Michael Shanks Biography
Michael leaves Stargate SG-1
Michael on ascension: It makes sense that, as a man with an insatiable curiosity, Daniel would choose to continue his explorations."
As with most actors playing a regular on a TV series, Shanks spent the majority of the past five years at work with his co-stars. Not surprisingly, he is taking with him many fond memories of them. "I'm going to miss Richard's stories," he says. "He'd always come out with, 'This reminds me of something that happened to me 20 years ago'. He was a great source of inspiration.
"With Chris, I'll miss the camaraderie we shared and the closeness of spending every day at work with a good friend. Actually, that daily interaction is probably what I'll miss the most. There were the bitching sessions," he laughs, "the hours we spent in his trailer playing Playstation hockey and his great sense of humour. Happily, Chris is going to be a friend of mine for a long time to come, so we'll still be able to share good times.
"Amanda is the most positive person around. She's the type that when you bring your child to the set she always plays the big aunt. No matter how much energy or time it takes Amanda always seems to make room in her life for everyone. Such positive traits are rare to find in an individual today, especially in our industry.
"Don Davis [General George Hammond] is a wonderful father figure who always had these great pearls of wisdom," continues Shanks. "I'm sure that Don and I will work together again in the future. However, for now I'll miss his fatherly influence and seeing him struggle whenever he'd flub a line in front of the cameras. We'd watch this dignified actors lose it, then try to get it back, and in the process make things all the worse for himself, but funnier for us.
"Because we'd worked together for so long, the four of us - Richard, Amanda, Christopher and myself - had become a squabbling, playful family. If you came in off the street and saw us you'd think, 'They're so unprofessional,' but we were just having a good time. When you're with the same group of people so much you have to tease each other like that, otherwise you'd go crazy. Luckily for her, Teryl Rothery [Doctor Janet Fraiser] wasn't with the rest of us all the time. So she'd come in every now and then and be this wonderful professional. It was great to have that sort of grounding or calming influence. At the same time, it was fun to throw Teryl off every now and then and watch her sweat it out because she was so concerned about doing a good job. She always had a good sense of humour about it, though."
"To be honest with you it's one of those things where I don't know what I'm going to be doing," says Michael Shanks as he leaves Stargate SG-1, the show that's brought him to prominence. "It's not like I'm in the kind of situation where I can say I'm quitting Stargate SG-1 to go do this, or I'm leaving to kick-start my film career. It's more a case of having embarked on a course of action so that I can explore the possibilities that are out there."
"Actually, I thought that what I was doing on the show was becoming seemingly more confined. And having broached the subject with the powers that control these things, it became clear that the character wasn't important enough to the overall process to warrant an upgrade."
Emphatically supporting the creators of the show, and those he worked with in Vancouver, Shanks insists, "Our discussions really weren't this simple, but in the end it came down to a case of 'Look, the bottom line is - it's not our call. There are other issues to be taken into consideration including the proposed Stargate SG-1 movie and now is not the time to rock the boat.'"
Taking the responsibility for his departure firmly on his own shoulders, Shanks declares: "I think my naivety on the whole issue when I first started on the show was that I'd watched the original Stargate movie and saw where Daniel Jackson went in that. Then, when I was offered the character, especially after reading the pilot where Daniel has a heavy part, I assumed that it was going to be more a type of 'buddy' show. I knew the other characters would be involved as well, but I though that the Daniel/Jack relationship would be the central focus. That's why I signed on to do it. Plus I liked the character and only saw his development based on the original blueprint. I couldn't and still don't see it from any other point of view."
"I'm going to miss the input into the creative process. Stargate is one of those rare shows where individual actors, like me, are allowed to be a bit more involved in the creative process that they normally would or should be. That's because the people that make it, the executive producers, are open to new ideas and as long as they are good ideas, they are very open-minded about discussions and decisions. That doesn't exist on a lot of other shows."
In trepidation about what happens next, Shanks shrugs, "When you think of it, I'm leaving my family. I'm 30 years old and have been part of Stargate for a sixth of my life. And it really is that long because I spent almost all my waking hours with the guys on that set. We're on our natural 'downtime' at the moment, so it still really hasn't sunk in yet that when they resume filming in February I won't be there. I know that unless I am totally immersed in another project by then I will be experiencing a very heavy heart about having made this decision." Before things can get too maudlin Shanks grins, "Of course, I am stubborn and resolute enough to know that I've made the right decision at this particular time."
"I'm gonna miss the guys. I'm gonna miss Christopher Judge banging on my trailer door and just barging in and shooting the crap about the evening before. I'm going to miss the actual getting up and going to work. There's something about working with those people very closely - that particular group of actors and craftsmen - that makes it the ultimate comfort zone. You are in the hands of people you trust, you are working with people where to a certain extent you know what they are likely to do but who can surprise you all the same. That certainly is a world away from setting foot on some new set and trying to find and fit into the dynamic you know is there."
