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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks: ActionJackson
Sean Jordan, Femmes Fatale, Vol 13 No.8, Oct 04

Stargate SG-1 favorite Michael Shanks takes us on one strange trip...

Michael Shanks may just be the most popular man of genre television in America, or even the world. When the actor left his role as Dr. Daniel Jackson after the fifth season of Stargate SG-1, fans in every nation rallied like never before to bring him back, surprising nobody more than the actor himself. "So often as actors," says Shanks, pumped-up from a between-takes trailer workout on the British Columbia set of Stargate SG-1, "We get caught up in the job just like it's any other, especially in a place like this, on a film set where we don't realize there are people watching this stuff.

"When you get an emotional reaction like the one I got from the Stargate fans - from people who've probably spent more money advertising their support than the show itself has spent - it's quite flattering to learn you've made such an impact. That's a large part of the reason why I returned to the show in the seventh season, as there was a certain feeling that if I was asked and said no, then I'd be the one at fault this time around. I decided that if the audience felt there was still a place where this character should go, then I should feel that too, and it's been great ever since."

Shanks is also thankful to have had the chance to play a character that has been able to evolve over the course of so many seasons, from the naive and innocent doctor introduced in the 1997 Stargate pilot episode 'Children of the Gods,' to the more proactive, more sarcastic Jackson who has come to light as the show's 8th season has progressed.

"I think that the character has always been based on the idea of curiosity, and the passion of the curiosity and amazement over things that are so fantastical," says Shanks. "The curiosity of the gate and what lies beyond, how it relates to life back on Earth, how it can relate to the history of us as beings on the Earth, and the meaning of life kind of stuff. It's certainly something I identify with, and the passion of that curiosity is something I really enjoy playing because I know that I myself feel that, and it's also a projection of how the audience feels in turning into a science fiction show about exploration.

"I think that when the character had started off, we'd taken a lot from James Spader's performance in the [1991] Stargate movie, and there was certainly a lot of the naivete and the clumsiness and all the cliches that branded the character in the movie, as well as a certain idealism and moralistic point of view. While I think a lot of that has been constant, over time a lot of his idealism has washed away to a reality check. He's become a lot more proactive, as opposed to being judgmental and sitting back and observing the action and commenting on it. He's become actively involved in the group and the action elements of the stories. With his ascension and exposure to the idealistic world of the Ancients, he learned it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that the most important part of his journey is yet to come. So with that knowledge, I think he wants to move forward and do it on Earth with the friends he has instead of imagining there's some better world our there."

Like his character, it was because of Shanks' own desire of a brighter future that led him to follow his dream of becoming an actor in the first place.

"I've been acting ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," he says. "But I was never at a big enough place with it that I thought it could be done as a profession and be taken seriously enough that I could make a living at it. But over the last 20 years, Vancouver has become a place where that's a lot more possible. The first few big American TV shows that were shot here were series like MacGyver, 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy, and, since then, it's become possible to make a better living as an actor in this town. Acting was something I always had an inkling to do but I never thought that there would be a venue in which I could carry it out until much later."

"I'm a small-town B.C. boy who grew up all over British Columbia. When I was growing up, my mother was a homemaker, and my father worked in lumber mills. The joke with my mother and I is that we're still waiting for a knock on the door to learn that the milkman is actually my father, because it was one of those strange things where they don't know where I got this interest from, but they graciously allowed me to pursue it with an open mind and heart and were very supportive of me doing it, which doesn't always happen in this business."

"I paid my way through university by spending my summer months either working on an oil rig or doing construction, whether it was building a mill or working in the mill itself. It's the best way for a young man to make college tuition: making $15 an hour and getting his hands dirty, making big ones into little ones...

"I think it taught me very quickly what I didn't want to do for a living. It taught me to value my education because I was paying for it myself with my own blood, sweat and tears. I worked those jobs with people who do that for a living, and god bless them, they're hard working people, but you say to yourself that if you have an option, this is not the career path that I necessarily want to choose and be in my 50s breaking my back doing this kind of labor. It certainly taught me that maybe education is the best route, but then I became an actor and that certainly went out the window."

These days, Shanks is most looking forward to having time to devote to his own family, made up of his wife, Andromeda actress Lexa Doig, and the baby she will give birth to at some point in September.

"My life changed night and day since having my [first] daughter [with actress Vaitiare Bandera]. The way I've described it since the day she was born is that your life changes so dramatically, where you realize for the first time how to love altruistically and unconditionally. You realize what love actually means and your life completely changes because it's not all about you anymore and there's something more important for you. The reason why you're here becomes apparent. My first daughter taught me the whole point of us being here and taught me to put everything into perspective. I know she is always getting short-changed [because of my career] so I want to spend as much time with her as possible, too."

Shanks will soon get the chance, as he only has four episodes to finish shooting before SG-1 wraps production on its eight season.

"We're currently wrapping up an episode called 'Threads,' which basically ties up a lot of our loose, lying-around storylines that we've been working on for the last eight years. The episode does a good job at answering the question of where Daniel was during the year he 'ascended,' when I took a year off from the show."

But the question on every SG-1 viewers' mind seems to be whether the series will return for a ninth season.

"We're doing our best between 'Threads," and the two-part finale to tie up our loose ends and solve a number of ongoing storylines," reveals Shanks. "I think the finale is a bit of a testing ground; a 'further adventures of...' type story with an openness that leaves a well-set table for the future."

2005, Dreamwatch.  Buy Dreamwatch #122 online.

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