Michael Shanks: Stargate's Gun-Shy Guy
Rita Zikeas, Toronto Star, 13 Oct 99
Shanks can thank Richard Dean Anderson for his acting career. Shanks is co-star
of the Stargate SG1 series, shot in Vancouver starring Anderson. When Shanks was
an impressionable young guy, attending business school at UBC and intent on
becoming a pro hockey player, a friend told him about an audition. So he
wandered down to the beach where they were shooting MacGyver and Anderson was
playing the guy in MacGyver. "It looked like a lot of fun," Shanks says over the
phone from Vancouver. The baby sound effects are courtesy of his fourteen month
old daughter, Tatiana.
It was on that beach that Shanks shifted his career goals. He was born in
Vancouver, raised in Kamloops, and has been acting professionally since 1993.
Armed with a Fine Arts degree, Shanks headed east to the Stratford Festival,
where he did the requisite spear-holding roles as well as more substantial
appearances in Amadeus, Macbeth, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice. In between
the last two seasons of Stargate, he did Hamlet at the Vancouver Playhouse just
because he needed to.
"When I did Hamlet, half the people came because they’re fans of Stargate,"
Shanks allows. "Paul Gross is playing Hamlet because he's a famous Mountie, but
he put bums in chairs."
On Stargate, Shanks plays Daniel Jackson, a scientist instrumental to the SG1
team because of his vast knowledge of past ancient civilizations and mythology.
And he's a stranger in an ever stranger land. His is the voice of reason, the
pacifist among the armed and dangerous.
"Daniel is one of the most likeable characters," Shanks explains. "I admire
Daniel's naiveté, passion, innocence and curiosity toward certain subject
matter. Daniel was sold in the movie concept (a 1994 incarnation starring Kurt
Russell and James Spader) as a bookworm and geek. The writes make Daniel the
brunt of violence, he gets beat up a lot, which is because he's a pacifist."
"He tries to intellectually get out of situations and not blow it up, but talk
around it. The show is geared around Richard Dean Anderson, a military type
character, so the show bows to that direction. We're supporting roles in an
action oriented show."
But they actually gave Daniel a gun this season, the third.
"Daniel can use a gun - he knows how - but my first instinct is that it would
never happen. Only in extreme or defensive situations."
Does that mean there won't be a Daniel action figure? After all, what kind of
action figure says, "Don’t shoot?"
"They were supposed to come out after the fist season," Shanks insists, "but
there was a flux at MGM. The action figures are from the feature film. A friend
brought me one, it was of the old star, James Spader, and they played him with
the stereotypes so he was far more geeky. Yet in his action figure, he had huge
machine gun, huge arms, gritted teeth and a sadistic grin. This is ridiculous -
no way this character would have been like that, it would have completely
violated the character. It's very laughable. I'll show my daughter the action
figure and tell her it was done when I used to work out."
Shanks’ resume reads like a Trekkie wish list: Mission to Mars, Outer Limits,
Highlander... Not that he's a sci-fi guy.
"No, I'm not," he demurs, "it's just a lot of what is shot in Vancouver. They
have a higher budget to do the flashy stuff and tends to be in the largest
percentage of American shows. But it does have its advantages because I learn 75
different aspects of filmmaking and I'm interested in directing and producing.
The Stargate storylines are heavy with action-oriented sequences, stunts and
special effects and computer generated imagery, post-production on green
The whole sc-fi shooting match.
"I've been told to come in to the editing room and they said, 'You don't do any
reaction shots. I can't keep you alive in the scene.'"
“I needed to make more eye contact, to push the ball to the other actor. As an
actor, you are worried about motivation. As a producer/director, you are
interested in the entire story."
Shanks learned the lesson.
"And they used my face more. I made it more organic and I got more screen time."
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