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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks: Sci Fi Overdrive
Sci Fi Overdrive radio broadcast, 12Jan 04

SFOD: We have got the man who opened the Stargate, Doctor Daniel Jackson, as played by Michael Shanks.

SFOD: Ah!!! He's dreamy. I had to do the fan girl thing. Get it out of the way.

SFOD: It is my pleasure to bring to the program, Mr Michael G Shanks. Now Michael, most of you guys should know has been the balance of judgment on Andromeda but apparently he's been starring in a show that used to be on Showtime, I did not know this, it's called Stargate SG1. Apparently I only watched season six which had Jonas Quinn but, it looks like you had a major role in seasons 1 through 5.

MS: That's right, I was the Ewok, or um, I was actually the guy with the tattoo on his forehead, but it was heavy prosthetic make-up so I decided to quit as a result.

SFOD: Wow, your biceps are really, really huge.

MS: Thank you very much.

SFOD: Ewok is Wookie spelt backwards. Um, Michael Shanks plays Daniel Jackson, the archaeologist who's fundamental to the team. I mean he's been described as the spiritual backbone, the soul of it, who counterbalances Jack. What do you actually do with Sam Carter? I mean, she's just brilliant, she's had a Goa'uld inside her and then you one upped her because you became an ancient man. That's fantastic.

MS: Well you know it's all about one upmanship, that's really the basic premise. I mean, everyone's looking for a new way to extend their own science fiction following by creating some sort of other worldly concept around the basic human beings. So we just decide to keep doing that every year after year and Lord only knows what's going to happen on Tuesday.


SFOD: Are you ever actually going to do, you mentioned doing a possible episode about what you were doing when you were an Ancient one, or has that sort of gone by the wayside cos of....

MS: No, it's still a possibility. I'm hoping, um, I'm hoping that they'll wanna, that they'll give me a chance to at least break the surface on a story that sort of digs into that mythology a little bit. We are going to do that closer to the end of season seven, as we get closer we start to realize what the Ancients were about, and I think the spin off of Atlantis will be a little bit more, so maybe that's where they're gonna save it for. I'd like to dig into it just to sort of have one of those, um, you know, what he did when he was away and who he encountered, without breaking the mythology too much, because sometimes what doesn't happen or what's not seen onscreen is more interesting than what is, it's in the imagination of the viewer.

SFOD: You can always plant the seeds for other spin offs, other directions to take. Maybe in the novelisations and fanfiction.

MS: Absolutely

SFOD: And I mean, you do get to play God because you're a writer. You did Resurrection, which is episode 7.19.

MS: Well I would call it demi-God 'cos there are a lot of other Gods that have been doing it a lot longer than me and they kinda ended up pushing a lot more buttons than I did at the end of the day. But it was a lot of fun to play in that world for a while that's for sure.

SFOD: Actually, let me take our listeners back. Evolution part two, you wrote Evolution part one.

MS: I actually didn't write it. It's listed in the TV Guide that I co-wrote it, which isn't even true at all. What I did was that at the beginning of the year I pitched a story for a completely separate episode concept which I came up with which was sort of a continuing saga of the Crystal Skull episode we did in the third season.

SFOD: Oh with your uncle. The foster father.

MS: Nick the grandfather who ends up going off with the aliens. I wanted to continue that story and sort of, you know, end up in another mythological quest, which is, you know, the quest for the fountain of youth. So they liked the idea and um, and they though that instead of having a stand alone unit, they thought it could be incorporated into an episode that was already being fleshed out. So that's what ended up happening with Evolution 1 and 2.

SFOD: And you end up doing something which is something your character almost never gets to do which is spend most of the time on Earth. Is that an odd experience now?

MS: Well you know, isn't it odd though? That when you spend time on Earth, it looks remarkably similar to most of the planets that SG1 goes to?

SFOD: It looks like Vancouver.

MS: Almost. You would almost think that they didn't really leave.

SFOD: Meanwhile in the Star Trek universe, everything looks like California in the desert.


MS: Yep.

SFOD: Well that sort of brings up the next question though. With Resurrection, which you actually did get to write, Nirrti, to get into the mythology for a moment. Nirrti all this time is trying to create a super human, a super Tau'ri to serve as the Goa'uld host. So what is it that happens in Resurrection where the NID apparently succeed in this goal in creating the human hybrid.

