. I knew that, and I also went into it knowing that you weren't going to be given the same attention of focus that Spader was given in the movie, because he's James Spader and I'm doing a series with Richard Dean Anderson. So, you're not going to get the screen time to develop the character as much as you'd thought. I was a little apprehensive about it, but the one thing I really enjoy is that I really like the character. So it made all the work building the character up very easy in a sense because it was very close to me. I also really enjoyed it not just because I liked the character, but because I understood him. I think it was a fairly exciting journey, and it's still evolving and unfolding every day."

The series follows on directly from the film, in season one's first episode Children of the Gods, Jackson is still living on the planet Abydos (at the end of the original film, Jackson chooses to stay when the Stargate is temporarily closed) with his alien wife Sha're. Both Children of the Gods and the second episode The Enemy Within are strong stories which pull together the main characters (Shanks as Jackson, Anderson as Colonel Jack O'Neill, Amanda Tapping as Samantha Carter and Christopher Judge as the alien Teal'c) into a team. Unfortunately, some of the episodes that followed were less strong. Of course, this is hardly new ground for Sci-Fi fans who are used to shows taking a while to shake down (remember how bad some of the early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation were?), but the mainstream American press were less patient.

"You know, they look at Richard with his MacGyver fame and that's all he'll ever be to them," says Shanks. "They set out to dislike him to begin with, saying, 'Oh, he's in another medium and it's some chessy science fiction show'. I take that in my stride. That's fine to me because, as is proven, the more those people come around because America is wooed by popular opinion. And, the more successful the show has been- ever since it's launch- the more you hear writers back-pedalling. 'Well it's OK. It's pretty good. It's better than the movie but it's still cliched.' That was in Entertainment Weekly. After we hit syndication [the show has been airing in the US on the cable channel Showtime, but goes into syndication this autumn], who knows what they'll start saying. You can take all the American opinion in your stride."

Even if the mainstream critics do not concern Shanks, he does acknowledge there were problems with some of the earlier episodes. However, he goes out of his way to reassure fans that the show is developing and improving. "In terms of the people who actually cared about Stargate- fans of the show that think we haven't found the right combination- well, we have a lot of time and space to find a way," he says. "I'm not too concerned about us finding it. I think we have enough of a run at this to take our time and really tell the stories properly. I think we made mistakes in our first season, as any new show is bound to do, and closer to the end of the show we were showing a constant improvement curve so I think we're on our way to satisfying that. I think I'm starting to enjoy the stories that are being told a lot more as we get better at telling them."

Arimin Shimerman (aka Quark in Deep Space Nine and Principal Synder in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) guested in the Season One episode The Nox. "He had this great perspective looking at us almost as children because he was a mentor in a way," says Shanks, "being able to say, 'Oh, I remember that. I remember the early stages of a Science Fiction show.' We had that same experiences to talk about." With Stargate SG-1 set to run for around six seasons, in the future Shanks may have the chance to be a mentor to somebody else starting out on a series. For now, though, he's happy to be learning his trade, trying to develop his character while also wryly noting that sometimes the business of acting has to take second place to Special Effects ("Around here, we say, 'Is there enough gunk on the bug?'"). Not bad for an actor who was once nervous of James Spader being nice.

1998, XposeBuy Xpose #27 online

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