Michael Shanks Biography
Michael's thoughts on Daniel : Season Three
Michael on what drives Daniel: For me Daniel is a true " child of the universe ". He still possess this large curiosity to experience what "is situated behind the next hill". In the heart he is a researcher. That is one thing he'll never be able to abandon.
"I've taken the character and made it more my own. I started off playing him with this childlike innocence and then as each season passed the writers and I have delved into darker aspects of his persona. Daniel has become somewhat less, I hate to say naïve, but I guess somewhat less innocent. However, he's still very passionate about what he does. Some of Daniel's innocence and naïvete was bound to wear off after a while," continues the actor. "We can't continue to play our roles the same way all the time. I think it's a common theme in television that viewers become attached to a certain character on a show and it becomes so successful that no one wants to change it. Well, you have to remember Stargate SG-1 isn't a film, it's a tv series. As such, our characters experience new things every week that affect their lives and personalities in some way. After all, that's what happens to people daily in real life, right? So I'm thrilled that Daniel and the others have evolved since day one."
Shanks is especially pleased with the witty rapport and verbal shorthand that has developed between Daniel Jackson and Colonel Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson). "I love it," he enthuses. "Rick and I didn't really know each other before we began working together on Stargate, but midway through the first season we discovered we had a similar sense of humor. We decided to play with this in the show and, once we saw that it worked, kept it up. The writers picked up on what we were doing and began writing lines for us in the scripts. For me, that's one of the highlights of doing this show. It's great that within the very serious genre of Science Fiction we're still able to poke fun at each other. Sometimes this can lead to a bit of, let's say, antagonism between Daniel and Jack, but I just think that helps further define their relationship."
As part of the SG-1 team, Daniel Jackson's standing orders are to help seek out new allies and procure new technology to aid in the defense against the Goa'uld. However, beginning with the show's pilot, Children of the Gods, the doctor's personal mission has been to find his wife Sha're (Vaitiare Bandera), whose body was made host to Amonet, a Goa'uld parasite and mate to Apophis (Peter Williams). All that changed, though, when Teal'c (Christopher Judge) was forced to kill Amonet/Sha're to save Daniel's life in third-season episode Forever in a Day.
"Unfortunately, Daniel was starting to relate everything to his quest to find Sha're," explains Shanks. "It got to the point where both myself and the show's writers, and I'm sure the audience to some degree, were saying, 'Oh my God is he going on about this again? He's getting really pathetic and whiny.' We finally decided, OK, we have to poop or get off the pot. Either we get Sha're back and find a way to work her into the show or around her within the show or we just get rid of the character, which is what the writers did. Of course, then the question became, 'Well, now what do we do with Daniel?' With Sha're gone, he no longer had a storyline."
"Luckily, out of Forever and a Day came a new journey for Daniel, which was to find the Harsesis child, who carries all the knowledge of the Goa'uld. The difference with this mission was that it had more of a hate/antagonistic feel to it, do you know what I mean? It allowed me to take my character into a much darker place than in previous seasons, which I spoke of earlier. This resulted in his encounter with the Monk (Terry Chen) in Maternal instinct. He taught Daniel to let go of his hate and how to rediscover the beauty and joy in life. Daniel also realized once he found the child that he had to allow it to be looked after by its guardian Oma Desala (Carla Boudreau), but with the hope that they would one day meet again. It was, I felt, quite a pivotal turning point for him."
"Daniel has been through a lot in our previous seasons," Shanks says. "When we started out, the executive producer of the show at the time wanted to get as close to the original characterization of the role as possible, but then followed my lead with regard to giving him more depth and scope to explore the darker side of his personality. I think what's happening now is that we've come full circle and it's time to return to Daniel's lighter side."