MS: Well it's actually, and this is something, I sort of like to delve into this. You watch a couple of good movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark and the Last Crusade and you start to realise why you like Stargate, the original concept in the first place. Which is tying in science fiction to the mysteries of our mythological past and all that speculation we do on our history and the pyramids and whatever. And the way Niirti worked, she was always doing these DNA experiments to create the super race or whatnot and there's a very interesting concept, especially given the notion of, you know, the powers that certain aliens have and in our universe and whatnot. It's quite interesting to be able to play with our DNA and figure out what we can create and make it more like science fact than it is like science fiction. All I did was take an idea which was based on, you know, the riddle of the sphinx, which is where I sort of started from. A lot of this won't even end up on the screen in terms of being back story. The back story I'm giving right now is the back story that is never actually going to be spoken on camera, cos I think the exposition took up too much time but...

SFOD: The backstory for the backstory.

MS: The backstory for the backstory, exactly. There's a chamber at the back of the sphinx of course and, you know, a couple of hundred years prior Napoleon had gone there and dug up, done an excavation of this thing. So I just thought wouldn't it be interesting, you know, instead of continuing the mystery of it. He actually found something there and what he found was something that relates to our, you know.. pantheons of God's. It relates into our universe so once again tying in the mythology that leads to the pyramids. All I said that he basically found a canopic jar, which basically had the remains of a dead Goa'uld inside of it, and it got passed along to friends and it went back to the museum and ended up getting handed to the Nazi's and they started experimenting with it and came up with something special that we have a group of people called the NID, which is a rogue group that we use all the time to.. they're basically the American bad guys whose hearts are in the right place but their methods are a little bit off. And they get ahold of it and start doing some experiments with it and start bringing to life something that ending up being a little bit too much like species but I think that we shy away from it enough to make it original on its own. That's kind of the concept and it's called Resurrection because it relates to alien resurrections as well but it's really a Goa'uld hybrid, it's just an interesting story about the.. using our history to point fingers at our pantheon in terms of the Stargate universe so.. I decided try that out for size. It ended up being part of that but most of that backstory ended up coming by the wayside.

SFOD: Do a lot of these ideas really start off with the mythology, or do most of these writing ideas come from say... what if we had Daniel do this?

SFOD: Yeah, I was thinking about that because I was listening to Joseph Campbell, hero of a thousand faces and I was wondering does Mike Shanks listen to this stuff and then say ah I wonder how Ican incorporate that into Daniel Jackson's character.

MS: I think absolutely, what I was really fascinated by or what I started to do just by getting into the writer mode onto our show, you know, sometimes our writers look around and go 'God I can't think of any ideas. And then you go back to the original idea which is once again using our mythology from our human civilization, and our gods, and our notion of gods and the unexplainable. Putting it into, you know, putting it into our concept and seeing it work. If you watch some of the specials on Imhotep and Isis and all the myths of the Egyptian realm, you know, just for beginners, on national geographic channel or the learning channel, you start to get into it. You can grab tidbits of stuff and go oohh, this is a big mystery. You know like the crystal skull was exactly that, the Aztec men. And it's just taking that concept and going it's unknown, it's a big question mark. So what if we say it happened this way, and this is what it's capable of and all that kind of thing. That sometimes happens. But sometimes, I think everybody has a different way of getting the writing process and I think sometimes it can be, some writers like to continue their own stories and they like to thread them together from season to season. An episode from season four they continue by adding another layer to it in season five, that happens. From my point of view it's always difficult because I'm stepping into it for the first time. And as anybody is when they step into a room for the first time, your low on the totem pole and you have to get in line with the bosses and that's fine, that's what learning is all about. But what I found was, what happens a lot of the time is that the idea gets passed around the room and what your original linear idea was, ends up having a few jagged edges because everybody adds different things that they think are really cool to it. And not everybody thinks alike and not everybody's on the same page that way. So sometimes it can get a little bent and twisted and at the end of the day it's the head writers job and the show runners job to finally approve or disapprove of the concept in it's entirety based on what everybody's input is. So it can be a little bit odd, it can be a little bit political, but it's also very exciting to watch everybody in the room get excited about something you created and actually watch it come to a screen, that's pretty exciting as well.

SFOD: Before season seven started to air, they had a special called Enter The Gate and they did a segment with Chris Judge who plays Teal'c, talking about in the episodes that he directs, he finds it easier to wear a hat so that he's taken more seriously as the director for the action at that point.

