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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Star Man
David Bassom, Dreamwatch #111, Nov 2003

After controversially leaving the show at the end of its fifth year, MICHAEL SHANKS is back as Dr Daniel Jackson in the seventh season of and this time round, he's thrilled about the way his enormously popular character is being treated.

Michael Shanks couldn't be happier with his decision to reopen the Stargate for a seventh season of adventures. °Oddly enough, although so many years have gone by, I think this one has been the most fun of them all," says Shanks of the season which marks his full-time return to the role of Dr Daniel Jackson following his controversial one-year hiatus. "Part of that had to do with it being a different dynamic than we were used to. This year, with Rick [Dean Anderson, Colonel Jack O'Neill] being less involved and different characters being in different places, the other SG-1 actors have benefited because we got to act with the guest stars a lot more and we got to be a part of the storyline and didn't hang around in the background so much.

In the first five seasons, we got used to the rhythm with all the characters being there all the time. and it got a little bit predictable if nothing else. But this year, the other actors-who used to take a back seat in the action for 75 per cent of the time ¬have been allowed to step forward and our characters have blazed in ways they didn't get to blaze before. We were going, 'Hey, this is actually fun!'

It was just great to be back with the group, it was to return to the character and it was nice to have that dynamic shift up where we got to play in the sandbox a little more and got a little taste of everything."

Home Sweet Home

Dr Daniel Jackson makes his long awaited comeback with season seven's opening instalment, Fallen/Homecoming. The episode sees Daniel returning to SG-1 -and human form - after spending a year as an 'ascended being', and heralds a new era of adventures for the beloved character.

"Initially, we see there is a revitalisation with Daniel after he de-ascends and rejoins everyone," notes Shanks. "In season seven, Daniel has become more self-assured and pro-active than he's ever been. He's no longer the passive observer most of the time, he steps to the fore and attempts to solve the problem himself rather than wait for someone else to do it. As a general development, he's less of a boy and more of a man this year."

After reclaiming his place alongside Colonel O'Neill, Major Sam Carter and Teal'c in the SG-1 team, Daniel takes centre stage in Lifeboat. The episode sees him being possessed by the minds of a cryogenically ¬frozen crew and really gave Shanks' acting skills a work-out.

"Lifeboat was a huge challenge," he says. "When we were setting it up we described it as a theatre piece, because there were very few visual effects in that episode and very few gun battles and what not. It was about the character. It was fun for me to do. I'm always hyper-critical about my own work, and there are a few things I'd like to go back and change, hut I was very grateful to be handed a challenge like that and be trusted to do it."

Besides Lifeboat, Shanks points to the two-part episodes Heroes and The Lost City as other obvious highlights of season seven. Heroes involves the tragic death of a member of the Stargate Command crew, while season finale The Lost City sees SG-1 fighting to save the Earth front Anubis in a storyline that was originally devised as a big-screen Stargate adventure.

"Heroes has probably some of the best work we've ever done," notes Shanks. "We have the culmination of some great guest stars mixed with some of our funnier moments and some of our most angst- and pathos-ridden moments. I think they all blend together into a wonderful combination, and the story allows us to see a side of the SGC we've never seen before. The episode puts you on a bit of a sentimental roller coaster and I think the audience will really get a kick out of it. We enjoyed making it and I think it's turned out rather well,

"I also think the two-part season finale is something to look forward to. The script was originally the feature film that was intended to be made at some point, but the producers decided that because of the path the series was going in, we'd shoot it now as two hours of television. It was hugely ambitious and it was shot like a film. I think the audience will be very excited by the outcome. The episode also goes back to the old dynamic and it's wonderful for all four of the character to be in a scene together at the same time."

One Stargate adventure that Shanks particularly hopes viewers will enjoy is Resurrection, the episode that marks his SG-1 writing debut. "It's an Earth-based story," he reveals, "It concerns the NID [the covert government organisation] and its attempts to create a hybrid Goa'uld-human. I got lots of assistance from the other writers in the finishing stages. Amanda Tapping actually directed it, so it will be a strong group effort."

"I haven't seen the finished version of it, so I'll reserve judgement on it, but I've heard it turned out well from Rob [Cooper, executive producer]. He was happy with it. From what I saw, I think we got the right balance with it, and I thought Amanda did great. It was a simple story with a lot fewer characters than usual, but I thought she came in well-prepared and handled herself well and she shot it on schedule."

