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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Fall From Grace
Steven Eramo, TV Zone Special #52, Jun 03

Stargate SG-1's Daniel Jackson sure knows how to make an entrance - or should that be a re-entrance? The character spent the show's sixth year as one of a race of beings known as the `Ascended Ones'. Unfortunately for Daniel, he discovered that life on a higher plane isn't all it's cracked up to be. After daring to break the rule of non-interference, he was banished from this `afterlife'. In the programme's seventh season opener Fallen, a group of nomads discover Daniel lying naked amongst some ruins on their planet. He has been made flesh and blood again and has no knowledge of who he is. Playing his character with a lack of memory proved a bit of an acting challenge for Michael Shanks.

"The slate is wiped clean with Daniel. He doesn't remember anything that happened to him prior to, or while, he was ascended," explains Shanks. "In Fallen he starts off as basically a blank page and has to rediscover who he is. It was far more difficult than I originally thought it was going to be. After all, everything you do with your character becomes a part of who he is. If you erase all that and then ask him, `Who are you now?' naturally he hasn't a clue. He's forced to rethink how he feels about certain things."

"As an actor that was frustrating for me to play and I don't know whether or not it showed on the screen because it should have. It made sense that Daniel would also be frustrated because of his inability to remember things and having to re-establish ties with his friends. That said, once he began to piece it all together, the two of us began feeling more comfortable. So it was somewhat trying at first but in the end I think we found our way."

During Season Six of Stargate SG-1, Jonas Quinn took the place left on the SG-7 team by Daniel's ascension. In the second half of the seventh season opener, Homecoming, Jonas hands the baton back to Daniel, who rejoins SG-1. However, before doing so, they team up to help thwart the plans of the System Lord Anubis. While Shanks enjoyed working with fellow actor Corin Nemec (Jonas), he would have preferred it if their scenes were a little less hectic.

"Most of the interaction between the two characters took place in an action-oriented dynamic," says the actor. "Also, Daniel still wasn't fully confident with who he was at the time. So it was kind of an odd amalgamation of thrusting him and Jonas together in the same space but the conditions weren't conducive to them having a conversation. They were talking but it was while they were busy fighting the bad guys. The two men found, I think, certain commonalties between one another but there wasn't time to establish much of a rapport."

Shanks was pleased to see the bond between Daniel and Teal'c become even stronger in the episode Orpheus. "Chris Judge and I rarely get the chance to actually work with each other," he notes. "Last season's Changeling was one such occasion, and I think that sparked the seed for Orpheus in which our two characters share a strong spiritual bond. Daniel and Teal'c help one another reassert who they are and where their strengths lie. So that was a blast to do."

"After Orpheus we did a fun episode called Revisions. In some ways it goes back to the show's original formula that has us visiting a brand new world where there's no past history that we know of and it has never been visited by the Goa'uld. SG -1 works together to solve a problem and then they go home. When I first read the script I thought, `This is cool', because we hadn't done a story like that in a while. Martin Wood shot it in a very interesting and almost creepy way and I think it'll be a strong episode."

At the time of this interview in early May, the cast and crew of Stargate SG-1 were filming two episodes side-by-side, Avenger 2.0 and Enemy Mine. In the latter, Daniel is reunited with an old friend, Chaka the Unas, who he hopes can help him resolve a dispute on another planet. Their efforts are complicated, though, by SG-1 1's Colonel Edwards (Michael Rooker), who has his own ideas on how to conduct their mission. `Colonel O'Neill is injured and Daniel has to `break in' a new colonel who supersedes O'Neill in terms of his gruffness," says Shanks. "So my character has to walk a fine line between working with the military and not always agreeing with everything it stands for. As we know, there's an unspoken understanding between Daniel and O'Neill. They've established more of a common ground and a willingness to work together as opposed to being at odds all the time. Yes, they still bicker, but they better `get' where the other is coming from.

"In Enemy Mine, Daniel is dealing with a career military man who doesn't care about his point of view. He just wants to the ¬job done. Daniel has to find a way ¬to work within the confines of this very rigid military structure while trying to bring two warring sides together. Peter DeLuise wrote the story as well as directed it and he ¬did a great job with both."

"As an actor you always wish you had more choices, but at the same time you know there are a vast number of your peers that don't have any choices. So you quickly come to appreciate what you have. As long as I continue to learn and grow, personally and professionally, then I'm happy."

Of Two [Or More] Minds…

Michael Shanks gets to flex his acting muscles with the episode Lifeboat in which Daniel Jackson is suffering from a severe case of multiple personalities. "Brad Wright [series co-creator and former executive producer], bless his heart, knew I really wanted something to sink my teeth into," says the actor.

"So he gave me pretty much the most challenging episode I could've ever imagined doing, next to Holiday back in the second season. In Lifeboat, a number of personalities - all of whom are experiencing physical and psychological stress - are suddenly transferred into Daniel's brain. 1 then had to play scenes in which one or more of these personalities interact with each other at the same time.

"Talk about a complete mindbender," jokes Shanks. "It was certainly something to wrap one's head around, and it was a big challenge given the time constraints of TV. We had to make sure certain things were done in order for all the characters to be clearly defined. It was tough going but 1 thoroughly enjoyed it. Whether or not 1 pulled it off is another matter. I'll have to decide that when I actually watch the episode. Regardless, it's always nice to be given the chance to do something you've never tried to do before. Believe me, I learnt a lot."

© 2003, TV Zone.  Buy TV Zone Special #52 online.

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