Michael Shanks Biography
Michael as Hamlet, Season Two hiatus
Michael on his first love: Theater is where I started in, theater is what I love. Shakespeare is what I love.
Michael was fortunate to return to his roots in theatre when he was cast as Hamlet in a production which ran from January 27 to February 20, 1999 at the Stanley Theatre, du Maurier Stage, Vancouver, Canada.
"I always wanted to play Hamlet, and I've just done that," he says. An enormous, daunting task, surely? "It wasn't that frightening. It was an intimidating work load. And it was an emotional and physical challenge. I'd spent two years out of theatre, and the longer I stayed away the more scary that idea became, of going back, which is why I did it. I'm always looking for challenges. I never want to get complacent. I want to stay open-eyed and excited about the work." Clearly, the experience is a career highlight. "It was great to work with new people. There was a great energy in the air. Initially the rest of the cast was a bit standoffish, thinking 'what's this TV guy going to do?', but once they realized I was prepared, I'd done my homework, and I was there to work, it went really well. I would have been exactly the same if the positions were reversed. I was challenged to the utmost."
"Theater is where I started in, theater is what I love. Shakespeare is what I love. It's very quick... you grow very rusty, very quickly with Shakespeare, and I found that... I didn't want to ever lose that aspect of it because I felt that the more time I spend away from it, the more I was used to screwing up and not having to worry about it, the less I was becoming interested, the more I was becoming afraid of getting back on the stage."
"And I just pushed myself and said don't wanna do that, I don't wanna be afraid to get on this stage. Oh, I'll tell you the first night, the first day that we had a matinee I was petrified. I was petrified. It's like... I've always thought this about doing theatre that you try so hard to get the big roles, you get the big roles, and then it's time to go on stage that night with people in front of you...Why me? I'm just the apprentice, I just wanna carry the furniture and just leave it alone. I don't wanna put myself out there but... it goes away very quick, so..."
TV: Michael, one of the greatest things about live theatre is the camaraderie
of the cast and crew. Is "Hamlet" a good cast and crew to work with?
Ultimate TV: Do you think Hamlet
is the one with the problem or is he a victim of a crazy world?
SG-4 con question: Hamlet:
What individual elements did you bring to it? Were you influenced
by Fiennes or Olivier?
The dark prince made post-modern
Hamlet is an emotionally disenfranchised youth, much akin to the soul-searching members of Generation X. Keanu is the embodiment of the self-absorbed, tormented, woe-is-me attitude characteristic of the Gen X group. Hamlet, like many of today's youth, has to contend with a myriad of troubling issues: the premature death of his father, his mother's re-marriage, the pressures of school, girlfriends, and all-consuming depression. Granted, he must also come to terms with the fact that his step-father is also his uncle and a ghost in the form of his father is haunting the castle. But in every other fashion, Hamlet is your typical Gen Xer.
So with these thoughts in mind, the successful yet unprecedented union of bard and boob, I attended Stanley Theatre's opening night performance of Hamlet. If Keanu had competently donned the role of Hamlet, obviously the play could be taken in virtually any direction, in terms of interpretation (as well as acting).
The Arts Club Theatre has proffered a postmodern interpretation of Hamlet. Circumventing the classical portrayal for a much simpler, stream-lined presentation, the Stanley Theatre is currently host to not only a literary masterpiece, but thanks to set designer Ken Macdonald and costume designer Nancy Bryant, an aesthetic masterpiece as well. Morris Panych has directed a group of abundantly talented actors through a most difficult terrain. And the end result is a completely engaging study of inner turmoil, torment and conflict.
Michael Shanks, also seen regularly on the TV series Stargate SG-1, has temporarily shelved his intergalactic escapades and sports a brooding disposition as the timeless character Hamlet. Giving one of the most consistent and cohesive performances of the entire cast, Shanks explores the pensive, despondent character in great depth.
Of late we've seen a resurgence in popularity and production of Shakespearean and other literary classics, both in film and the theatre. This is testament to the thematic relevance of plays like Hamlet. The Arts Club Theatre, by engaging a (post)modern aesthetic and pairing it with a classical Shakespearean tale, has produced a truly fresh and passionate play.
Vancouver Sun review
The Stanley Theatre finally plays host to a production worthy of its elegant surroundings, as the veteran team of director Morris Panych and designer Ken MacDonald hand us a Hamlet of great style and almost infinite wit.
