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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Loss Of Innocence
Steven Eramo, TV Zone Special #38, Aug 00

Michael Shanks, alias Dr Daniel Jackson, sits down in his trailer on the MGM Bridge Studios lot for a break after spending the morning working on The First Ones, the eighth episode of Stargate SG-1’s fourth season. The actor has been made to look ‘roughed up’ by the make-up team in preparation for next scene with a creature called an Unas. He recalls SG-1’s first encounter with this alien species, which took place way back in the show’s first year.

"Boy, that was a long time ago,” muses Shanks. “It’s funny, I’m going to be directing an episode of our show later this year and because of that I’ve taken much more of a visual interest in it, so I’ve been watching tapes of the old stories. When I look at some of the stuff we did in the first season it’s hard to believe that it’s the same group of people, and that includes myself,” he laughs. “It really hasn’t been all that long time-wise, yet so much ground has been covered in terms of a tv series. It’s amazing to see how much our characters have grown.

Moving On

“As for Daniel Jackson, I think I’ve definitely made a break from James Spader’s interpretation of the role in the Stargate feature film. That was the initial niche that my character was put into. Rick was doing such a different rendition of Colonel Jack O’Neill than Kurt Russell did in the movie, and since James Spader’s portrayal of Daniel was successful it was decided I would stick fairly close to what he did. This way, viewers wouldn’t have to get used to too many changes right from the start."

Making Michael

“Since then I’ve taken the character and made it more my own. I started off playing him with this childlike innocence and then as each season passed the writers and I have delved into darker aspects of his persona. Daniel has become somewhat less, I hate to say halve, but I guess somewhat less innocent. However, he’s still very passionate about what he does."

“Some of Daniel’s innocence and naïveté was bound to wear off after a while,” continues the actor. “We can’t continue to play our roles the same way all the time. I think it’s a common theme in television that viewers become attached to a certain character on a show and it becomes so successful that no one wants to change it. Well, you have to remember Stargate SG-1 isn’t a film, it’s a tv series. As such, our characters experience new things every week that affect their lives and personalities in some way. After all, that’s what happens to people daily in real life, right? So I’m thrilled that Daniel and the others have evolved since day one.”

Shanks is especially pleased with the witty rapport and verbal shorthand that has developed between Daniel Jackson and Colonel Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson). “I love it,” he enthuses.  “Rick and I didn’t really know each other before we began working together on Stargate, but midway through the first season we discovered we had a similar sense of humour. We decided to play with this in the show and, once we saw that it worked. kept it up. The writers picked up on what we were doing and began writing lines for us in the scripts. For me, that’s one of the highlights of doing this show. It's great that within the very serious genre of Science Fiction we’re still able to poke fun at each other. Sometimes this can lead to a bit of, let’s say, antagonism between Daniel and Jack, but I just think that helps further define their relationship."

The Search for Sha'uri

As part of the SG-1 team. Daniel Jackson’s standing orders are to help seek out new allies and procure new technology to aid in the defence against the Goa’uld. However, beginning with the show’s pilot, Children of the Gods, the doctor’s personal mission has been to find his wife Sha’uri (Vaitiare Bandera), whose body was made host to Amonet, a Goa’uld parasite and mate to Apophis (Peter Williams). All that changed, though, when Teal’c (Christopher Judge) was forced to kill Amonet/Share to save Daniel’s life in the third-season episode Forever In A Day.

“Unfortunately, Daniel was starting to relate everything to his quest to find Sha’uri,” explains Shanks. "It got to the point where both myself and the show’s writers, and I’m sure the audience to some degree, were saying, ‘Oh, my God, is he going on about this again? He’s getting really pathetic and whiny.’ We finally decided, OK, we have to poop or get off the pot. Either we get Sha'uri back and find a way to work her into the show or around her within the show or we just get rid of the character, which is what the writers did. Of course, then the question became, ‘Well, now what do we do with Daniel?’ With Sha’uri gone, he no longer had a storyline.

"Luckily, out of Forever In A Day came a new journey for Daniel, which was to find the Harsesis child, who carries all the knowledge of the Goa’uld.  The difference with this mission was that it had more of a hate/antagonistic feel to it, do you know what I mean? It allowed me to take my character into a much darker place than in previous seasons, which I spoke of earlier. This resulted in his encounter with Monk [Terry Chen] in Maternal Instinct. He taught Daniel to let go of hate and how to rediscover the beauty and joy in life. Daniel also realized once he found the child that he had to allow it to be looked after by its guardian Oma Desala [Carla Boudreau], but with the hope that they would one day again. It was, I felt, quite a pivotal turning point for him.”

Family Matters

Another important episode for Shanks' character last season was Crystal Skull, in which Daniel Jackson re-establishes ties with his grandfather Nick Ballard. [Jan Rubes]. “Daniel. for all intents purposes, has been booted around the block,” notes the actor. "His parents died, his foster parents, well, we don’t really know what happened to them because they're never spoken of, his wife is and the Harsesis child is gone. You think, 'Jeez, the poor guy.'  Something positive had to happen in Daniels personal life, hence the discovery of that one last thread of family. Of course. getting him and granddad together wasn’t easy."

“Crystal Skull actually evolved from a script that [executive producer] Michael Greenburg wrote involving Jack O’Neill’s past. When Rick decided that he didn’t want to do down that road,  Michael approached me about it. I had been asking the writers to do a story about the myth of the crystal skull for a while, so I suggested it to Michael. He and I worked together to incorporate that angle into his script, which he changed to focus on Daniel Jackson.  I thought it worked out nicely and I had fun playing out the emotional aspects of the story,” says the actor.

Driven by Character

Is the actor pleased with his character's development so far this season?   "I'm more a fan of the character-driven episodes and we each get two or three of those a year,” says Shanks. “The one we’re doing now is my first Daniel story of the season and I'm having a great time. Overall, I’m quite happy with how the series is going. We’re shooting on 35mm now and it looks visually stunning. As far as character evolutionary points I think those are yet to come, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

2000, TV Zone.  TV Zone Special #38, Stargate SG-1 2000 is sold out.

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