MS: Chris Judge directed? Are you sure you got your facts right on this one? No I don't think, Chris has never directed, he's written two, almost three episodes, the first one he did was kind of a compilation. But he's written three or four so I'm not sure...

SFOD: I imagine I'll receive e-mails about those kinds of mistakes.

MS: It's recorded you can just edit that.

SFOD: Not that the fandom of Stargate SG1 would ever crucify anyone for making a mistake.

MS: No, no, no. We have very understanding fans.

SFOD: Who have stuck with you through a channel change and hopefully through this next break since we're gonna have to pause for just a moment.

SFOD: We're back on this broadcast of Scifi Overdrive and we continue our conversation with Michael Shanks who has returned to the role of Daniel Jackson who he portrays in Stargate SG1. See it on the Scifi channel on Friday evenings and in syndication probably on UPN or WD which carries that sort of syndicated programming at that point. We left off, we were talking about that the second half of season seven is beginning. We talked about your episode Resurrection. I'd like to if I may just for a moment go back and talk about an earlier episode, Lifeboat. I mean when you have to have a very complicated role, and this is, I wish I could phrase this question better. Would you rather do Lifeboat again? Or an episode that involved Machello again?

MS: (Laughter) You know the only thing that would prevent me from going back to doing Machello is about six hours worth of prosthetic make-up.To have your call time on Monday morning to actually be, Sunday, well monday morning at two in the morning which is actually Sunday night for me. That's right around the time I usually go to bed. That's the only thing that would keep me from doing that all over again because you see for a couple of days it can be fine, but I don't imagine how these guys do it for season after season, day after day, I would go out of my mind.

SFOD: I just thought the fact, that in the very first introduction to Machello, the body swapping, it gave RDA and Amanda Tapping act how they see their fellow co-workers act and throw out their lines 'Ah for crying out loud.

MS: Absolutely, I think, that's the most fun. And what ended up onscreen is only a portion of course of the antics that go on offscreen when they're setting up shots or when we see a rehearsal where somebody's playing of someone else and you always get those 'Hey, I don't do that' and all that kind of stuff and that's a lot of fun. It can be a lot of fun.

SFOD: I think one of the most amazing things, Gary Jones is a really great comedian, he plays the gate technician.

MS: Right

SFOD:And he's a comedian, but he always plays it so straight, so, you know, if you've got a comedian playing it straight, what goes on when the camera's aren't rolling.

MS: He's one of the funniest people, absolutely, he does the most brilliant William Shatner imitation as well. So he's quite a card. It's very difficult for him to maintain that sort of, to say those very few lines that he has, you know, chevron one encoded. But what happens when the camera's stop rolling is absolutely hilarious.

SFOD: So tell us a little bit about Lifeboat, about having this experience, of basically being schizophrenic all over again and what kinds of challenges that brought to, you know, what kind of challenges you had beyond the obvious of playing twelve different characters all at once.

MS:I put it into the category of be careful what you wish for. And that's something that in science fiction, we have so many, people always ask, don't you feel like you're gonna get typecast and whatever in a science fiction show and isn't it kinda boring to do the same thing year after year and I think that doing any job for any length of time can be a little bit tedious, especially with a science fiction show. Everytime a new script is opened up and there's endless possibilities like that, it can't be boring because you get to do stuff like that which you wouldn't be able to do on like NYPD Blue. So we have a lot of fun and that kind of figures a great trust from the writers first of all, you pick up a script like that. Your always chomping at the bit to do a little bit more and whatknot and you pick up a script like that and you can't believe that they're trusting you with this. I mean there's very few visual effects and they're kinda handing a science fiction show over to an actor to say, here you create this, and it becomes almost like a stage play. So I was very flattered that Brad Wright trusted me enough to sort of throw this in my direction and that was, you know, that's very flattering and it's very humbling as well and you really wanna step up to the plate. Of course then there's that notion of most of the times when we get the finished scripts about four or five days before it actually goes to camera, So, needless to say when you're busy working and you're about to start that next episode and you're reading through the script and you're going 'How the hell am I going to do this?' And what I usually do is, especially with characters like that is, I just start grasping at a few extremes, try to figure out what the writer wants and what kind of caricatures if you will, will suit the roles best and then try and get specific with those caricatures and then as you go along you keep trying to make it more and more specific and more and more unique as you go and sometimes what always ends up happening, especially with me, I always end up looking at the end result and going, yeah it could have been better, it could have been better. But it's still so much fun to do and it's a great challenge and it's very unique. But once you've done it, I guarantee you, I remember saying the day I finished that episode, going, ok I'm very happy now. Let's go back and do my exposition and talk about mythology and play with my pencils at the briefing room table. That's it, I'm happy to do that all over again.

