Michael Shanks Biography ::
Michael's thoughts on Daniel : Season Four
Michael on Jack and Daniel: The two of them want the same thing, they just disguise it differently, in the end what connects them is the fundamental friendship. They don't go around acting like typical friends, but that makes it all much more interesting.
Asked if his theatre or location appearances were besieged with screaming fans, Michael Shanks gives a snort of self-deprecating laughter. "Not really! One of the nicest things about being an actor living and working in Vancouver is that most people have a very relaxd attitude towards the profession. There is so much great stuff going on in the city that I don't have too much problem with people coming up and stopping me. I know that Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O'Neill) and Christopher Judge noticed a little more - but that's because Judge wanders around with Teal'c's tattoo on his forehead", he grins, "but I just kind of slip on by." It would be hard to imagine anyone walking past, but Shanks insists it's true.
"We do tend to hang out together when we're away from work, whether skiing or golf or what have you, and most of the times I'm recognized is when I'm with one of the others. It's fantastic when you want to get tickets to see a particular show or game and the box office person is a fan of Stargate SG-1 but we all give so much of ourselves when we're making the show that at the end of the day I just want to go home and forget about being Daniel. I like to just kick back and be myself for a while."
"Everybody has gotten better at his or her job. The visual effects have come around ten fold. The production values have increased. I believe that we are actually making the show for less money than when we began, but everything seems to have increased exponentially from the point of view of how it looks and how it feels. Stargate is slicker and tighter. In terms of Daniel as a character, he's very different from the guy you saw in the beginning. When we started, he was out of the mild of James Spader's portrayal of the character in the Film. Over time, we've shown a lot more dimension, a lot more of Daniel's past. Ultimately, I've been able to put my own spin on him, give him a little more edge, and hopefully, make him a little more three-dimensionally."
Shanks cites such episodes as
Legacy (in which he played the aged Machello and Jackson), Maternal Instinct
and Forever in a Day, all of which aired last season, and the second season's
Holiday (his first go-round as Machello), as he favorite outings to date.
Legacy and Forever in a Day, he notes, provided him with the opportunity
to carry the ball as the lead character, while the latter and Maternal
Instinct tapped into Jackson a bit more than usual in the process of further
fleshing out the Harsesis child story.
"Our writers dream up some great ideas when it comes to writing Daniel stories, and I've had some excellent ones this year. I relish those episodes as they allow me to spread my wings as an actor," says Shanks. "Unfortunately, in group situations they're still not quite sure what to do with my character. I think that's been a common theme since the series began. Daniel is a bit of a loner and an outsider and, to top it off, he's not a soldier. So when the fighting starts what do we do with him? We have him crouch behind a rock and leave him out of the action or we don't have him in the scene at all.
"I found this happened more and more this year, especially since the creation of this red-herring relationship between Jack O'Neill and Sam Carter [Amanda Tapping]. The series has gone in a direction that I did not expect, and, believe me, I'm not saying that's a bad thing at all. I'm just saying I think Daniel has been slightly limited this year in his actual interaction with the team. Again, stories where he has been the focus have been wonderful, but they sort of end up excluding the rest of SG-1. So if anything, my wish for next season would be for my character to be worked a little more into the group dynamic."
"I must admit I got a little worried last season [s4] because there were times where I felt my character was there to be there," continues Shanks. "That's not much fun for an actor and it becomes a problem for the writers. Yes, Daniel is part of the SG-1 team and should be there, but if he has no use in a particular situation then what do you do with him? Sometimes he'd be standing around in the background just waiting for something to happen so he could react.
"Our writers came up with a number of story threads for Daniel in the first two years of the show, all of which came to a natural conclusion during the third season," note the actor. "In year four, the 'Daniel stories' focused more on him as a person."
When asked to choose a favourite Daniel story from the fourth season, Shanks is quick to respond with The First Ones. "That's a terrific one just in terms of the sense of humour and irony that Brad Wright [co-creator and executive producer] and Peter DeLuise [creative consultant] brought out in my character. Daniel was in his element. He spent the entire episode trying to be compassionate and communicative towards this Unas (Dion Johnstone), which, I feel, is where my character's strengths truly lie. It was a pleasure to work with my pal Dion, who I had performed with on stage before in Hamlet. He is a consummate actor who worked hard to bring his character to life and, in doing so, made it easy for me to work off him.
"Peter DeLuise also directed that episode, which made the shoot all the more enjoyable," continues the actor. "Peter is the ultimate peacemaker. He's also an actor and understands what his fellow actors need to guide them through a scene, which is what I was talking about earlier. He's an excellent actor's director. Technically, he's also a great storyteller. Peter isn't afraid to get in there and get the job done. We have a lot of fun with him."