"You know, although the decision to leave was mine entirely, I do mean it when I say it was with a heavy heart. We started something and built something very special and I'm not ecstatic to think that the show will be carrying on with me not part of it. But at the same time, I am a very stubborn, principled person and couldn't see myself being happy carrying on as I was. I knew that I was becoming a little more edged as time wore on and knew that whatever seeds of disenchantment were developing were going to come to fruition in a very negative way if I carried on."
"The strongest memory that pops into my head was when Christopher, Amanda and myself were doing a tour of the set for the first time and we turned a corner in the upstairs part of the briefing room to look outside of the glass at the end where the Stargate was in place. It had just been completed and we all looked at the scale of it and just sort of stood there for about a minute in silence, just in awe of what it looked like. We were all at that stage where the world was open to us and the future was unclear but it was all a good thing. Even now, I see that little child wonder on the faces of everybody that had never seen our Stargate before. They all get that same impression. That is what stays with me - that, like the Stargate, the future was wide open and the possibilities were endless. It's my strongest and fondest memory of working on the show."
Shanks mentions how the producers reacted to his artistic concerns. "I was told that it was 'just a phase we're going through, and it's not deliberate'. After two years I thought that this was bullshit. It's either a massive conspiracy or you just don't care, one way of the other." And the producers' reaction when he handed in his notice? "It wasn't like they did everything they could to keep me. They just acted like they didn't really care at the end of the day."
Considering that Daniel was one of the original characters from the Stargate movie ("So I didn't just dream that?" Shanks mutters, wistfully) you'd have thought that his decision to leave would have caused a bit more of a stir. Far from it. "The bottom line is that my leaving the show didn't seem to faze them at all. After five years, it was, 'Well, take it or leave it… if you wanna go, there's a door, don't let it hit you on the ass on the way out'. That was the part that was the most hurtful; that nobody came to ask why. Certainly nobody came to try and talk me out of it." Hmm. Sounds a bit odd, we point out. "You think it's odd from your perspective?" he chuckles, raising his eyebrows (which vanish under his woolly hat). "From my own, being in the inner workings and knowing exactly how much I had contributed to the show, it was the most shocking thing in the world, and all the more a slap in the face."
Oh dear. All this makes it sound as though they were happy to see him go. "You gettin' that sense?" Shanks nods, half joking, half serious. "I've had that sense for quite some time now!" Then he backtracks slightly, as though worried that he's sounding a little too vengeful. "It's the nature of the business. It's not even that important to me; it's really their loss. I'm at peace with it. Deep down I know the reasons for all this but I can't say them. I'll let you speculate on them. The truth behind it is the true irony of it." Which is…? Shanks is very reluctant to elaborate, but adds carefully, "It's almost that the success of the character was the character's downfall."
On the fans' confusion over whether he would be back for six episodes or at all, Michael had this to say: "That was more a public relations exercise, something to throw at the angry fan response that it was to actually guarantee the fans that the character would be back."
"I don't think at this point they are even thinking of that," he adds, warming to the theme. "It seems strange to me that a company which is so interested in forming a franchise, with a spin-off show and a film to come, could fail to satisfy one of its main characters, and hold the door open for him to re-appear. Is that good business sense? I don't think so. It's not that I'm desperate to come back… but their response was, 'You want to go? Oh, well there's the door, don't forget to close it on your way out.' That doesn't seem very smart business sense to me. I could understand if it was just the last year of the show, end of discussion, but they're talking about a feature film and a spin-off franchise after that, so to alienate their audience… It shows their complete disrespect to the character of Daniel Jackson and to me as an actor, it shows that they don't seem to think that he was that important to the show. But that was something which was already reflected in the writing, so there was nothing shocking to me about that."
"I wish I'd known how it would have evolved, and that's kind of what fuels my ire a little bit, the fact that I saw it coming but was told 'Don't worry about it'. But I didn't get what was promised, and I wish I'd known to get out at that time… it's a learning experience."
Michael discovers he doesn't walk alone
In Starlog issue #21 we ran a letter from Stargate SG-1 fan Alison Butler regarding the controversy over Michael Shanks' sudden departure. Alison felt so strongly about what she perceived to be a concentrated conspiracy to get rid of the character that she wrote to MGM, Starlog and every other magazine on sale in the UK not once, but several times over to make her views known. She even started a website so that other supporters of the 'Save Daniel Jackson' campaign could rally to the cause. Alison's letter set the ball rolling and we received many others protesting in a similar vein.
Somewhat surprised by the intensity of people's reactions, Michael Shanks had this to say: 'In terms of the big internet campaign and things like that, I think it's great. That said, it has also been a bit overwhelming. I mean, it's all been supportive and a lot of people I've talked with have been very sad about the character's death, which again is quite an ego boost. But really, it's just great to see that people feel strongly enough to do something about their feelings and I think they've gotten enough of both sides of the story - both mine and MGM's - to have enough information to take a perspective on the whole situation.'
Seemingly dissatisfied with the response from anyone except Michael Shanks, an internet campaign sparked a wave of protest with pro-Daniel Jackson fans actually raising funds to place ads in various printed publications, including the prestigious Hollywood Variety and several UK magazines. Rowan from Washington State, in the US, explained her reasons for such a drastic maneuver. 'I've been a fan of sci-fi television for a very long time and have seen many a campaign to save a show or save a particular character succeed because the powers that be are made aware of how much TV-watching time is invested because of that show or individual. Sometimes, the executives of a particular network or corporation have no real idea of the impact of the production on people's lives. They kind of live in a vacuum and can often make decisions based on a lack of knowledge, rather than listening to and taking on board how those of us out here actually feel.
