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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Problem Solved
Steve Eramo, TV Zone Special #42, Jul 01

Digging Up The Dirt

“The episode we’re shooting now [The Tomb] is a great one for Daniel,” says Shanks. “As the archaeologist on the show he gets a big charge out of being in his element, and for me as an actor, the character is the most fun to play when he’s feeling that way. So this story plays perfectly into that. Our heroes are sent on a mission to investigate an ancient Babylonian temple or ziggurat.  In order to uncover the mystery surrounding the tomb, they first must decipher an archaic Earth language. This is where Daniel’s problem-solving skills come in handy. Even the door to the place itself is a puzzle and one that my character is able to solve. Of course, once he and the others eventually get inside they find a surprise or two waiting for them.”

New Start

“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,” notes the actor. “In year four, the ‘Daniel stories’ focused more on him as a person. One of the highlights for me was, without question, The First Ones. A close second is The Curse. In it, Daniel pays a visit to his alma mater and we uncover a bit more of the character’s history previous to the Stargate movie. To top it off, you get to hear other peoples’ perspectives on what Daniel was like back then, particularly his ex-girlfriend’s and old rival's."

Shanks also has high praise 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."

“I must admit I got a little worried last season because there were times where I felt my character was just 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 that he could react.

Action Man

“This season, my character has been involved more in the action. The writers have decided, ‘If the episode is not specifically about Daniel or if we don’t have another storyline for him, then we’ll throw him into the middle of things and see how he does. Needless to say, I’m having a blast. I enjoy it much more when I’m performing a function in a scene as opposed to just being window dressing. I’m grateful to those in charge for making the effort to address my concerns.

Beast of Burden is the first episode of the show’s fifth season in which Shanks takes centre stage. In it, Daniel attempts to help his old friend, Chaka (Dion Johnstone) from The First Ones, who, alone with his race, the Unas, have been made slaves of by those they were once masters of. “Last year, whether by design or not. I'm not quite sure, Daniel became a voice of morality for the SG-1 team,” explains the actor. “His is a non-military viewpoint, and I think that’s very important given the nature of the military hierarchy. If an officer says, ‘Jump’, a solider will ask, ‘How high?’ However, a person who doesn’t fall under that hierarchy or who can’t be court-martialled may ask, ‘Why am I jumping?

“So in the SGC Daniel tends to be the voice of morality. However, there are some moral dilemmas that have no right or wrong  solution and this is true in Beast of Burden.  My character has to face the fact that his not always right and people don’t always have to accept the ‘right’ way. Some things aren't going to change no matter how hard you try. I think you’ve got to take a stand, though, when it comes to an issue. It may not necessarily be the most popular one,  but it's what you believe in at the time for whatever reason. Daniel is forced to do just that here.  There are some ramifications that follow from the action SG-1 takes in this episode and I hope we have the opportunity to revisit this planet in a future story to see what's happened."

Behind The Camera

Last season, the actor made his debut as a director on Stargate SG-1. He was originally assigned the episode Prodigy, but due to an unavoidable last-minute change ended up with the far more complicated complicated story Double Jeopardy.  "Everyone was prepared for the idea of me directing but no one, especially me, was prepared for the situation that I ended up in," he says. “I knew I was going to be like a fish out of water, but I never imagined how much so.  However, I learnt  a lot more directing an episode episode like that than I would have done doing a far simpler one.  It pretty much introduced me to all the ups  and downs of production. I’m glad to say the experience has not discouraged me in the least from directing. In fact, if the show is renewed for a sixth season and they offer me the chance I’ll do it again.”

New Challenges

Michael made appearances in acclaimed HBO movie "Door To Door," independent Canadian feature "Suddenly Naked" and "Andromeda," where he met his partner Lexa Doig, who plays Rommie.  Shanks played Gabriel, an AI or Artificial Intelligence.  He and Rommie fall in love.

“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 balance 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."

Robotic Acting

“Unfortunately. I stepped into a pitfall when it came to playing an android in this 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.”

Is there another year of Daniel Jackson in Shanks should Stargate SG-1 go for a sixth season? “I’m game,” he answers smiling. “My only worry in life is complacency. Whatever I continue to do I want it to be moving forward. I don’t like doing things simply for the sake of doing them, you know? I always want to be learning and growing. So as long as that happens or it is believed that it will happen, then yes. definitely. I'm here.”

2001, TV Zone.  TV Zone Special #42 is sold out.

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