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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Through the Gate and Home
Miwa Hirai, Stargate SG-1 Solutions, Mar 03

About the Author

Miwa Hirai is an entertainment journalist and columnist based in Osaka, Japan.  Her writing is diverse, covering film, TV and sci-fi, and has been published in magazines around the world.  Interview subjects have included Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and George Clooney.

Miwa's most recent project was presenting "Behind The Gate", AXN Japan's Stargate SG-1 TV special, for which she interviewed Michael Shanks, who plays Dr. Daniel Jackson on the show.

This article is based on the interview conducted early this year and appears at Stargate SG-1 Solutions with Michael Shanks' permission.

Our Respects and Gratitude

We're honoured and thrilled that Miwa Hirai and Michael Shanks have made such an overwhelmingly generous and positive gesture to excited fans of Stargate SG-1, of the character Daniel Jackson and of Mr. Shanks, in allowing us to publish this exclusive article.  We're more grateful and appreciative than we can adequately say. Welcome home to Stargate, Mr. Shanks! 

Alison for Stargate SG-1 Solutions, 12 Mar 03.
He is back. After receiving numerous voices of unwavering support for the character of Dr. Daniel Jackson, MGM finally announced the return of actor Michael Shanks for Season 7 of Stargate SG-1, which will begin airing this summer in the USA. Shanks left the series after Season 5 for reasons that he termed artistic differences. Though figuratively the character of Daniel Jackson remained in place in the series, appearing in three episodes of Season 6; “Abyss”, “Changeling” and the season finale “Full Circle”, the series canon, and more importantly the fans, never really let him go. Now Shanks is ready to step into the new adventures of Stargate SG-1 and has decided to fully come back to the show as a regular cast member next season. Does this mean that MGM and Shanks have come to an amicable agreement?

Shanks shrugs. “It’s the ten thousand-dollar question. There were a whole bunch of factors at play, a number of different reasons why I felt it would be necessary to leave the show in the first place. So I think that the issues, why I left and why I came back, are a bit separate. They were completely different sets of circumstance. I don’t regret either one because the reasons why I left the show were very strong in my mind at the time. There was a completely different situation available to me later. I wouldn’t say it was a reversal of the scenario, but I certainly had different reasons to come back to the show. There were other factors, both personal and business, that played a part in my decision to come back to the show at a different time.”

Inspired by its original feature film by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin in 1994, Stargate SG-1 grabbed a TV audience immediately. Stargate is now one of the most beloved icons in the sci-fi television genre.

Stargate has given me a crash course in film making. Film and television series, in general, do everything at the speed of light. It’s not like the pace of a feature film. I’ve learned so much in such a short time without even going to school! Everything has happened so fast.”

Who Daniel Jackson Really Is

Shanks’ powerful portrayal of Daniel Jackson has fascinated a large segment of mainstream viewers for over five years. He embodied Daniel’s soul of gentleness and humor, and his performances are undoubtedly one of the series biggest assets to date. Shanks’ passionate and sensitively artistic performance has made an indelible mark on the show. While looking back on these days he has spent in Stargate, Shanks analyzes the character he has played – Who Daniel Jackson really is.

“Daniel is a kind of loner. He was an adopted kid and probably was very disappointed in what he saw around him. I think that over time he decided to make up his own set of rules, to trust himself. At the same time he is very anti-social. He’s not very good at expressing himself without stepping on toes. So he is very ethical because I think he doesn’t know quite how he fits in with humanity. I think his job with the team itself operates like his conscience. He is the person who, when dealing with a military organization, is bent on resolving that organization’s agenda. He’s in the back row reminding them of the human factor, reminding them that they are ambassadors of their people. We have to operate in terms of how we can mediate and dispel the differences between us, to recognize what we want and what is best. Each member of the team shares that responsibility, and Daniel thinks he has to be that voice reminding them not to wave flags. He has to be the one to suggest that maybe there’s a better way.”

“He’s the team’s squeaky wheel. And I think he’s a bad dresser!” He laughs. “Daniel’s sported a lot of different hairstyles throughout the series, too. His taste is improved, though. He’s a very sensitive New Age guy. Most of my friends probably say I’m not! But there’s a certain shyness and sensitivity within him that’s also in me. He has passion and idealism, and I like to think I do, too. Maybe together we make one good parallel.”

Full Circle

Shanks’ latest appearance as Daniel Jackson in “Full Circle” gave viewers a glimpse of his possible return. Many startling things happened to Daniel, his friends, and the people around him, and the fans widely agreed that the episode was not only a breathtaking action adventure, but also a character-driven masterpiece. In “Full Circle”, the SG-1 team journeys back to the beginning of the Stargate saga where Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson first began. Daniel appears to O’Neill in the elevator at Stargate Command (SGC) to ask for his help. Although they have covered this aspect of Daniel’s ascended existence in “Abyss”, O’Neill still does not believe that Daniel has no power to change human existence.

