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Stargate SG-1 Crew Interviews: Robert C. Cooper

Nine Lives: Robert Cooper
Steven Eramo, TV Zone Special #64, July 2005

[...] "So when Season Nine of SG-1 came about and it became clear that we'd be making as many changes to the show as we were, I pitched very strongly the idea of revamping the series on more fronts than just adding new characters. I wanted to bring in new villains and change SG-1's mission. We were all very reinvigorated with Season One of Atlantis and seeing how new adversaries like the Wraith could make a difference to the story telling. We wanted to do the same with SG-1, so we approached the beginning of this year as the start of a new show, or a pilot if you will."

[...]"We've always tried to ground SG-1's stories as well as mythology in some form of Earth mythology and put a twist on it. Previous to this it was Egyptian mythology and the Goa'uld posing as Egyptian gods. Going forward, we had to decide what mythology we were going to next play on. We hadn't done the King Arthur/Avalon/ Merlin mythology before. With Merlin being one of the more famous magical figures, I thought it would be interesting if we revealed he was an Ancient. That Merlin had, in fact, returned to Earth from Atlantis after the war with the Wraith and settled on our planet."

[...] "So these episodes introduce that idea along with the Ori. Up to now, the Ancients have been protecting Earth; basically keeping it from the Ori's view, so they didn't know about us. However, when Daniel and Vala visit the Ori galaxy and start to poke around, all of a sudden the Ori know we're here. They send their representatives or missionaries, called the Priors, to try to convert our galaxy to their religion. These missionaries have tremendous power at their disposal and a fervent belief in their mission. They're offering people what is essentially a real religion with this wonderful pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There's a catch, though," smiles Cooper. "So this is pretty much what we're up against this season on SG-1."

As with the Goa'uld and other aliens on SG-1, the show's art department played a big role in designing the look for the Ori and Priors. "The Priors are the Ori's front line 'troops' if you will and we had to develop them from scratch," says art director James Robbins. "We were given a description of who they were, what that they'd carry a staff of power. We first looked at Japanese and Samurai from a costuming point of view more than anything, but at the end of the day that look got watered down. Then we got into more mystical aspects and I came up with the idea of using scarification. Looking at some of the remote jungle tribes there's face painting, scarification and burns, and I've always found that stuff kind of mystical.

"So I began experimenting with treatments for scarification and carried that through to the final look of the Priors and also the Doci, who are the overseers of all the lower level Ori, who are the Priors. The Priors have the chin and cheek scarification, whereas the Doci also have them on their foreheads. That's all relegated, though. The higher up you are in their 'establishment' the more scarifications you receive, including on the backs of your hands. We even started out with the Priors having finger extensions, but that became too much of a physical anomaly to deal with. For example, when they tried closing their hands around their staffs it just didn't look right, so after one episode we jettisoned the whole idea of doing that.

[...] The art department also had to design a circular platform for a burn sequence. In the actual story, a flaming liquid flows into a series of concentric circles and ends up in the middle of the platform, burning the poor victim to a crisp. "There were a lot of concerns with this scene," says production designer Bridget McGuire. "There were some visual effects, but most of it was done practically on the set with live fire and actors. The actual set piece we built had to be fireproof and constructed in such a way that the burning liquid would actually flow and create the elaborate pattern that travelled down towards the centre. It was a very tricky set piece and if things hadn't been so well planned out and well-constructed then there could have been real problems. In the end it turned out well. To be honest, when the second unit team shot the actual burn I wouldn't go to the set. Even to see it on the dailies was terrifying. It's that convincing."

Among those who were on set that day was the show's stunt co-ordinator, Dan Shea. "An amazing stuntwoman, Melissa Stubs, did the actual burn," says Shea. "She brought her $5,000 latex fire mask and gloves with her, and we had her fire-retardant undergarments on ice and soaking in fire-retardant gel for a day. Melissa had to put all that stuff on, then a three-layer fire-protective suit, and finally her wardrobe. She didn't want to use oxygen during the scene because sometimes the tubes can accidentally get pinched off and suddenly you can't get any air. Instead, Melissa decided she'd breathe out of a little tube and right before the shot she'd take a deep breath and hold it.

"This was a visually cool stunt but a very complicated one. It wasn't a person just doing a burn, but a person doing a burn surrounded by three rings of flame. It lasted 10 seconds and Melissa was a real trouper because the flames grew bigger and hotter as the air began to get stirred up. It was totally safe, but we had 20 crew guys with C02 canisters standing by just in case."

[...] The title of this season's SG-1 mid-season two-parter, The Fourth Horseman, is a biblical reference to The Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse that brings plague. The episode features the return of an old friend, who tries to help SG-1 defuse a deadly situation on Earth. "In an earlier story this season, The Powers That Be, that planet is overrun by a plague inflicted by the Priors," says Damian Kindler, who wrote the first half of this episode. "That plague is brought back to Earth and it's unstoppable. Thousands of people across the world are infected. Borders are shut down, air traffic is stopped; the scope is huge."

Continues Paul Mullie, who wrote part two of the episode along with Joe Mallozzi. "Orlin, from the fifth season episode Ascension, comes back to help us deal with the problem of the Ori and reveal some information about them as well as help us with the plague. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict we couldn't get Sean Patrick Flannery back to reprise his role of Orlin. So we decided that this time the character comes back as he would have looked as a 12 year-old Human boy. He's played by Cameron Bright, a very talented young man. Orlin's storyline is very much a poignant one involving Sam Carter [Amanda Tapping]. "As if the plague and Orlin's return isn't enough, there's another story within this episode involving Gerak, who's persuaded by a Prior to do something that he will most certainly regret."

[...] The episode Prototype is the first contribution this season from a writer new to SG-1, Alan McCullough. "In this story, our heroes attempt to gate onto a planet but end up somewhere else," he explains. "They discover that this gate has a protective device that's designed to keep people away from the planet. They manage to override it, though, and arrive on the planet to find a lab with a very unique and advanced individual inside it. This episode plays a great deal on the show's established mythology, so that was a challenge in that I had to do plenty of research."

McCullough is working on two other stories for later this season, one of which finds Teal'c kidnapped on Dakara. Other upcoming episodes includes Paul Mullie's and Joe Mallozzi's Collateral Damage, where Colonel Mitchell is a victim of memory implantation, and an as yet untitled sequel to last season's Icon that Damian Kindler promises will be action-packed.

For those who have never watched SG-1, now is the perfect time to tune in. "Season Nine will be starting, not from scratch, but certainly from a new beginning," says Robert C Cooper. "We've been given an opportunity to inject this franchise with new energy, and I hope the fans are as excited as we are."

© Visimag. All rights reserved. Buy the magazine and read the entire interview at Visimag.

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