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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

It's All In The Dynamics: Michael Shanks talks about the new direction for Stargate SG-1 Season 9
Marla R. Reed, Stargate SG-1 Solutions, Jul 05

Michael Shanks has completed over half the filming of Stargate SG-1's Season 9 since I had last spoken to him back in January when he and wife Lexa Doig were helping new Stargate SG-1 cast member Ben Browder get settled in Vancouver, BC, where the series is filmed. Even back then, Shanks was enthusiastic about the new direction and dynamics the long running series was taking.

These changes were necessitated by the departure of lead actor Richard Dean Anderson. Anderson has left the series to devote more time to raising his daughter and to direct his attention to environmental causes he feels passionate about.

While Michael Shanks has stated that he will miss working with Richard Dean Anderson, whose character of Jack O'Neill he feels had a strong rapport with his character of Daniel Jackson, he says that conversations with Ben Browder led him to realize they have the same approaches to their craft as actors and that working together would be a great opportunity for them.

Now with ten episodes under their belt at the time of this interview, the actor says that Season 9 is looking pretty good so far. Yet Shanks is the first to admit that with Anderson gone and their other series regular Amanda Tapping missing for a bit (due to the birth of her first child, daughter Olivia) this is not going to be the same traditional Stargate SG-1 that fans remember, and with the additions of new cast and characters to the long running series there are going to be sceptics out there looking for reasons to wreak highly critical ‘carnage' against the show's new directions and characters.

When asked what effect he thinks adding new characters to the show to counterbalance these changes will have on keeping Stargate SG-1 alive and successful, Shanks has a fairly blunt response. "Bringing in new characters doesn't do squat for anything. Bringing in dynamics that create drama, chemistry, entertainment, comedy, action and all those things is what we are here for." The actor says that he thinks Season 9 is going to be entertaining people and that, he feels, is what they are there (on the show) to do. Yet that's not to say he isn't excited about what the new characters have brought to Stargate SG-1 in its ninth season.

"In the first five episodes we get to see a lot of dynamics developing," he says of the interaction being played out, most prominently between his character Dr. Daniel Jackson and that of Vala Mal Doran, played by Claudia Black. Shanks says we also get to see everybody having a chance to play significant roles in the storylines as well.

The actor says quite candidly that he is not really looking to focus on his own work at the moment in any individual episodes. That's not to say he doesn't hope that people will appreciate it (his work), but that he is "rooting for the whole show."

Shanks is just very proud of the way the dynamics of the new cast and characters in the storylines are playing out. He says that given everything that has been asked of the cast and put out there as a test for all the new people, he feels very strongly that it's "all succeeded with great flying colors."

"I am excited about the overall product we've got at this point and I'm very proud to have people see it and that's the bottom line."

The actor is also very amenable to sharing his perspectives on the new characters in Stargate SG-1, starting with General Hank Landry, played by actor Beau Bridges. 

With regards to Gen. Landry, who is now in command of the SGC, Shanks says that to him Beau Bridges makes Landry someone who has a more old-school military feel to his character. That General Landry is "this guy who somewhere in there has a heart of gold, but has a little bit of danger to him as well." He credits Beau Bridges' charisma and personality on screen for giving him this perspective on the character.

On a personal level, Michael Shanks also has a very positive view of Beau Bridges. "There is something about Beau that you just can't help to think that since he is such a loving man himself, that part of that is just seeping through in to Gen. Landry as he gets to know the people he is working with." He concludes that Gen. Landry is just a little bit more gruff up front as a general. He's not somebody who comes in trying to be liked. He is very professional and stern about it. "Which is kinda difficult until you get used to it."

The most high profile addition to the new cast of Stargate SG-1 has been Ben Browder as Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell and Michael Shanks has nothing but good things to say about the character and about Ben Browder who plays him.

Shanks sees the character of Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell not as some ‘ball-buster' with a hidden agenda or whatnot, but that he is just somebody who is excited about what's going on around him and wants everybody to be as excited as he is about it, which creates a lot of fun and different moments.