“That scene was shot in the first day of filming the episode. That was funny. Rick and I joked when we shot ‘Abyss’ that this year they’re giving us more intense scenes in confined spaces. This time it was in the elevator, before it was the small room with no props. Rick loves using props. I joked about him not being able to play with any props in the elevator. It’s just the characters in front of each other in a very confrontational, confined space. It’s always lovely to shoot the scenes of Jack and Daniel. Rick and I have fun working together.”

“Some of the bantering scenes were of our own making. We had moments to do things like that. In ‘Full Circle’, that particular elevator scene carries so much expositional dialogue as well as carrying important story information that has to be dealt with. It’s up to us to make sure that information comes out to move the whole story forward. So I think we are a little bit closer to the script than we’ve ever been, but the same time we’re obviously including the odd word, establishing the old relationship that, you know, rounds it out a little bit. I think it’s never boring. The two of us would’ve just added things, trying to change something somebody else did because we’re so stubborn,” laughs Shanks.

Ever since Daniel ascended, he has not been allowed to interfere with the real world. However, in “Abyss” and “Full Circle”, Daniel took a great risk in crossing that line. Struggling with his mixed feelings as he learned more about his chosen path with the Ancients in the higher plane, Daniel decided to fight with Anubis after he uncovered Anubis’ identity. While Daniel is facing Anubis in his ship, Ska’ra dies in O’Neill’s arms.

“Well, he ‘ascends,” corrects Shanks. “Abydos is destroyed. The entire village ascends. That’s not Daniel’s plan. Oma Desala does it. She also takes Daniel away while he is fighting with Anubis.”

“The battle scene reminds me Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi. Luke Skywalker faces off with the empire in a private way, in miniature, one on one. The parallel is inevitable, especially when you see Anubis. When I saw Anubis, who is strikingly similar to something from The Lord Of The Rings, I was like, uh-oh.” He laughs self-consciously.  “When I was in an Abydonian robe I had the hood up and everything and I looked kind of like Obi-Wan Kenobi walking around.”

“But we’re not going to steal something like that, of course. You know that. It looks familiar so people make claims, doesn’t matter if it has merit. What you do in that case is just stay true to your own character, because that character is essentially very different from all other characters. The point is, there will always be similarities if you dig hard enough, but the original idea is the foundation.”


After shooting “Full Circle”, Shanks flew to Johannesburg in South Africa for a German/British co-produced film called Sumuru. Shanks plays astronaut Adam Wade, who accidentally lands on a planet ruled by the beautiful, mysterious queen Sumuru (Alexandra Kamp). Shanks enjoyed acting in the heated climate surrounded by sultry women.

“It was an interesting experience,” laughs Shanks. “They called it my paid vacation, but I would say it was more like a work experience. Sumuru is a sci-fi movie. I would call it a campy sci-fi. I hate to say it’s classic sci-fi because that just means it’s an old B-movie. It is a modern technical film.  I think that the most important thing we got out of it is the fact that we had great fun working together.  Just having fun the whole time. I think that’s the best thing that’s come out of it for me.”

Although Sumuru has not yet been released, rumor has spread to the Internet that a sequel is in the works.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that, too! I arrived in South Africa and heard about it possibly becoming a series, and I said, ‘What, what?’ That was the first time I’d heard of it. Every movie has the potential to be turned into a series. I know that the location of South Africa is fantastic for it. It’s pretty interesting. The concept…I wonder how that would translate to a series? They seem to have pretty high hopes, but I don’t think it will happen until after they release the movie. We’ll see how it goes from there. That could be a year from now or five years from now. So, you know, it’s hard to say.”


Immediately after returning to Canada, Shanks appeared in an episode of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda in Season 3 with Chris Judge. Both actors played artificial intelligence creatures in "Day of Judgment, Day of Wrath”, which has a connection to previous episodes they’ve appeared in. Shanks played the avatar of a warship in Season 1 (“Star Crossed”), and Judge played another avatar in Season 2 (“The Knight, Death and the Devil”).

“That was a lot of fun, to finally to be back home after being away for seven weeks doing Sumuru. This episode (of Andromeda) is a sequel to the episode in the first season, but it’s kind hard to explain.  The character I played in the first season, Gabriel,  kind of dies. But, this being science fiction, nobody really goes away. It’s a bit of a different incarnation of the same character. The first one was more of a love story mixed up with action, but this one is mostly action. Chris and I had some fun doing wirework, which I’ve never done before. Lexa (Doig) and I are hooked up to a wire and fight each other. Chris and I get to have a fight, too! It was great. It was the best. And the episode was shot right before they wrapped up the season, too. Once it was over I was on vacation, so it was a nice way to finish the year before Christmas.”

A Sensation in Japan

Shanks’ popularity got an international boost during his time away from the series. As the top-rated show on channel AXN Japan, Stargate won the rank of 2002’s “Viewers’ Choice”. Shanks participated in an interview for the programs shown in February produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan). After the programs were aired, AXN  reported that it was the biggest sensation they had ever received from their viewers in the history of their television channel. Now that Shanks is back to play Daniel Jackson, AXN anticipates an ever greater response from future audiences.

