Jonathan Wright, Xpose #27,
When the original
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
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, Xpose.
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