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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Job Satisfaction
Steven Eramo, TV Zone Special #61, Feb 05

It's two years since Stargate SG1's Dr Daniel Jackson gave up his existence as an Ascended One for the sake of his friends. Was he right to do so? Michael Shanks thinks his character couldn't have made a better choice.

When walking into Michael Shanks' trailer one can't help but notice a strange hairy object lying on his sofa. "Oh, that's just Whiskers," he says. No, it's not a cat, but rather the hairpiece used to transform the Stargate SG-1 actor's appearance in the show's Season Eight finale Moebius. In it, our heroes do a bit of Time travelling, which is always cause for concern, not to mention confusion.

"This is the first time on our show where I've read the script and thought, 'OK, what the heck is going on?' " jokes Shanks. "Actually, just before I read it, Michael Greenburg (Stargate executive producer) came up to me and asked, 'Did you read Moebius?' I said, 'No, I'm just about to,' and he said, 'When you're done, tell me what it's about'. I'll admit, it was quite a handful. I had to go back and read it a second time before I totally understood it."

"Basically, the episodes involves us travelling into the Past and screwing things up. Amanda and I play alternate versions of our characters in an alternate timeline where the Stargate was never discovered and Sam and Daniel never ended up in the Stargate programme. We have to try and solve the problems that our other selves created and they've left clues along the way in order to help us. Got all that?" laughs Shanks. "Needless to say, much chaos ensues. It's been a bit of a head trip for me to get back into the mindset of my character as he once was, and a lot of fun, too. Of course, the wig, which we've nicknamed 'Whiskers', was a big help in that regard."

There was a point not too long ago when Daniel Jackson wouldn't have blinked an eye about travelling through Time or doing other seemingly possible tasks. At the end of Stargate's fifth season, he died after saving millions of lives on the planet Langara, and moved on to a higher plane of existence. Only a year later, though, Daniel found that the Ascended life wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. After disobeying his fellow Ascended Ones and helping his former SG-1 team-mates, he was made Human again and eventually returned to Earth. It's rare to be given a second chance at life, and Daniel decided to live his life a little differently, especially when it came to his job.

"Seasons Seven and Eight of Stargate have resulted in a massive progression for my character insofar as him being much more proactive," notes Shanks. "There were always certain assumptions made about Daniel during the first five years of the show, such as, 'He wouldn't do that, he's a civilian,' or, 'He wouldn't go on a tactical mission because he's not military trained'. That became a bit of a thorn in my side. If my character wouldn't do this or not, then why was he there in the first place?"

"Happily, Daniel has matured so much during the run of this show that these questions are no longer an issue. He's still not part of the military in terms of its hierarchy, but because he's been a member of the SG-1 team for so long he has tasks that have become his own. And since Jack was promoted to General, I feel those responsibilities have grown. I mean, Daniel has been going on diplomatic missions and handling interrogations on his own. So we no longer have to justify, if you will, my character's presence in certain story lines, and that's made him much more independent and even more of a joy for me to play."

In the penultimate episode of Stargate's first Season, Politics, the then US Senator Kinsey (played by Ronny Cox) attempted to cut off all federal funding to the Stargate programme. Naturally, Daniel Jackson was opposed to such a measure and, not surprisingly, formed an instant dislike for the senator. Clearly, there's been no love lost between the two when they meet again in this year's Full Alert.

"I had a ball filming Daniel's confrontation with Kinsey," smiles Shanks. "Ronny is usually paired off with Rick, so this was the first time he and I worked together since Season One. When we finished our last take, Ronny looked at me and jokingly said, 'I guess I'll see you in Season 13 when we'll get to do our next scene.'

"Along with Full Alert, another highlight for me this year is Prometheus Unbound. In it, Daniel goes on a mission with General Hammond to the Pegasus galaxy to rescue the Atlantis team. Also along for the ride is Sergeant Harriman [Gary Jones], who's flying the ship, as well as a few other recurring characters and some new faces. Because most of the action takes place aboard a spaceship, it creates a very different dynamic. It's almost like watching a pilot for another show as Rick is only in, I think, one scene with me at the very beginning, and then we don't even see Teal'c or Carter."

"Threads is also a big episode for my character. It helps explain what happened to him when he was ascended. The story gave me the chance to work with some wonderful guest-stars including George Dzundza [Jim] and Mel Harris [Oma Desala]. So I've had some really great material to sink my teeth into as an actor for this season, especially in the second half."

Since moving from the Showtime Network to the Sci-Fi Channel, Stargate's ratings have only continued to rise. In fact, this year the programe is doing better than ever. Shanks attributes part of this to its sister series, Stargate Atlantis. "I think the hype created by Atlantis, coupled with the fact that Sci-Fi in the US is airing reruns of our earlier seasons, has introduced a new generation of viewers to our show," he notes. "That's exciting to see and, I think, has helped re-energize our cast and crew and made us take even greater pride in what we're doing."

2005, TV Zone.  Buy TV Zone Special #61 online.

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