Shanks also has high praises for the episode Absolute Power. "That was a hoot on so many different levels." he says. "I remember the producers came to me and asked if I was worried about Daniel being painted as the bad guy. I said, 'Are you kidding? It's a great opportunity for me'. First off, this is something that could happen to Daniel, so it was fascinating to explore that potential danger. From an acting standpoint it was a treat to twiddle the old 'villainous moustache' and do something totally different and off-the-wall.
At the start of Stargate SG-1's fourth season, Shanks and his fellow cast members had the chance to act alongside former Star Trek: Deep Space Nine star Rene Auberjonois who guest-starred in The Other Side. A few weeks later, the cast welcomed Star Trek: The Next Generation's Betazed beauty Counselor Deanna Troi, alias Marina Sirtis, to the set. She played Russian scientist Dr. Svetlana Markov in the underwater tale Watergate.
"It was a treat to work with Marina," says Shanks. "She was so proud of The Next Generation and willing to share her experiences. I found it interesting to compare notes on what actors on Sci-Fi shows have to deal with on a daily basis, such as exposition and technobabble. As for Daniel's role in the story, this is one of those times where he's just kind of along for the ride. Fortunately, there were some humourous scenes inside the mini-sub with Marina, Amanda and myself. that's another facet of my character I'd love to see the writers explore more. I have a very dry, sort of subtle sneak-up-on you sense of humour that I think would suit Daniel in the appropriate situations."
Longtime Stargate SG-1 viewers know that Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson sometimes disagree on how to deal with aliens. In Scorched Earth, they butt heads trying to help two cultures settle a dispute over who has the right to colonize a planet. Jack is forced to come up with a military option that will result in the death of one group. Naturally, Daniel is against this and risks his life to execute a plan of his own that he hopes will result in a peaceful solution. Shanks was fascinated by what viewers had to say.
"I read some fans' responses on the Internet about Jack's point of view," he says. "They felt he was a bit hasty when it came to his decision to wipe out the Gad-Meer people, and I disagree. That's totally in character for O'Neill to take an approach like that, especially if Daniel's option failed. Something had to be done. It's easy to look back now that we know Daniel succeeded and ask. 'Why was Jack so eager to blow them up?' Let's say my character failed. What would these same fans say then? Probably, 'Why didn't Jack do something?' I love it when our writers take two characters with such opposing views, like Jack and Daniel, and pit them against each other. It not only makes for interesting drama but also a neat moral debate topic for the viewers."
Another of the actor's favourite Season Four episodes is The Curse, in which Daniel investigates the death of an old colleague and friend and is almost killed by a 10,000-year-old Goa'uld named Osiris.
"Our writers, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, wrote this story in eight days after being told that Richard was going to be away for most of the week's shooting," says Shanks. "I had a wonderful time working on this one. The director is a friend of mine, Andy Mikita. We had fun going back to the show's Egyptian mythology roots and delving into Daniel's past. Oh, I can't forget to mention Anna-Louise Plowman, who played Sarah/Osiris. She is a phenomenal actress. That lady is going to be a star. She's beautiful, sexy and easy to work with. That's a great combination for an actress. Her character of Osiris is going to make a formidable nemesis for the SG-1 team in the future."
"The core of the [Stargate] cast has always gotten along well. We've become a lot closer and become much more like a family. We squabble more easily. We know each other's pasts and back stories more and more. We're like a family because we spend so much time around each other every bloody day. We can piss each other off at a moment's notice, but we can also kiss and make up. Everybody still talks to each other and still gets along, which is kind of rare. Some of us even hang out and do extracurricular stuff together in our off time. It really is like a family. We're dysfunctional and yet, at the same time, we have a lot in common."
Speaking of off-time, during the last year's Stargate hiatus, Shanks filmed an eight-minute dramatic short film called The Artist's Circle, which co-starred Derek de Lin of Poltergeist: The Legacy and Stargate's Don S Davis. The film was well received and even played at the Cannes Film Festival. Shanks also completed an independent feature, Suspicious River with Lynne Stopkewich directing him, Callum Keith Rennie and Molly Parker. The dark sexual drama focuses on a self-destructive woman and casts Shanks as a redneck henchman, "something completely contradictory to everything I've done on Stargate."
Well, he's been up to no good with another local resident, ironically of Stanley Kowalski in Due South. "Callum Keith Rennie and I play two very bad men in Suspicious River. It's quite a departure for me because the film is very dark and psychological and Callum and I play two characters who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever." Directed by the incredibly talented Lynne Stopewiche, whose last film Kissed explored the realms of necrophilia, Suspicious River is due to hit the film festival circuit later this year. "It'll be really interesting to see what fans of the show make of it," says Shanks, "My character in the film is so far removed from Daniel Jackson I think it will come as somewhat of a surprise for some people. It was wonderful to be given the opportunity to create that type of personality and Callum and I work really well together. It was a great experience for me."