He also says that it's always great to have somebody like that who lends that forward-moving air to the show and also breaks down some doors and solves some problems for them too.

"He's been a welcome addition because of that enthusiasm," Shanks says with appreciation for Ben Browder and what he has brought to Stargate SG-1 in a ninth season filled with changes and new directions for the series.

For the first six episodes of the ninth season, actress Claudia Black will be reprising her eighth season character, the conniving and boisterous Vala Mal Doran whom Daniel first encountered in the eighth season episode 'Prometheus Unbound'.

Michael Shanks has nothing but praise for the dynamic combination of his character, Dr. Daniel Jackson and Black's Vala. A dynamic that Shanks loves because he feels it brings back the kind of banter scenes, pacing and comedic bits that made the Jack and Daniel dynamic something that people always used to appreciate.

The actor says that what he feels the viewers will appreciate the most in the interaction between Daniel and Vala is the energy that is brought forth. Call it chemistry or whatever, but when Shanks and Black worked together he feels that they quickly fell into a dynamic of interaction that made things that had the potential to be slow and dull play out a bit quicker and have a little bit more fun to it "because Claudia and I have so much fun working together."

While he admits to the possibility that Daniel might be attracted to Vala, Michael Shanks thinks that Vala definitely has an attraction to Daniel.

All of this is what Michael Shanks feels is the foundation of the very intriguing relationship between the characters of Daniel Jackson and Vala. That it gives them the potential to move forward into a dynamic where two complete opposites who are somewhat intrigued by each other are chipping away at each other's defences. "So I think it's going to be interesting to see where we are going." Shanks concludes with a smile.

Last but by no means least, especially to Michael Shanks, is the dynamic added to the series in the form of the new character Dr. Carolyn Lam who is the latest, and this time civilian, CMO [Chief Medical Officer] of the SGC. Actress Lexa Doig, who is also Michael Shanks' lovely real life wife, plays the character of Dr. Carolyn Lam.

Shanks says that "for the most part, the character of Dr. Carolyn Lam has been presented as this base doctor who is new and trying to learn the ropes so this newness goes through her head a lot of the time in regards to situations that come up."  He goes on to say that for the most part she is just going about doing her professional business and learning the ropes as fast as possible because we need someone to fill that role as soon as possible.

"At a certain point, it will be revealed that she has this relationship with Gen. Landry that dates back a long time and is a significant relationship between them." Shanks is again trying to couch things in terms that do not reveal spoilers and he is then made aware that fans already know that Dr. Carolyn Lam is Gen. Landry's daughter. Realizing that that he is not responsible for giving anything away, Shanks breaks into relieved laughter. "But we're (the audience) not suppose to know that," he explains, "it's one of those secrets I guess everyone knows about but we're (the cast) not really suppose to talk about."

Michael Shanks feels that it is good to have a strong character in the role of the medical doctor on the show and it is always very nice to make her character more dimensional by adding a personal structure to it as well so that she is more than just this functional person on the base. "She actually has dimension to her and a relationship with the general that's somewhat borderline antagonistic, but it is also a healing process that will ultimately take a long time to resolve."

Sitting back slightly after sharing the momentum of enthusiasm with which he's laced each of his perspectives on the new cast and characters, Michael Shanks takes a moment of silence to think about what comes next. Then with quiet conviction he says that while he is the first to freely acknowledge that it's not the same personnel as before, and even with all these new characters coming in and even with the changes in dynamics that make up season 9 of Stargate SG-1, he feels very strongly that "the heart of the show is still in the right place."

At the end of it all, Michael Shanks feels certain that Stargate SG-1 and its characters, both long-standing and new, still have a lot of great stories to tell and he thinks this group of people "is more than capable of moving forward and telling those stories."

His voice once more filled with that enthusiasm and respect for his new cast-mates that has characterized his approach to being interviewed about them, Shanks says "I think we can keep the audience glued to the show every week."

2005, Marla R. Reed for Stargate SG-1 Solutions.  All rights reserved.
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