"With SG-1, the main reasons we put the ads in the paper were two-fold. First, we wanted to show our support for the show in general and let anyone and everyone know that "We love Stargate SG-1." We're not advocating a boycott of the show or of the movie. This is not a kindergarten. We just want our show back to its original groundbreaking formula. All of the people who donated money to place the ads share the same view. SG-1 won't be SG-1 without Daniel. SG-1 is a team. Let's keep it that way. The second reason for the ads was to make it clear how dear Daniel Jackson is to our hearts and to thank Michael Shanks for sharing his talent with us for five great years. He took that character and made it his own and we love him for it.'
While this very public outpouring of support has warmed the cockles of Michael Shanks' heart, the financial sums involved have caused him slight discomfort. 'You know, as an actor you can't help but go "Wow! That's very flattering!" However, though I don't know exactly how much it actually costs to place an ad in a publication, I know that it's likely to be a considerable amount and my feeling is that if money like that is being spent, I can't necessarily say I support that aspect of it. What I really wish is that it could be given to a more important cause than Michael Shanks and the character of Daniel Jackson. I just think there are more deserving causes out there to put a little money into than characters on a television show. So I really wish that wasn't happening.'
As if the big internet and ad campaign wasn't enough, the strong physical demonstration of admiration towards Shanks has taken the actor completely by surprise. The five-minute standing ovation he received from 900 attendees at the SG-4 event in London reduced the man to tears. 'My eyes have been opened during this tour around the UK and other places. Doing the show for so long you become insulated in your own little world. You get information from the outside world as it's given to you from the corporation, so you get a sense of things. But until you actually get a chance to meet the people, you don't really get how strongly they feel about you.'
"No matter what happens in this career - because it is based in fiction and sometimes the business can be a strange egocentric diversion from real life - no matter what you feel about yourself in that vein; if you can give hope to someone or divert some of the positive energy directed toward you to make someone else's day, then that is the true benefit of doing the kind of job I do. That's why I like the character of Daniel so much. There were things about him that we cherish in human nature and to hear that what I did as Daniel and what SG-1 did together has such an impact on other human beings really is totally overwhelming.'
Michael can rely on his fans to fight the good fight on his behalf. Many have reacted badly to the treatment their favourite character has received, swearing that they won't watch the series any more. Others have formed torch-wielding lynch mobs and yelled from the rooftops that they love Daniel and want him back. "It's very flattering," is Shanks' response. "It's nice to know that you must be doing something right if you have that kind of debate with the fans going on. If people are expressing themselves then at least you've made some impact, for better or for worse! I've read one site - some fans have a website called ww.savedanieljackson.com - with a whole brochure of information on it. For the most part, I agreed with it! I couldn't really sit there and go, 'Well, you shouldn't really say that…' I just go, 'They've got a point!' I can't say these things, but these people will."
Something the character's fans did find shocking was the way Daniel Jackson's departure from the series was almost ignored by the powers-that-be. While the fans had known Michael Shanks was leaving for months, the lack of official statements could have left you thinking he'd be around for the sixth season. "What a surprise!" laughs Michael Shanks. "It's called denial, it's denying that the character was ever important enough to warrant an announcement… I don't think the people at MGM who run the show really think the Sam, Teal'c and Daniel characters are too important to the show. They're just expendable assets, so that's the way they've acted. They never really promoted us when we were on the show, so why promote us when we're off it? It's kind of like ignoring that we were there, and then ignoring that we're going…"
For somebody who describes himself as "technologically incompetent", Shanks seems to have the world of net fandom sussed. The mention of sex steers the conversation onto those fans who write about Carter and Dr Fraiser shacking up together, and then… "There's a large contingent of Jack and Daniel, er, what are they, slashers?" he breezes. "My girlfriend [Lexa Doig] is on Andromeda and I know there's a whole contingent of people interested in homo-erotic fiction about Kevin Sorbo and Keith Hamilton Cobb's characters. I don't know! Whatever floats your boat, whatever stirs your coffee! I think it's kind of amusing from the fan perspective but I can't help but wonder where that comes from."
But that's not all! Shanks, it seems, has inspired more than one off-the-wall internet shrine. "I know that there's a website devoted to my feet as well. The publicists of Stargate pointed it out to me," he laughs, and everybody in the room unconsciously looks at his shoes. Then, in case he thought that was all, there's a phenomenon known as Danny Whumping, which is a law unto itself. "One of the producers came to me and said, you know there's a contingent of people, fans of the show, who really like to see Daniel get the shit kicked out of him. I said, 'Whaddya mean, don't they like the character?' And he said, 'No, they love the character!' What the hell is that all about? They like to see the character get beat up! Well that's an interesting fan demographic there."
And his opinion on this deluge of dodgy webwork?
"I just work here, man!"