“It’s great. I would wonder why but I always wonder why we do well in other countries. We don’t really hear about ourselves at all here in Canada and in America. There is such a large market out there, so many different shows, that we really get lost in the shuffle.  But I think that Season 7 is going to be a great year. It’s also going to be busy season. Rick will be in only three and a half days a week. Amanda is directing this season, Chris is pitching an episode, and I’m also writing. So it’s going to be heavy, but it’ll be a lot of fun working with them, all the crew and people on the set like I did before.” Shanks grins.

Author!  Author!

Shanks made his directorial debut in the Stargate episode “Double Jeopardy” in Season 4, and now, armed with his experiences as an actor and director, he is entering the writing field. Shanks chuckled when he was reminded that he had stated in a previous interview that if he were asked to write a script for Stargate, it would take him about three years to finish it off.

“Well, I have begun writing anyway. When writing a story, you need to flesh out the ideas you have before making a decision about its direction. This is what I’m doing right now, following the idea to see where it goes, though I’m not very good at second-guessing myself all the time. There’s a procedure with writing for a series; pitching the story, taking input, design, whether or not it fits into the concept of the season. Then you have to write the outline and expand it, rewrite it and so on. I do have a few ideas, but I haven’t had a chance to run them by the other writers. So whether or not any of those comes to fruition is anyone’s guess,” says Shanks. “I even heard this crazy idea about a last-season musical.” He laughs. “Probably Rick would buy it. We could all be singing, dancing around. That would be fun.”

A Stronger Friendship

The friendship of Jack and Daniel displays many of the qualities that made the show a success. The bonds of their relationship provide infinite possibilities for story direction, not only showcasing the action, but also appealing to the viewer’s sense of drama. The sincere affection between Jack and Daniel has become one of the strongest elements of the show. Now the audience wants to see how their relationship will evolve or transform in the next season.

“That’s hard to say. O’Neill has gotten more human, less military-oriented now. He’s loosened up and has begun to sometimes see things from Daniel’s point of view. I don’t know if there’s a lot of room for further evolution or to deepen an already established friendship between the two. I think they’re pretty much like an old married couple now, so I don’t know how they can get any worse or any better in any regard, but I think at some point there has to be more acknowledgement of the friendship they have had. That’s always gone, more or less, unspoken in many ways. They’ve had their moments of love and hate, they’ve fought, but I think their particular love/hate relationship is very balanced.” He pauses to think. “Evolving? I think in the future they will have the same kind of relationship, but stronger.”

Home Again

Season 7 will premiere with a two-part episode. Executive producer Robert Cooper, who also wrote the Season 6 finale, will pen the first part. The conclusion will be by Paul Mullie and Joseph Mallozzi.

“They’ve tentatively dubbed these episodes “Falling” and “Homecoming”. They mostly center around the character of Daniel coming back, though that’s not the central conflict or the point of the story. In that regard you could compare him to Spock in Star Trek The Voyage Home. Daniel is somewhere and the SG-1 team has to find him, and then he has to complete the journey and get back to human form. We did an episode for the fifth season called ‘Ascension’, which was all about a character whom was much like what Daniel is right now. He is capable of being kicked out of the club, so to speak, so he can come back to being human. I don’t know if we've established that these guys can do that. I think in the end of Season 6 - the final episode ‘Full Circle’ - the situation arises where Daniel is given an opportunity to be booted out because of the actions he took.  I don’t know quite where we will start off, but I do know there’s some way that the team stumbles upon Daniel, and then O’Neill must help him find the way back. Daniel also has to work to be part of the SG-1 group again.”


No matter what the goal of his quest or true destiny, what he has to learn or teach, Daniel Jackson has learned that the answer to his search may exist only inside of him. Now it’s time for him to come home.

“The question is, how will he come back? As human, flesh and blood? He’s now sort of an energy form, you know. Do energy-forms wear clothes?” He grins mischievously. “Since the first season we haven’t had any nudity per se on film, but I’m not bursting to get naked in front of the crew or anything.”

“What I’ve been told, what I’ve agreed to when talking to Rob Cooper, is that it can’t be that Daniel comes back and everything goes back to the way it was before he left, because that would mean the show wasted a year evolving in a different direction without him. It also means the character wasted a year not evolving properly as well. I think there has to be some sort of evolution or change to Daniel when he comes back. It certainly needs to be so in order to justify why he’s left the Ascended. We need to know how he feels about them, about the universe, how he feels about being back, what his future plans are now and what he wants to pursue. We’ve both agreed that Daniel would be more intense, more restive and less satisfied. He would be less inclined to smooth things over and would stop putting his faith in the hope that things will turn out all right. He has suspicions about the Ancients now, about the ascended ones. They might not be who he thought they were, and he realizes that he has to learn to be more human than he was before. He has to be less of a thinking man and want to move forward, to take action that makes a difference. I don’t mean that he should lose that introspective quality, just that he needs to be stronger, to follow through, not just to be content to sit back and wait.”

(c) Miwa Hirai and Stargate SG-1 Solutions, Mar 2003.  All rights reserved.  You may not reproduce this article in whole or in part without prior permission.

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