Michael Shanks Biography
Michael's thoughts on Daniel : Season Two
Michael describes himself and Daniel: Persistent, stubborn, and genuine for myself. Curious, persistent and genuine for the character.
If Anderson's character O'Neill is Stargate's man of action, Daniel Jackson is the show's innocent abroad, the character who thinks it might be a better idea to talk to the aliens before shooting them. Because of this, much of the energy of Stargate lies in the two character's differing attitudes. If both Anderson and O'Neill know how to get things done, how similar are Shanks and Jackson? "I think the part's a little kookier than I am," the actor reflects. "I'm a little more brooding than kooky, but I have that kind of geeky dry sense of humour in real life. I think there are a lot of aspects of my character in me, but there's more oddness in the character than in me."
"The relationship between O'Neill and Jackson was pretty much outlined in the movie," he says. "There still is and always will be, I think, that strong polar opposite relationship that existed from the beginning. They're just two very different people, but because of these differences and their dependence on each other for things the other is incapable of doing there's also a trust and a respect as well as friendship that's developing."
"General Hammond represents the hardcore old school military. I'd say that he and Daniel are probably the two characters that are the most opposite in their interpretations of how they see the world," explains Shanks, "but Hammond as played by Don is a very caring and humane individual. As the show has continued I think there's a little more of a father/son mentality developing between them, but they still see things from very different perspectives."
One member of the team Jackson immediately identifies with is Captain Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping). She is an expert on the Stargate, having studied its technology for two years before O'Neill and Jackson first used it, so she is comfortable speaking the doctor's language.
"From an intellectual point of view she and Daniel see eye-to-eye," notes the actor. "In terms of enthusiasm of scientific study I think Daniel is much more emotionally attached to the discoveries they make than Carter. She approaches things from a scientist's point of view where Daniel sees it through the eyes of a child with that type of wonder, so they differ in that respect."
Surprisingly, Jackson also has much in common with the fourth member of the team, the ex-Jaafa guard Teal'c (Christopher Judge), who helps O'Neill's people escape from Apophis and travels back with them through the Stargate to Earth. "I'm looking forward to this relationship being explored more in upcoming seasons. I think of Daniel and Teal'c as being children of an unfolding universe. They both see things from a similar point of view, although coming from different backgrounds and having contrasting physicalities and make-ups, and they relish new discoveries in much the same way."
"There's an episode called Need that we did at the start of this season which I really enjoyed because it allowed me to take an emotional journey when Daniel is faced with an addiction. It was something totally opposite to what I'm usually asked to do so I appreciate that story for the stretch and the push it gave me as an actor," he says. "In another episode we did fairly recently I spent over six hours being transformed by all this prosthetic makeup into a completely new character, so I like that for the acting challenge as well."
"My favourite story as it stands so far is The Torment of Tantalus. It is one of the first episodes that really allows my character to carry the ball, but beyond that I think everything that's good about this series is represented in that episode. All the elements fit perfectly into place in terms of problem solving, ensemble work and a great story [by Robert C Cooper] that keeps you hooked right up to the end."
"Because it's Science Fiction and because anything is possible opening a script is still like unwrapping a Christmas present because you really don't have any idea what's going to happen. There's nothing that can possibly limit us other than our budget," laughs Shanks, "and our own imaginations."
"Daniel's an innocent, naive optimist whose curiosity often kills the cat and whose energy and excitement are contagious. He's a little boy who's opened the biggest Christmas present you could imagine, constantly excited and enthused. At the moment, I don't know where they're going to take him. I'm curious about what direction the character and the show are going to go in. I have no idea what the writers have in mind. We're so busy here, working on the show we've just filmed, on the one we're filming now, on the next one, there's no time to think about it. It's completely out of our control." I have a much larger dark side than Daniel. It would be fun to explore that in him a little, but not too much. And not regularly. Just a little. What I really like is Daniel's genuine quality, his caring for people. His honesty and compassion. If they changed that about him then I wouldn't want to play him any more."
Perhaps because he's civilian, not military, Daniel is the most overtly emotional character in the SG1 team. Episodes like Need and Legacy have provided Shanks with some highly charged acting scenes. "You have to be prepared to expose yourself," says the actor. "That's basically the job description. The willingness to go to those places always has to be there. The ability varies, depending on how tired your are, who you're working with. There are levels of comfort, and the family of people you're working with. You have to be able to make the scene work, no matter what. But I don't have that problem here." To date, Shanks considers his best episodes to have been Need and Holiday. The hardest, not surprisingly, is Holiday, "because of the aspect of working with yourself. And the six hours of prosthetic makeup. And the fact that I was playing a character inside a character. Daniel isn't a lot like me, so I'm playing someone different, and then having to play that person inside another person's body, that was a challenge. They gave me actors to work with in those scenes, not just stand-ins, but sometimes I just acted with the bed."
Preparing for the role of Daniel is a lot of hard work. "In the beginning, for the audition, I re-watched the movie because I hadn't seen it since its cinema release. Found the parts of the character that are also in me, aspects that I liked, and those I didn't. For me, the Daniel in the movie was a little hard, a little jaded maybe. I wanted to focus more on the subtextual elements of family, displacement, being a loner. I wanted to make Daniel a little more naive, not quite so together as he was in the film. And I worked on it from there. On a week to week basis, filming the series, first of all I do a cold read of the new script, just to see what happens, where my character fits into the action. Then I read paying attention to Daniel's scenes, his arc, his journey. This is an ensemble cast, he's not always the focus of attention every time, but he's there, and there's always something to work with, something to add to the scene. Then I use my theatre training and processes. I break down every scene into beats."
"On dialogue, seeing what works for me, what doesn't. Think if there's any way I can improve that. I break down words, the evolution of the words. Clever scriptwriters can use words with lots of meanings, and find subtext in the lines. I'm a character actor, so I'm always asking myself what did the writer have in mind. I guess that's part of having a theatre background too. I'm always looking for the details, the subtexts. But then of course you do all this homework and then you get to the rehearsal process and throw it all out the window. Because there's no point if you're not working off what the other actors give you."
Even with the tough times, though, he couldn't be happier. "From acting I get a sense of satisfaction, of doing something well. Of doing a scene and feeling satisfied that I achieved something with it. I am a perfectionist. But perfection is unachievable, so I know there's always something more to strive for, a better performance. It's a balancing act, though, knowing when to accept what you've done and move on, not getting caught up in things you can't change. In acting there's always a chance to learn, to grow, to reach for bigger things. It keeps me moving forward. It's not therapy, but it allows you to exercise certain psychological demons. It's creatively fulfilling and exciting, and it's always different." But every job, no matter how fulfilling, has its drawbacks, and acting is no exception. "I'm actually pretty shy and reclusive," Shanks says. "I don't like public attention, being the focus of interest. I don't like to be recognized in public. I like my privacy. To be an actor you have to be able to study people, and if you lose your anonymity you can't do that. Not that it's really a problem for me at the moment, but I don't want it to be in the future."
Years :: Dr. Daniel Jackson :: Season
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