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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Out Of Space
Thomasina Gibson, XPose Special #11, Apr 00

Whilst some of us can be a tad reluctant to return to our regular workplace after an extended break, actor Michael Shanks has no such reservations. "You know, I'm kind of tickled to be back," he smiles. "I wouldn't say 'thrilled' as such, because that sort of feeling is reserved for those people who win Who Wants To Be A Millionaire but I have to say I'm tickled to be back with the family again." The family in this case is the cast, crew and production team responsible for bringing Stargate SG-1 to our screens for a fourth remarkable season.

The very first day of filming sees Shanks jovial and relaxed, quite in contrast to his demeanour at the end of season three when concerns about the actor's health caused a fair amount of 'family' excitement during production of the last episode, Nemesis. With typical Daniel Jackson-type aplomb, Shanks carried on working till his vague feeling of unease turned into a a ruptured appendix, which in turn led to Shanks having to undergo emergency surgery. "There was a little bit of drama involved," he modestly concludes. "Not much, but it was a little bit of a surprise to me and everyone else."

A trouper to the last, Shanks shrugs off the many reports that he was incredibly brave throughout the ordeal, maintaining, "Oh, yeah! I sure was brave when I was in that hospital bed." Affecting a very convincing whining tone he insists, "Any time anyone would touch me, I'd be like 'Ah... ah... ah' trying to get as much sympathy as possible... I do have a great scar though. As a matter of fact, it'll be appearing in the first episode of the new season." Chuckling about the fact that the aforementioned surgical memento is in "a good place as opposed to a more vulnerable position, shall we say," Shanks proudly states that his scar is nowhere near any area that could be deemed pornographic by eagle-eyed viewers. "I knew what I was doing when they took me in there," he jokes. "I'm a professional and told them just where to cut so it's in a TV-friendly place."

Dramatic disfigurement aside, Shanks is a wee bit more hesitant when it comes to revealing whether or not he got to do everything he wanted to do as Daniel Jackson the previous television year. "It's an interesting question," he begins. "This show covers so many different routes, the dramatic stories, the comedic stories... it's hard for me to say that I got to do everything because just when I thought I'd covered about everything, the writers would come up with something a little bit special. Generally, I think we're still in the big 'home run' sort of stories where we take the ball and run with it, but I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone for Daniel, especially last year with the lovely mix of drama and fun."

Of the episodes that gave the actor most pleasure, Legacy and Urgo stand out amongst Shanks' favorites. "I would have to say that Legacy was the most challenging for me and also the most rewarding from an acting point of view. But the episode I enjoyed the most was Urgo with Dom DeLuise. It was such a rare opportunity to get to work with someone who has such a prestigious background... someone that I grew up watching on television and who was so quick off the mark and so sharp. We really had to work hard to keep up with him." Acknowledging that Mr. DeLuise "is a consummate entertainer as well as a truly unique individual," Shanks grins, "The off-camera stuff was hilarious. Dom had everyone cracking up at his behavior. It was the most fun we'd had in the three years of the show. Fortunately, we have very good editors who eliminated all the scenes where we laughed out loud."

Stargate SG-1 may have had its share of laughter and light, but Michael Shanks took on a character with a much darker hue during the show's winter hiatus. "I took two weeks off then went back to work and did an episode of The Outer Limits (Manifest Destiny) before shooting an independent film called Suspicious River. Directed by queen of macabre Lynne Stopkewich, the film also stars Molly Parker (Kissed) and Callum Keith Rennie (who you may remember from Due South and eXistenZ), but there's not a lot of sweetness involved. "Callum and I play a couple of not very nice gentlemen and my part is particularly different," explains Shanks. "It's a real departure for me in that it involves a lot of sexual exploits and is a pretty dark film."

Asked if this darkness is likely to expand into his Daniel Jackson character in season four, Shanks thinks not. "There's a general reluctance to go any further down that route, especially with the situation surrounding the storyline at the end of last year. Given the circumstances with Daniel's wife and the resolution of that issue which gives him new purpose, I think that Daniel actually has to lighten up a little bit and come back around to who he was at the outset of SG-1's journey. Things are coming full circle and I think it'll become a little easier and a bit more fun." Sighing with relieved resignation, Shanks also confirms, "I know the writers were following my lead in terms of going darker in previous seasons, but I think given the occurrences that happened with the characters, particularly towards the end of season three, it's definitely time to get a little more upbeat."

Although the crew members that make up the infamous Stargate SG-1 team are notoriously tight-knit, the show's cast members have remarked that a slightly deeper delve into their characters' interpersonal relationships wouldn't go amiss. It's a view shared by Shanks who'd like to see more opportunities to develop his character's relationship with Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Teal'c (Christopher Judge). "I know that there's a lot - a lot - of unexplored routes in those relationships and I hope that we get an opportunity to develop them... but I can't honestly say that that will happen, because it seems to be the way the show generally works is that it operates round Richard Dean Anderson's character (Jack O'Neill), and we all tend to be a bit satellite-ish in terms of our relationships with characters other than his."

Obviously perfectly comfortable with this arrangements, Shanks nevertheless suggests that "Given time, we will find out more about the characters' personal lives and there may well be an episode which focuses - just for example - on the growing antagonism between Teal'c and Daniel or sees a relationship burgeoning between Carter and Daniel - or maybe something else along those lines but I can't honestly say our relationships will go much further in terms of what we've already seen."

Whether you've watched the series from day one or just come through the Stargate recently, one of the charms of the show is that it hasn't yet given in to the temptation of revealing too much about the lives of the characters, a recipe which seems to have prevented Stargate SG-1 from getting a bit too deep and going all to pot. According to Shanks, that's all well and good. "Others have talked about the whole idea of developing relationships between the characters, as in a love interest between O'Neill and Carter, for example, but to me there's just no place for it. If you want to see something like that, there are a lot of shows on television that offer that kind of thing and have a lot more time to do it." Carefully avoiding being down on any particular one, Shanks says, "It seems to me that shows can get a little weighed down with love stories and it's not something, especially as a random viewer, that I particularly care about. When you want to watch an action show you want action, you want adventure. You don't necessarily want smooching all the time."

Apart from his own creative team, Shanks suggests the one other producer who 'got it right' is Chris Carter of The X-Files fame. "what Carter did more, which was very good, was almost tease the audience with the idea that he was never going to show a love relationship between the lead characters but actually courted the effect by saying 'Well, I might,' then, 'Oh no, I'm not,' and it worked tremendously well. The show was a huge success without the 'love interest.'"

That said, does Shanks have any plans to write his own episodes to nip any such developments in the bud? Not a chance! He is firmly of the mind that "writing is something best reserved for those who can. I can come up with certain ideas but don't think I'm capable or experienced enough to bother trying to actually write a script." That view doesn't apply to all non-acting pursuits. Modestly claiming he has "participated in a certain artistic input level" Shanks confirms he will direct an episode of Stargate SG-1 "probably towards the end of the season." There's no hint, as yet, on what kind of form the episode will take.

For the moment, though, he's just very happy to be back. "It's my first day and there's a lot of friendly faces around. Fresh, relaxed, happy faces and I think this year we are all very happy to be back. It varies from year to year, but for some reason, this year it's like 'Hey, we're still making a great show here and it's fun to turn up for work every day.'"

2000, Xpose. XPose Special #11 is sold out.

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