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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks: Jackson's Journey
Sharon Gosling, Dreamwatch #104, May 03

When Michael Shanks decided to exit his role as Dr. Daniel Jackson at the end of Stargate's fifth season, there followed a storm of protest from various sources, including comments from the actor himself. Although this galvanised some viewers into distinctly opposing factions, the rest were just sad that the Stargate SG-1 universe had disintegrated in such an unhappy fashion. Now, with Shanks returning for the seventh season, the original team is back together with Daniel Jackson raring to go off and find some new rocks - and a new meaning to his suddenly un-ascended life.

Speaking from his home in Vancouver, the distinctly cheerful actor tells Dreamwatch what it's like to be back at 'home' and what Daniel will be getting up to this season.

dreamwatch: You left at the end of season five, very unhappy. What made you decide to return?

To put it as diplomatically as possible, the two situations were completely different. [Back] then, there were certain politics at work and certain things I wasn't happy with. Those things have been reconciled. The situation that was offered to me for [Season Seven] was very acceptable. The conditions became almost a completely different thing. What was proposed was superior and overcame a lot of my concerns. It was as simple as that.

Has the chemistry on set changed very much? Did you all need to get reacquainted?

It's kind of like I never left. I saw them off-screen even more than on-screen, and the chemistry will always be there. The pieces forming the nice puzzle are all still there, so it hasn't been a difficult process. The first couple of weeks [there was] a little partying, and then after that it was kind of business as usual. Everyone focuses on their jobs, but the chemistry is intact, I think.

Daniel re-joining SG-1 means less screen-time for Jonas Quinn. Would you have liked the chance to work more with Corin Nemec?

Ultimately, every actor has to address the things that affect them first and foremost. I've had a chance to work with Corin Nemec now on four different episodes and we get along fine - he's a nice, likeable chap. In terms of the behind the scenes politics, those decisions don't lay in my court, and so for me to comment on the situation would be inappropriate. At the end of the day, I respect him, and in a way I feel for him as well, but those decisions are made completely independently from me.

One of the things you were unhappy with was the way the character was being written. How has that changed for Season Seven?

By nature of Rick [Dean Anderson]'s lesser involvement in the show, there has been far more leeway for the other characters to be involved. The writers really have to involve the other characters, they really have to [rack] their brains as to how these other relationships work outside of the O'Neill relationship. Those have had to carry the show. Because he's stepped back [further] even from last year, all the other characters become involved more.

So how has Daniel Jackson changed during the year of his absence?

We're still discovering that. [Executive Producer] Robert Cooper and I talked about this quite elaborately. Daniel had to come to some sort of reconciliation at the end of Full Circle. The Ancients make themselves out to be this superior race, [but] they're still struggling with politics and agendas. Daniel can't actually do much from that position and he still has a lot of feelings for the people he cares about, and so as a result the character has to make a decision about what's better: to learn all about these things he is passionate about, or does he go? He still has unfinished business , especially with friends and family back on Earth. He has to make that decision.

At the start of the season, he doesn't know that! He's blessed with this amnesia, and he doesn't even know why he's back. He doesn't know who he is or what happened to him. In the first couple of episodes he relearns who he was [as a human], but he still can't remember who he was when he ascended.

Over the course of the season, we'll be exploring what he may or may not actually remember from those times and how that's changed his character. I think it's going to make him less of a watcher. It's going to make him more active as the series progresses.

Are you happy with the way your character has been re-integrated into the show?

Absolutely, yes. It's a bit rushed, but it's the nature of series television for that to happen. We've got to get on with our mythology and with progressing our series forward and making it action-oriented. But, so far, the lines of communication are very strong. There is a great open-book policy about voicing our concerns, and that by nature of itself is far more constructive. So far, it's been great.

Looking back at your year of absence, what do you feel?

If I could go back, I wouldn't do anything differently. As an actor, we are asked to draw on our own experiences. When you are immersed in the same show nine months of the year, it becomes your life. Being away and having a whole whack of fresh experiences allows you to come back and put things in fresh perspective as an actor and a person. It also allows you to bring something new to the show that other people working there didn't see in you before. I think the writers are able to see that and maybe find little pieces here and there to bring to the fore. That's a definite bonus.

How far are you through the season at the moment?