SFOD: We'll save those for the DVD comments. We're talking to Michael Shanks who plays Doctor Daniel Jackson on SG1. Do stay with us.

SFOD: We've been talking a little bit about Lifeboat. We've been talking a little bit about Resurrection. Michael, where can we expect to see the season going? I know it's all building up. You talked about finding the lost city of the Ancients. Can you give us spoilers?

MS: Well it's always been interesting to sort of follow along with the creative dynamic of a show like this that's been going on for so long. Where every year, I think after the fifth season, we expected to be done at the end of that year. So it seems like we're always headed towards some grand conclusion when we get there at the end of the season. And so when a new season starts up, everybody goes, what the hell do we do now cos we thought we closed this thing.

SFOD: The Tollan certainly feel that way.

MS: Yeah, exactly. We killed off a lot of people in season five if I recall. But this year I think, the notion was, we knew well in advance that we were picked up for another year and they also had a strong idea that the spin off concept Atlantis was gonna go through, so they knew that this thing instead of closing, ended up growing and prospering and maybe even turning into a film franchise as time goes by. So it's got a lot of life left in it as long as the creative people continue to bring it to life and this year what we're doing is we're trying to head to a point as we get closer. And it goes back to the Ancients and it goes back to our search for this lost city of Atlantis and basically what was essentially the holy grail that we'll find there, metaphorically speaking, of weapons and technology that will help us to overcome our enemies and so on and so forth and allow us to finish the series on a happy positive note. So we're headed in that direction. We're headed in a place that will obviously foster the spin off series and will allow us to get a little bit closer. Next year I think we'll definitely. I will say in all honesty, most likely, definitely be our last season. But I won't say for sure. But that seems to be the way it goes every year. But I would say that this is probably as close as I can guarantee that we'll be finished after this year for SG1.

SFOD: So there's your spoiler. Anubis loses in the end. Who would have thought.


MS: I never said that. I never said that.

SFOD: So, now in the past when everyone was talking about Atlantis, it always seemed like it would be a spin off, but it would be happening after SG1 was over. Now that it looks like the two of them might be running at the same time, any chance of Daniel Jackson appearing on this spin off?

MS: I think, last I heard there was a strong possibility of both the O'Neill character and the Daniel Jackson character, appearing in the pilot for the spin off. Where, as everything seems to be in the real baby stages in terms of creating Atlantis, we're not sure what the concept is going to be. Basically a group of people are sent off to a completely different universe and it involves a whole different universe of enemies and technologies and races and all those other things, so I'm not sure how they would manage to swing our characters in from now and again, but it's supposed to take place in the same timeline. It's not like the cartoon where it takes place 400 years in the future kind of thing, it's supposed to be around the same time line, using humans from Earth as well.

SFOD: Yeah, this has Spike written all over it. I do have one other question. Babylon 5 created a series of television movies which sort of like filled in the gaps. Can we ever expect to see something like that happening with Stargate SG1? I realise the Stargate mythology will continue through Atlantis, but will you guys be up for doing two hour long movies or maybe even doing a feature length film.

MS: I think so. I think MGM is open to the idea, they certainly recognise the franchise potential. And the feature film franchise potential is um MGM's main franchise running. It's been keeping them afloat for years. There's been the Bond franchise and we know that, that kind of thing can definitely put a little extra money in their coffers. So I think their very open to the idea of us going to a feature film world. I think also, creatively speaking, especially from Richards point of view, a movie using the SG1 group would be a lot more pliable than doing any more seasons of the show, so I definitely see that that's a strong possibility. It also depends on the success of Atlantis as well, so we'll see how much our audience is willing to be saturated with Stargate SG1.

SFOD: Let that be our final word. Watch Sci Fi, watch Stargate SG1 and watch Atlantis when it premieres. Thanks, Shanks. Michael Shanks has been our guest on this broadcast of Sci Fi Overdrive.

MS: Thanks a lot guys.

2004, Sci Fi Overdrive.  Sci Fi Overdrive online.

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