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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Shanks For The Memories
Ian Spelling, Dreamwatch #126, Feb 05

As tight as the Stargate SG-1 cast are and as hard as the writers strive to keep the characters interesting and fresh, the show has concluded its eighth year on air and is gearing up for a ninth. Shanks acknowledges that it's a tricky proposition to come onto set every day motivated, with the necessary preparation and intensity. After all, he quit before because he felt underutilized.

"The funny thing about it is that after this long with the characters, it's a matter, quite frankly, of how interested are you in the show?  How interested are you in showing up in your daily life? The show has become this sort of ongoing thing. It's no longer about the character. I've often said lately that I forget sometimes where the character leaves off and I begin, we've been doing this so long. But so long as we're not repeating ourselves and being redundant, as long as we're doing new things it's always interesting."

Shanks has been on the lookout for the moment the show begins to cannibalize itself, because he knows that when that happens, it really will be over.

"I think that once we start stealing and borrowing from ourselves for the storylines and start repeating ourselves that way, that once you're basically just doing it for the sake of doing the show, then it would become tedious. We're not there yet. As long as the characters continue to evolve as people, we're ok. As the actors get older and more experienced, so do the characters. It's not difficult to get into the show, so long as we're doing something new and having a different experience through these characters eyes."

Loose ends

"It feels like it's been a year already since we shot the second part of season eight. In the latter part of the year, and I would say for the last five episodes of the season, we darn near tie up every single major loose end that we've had dangling around on the show. Obviously, that was done on purpose and for a lot of different reasons. One of the reasons is that a lot of those threads were dangling for a very long time, and it was about time some of them got reconciled. The Jaffa, will they be freed? What happened with Daniel when he was ascended? What's happening with Anubis? Will the Goa'uld come and destroy Earth? What happens with the Tok'ra? All of these things will be dealt with in the last five episodes of this season, and we'll also find a way to address those people we sent off to Atlantis. We really haven't talked about them since. So we'll deal with that issue and whether or not we'll launch a mission to go and save them. There's a lot going on with the show's mythology in general."

"In a major way. In retrospect, I don't know quite how they did it, but they found a way to take all those dangling threads and then bind them all together in a group of story arcs that seem to be interweaving, which is quite an accomplishment on the writers part. They've managed to do it and it will certainly be , 'Don't miss last five episodes', in terms of the long term viewers of our show, because a lot of the questions people have had will be answered. For the first half of the season it seems we puttered along and told a tale or two. Then in this last half we just get to the true meat of the entire series and start hashing it around. So these episodes are quite significant within the arc of the show."

Diplomatic negotiations

Shanks will be back for season nine of Stargate, which will mean he'll be sharing the screen with Ben Browder. In all his time in the sci-fi universe, Shanks reports that he and Browder had only crossed paths twice in the past.

"Claudia Black was on Stargate and she and I had many conversations about Ben. The first time I met Ben and talked to him we'd run into each other at the airport. I do know that he has great sensibilities. I do know that he's got a great drama training background. We seem to have a common thought process about how you can squeeze artistic notions inside a sci-fi television show, and you could see that he was working towards that on his show [Farscape], before there was even a twinkle of him being on our show. I think he'll bring great sensibilities. I don't know too much about his work, but I've heard it's excellent. So I'll look forward to that. He seems to be a team player in that regard as well. I'm looking forward to a really positive, artistic and cohesive team atmosphere."

Richard Dean Anderson's decision to pull back further this season in order to spend time with his daughter has impacted Stargate SG1 in several ways. Yes, the writers bumped O'Neill up to the rank of General, which in turn has given Anderson a fish out of water playground in which to play, and which also nudged General Hammond actor, Don S Davis, into the margins. It's also meant more screen time for Jackson, Carter and Teal'c.

"Don is a unique and grounded force on our show and we miss him like the dickens. He's always been a lot of fun to work with and his work has always been solid and reliable. At the same time, Rick really has had some fun with the fish out of water thing. For example, Daniel gets to pick on O'Neill a little, because now O'Neill has to run a base and is overwhelmed all the time. O'Neill's not able to go toe to toe with Jackson all that much anymore, so it's always fun for Jackson to kind of snipe at him and all the bureaucracy things that he has to go through. It's been fun for me, and for Rick, to play those scenes, because we don't get to do that element of it too much."

Changing faces

"We miss Rick. We miss his sense of humour. It's fallen on the rest of us to pick up the ball, in all aspects. We've all had to involve ourselves a little bit more in the action aspects of it. We've had to involve ourselves in the guest stars aspects too. It's meant a little less of the team dynamic, but for us as individuals it's given us a lot more to do and a lot more involvement in the show."

Shanks was very happy with how season eight eventually shaped up, but he doesn't really keep track of the relative merits of each year of the show.

"I don't usually rank them. Each season has it's own tricks, and it seems that every year there's some new element that's new that makes it unique in a production capacity. Season eight has been interesting. I do know that financially we've been restricted this past year, so we haven't had so much off world stuff as we've had in the past, and that's limited us. I find the show to be a lot stronger when we're exploring, but I certainly like our ability to be introspective this year and to find out a little bit more about the characters. It's almost like fan fiction. There are always some unique elements to Stargate. So this season has been a lot of fun to do, regardless of restraints."

Other projects

Looking a little further down the road, Shanks just wrapped Swarmed, a Scifi Channel movie in which he plays a scientist battling a swarm of killer wasps. He's about to record an audio book adaptation of the SF novel, Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

"It's interesting. I'm not a huge reader, anymore. My wife is the reader of the family. I'm not much into SF novels or anything else like that. It was just that notion of, 'Oh, I'd like to read an audiobook,' and then once I started reading the book I realized what it was exactly that I'd signed up for. It's one of those books that has words with all the apostrophes in strange places and because it's SF, you can't even draw on your experience of knowing how to say Lithuania properly. It'll actually say, 'She's from the planet Alph'ha'hey,' and you're thinking, 'What? Is somebody around to tell me how I'm supposed to say this?' So I think it's going to be tricky, to say the least about narrating a SF audiobook, but it's an experience I wanted to have. I appreciate the notion of audiobooks for the visually impaired or, quite frankly, for those people who would rather listen than read. If anybody is going to buy this audiobook just to listen to me for three hours, well, God bless them."

On the personal side, he's spending as much time at home as possible with his children, including baby Mia, who was born in September 2004. Peering even further into the future, Shanks laughs when asked if in five years time, he'll be talking about the 14th season of Stargate SG1, the latest Stargate TV movie, the Stargate feature film, or perhaps the fact that he's regularly appearing in non-Stargate films and TV shows.

"Oh boy! At this point, as I've said throughout the seven of eight seasons of Stargate, I just take it one year at a time. I've always said that and I don't see it changing. Where I see myself in five years, I don't know. There could be an anvil dropping from the sky right now, that's aimed at my head and going to get me soon. So I try to enjoy each year and each day as it comes and not make any predictions. I do know that for the franchise there are many different possibilities being discussed. So long as the show continues to hit well with the audience, there's always going to be a life for the franchise and a potential opportunity to continue to play this character in the Stargate universe. So for now, I'm just going to say that next year we're going to have a great year."

2005, Dreamwatch.  Buy Dreamwatch #126 online.

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