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Michael Shanks Biography


Stargate SG-1: Dr. Daniel Jackson

Michael on changing Daniel: I wouldn't change him for all the tea in China.

Daniel Jackson biography from the MGM site:

"Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson

Dr. Daniel Jackson is an anthropologist and linguist. He is an expert in ancient cultures and languages in addition to current ones; he speaks over 20 languages including ancient Egyptian. His humanistic liberal approach is often in conflict with O'Neill's militaristic approach. Some see him as a soft, brainy, clumsy scientist who carries a wide-eyed enthusiasm with him through every mission. Jackson became a bit of a deity to the people of Abydos, the planet he chose to stay on during the original feature film. Originally, he was contracted by the military to decipher a mysterious hieroglyphic cartouche. His subsequent translation of the cartouche allowed the Stargate to be opened for the first time."

Daniel Jackson biography from the SCI FI Channel site:

"Presently ascended to a higher spiritual plane in place of death, Dr. Daniel Jackson was formerly an anthropologist and linguist, an expert in ancient and current cultures and languages; he speaks over 20, including ancient Egyptian. He had originally been contracted by the military to decipher a mysterious hieroglyphic cartouche. His subsequent translation of it allowed the Stargate to be opened for the first time. During his physical life on Earth as a member of SG-1, Dr. Jackson's humanistic liberal approach was often in conflict with Col. O'Neill's militaristic style. Some saw Dr. Jackson as a soft, brainy, clumsy scientist who carried a wide-eyed enthusiasm with him through every mission, but he earned the heartfelt trust and respect of O'Neill and all the others never more so than after sacrificing his worldly existence to save the lives of millions of citizens of the otherplanetary country of Kelowna. Even before this, Jackson had been considered like a deity to the people of Abydos, the planet on which he'd chosen to stay on following the very first SG mission."

Michael on being cast for the role of Daniel Jackson

Prior to being cast on Stargate SG-1 Shanks spent two seasons working with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. He was in the process of moving to Toronto when his agent got him an audition for the series. The producers liked his work, but it was another two months before the actor was called down to Los Angeles to meet with the MGM executives.

"I was living in Toronto and finishing my second year at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival when the opportunity to audition for Stargate SG-1 came up. I did it, and I guess they saw something on my audition tape that they liked. They flew me down to LA for a series of screen tests--I must have tested for everybody at MGM and Showtime, as well as for the producers [Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright]. It was very nerve-wracking. A few months later, I was in Vancouver shooting the series. I got on with Richard very well, so that was part of it, too."

"There were two other people, I think, that were reading for the part and that got whittled down to myself and another actor after three or four hours of auditions. I went in and read again and I just figured that after that they would either tell me 'yes' or 'no.' However, they [the casting directors] asked me if I could stay in town for a couple of more days because they wanted me to read again. This was on a Wednesday; so I stayed. It's really a nerve-racking process when there's a lot at stake, but the best Part about it was that they were giving us time to really read the lines. It wasn't one of these, 'OK, let's see what he looks like,' and then move on kind of things."

"I came in on Friday and found that they had brought another actor in, so there were three of us again going for the part. This time, though, the president of MGM was there because for some reason they couldn't decide who to choose. Richard Dean Anderson was there as well and we read the scene twice with him. After that they checked our height and eventually sent us home. The following Monday my agent got a call offering me the part. It was a fairly long process, but considering my alternative was to go back to Toronto, get a job and find an apartment I was pretty happy with the outcome," says the actor.

"As an actor, I have qualities that match up well with the character, who sees life from a thoughtful, romantic, young person's point-of-view. All that came pretty close to what they were looking for."

"I had a lot of apprehensions about it to begin with because of the whole Spader thing," Shanks tells Xpose. "I really enjoyed his interpretation and characterization, and I agree with you -Jackson is the everyman, he is the person the audience would see the most of themselves in. I knew that, and I also went into it knowing that you weren't going to be given the same attention of focus that Spader was given in the movie, because he's James Spader and I'm doing a series with Richard Dean Anderson. So, you're not going to get the screen time to develop the character as much as you'd thought. I was a little apprehensive about it, but the one thing I really enjoy is that I really like the character. So it made all the work building the character up very easy in a sense because it was very close to me. I also really enjoyed it not just because I liked the character, but because I understood him. I think it was a fairly exciting journey, and it's still evolving and unfolding every day."

"I'll never forget when Christopher Judge (Teal'c), Amanda Tapping (Major Samantha Carter), and I visited the set for the first time and saw the Stargate," he says. "The three of us were overwhelmed. We were like, 'Oh my God, this is for us. This is our show, our universe.' It was an awe-inspiring experience.

"I should add, though, that on our first day working on location we had what was probably the ultimate feeling in the opposite direction," jokes the actor. "It rained the entire time, most of the film got ruined, parts of the set were washed away, the extras were ready to mutiny, etc. It was pretty much a nightmare. That day we were all thinking, 'What have we done? We've stepped onto our own Hindenburg. We're about to be part of the biggest disaster to ever befall Vancouver-based filming in the history of TV.' Thankfully, it was not the beginning of the end. Everything seemed to go uphill after that."

On Stargate, Shanks plays Daniel Jackson, a scientist instrumental to the SG-1 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 naivete, 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 writers 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 first season," Shanks insists, "but there was a flux at MGM.

:: Early Years :: Dr. Daniel Jackson :: Season 1 :: Season 2 :: Hamlet :: Season 3 ::
:: Season 4 :: Directing :: Season 5 :: Leaving Stargate :: Free Agent ::

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