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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Michael Shanks

Michael Shanks: Stargate's Gun-Shy Guy
Rita Zikeas, Toronto Star, 13 Oct 99

Michael Shanks can thank Richard Dean Anderson for his acting career. Shanks is co-star of the Stargate SG1 series, shot in Vancouver starring Anderson. When Shanks was an impressionable young guy, attending business school at UBC and intent on becoming a pro hockey player, a friend told him about an audition. So he wandered down to the beach where they were shooting MacGyver and Anderson was playing the guy in MacGyver. "It looked like a lot of fun," Shanks says over the phone from Vancouver. The baby sound effects are courtesy of his fourteen month old daughter, Tatiana.

It was on that beach that Shanks shifted his career goals. He was born in Vancouver, raised in Kamloops, and has been acting professionally since 1993. Armed with a Fine Arts degree, Shanks headed east to the Stratford Festival, where he did the requisite spear-holding roles as well as more substantial appearances in Amadeus, Macbeth, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice. In between the last two seasons of Stargate, he did Hamlet at the Vancouver Playhouse just because he needed to.

"When I did Hamlet, half the people came because they’re fans of Stargate," Shanks allows. "Paul Gross is playing Hamlet because he's a famous Mountie, but he put bums in chairs."

On Stargate, Shanks plays Daniel Jackson, a scientist instrumental to the SG1 team because of his vast knowledge of past ancient civilizations and mythology. And he's a stranger in an ever stranger land. His is the voice of reason, the pacifist among the armed and dangerous.

"Daniel is one of the most likeable characters," Shanks explains. "I admire Daniel's naiveté, passion, innocence and curiosity toward certain subject matter. Daniel was sold in the movie concept (a 1994 incarnation starring Kurt Russell and James Spader) as a bookworm and geek. The writes make Daniel the brunt of violence, he gets beat up a lot, which is because he's a pacifist."

"He tries to intellectually get out of situations and not blow it up, but talk around it. The show is geared around Richard Dean Anderson, a military type character, so the show bows to that direction. We're supporting roles in an action oriented show."

But they actually gave Daniel a gun this season, the third.

"Daniel can use a gun - he knows how - but my first instinct is that it would never happen. Only in extreme or defensive situations."

Does that mean there won't be a Daniel action figure? After all, what kind of action figure says, "Don’t shoot?"

"They were supposed to come out after the fist season," Shanks insists, "but there was a flux at MGM. The action figures are from the feature film. A friend brought me one, it was of the old star, James Spader, and they played him with the stereotypes so he was far more geeky. Yet in his action figure, he had huge machine gun, huge arms, gritted teeth and a sadistic grin. This is ridiculous - no way this character would have been like that, it would have completely violated the character. It's very laughable. I'll show my daughter the action figure and tell her it was done when I used to work out."

Shanks’ resume reads like a Trekkie wish list: Mission to Mars, Outer Limits, Highlander... Not that he's a sci-fi guy.

"No, I'm not," he demurs, "it's just a lot of what is shot in Vancouver. They have a higher budget to do the flashy stuff and tends to be in the largest percentage of American shows. But it does have its advantages because I learn 75 different aspects of filmmaking and I'm interested in directing and producing. The Stargate storylines are heavy with action-oriented sequences, stunts and special effects and computer generated imagery, post-production on green screen."

The whole sc-fi shooting match.

"I've been told to come in to the editing room and they said, 'You don't do any reaction shots. I can't keep you alive in the scene.'"

“I needed to make more eye contact, to push the ball to the other actor. As an actor, you are worried about motivation. As a producer/director, you are interested in the entire story."

Shanks learned the lesson.

"And they used my face more. I made it more organic and I got more screen time."

© 1999, Toronto Star.

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