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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

So long, Daniel Jackson, until we meet again...?
Steven Eramo, TV Zone #146, Dec 01

MOST TV ACTORS dream of getting a job as a regular on a show. If the series turns out to be a hit, then all the better. For Michael Shanks, his dream became a reality back in 1997 when he won the role of Dr Daniel Jackson on Stargate SG-1. "I'll never forget when Christopher Judge [Teal'c], Amanda Tapping [Major Samantha Carter] and I visited the set for the first time and saw the Stargate," he says. "The three of us were overwhelmed. We were like, 'Oh, my God, this is for us. This is our show, our universe.' It was an awe-inspiring experience.

"I should add, though, that on our first day working on-location we had what was probably the ultimate feeling in the opposite direction," jokes the actor. "It rained the entire time, most of the film got ruined, parts of the set were washed away, the extras were ready to mutiny, etc. It was pretty much a nightmare. That day we were all thinking, 'What have we done? We've stepped onto our own Hindenburg. We're about to be part of the biggest disaster to ever befall Vancouver-based filming in the history of TV.' Thankfully, it was not the beginning of the end. Everything seemed to go uphill after that."

In the 1994 Stargate feature film - which inspired the TV series - Daniel Jackson (played by James Spader) joins a team of military explorers, SG-1, on their first mission through the Stargate. They arrive on the planet Abydos where they meet Ra (Jaye Davidson), a member of a race of hostile alien symbiotes called the Goa'uld. Over the centuries, Ra and his race have been masquerading as Egyptian gods. They use the Stargate to travel to other worlds in order to gather slave labour as well as hosts for Goa'uld larva. With help from the Abydonians, SG-1 succeeds in defeating the false god. At the end of the movie, Jackson chooses to stay behind on the planet and marry Sha'uri (Mili Avital).

Colonel Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) leads SG-1 on a mission back to Abydos to find Jackson in the two-hour Stargate series pilot Children of the Gods. They need his help to defeat Apophis (Peter Williams) a new Goa'uld System Lord who is threatening Earth. Unfortunately, Apophis escapes, taking with him several Abydonians including Sha'uri. Vowing to find his wife, Jackson signs up (as a civilian) with SG-1 to help them explore the universe. Since then, he has, amongst other things, visited an alternate reality (There But For The Grace of God); been addicted to the effects of the Goa'uld sarcophagus (Need); had his body taken over by an alien (Holiday); been driven insane (Legacy) and held captive by a Unas while on an off-world dig (The First Ones). However, after five years of adventures, Jackson's alter ego has called it quits.

"The show was moving in a direction that seemed to hold less and less a place for my character," explains Shanks. "There were a number of conspiracy plots developing and other Earth-based scenarios that were being done in order to flesh out the different aspects of dealing with the Stargate. Admittedly, some of them were very interesting. For instance, the fifth season episode Desperate Measures was actually a particularly good story because of its X-Files-brand of conspiracy involving Maybourne [Tom McBeath]. In fact, when my girlfriend Lexa [Doig - Rommie of Andromeda fame] and I were watching it I said to her, 'This is a great show. I wish I were on it.' It's like when you watch a really good episode of The X-Files and think, 'Wow, this is a great show. I wish I could guest-star on it.' Well, there I was watching Stargate and saying, 'This is an interesting TV show. I wish I was… oh, wait a minute, I am on it!' It was one of those moments that were becoming more and more frequent where I'd think, 'I'm spending nine months a year doing this show and I'm really not in it a lot. I'm not getting the chance to challenge myself as an actor.'

"Stargate had become a programme about a military group in a military institution surrounded by all the various aspects and organizations that people in the military might have to deal with. As the sole civilian of the team, other than Teal'c, there wasn't much for Daniel to do. For example, in the fifth season we seemed to revisit many of the same planets we had been to in the fourth year. Being an anthropologist/archaeologist, Daniel goes to other worlds to meet new races and study new cultures. Instead, we were dealing with old situations and becoming further entrenched in past conflicts. As a result, the archaeological and cultural interests of my character had to take a backseat.

"I actually said to Brad Wright [executive producer] last season, 'You need to have this fourth team member be a military person, maybe a corporal or a lieutenant with a bit of a background in archaeology. This was if you need such expertise this guy's got it. If not, at least you have someone who can pick up a gun and start fighting.' It was getting to the point where Daniel was in scenes just to be there, you know, and frankly, I didn't want to do that any more."