We are about half-way through filming episode four, an episode called 'Orpheus'. There are two consequences that have to be addressed. The first is Teal'c. In 'Changeling' he loses his symbiote and there are ramifications to that. There are also ramifications for Daniel's de-ascension as it were…There are still lingering questions about why he chose this, [whether] it was something that was forced upon him. In 'Orpheus' both situations are addressed and we find out how we are going to carry on with these new evolutions for the two characters.

You're writing an episode later in the season, aren't you?

Yeah! [Laughs]. I'm getting my comeuppance, that's for sure! Let's just say I've put my head on the chopping block! I asked to write an episode this year and they granted it to me. I think [it was] part and parcel with showing what they're up against all the time and it's been a great learning experience, actually. It's really good to see where [the writers] are coming from and to see the world from their perspective and also to be able to reinvigorate it.

As the new face in the room you have that blissful naïveté - you don't understand the dynamics and you just pipe up, 'Well, why don't we try this?' Sometimes they'll look at you and go, 'Yeah, sure,' [laughs] and then they gracefully let you off the hook. At the same time, sometimes you actually provide some insight into something that they never saw because they spend so much time together thinking about the same things that a new voice in the room can somehow make it all a bit more fresh. There is a trade-off where I look like a fool sometimes, but I may actually come up with a good idea. That isn’t a bad thing! But in terms of writing my own, [laughs], I'm plodding my way through it. I'm understanding the stumbling blocks that there are certain agendas that have to be met, certain outside factors that have to be thought of before you even pick up a pen, and that the story may not come out as the story that you would like at the end of the day. I shall look back on this and say I am able to sympathise with the writers better once it's over!

How do you fit writing around filming?

I have to do it all in my spare moments. Inspiration can happen anywhere - I've had it happen on the toilet! Or on the Stairmaster, you know, the strangest places. Something will suddenly pop into your head. I wish I could spend a little more focused time on it, but then I remember essay writing at school. I usually have to wait until the deadline is approaching and all of a sudden inspiration is forced to come out…So, hopefully, that will happen soon. I'm going to go in sometime and talk to the writers because I've decided that I've hit the wall, so to speak.

Do you know what episode it's going to be?

I think it's going to be 13 or 14. We're still throwing around titles at this point. But it's going to be the episode that Amanda [Tapping, who plays Carter] has a lot of time off, because she is directing right after that.

Are you looking forward to being directed by your co-star?

I'm more concerned for her than anything else. I remember when I was done directing, I went back the next episode and was acting again, and I just went, 'Oh, yeah! This is great! I can do that! What was I thinking by wanting to direct?' It does create a lot of anxiety…It's one thing to do it at school, or do your own little film project, but the machine of television-making is so in place that there's not a lot of room for error. Decisions have to be made very quickly and then you have to try and back it up and make it happen. You're second-guessing yourself all the time - that was my experience, anyway. I'm sure Amanda will handle it a lot better!

The show and the actors are capable of handling themselves and we'll certainly be cutting her a lot of slack in terms of debating issues. We'll be giving her as much of our support as possible and I think I'm just a little bit more concerned for her than anything that she might do to me as an actor. I'm a big boy. I can probably handle it. [Laughs]

What else can we expect to see for Daniel this season?

I usually have things that I want the character to do - I just tend to go with the flow. [Laughs] I've just read a script that Brad Wright wrote, and it pushes every envelope that I would wish to push as an actor on this show! I think I'll be content to lay back a little bit and say, 'That's fine, thank you! That's all I want - now can I just go back and be regular Daniel Jackson? I'll just shut my mouth!' It's a very tough challenge that Brad blissfully wrote for me and at the same time he may have been writing it as a kind of 'Oh YEAH?'" [Laughs] Which is great - that's what you want. You ask for a challenge and you get what you wish for. I think that'll be everything I could possibly ask for in terms of being challenged - during the course of one year, anyway! Between some of the episodes that I've read, the increased involvement of Daniel Jackson and writing the episode as well, I think if I asked for anything more, I'd be suicidal!

Are there any downsides to being back?

With Rick's decreased involvement - that's a blessing and it can be exhausting as well. We're having to squeeze a little bit more into the day, everybody's being asked to do a bit more to fill the gap - Rick is such a great performer and such a strong part of the show that you really need to work extra hard to fill that role. It is 'be careful what you wish for' because it's exhausting, but at the same time it's wonderful. It's exactly everything I could ask for to fill the time and be doing something all the time.

© 2003, DreamwatchBuy Dreamwatch #104 online

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