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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Thomasina Gibson, Cult Times Special #31, Sep 04

Well, more planetwalker, but we're getting desperate for titles with a Jackson or non dodgy Shanks reference. Michael Shanks talks about his delight at being back on the Stargate SG1 set for it's eighth season.

He's been there (More worlds than a planetarium), done that (Been married, bereaved, died, been reborn), and got (And lost), the T-Shirt in Fallen, so you'd think Dr Daniel Jackson would be getting bored of the ring. IE: the big spherical stargate hoop he jumps through every week, but not one bit of it. Stargate SG1 is back for an eighth season and the lovely Mr Shanks is as eager as the viewer to unravel the mysteries within.

"We're not really sure what the arc of the season is going to be, so it's really exciting to get the scripts each day to see what unfolds."

It's particularly exciting, not least because the actor has to remember which episode he's in on any given day.

"Various considerations mean we're working on several different episodes in the same week," says Shanks. This is not, we're assured, to allow more time for the cast and crew to go off playing golf.

"Actually, it's the result of budget constraints, Richard Dean Anderson's limited availability and the fact that the creative team are working on Atlantis at the same time as SG1. It all means we have a very interesting process going on where both shows are running at the same time in more or less the same place and we're all working to accommodate that."

In case you haven't a clue what Atlantis is, listen up.

"When Stargate SG1 finished at the end of last year, we'd kind of completed the journey we've been on for years which was to find the lost city of Atlantis and the secrets of the Ancients. At the beginning of this year, we help a whole different group of people find this lost city and they take over the reins to contiue that journey in Stargate Atlantis," explains Shanks. "There is so much life left in the franchise, that I think Stargate Atlantis the show, and those involved in it have a great deal going for them. Rick and I make an appearance for two acts on the premiere episode of the new series and I know more SG1 guests are set to appear, but basically the concept is the Atlantis group are on their own. They have a great cast and crew and, from what I've heard, scripts. My wish is that they have as much fun and success as we have."

So with a new order beginning to evolve, the actor is especially interested to see what happens with Stargate SG1 this year.

"I'm really keen to see what our new focuses are going to become and what our new objectives will be. I do know we are offered allegiance from a surprising source and that enemies old and new emerge out of the woodwork. I can tell you the Goa'uld are pretty much in evidence, up to their old tricks. The shadowy NID boys are back, which is a concern. It emerges the political situation on Earth shows some of our greatest enemies lie within. Then right at the start of the year, one of our most powerful of enemies comes back to haunt us, but I can't tell you when, why and how. I'm as curious as the next person to see how it all pans out."

What the actor can share, is how pleased he is that his character is evolving along with the show.

"I don't like to see anything happen to my character that isn't part of the ongoing storyline of the show. The writers tend to have Daniel follow their lead and that's the most important thing for my character, to be constantly reactionary instead of a driving force in any particular way. That said, last season I made a concerted effort to make the character a little more proactive an will continue to do that throughout season eight."

Daniel makes a good start with an episode entitled Icon.

"The writers wanted to address the issue of what happens every time SG1 arrives on another planet and turns everyone's lives upside down, and not always for the best. It happened in Red Sky when our technical adjustments almost caused an entire planet to explode, and in Beast Of Burden, when our intervention with mechanical weapons could change the course of a struggle between two races. This time, our activating the stargate has consequences that Daniel feels he has to try to sort out before he finally comes to the realization that you can't always help those who don't want to be helped. It's a pretty significant discovery for my character."

Having the patience to let people get on with their own lives is not the only revelation this year.

"Daniel is finding more opportunities to have fun. He's happy to be back with SG1, working with the group, who have become more family than work colleagues. I have to admit this is also a reflection of how I feel as Michael Shanks. I'm really enjoying myself much more."

Aside from the challenge acting offers, Shanks insists the family element of Stargate SG1 is one of the most positive aspects of working on the show.

"One of the big advantages of doing a show for this long is the sense of family. If the show does end this year, (As in previous years, no decision has yet been made), I don't think any of us really grasp the emotion that will come out when we realise that this genuinely is the end of the journey. We've all changed so much as people during the course of Stargate and have been through so much together."

In fact, when Shanks married Andromeda star Lexa Doig last year, Christopher Judge was his best man and Amanda Tapping was the MC, indicating just how close this team has become.

"The various members of cast and crew have become like extended family. We all bring our kids, other family members, even our pets, to visit. It's great, especially for the kids. Wray Douglas, our visual effects co-ordinator, has this great big trailer where they do all the magical special effects stuff and they show our kids how they do it. These are truly professional guys who are amazing at their jobs and are basically grown men who can't believe people actually pay them to blow things up and do cool stuff like that. You've seen the spectacular stuff they do in the show, so for our kids to watch them do that is really cool. The kids are obviously all drawn to the gadgets that they have to achieve the effects."

Shanks is also proud that Stargate SG1's extended family definitely includes the fans of the show.

"We have some very passionate fans, some very intelligent fans, we have a lot of fans who understand and know the show. They get the show more than we ever will. The flip side of that is that we have some fans who are a little too passionate and put their energies into the wrong places sometimes. We get protected from it, but we do get a little odd mail from people who tend to be a little too, what's the word? Interested in our personal lives."

Insisting that nothing dangerous has ever happened to him, Shanks does reveal:

"RDA does have his moments. Given the previous productions with which he has been involved, he has a lot more diversity of fans. He has people off the FBI watch list who come up and stand outside the Bridge Studio gates and take photo's, just to get a glimpse of him. The rest of us don't have that kind of problem. Our Stargate fans have never disrupted our lives in any negative fashion. We are very fortunate because our fans are very loyal and very supportive. They rarely cross that line. Plus you have to take the good with the bad. Any negatives are far outweighed by the positives. One bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch in our kind of situation. Our fans have done a lot for me and for the show. There is a silly notion in some quarters of the entertainment industry where people complain about being in the limelight, but as far as I'm concerned, that's part of my job. The people that complain in our business about the negative impacts of fame and being in the spotlight, are not necessarily weighing the proper balance. It's important to remember you stepped into that world. You made choices in your life, and though you could have been anything in the world, you chose to be an actor in front of a camera, or on stage or whatever. I can't think of one negative experience that can offset the good stuff that comes out of having your work admired."

Talking of having his work admired, Mr Shanks intends to stay well within the confines of the Stargate Universe for the time being.

"I have gone off on other ventures in the past. A couple of movies, Andromeda, and I'd love to do another, a different project with Christopher Judge, but right now I'm happy devoting my energies to Stargate SG1."

Not that this might always be the case. There are other avenues Shanks may wish to pursue.

"The sticky thing is that having come from a highly successful sci-fi show, the only things you get offered have to do with capitalising on your fans, and if you want to break out of that you have to start again. I like as much diversity as possible. There's not one genre that I'm particularly drawn to, although I would like to do a lot of comedy. We have a joke on Stargate that it's actually a comedy but a lot of people don't know that, because all the funny stuff happens off camera. Even with, and possibly because of, our increased workload, production is going to be even more fun this year."

Of course, Shanks is involved in another production that will possibly have come to fruition by the time you read this. Mr and Mrs Shanks are awaiting the birth of their new baby.

"There's a bit of a baby boom going on right now. I think there must be something in the water. Directors Peter Deluise and Martin Wood are proud new fathers already and I'm about to join the club."

With so many little ones around, perhaps the producers should be thinking along the lines of Stargate: The Early Years, and wouldn't that be a series worth waiting for? In the meantime, we can sit back and enjoy an eighth year of Stargate SG1.

2004, Cult Times.  Buy Cult Times Special #31 online.

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