Now And Then

Shanks' current enthusiasm for Stargate SG-1 is a far cry from his position two years ago, when he decided to leave the series after becoming disenchanted with the show's use of his character. °I was concerned that my character was not being made a necessary part of the storylines or the continuing arcs," explains Shanks. "What's happened this year that's taken that concern away is that all the actors have been busy and pro-active when we've been there.

"I know fans like to see the four of us In the same room exchanging glances with one another, but as actors when there's one character who's generally integral to the scene and the rest are just there to be there, it can be too much time just being on set without actually doing anything. This year, that dynamic was totally changed because we're not on screen all together at the same time, and when a character is involved in the scene it seems to be just that character in the scene and the other characters aren't around. That's perfect for the actors because when you're there, you're working, and when you're not working, you're not there. That's been something I've been very content with."

When Shanks filmed his character's exit from Stargate SG-1 in season five's penultimate episode, Meridian, he expected to play a recurring guest role in the series in preparation for his appearance in its eventual movie spin-off. He had no idea that Daniel was destined to be brought back to the show full-time for its seventh season, following a truly unprecedented fan campaign which surprised pretty much everyone, including Shanks himself.

"I knew there would be a few people who would be upset about me leaving," he explains, "but l hadn't anticipated the outpouring of emotion. That was really surprising and really wonderful. I'm not actually sure where the actual decision came from to bring Daniel back, but I will say it wouldn't have come about and my decision to return wouldn't have been as easy to reach if it hadn't been for the fans. If the character had been easily forgotten, it would have been easy for the show to have carried on regardless. But the fans were really supportive and really wanted the character back and made sure people understood he was important to that show and possibly to them as well."

In the wake of his return to the show, Shanks insists that there are "no hard feelings between him and any of his colleagues about his hiatus. He also maintains he has no regrets about his choices to both leave and return to SG-l.

"I think they were the right decisions to make," he stales. "The choice to leave was the right one to make and the choice to come back was the right one to make. I'm completely content with those decisions."

Gate Expectations

Another decision Shanks is completely content with is his choice to sign up for the role of Daniel Jackson in the first place - even though he truly had no idea what he was letting himself in for at the time.

"When I started this, all I ever really planned on was honing my technical skills as a television actor," he recalls with a chuckle. "I thought shows like Stargate, which are based on a feature film, have short shelf-lives, so I wasn't sure if we would run for the full first two years we were committed to. And I thought anything else beyond that would have been a bonus."

"l was 26 at the time: now I'm 32 and my daughter's five. So a lot has changed since we began this show and it's been a lovely ride to go on. Somewhere along the line, we'll look back at this and we'll see that what started off as a little hobby project has turned into a little piece of pop culture."

"The character is the person the audience can see through the eyes of, because he is curious and full of wonder," says Shanks of Daniel Jackson's function in the series.

Reviewing his time with SG-l, Shanks points to Forever in a Day, Legacy, Lifeboat, and the Unas trilogy- 'he First Ones, Beast of Burden and Enemy Mine - as Daniel's most memorable hours. When asked if there are any episodes he wishes he hadn't be in, Shanks bursts into laugher.

"Oh, yes," he replies. "There are quite a few actually. I certainly think Emancipation is an episode we'd all like to assume was a bad dream. Broca Divide was another one, and Hathor is certainly up there in my 'Oh my god, if the public ever see this I'm going to cry!' list. And I think the fifth-season two-parter, Summit and Last Stand, would be on that list too, only because of the rather colourful outfit I had to wear."

"Then there was Seth, which I always describe as the episode about a 2,000-year¬old System Lord who lives on the planet Earth and all he's managed to do is get a farmhouse full of disciples who polish his throne! In 2,000 years, that's not much progress. And SG-1 then goes in there and kill him! He's not even doing anything wrong, for crying out loud, he's just there in his farmhouse minding his own business. He had no plans to take over the world or anything!"

"The list probably could go on, but those are certainly in the top 10 episodes I wish I'd been able to crawl under a rock and hide during."

Despite its occasional misfires, Stargate SG-1 has been a massive success during the past seven years, and shooting is set to begin on the show's eighth season early next year. Shanks plans to continue the role of Daniel Jackson into season eight, and is looking forward to seeing what new acting challenges await him through the Stargate. "It's very important to grow as an actor and I think that's what an eighth season would continue to provide for me," he notes. "There's always something new to learn and because we do have a very nice, family atmosphere on the set, you feel comfortable enough to latch on to new things easily.

"I've had a great time on season seven and I'm looking forward to season eight."

© 2003, DreamwatchBuy Dreamwatch #111 online

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