With TV star Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1) capably leading a large cast on the Stanleys cavernous stage, this is a production to be flagged as a must-see of this theatre season.
Flags figure prominently in MacDonalds simple sets, Nancy Bryants royal-court costumes and Panychs bold interpretation of Shakespeares corpse-laden story about the doomed prince out to avenge his father's murder. As Denmark rots and Norway looms large across the waters of the Skagerrak, a pair of enormous painted backdrops, one red and the other blue, come into play as symbols of the two nations' flags.
More often it's Marsha Sibthorpes subtle use of lighting that paints those canvases in moods of cool blue or bloody red, helping define the battlements or ballrooms of Elsinore Castle. Panels and pillars descend from the rafters to delineate some spaces, but most of the play's staging is simply blocked out by a string of black benches quietly shifted between scenes.
Panych doesn't place the tale in any specific period. The opening scene is lit by torches - if you mean the British word for flashlights - and Bryants attractive set of grey or black tunics for the men appear to come from a little later in the 19th century than the bustle on Queen Gertrude.
In and over and through this timeless landscape capers a Hamlet who at first seems suitably lost in moody melancholy.
Shanks doesn't ignite until the ghost of Hamlet's father urges his son to avenge a murder most foul. From then on it's a treat to watch this handsome and spirited young actor dominate the stage with the tics and twirls of a madness that Hamlet alternately feigns and loses himself within.
Unlike the infamous 1995 Manitoba Theatre Centre production, which drew giggles from adoring Keanu Reeves fans when the star of the airhead comedy "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" spoke of "this most excellent canopy - the air", this Hamlet draws strength from having at its heart someone clearly trained in Shakespeare.
North Shore News Review
Shanks, a '94 UBC acting grad who has worked at Stratford as well as starring in Stargate SG-1, projects a natural Hamlet whose strength is action, not introspection.
In fact, with his overcoat flapping in the slipstream of his anger you wonder why this Hamlet doesn't just bust a bottle in the face of his murdering stepfather and have done with it in Act 11.
And that is both the strength and weakness of this production. Lacking, principally, are texture and nuance. Internal conflict is limited, relationships work only on a simple plane and poetry is sometimes steamrollered.
I'm not laying all this criticism on Shanks. Hamlet's relationship with his mother is one of the most challenging dilemmas in Shakespeare and Patti Allan and director Panych carry an equal load in filling in the blank after rejecting any Oedipal overtones. Likewise, Shanks' interaction with Gerry Mackay's Claudius rarely rises above irritation and anger.
On the other hand, Hamlet and Ophelia's brief encounter is crystal clear (although Jennifer Clement's mad scene is held hostage by her costume) and Shanks' play-long interaction with Dion Johnstone's Horatio is rock solid.
So you're gonna grow your hair back, right?
Michael interviewed on Vicki Gabereau
VG: You've had your hair cut obviously for the Hamlet bit.
Michael: It shows, doesn't it?
VG: Well, it does, because you have long hair on the series.
VG: Do they care about that or they...?
Michael: They do. They... I've never had so many people care about my appearance at one time.
VG: I know what it is.
Michael: My parents didn't even... my mum loved the haircut but...The first thing, I got sat down when meeting with the President of MGM... and he said: "So you're gonna grow your hair back, right?" and I said, Okay...It's not something that... I really like it shorter, I like the low-maintenence kind of feel.
VG: Yeah but... can't the guy, the character, like in 30 seconds get written in getting a haircut? I mean, how simple can it be?
Michael: That's what I thought. That's what I said, too but...
VG: No, no, they wanted you to be a long-haired weirdo?
Michael: Yeah, they wanted me to be the freaky, hippyish kind of scientist, geek, kind of nerdy guy.
James Spader created the role of Jackson in "Stargate," the 1994 feature film that inspired the series. For years, Shanks had to emulate Spader's look from that film, with round glasses and longish blond hair. Finally he declared his independence, at least as far as the hair is concerned.
"I took that on myself," he says. "I'd had enough. I've always had short hair. It was also a statement of saying, 'Hey, character's mine now, bye-bye.'"
"I was tired of dealing with long hair. I'm not used to it, and I'm not used to TV people bugging me with blow dryers and crap like that. I'm just not a high-maintenance person, so I just wanted to get rid of it and make the character my own."