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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks
MGM SCI FI Newsletter, Nov 01

MGM Sci-Fi Newsletter had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks, to discuss everything from his roots in acting to his young daughter. Here's the exclusive interview for Sci-Fi Newsletter readers.

Sci-Fi: You started your acting career on the stage. How does doing television compare to your stage work?
MS: It's "real" different. The main difference is on stage there's a lot more acting as part of the process, whereas on TV there is a strong technical side, which is necessary, but a lot more time consuming. Also, on stage there's that live audience element which really gets your adrenaline going. Obviously being in front of a live audience can compel and drive your performance more.

Sci-Fi: How old were you when the acting bug first bit you?

MS: I must've been about four or five. I watched way too much TV. I used to act out and role-play the Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman… not that I played Wonder Woman or anything. (laughs) Those shows just got me interested in role-playing and I guess my acting progressed from there. I started pretty young.

Sci-Fi: Where did you study acting?

MS: At the University of British Columbia. I was in the Bachelor of Fine Arts Acting Program. My major was Theater.

Sci-Fi: So when did you get your first big acting break?

MS: Still waiting for it. (laughs)

Sci-Fi: Do you do anything extra to psyche yourself up for a scene? Any tricks for bringing out different emotions to the characters you've played in the past?

MS: It really depends on the scene. I mean, I always do tricks. Once you've done the same type of thing enough times, you find that the raw emotional part doesn't always work necessarily as well as it did when you were younger. You get a little bored with yourself, so you find different ways of coaxing yourself to play scenes with a new twist. I like to draw from personal association. It's what makes acting the most personal and gives the audience true access to true feelings that you really feel or have felt in the past.

Sci-Fi: Getting away from raw emotion and true feelings for a moment, have you ever done any comedy?

MS: Only on stage. I've never done a sitcom, although I'm looking forward to doing that. But the only comedy I've done so far is in the theater.

Sci-Fi: Since you've tackled every medium, which do you prefer? Stage, television, or film?

MS: Each has its benefits. As an actor, stage, definitely. But I do enjoy TV as a visual medium, and film, well, it's great for capturing both of those. But I do prefer stage, although I realize there's not a great living to be had there. And there's certainly a lot of great stories being told on TV and in film.

Sci-Fi: There's definitely a lot of great stories out there, and a lot of great actors too. Any actors in particular that you admire?

MS: I have a wide range of admiration for a lot of actors, but I guess if you were to ask me point blank, I'd have to say Harrison Ford.

Sci-Fi: Do you ever make it a habit of studying other actor's performances?

MS: Oh, all the time. Not to steal their portrayals outright, but any smart actor will try to pick up little ticks and twirls of an actor's personas. I think to study actual actor's personas are important as an actor. As they say, steal from the best, and if you can do that and make it your own I think that's the nature of the craft.

Sci-Fi: Okay, let's get to the juice. What's your favorite Stargate SG-1 episode?

MS: Favorite episode? I don't know if I have "one" favorite episode, but the one that registers in my mind is an episode from the first season, "The Torment of Tantalus". That show sort of embodied all the aspects of Stargate SG-1 that I thought would be successful. I thought that was the path that we should be going down, involving that discovery of something that gives us insight into our past, that basically asked more questions than it answered. That show is the most prominent in my mind, though others have followed since. But that's the one that registers strongest with me.

Sci-Fi: A good part of your job on Stargate SG-1 is acting against the CGI special effects. What's the most challenging aspect of that?

MS: I think just the idea that we're not really sure what we're seeing. We do get pictures, but sometimes it's just a big question mark of asking yourself, how would a person really react to something that is that fictional? All you're looking at is a big, giant green screen when you're doing CGI scenes. So all you can do is wonder how that thing that you're supposed to be seeing would really affect you even though you can't see it and can't really imagine how it's going to be put in front of you. Yeah, the use of your imagination is constantly the biggest challenge.

Sci-Fi: You have some directing under your belt. Do you prefer acting to directing, or vice-versa?

MS: I prefer acting. Acting comes easier to me, though directing is definitely something I want to explore. I don't feel directing is something that I'm the most apt at right now. I still have a lot of homework and learning before I'm really capable of cutting my teeth with it. Acting's simply more fun at this time because I'm more relaxed when I'm doing it, so it's definitely the road I want to continue to go down.

Sci-Fi: If you weren't an actor, what do you think you'd be doing for a living?

MS: Boy, that's a tough question. I think I'd probably be a lawyer or a politician, some equally slimy craft in which I could use my public speaking abilities for financial gain. (laughs)

Sci-Fi: Anything you'd like to share with us that you do in your downtime?

MS: Yeah, I like to spend time with my daughter, you know, watch her grow up. I'm also trying to get back into playing a lot more hockey. Yeah, playing hockey, watching hockey and especially spending a lot of time playing with my daughter, that's basically what I like to do.

Sci-Fi: Sounds like you like being a daddy?

MS: My daughter's the most important thing in my life. She's given me a different perspective on life, made me look at the world's issues a little closer. Being a parent, every cliché that you've ever heard holds true. Once you've looked into your kid's eyes, you really realize that they're the most important thing in the world to you, and my daughter is certainly the most important thing in the world to me.

2001, MGM.

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