The chance to show his stuff, to spread his wings as an actor, has Shanks contemplating his future with Stargate. "I'm signed for one more year, for the fifth season," he notes, closing the gate on this conversation.
"Beyond that, I don't know. I'm still up in the air. A lot of me screams to move on to greener pastures. This year I'll be celebrating my 30th birthday, and I don't want to entrench myself in something for too long. I don't want to get typecast and I'd like to take advantage of other opportunities that I've been missing. So there's a trade-off. We'll have to see. The bottom line is 'Does the show have enough mileage in it?' If it'll be interesting, it'll be more of a consideration to stick around, but if we're just going to be flogging a dead horse, then I'd say probably not. So we'll see."
Shanks recently guest-starred in an episode of Andromeda, Star-Crossed. He played Gabriel, a love interest for the show's artificial intelligence, Andromeda, played by Lexa Doig, who is now Michael's partner.
"It was fascinating to be part of a series that was in its first year and going through the same 'growing pains' that we did when we began working on Stargate," says Shanks. "The entire cast were constantly experimenting with chemistry and blance between their characters. They're a wonderful group of people and I'm sure the same kind of team dynamic we achieved on our series will eventually happen with them. Kevin Sorbo [Captain Dylan Hunt] is the head of that family and a great guy. Lexa Doig was a huge help getting me used to my character. We had some deep discussions about what it meant to be an AI and I brought my own sort of philosophy to the table.
"Unfortunately, I stepped into a pitfall when it came to playing an android int his specific instance," adds the actor. "First off, I loved the dual nature of the character in that he was both master and servant. However, I tried too hard to make him different from Daniel Jackson or any of the other characters I've played. What I should have done was focused on the circumstances of the story and paid more attention to that. Instead, I got too caught up in playing an android and that was my big mistake. There have been some rumblings about Gabriel possibly coming back at some point. If that happens, I'll definitely take a different route in order to avoid those same pitfalls with the character."
He has also appeared on other SF/Fantasy shows including Highlander and two episodes of The Outer Limits, Mary 25 and Manifest Destiny, the latter if which aired earlier this year in the States. In it, his character, Dr Will Olsten, is one of four people who succumb to a deadly virus.
"This was, by far, one of the most interesting experiences I've ever had working on a tv show," enthuses the actor. "That episode was filmed from the point of view of my character a la The Blair Witch Project. Each act was done in one continuous camera shot. If there was a single screw up we had to stop and start all over again. I was so proud of the Outer Limits people for taking a chance like that. Everyone pulled together to get the job done and I was honoured to be a part of the creative process."
Next February, Stargate SG-1's cast and crew will begin work on the show's fifth season, is Shanks ready for more journeys through the Stargate? "You bet," enthuses the actor. "I started the show when I was 26 and I turn 30 this month. So much has happened and the time seems to have passed slowly, but at the same time it's gone by so quickly. It's had its ups and downs but my overall experience on Stargate has been an extremely positive one."
Michael offers his thoughts after leaving the show, looking back on the progress of Season Four.
"From the outset my take on the whole Daniel Jackson slant was based on how I saw him in the original movie, where the character had a heavy part in proceedings. I also thought that the relationship between Daniel and Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) would be the focus if the show. Although the chemistry between the two characters did become an important part of SG-1, by the end of the third season the show had started to move in a different direction. One that didn't seem to leave much for an archaeologist and linguist to do."
Shanks thinks that the very warm relationship between himself and his co-starts, particularly Richard Dean Anderson, kept his expectations alive for most of his time on Stargate SG-1. "I think with the chemistry between Rick and I, the chemistry between the two characters did become an important part of the show. I'm happy to say that that warmth still exists today between Rick and myself and the other members of the team on and off screen. But after the third season, the show started to go in a different direction. It veered off on a path that I initiated in that I wanted some resolution to the Daniel/Sha're arc and wanted to bring out the darker side of the character I played. By the start of the fourth season, things seemed to be going in a direction that I wasn't comfortable with."
Asked to explain in more detail, Shanks offers, "I went to the producers and said, 'I'm worried. I'm concerned about the ramifications of the end of the love interest story and with the introduction of the Earth conspiracy stuff with Maybourne and the NID.'" Speaking of the whole wheels-within-wheels plot, Shanks says, "It wasn't that I felt they weren't interesting storylines. Those were very good episodes. The problem for me was that oftentimes because it's a show about a military man in a military base surrounded by the inner workings of the military, Daniel, as a civilian, was not included in the loop of those things. It's logical he wouldn't be included and I guess what I'm saying is I wanted a stronger effort made to include the character within those things. I could see how difficult it was becoming to create a valid role for Daniel and that ultimately became a needle in my side. The character wasn't involved in those things when the episodes came up."