THE ACTOR MAKES his final appearance as a Stargate SG-1 regular in the fifth-season penultimate episode Meridian. In it, Daniel Jackson is visited by the non-corporeal being Oma Desala, whom he first encountered in the third-season episode Maternal Instinct. Regular viewers will recall that she saved the Harsesis child from Jaffa warriors and took him under her protection. In Meridian, Jackson joins her kind when he ascends beyond his mortal body. The character's farewell story was a bittersweet one for Shanks.

"There were a number of agendas that had to be solved," says the actor. "Not only did they need to finish off Daniel's journey if you will, but they also had to introduce a new character. With so many things going on it really wasn't clear why Daniel was being written out in this fashion. I thought there was a bit of chickening out with how it all happened. The big problem, I think, was they were so intent on saying to the audience 'Daniel's not dead!' This was mainly for the benefit of the same viewers who apparently got so upset last season when Martouf [JR Bourne] was killed off in Divide and Conquer. The powers that be wanted to quell any backlash that might take place with the fans concerning Daniel's departure. What they ended up doing lessened the impact of his leaving/ They didn't give the viewers a chance to grieve the 'passing' of the character.

"Of course, the dual storyline involving the new character didn't help either. Having said that, I understood why it had to be done, and in all honesty unless I can think of an alternative way of handling something I usually keep my mouth shut and don't gripe. So I didn't really protest and just figured, 'OK, fine'. I knew it was the end of the road. I didn't mind the story. I just wished there was a better way that it could've been done, but that's neither here nor there at the end of the day."

The actor says there was a lot going through his mind during the final days of filming. "On my very last day I worked only with the actor that was going to be replacing me, which was a bit ironic," he chuckles. "The day before, though, was different. It was my last one working with Christopher and Amanda. We spent a lot of time talking about where we had begun, where we'd ended up and the unfortunate circumstances that led to this particular point. So it was a very emotional day. Funnily enough, I felt more like the dying guy who had to make certain that everyone else knew he was going to be OK. I was being more of the comforting person in the situation.

"This may sound odd, but I'm not sure even now that I fully realize it's over. On that particular day it felt like just another day at work. Coincidentally, it was the end of the season, so we were all ready to go on break anyway. There was a great deal of reflection on my part insofar as how my life had changed and how much my child had grown up over the course of my time on the show. All in all, my thoughts were positive ones."

If given the chance, what would Shanks have done differently with his character? "That's a tough one," he muses. "I think I would have liked to have gone back to Daniel's roots. We touched upon that a bit in the story The Curse. It would have been fun to go back to Egypt or someplace like that and discover a new element associated with another race out there amongst the stars. It needn't have even been connected to the Stargate. That would have created yet another mystery for us to try to solve. It was something we broached in Crystal Skull, but we never returned to that planet! I enjoy the stories like that as they allow us to delve into the great unknown, which is a subject that has piqued the interest of Humanity for centuries."

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 actor 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 work together for so long, the four is us - Richard, Amanda, Christopher and myself - had become a squabbling, playful family. If you came in off the streets 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 [Dr 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."

Since finishing Stargate SG-1, Shanks has been taking a breather and spending time with his little girl. He recently read for a part in the new Star Trek feature film Nemesis. "The role I auditioned for was that of a younger version of Patrick Stewart's character [Captain Picard]," he says. "I don't envision myself getting the part, but it was still fun trying out for it." After the New Year, the actor plans to travel to the UK for a holiday to meet Stargate SG-1 fans at various organized events. Given the impact he made as Daniel Jackson, Shanks is sure to be associated with the character for a long time to come. He has no problems with that.

"I enjoyed playing Daniel," he says. "I think what I liked most was his excitement whenever he discovered something new. We saw this in the episode The Tomb with some of the discoveries he made. Certainly they were less important to the story once we got through the front door of the ziggurat but it was fun for a while to see the character in his element. It was the same in 2001 when he put together the pieces of the puzzle to solve a mystery. Daniel never lost his passion for exploration and I'll always be grateful for that."

2001, TV Zone.  Buy TV Zone #146 online.

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