"He does have one, you know." Although he's been described as one of the more serious and studious members of the SG-1 family, many of his fellow cast and crew members will testify that the actor has an incredibly mischievous light side. Insisting that, "The quiet ones are always the worst," Amanda Tapping (Sam Carter) maintains, "Shanks has the wickedest sense of humor and is the best mimic on the set. He can just sit in a meeting or a read-through looking as though he's really concentrating on the matter in hand, but then will set us all off with a well-timed little phrase or action guaranteed to make us dissolve into hysterics."
Classically trained and predisposed towards the deeper elements of his craft, the past few years have seen Shanks throw himself wholeheartedly into the less realistic side of performing for a television audience. Admitting that, "It was a little difficult" to come to terms with the differences between the "one shot" allowed with live performance and "the opportunity to do one scene over and over till you get it right," Shanks laughs that he's "a lot more blasé about it now. I get right in there and just do it."
Season Three's The Crystal Skull illustrates the point. Although not particularly dark, the episode revolved around some serious issues involving the relationship between Dr. Jackson, his grandfather and their attitudes towards their life's work, and it remains one of the actor's favorites from last year. "Working with Jan Rubes as my grandfather was a real treat and we had a lot of fun working together, even if a lot of it was against a green screen." The fact that Shanks is comfortable working in such a bizarre environment shows how far the actor has come since the beginnings of the show, when the transition from treading the boards to acting to nothing proved a real challenge. "In those days the though would often cross my mind that what I was doing was insane." Those of us who shudder at the mere thought of acting out a game of charades, never mind performing in from of a camera would have to agree with his sentiment.
"This show covers so many different routes, the dramatic stories, the comedic stories... it's hard for me to say that I got to do everything because just when I thought I'd covered about everything, the writers would come up with something a little bit special. Generally, think we're still in the big 'home run sort of stories where we take the ball and run with it, but I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone for Daniel, especially last year with the lovely mix of drama and fun."
Of the episodes that gave the actor most pleasure, Legacy and Urgo stand out amongst Shanks' favorites. "I would have to say that Legacy was the most challenging for me and also the most rewarding from an acting point of view. But the episode I enjoyed the most was Urgo with Dom DeLuise. It was such a rare opportunity to get to work with someone who has such a prestigious background... someone that I grew up watching on television and who was so quick off the mark and so sharp. We really had to work hard to keep up with him." Acknowledging that Mr DeLuise "is a consummate entertainer as well as a truly unique individual," Shanks grins, "The off-camera stuff was hilarious. Dom had everyone cracking up at his behavior. It was the most fun we'd had in the three years of the show. Fortunately, we have very good editors who eliminated all the scenes where we laughed out loud."
The filming of Nemesis proved a difficult time. "There was a little bit of drama involved," he modestly concludes. "Not much, but it was a little bit of a surprise to me and everyone else."
A trooper to the last, Shanks shrugs off the many reports that he was incredibly brave throughout the ordeal, maintaining, "Oh yeah! I sure was brave when I was in that hospital bed." Affecting a very convincing whinging tone he insists, "Any time anyone would touch me, I'd be like 'Ah...ah... ah' trying to get as much sympathy as possible... I do have a great scar though. As a matter of fact, it'll be appearing in the first episode of the new season." Chuckling about the fact that the aforementioned surgical memento is in "a good place as opposed to a more vulnerable position, shall we ay," Shanks proudly states that his scar is nowhere near any area that could be deemed pornographic by eagle-eyed viewers. "I knew what I was doing when they took me in there," he jokes. "I'm a professional and told them just where to cut so it's in a TV-friendly place."
Stargate SG-1 may have had its share of laughter and light, but Michael Shanks took on a character with a much darker hue during the how's winter hiatus "I took two weeks off then went back to work and did an episode of The Outer Limits [Manifest Destiny] before shooting an independent film called Suspicious River." Directed by queen of macabre Lynne Stopkewich, the film also stars Molly Parker (Kissed) and Callum Keith Rennie (who you may rememberfrom Due South and eXistenZ), but there's not a lot of sweetness involved. "Callum and I play a couple of not very nice gentlemen my part is particularly different," explains Shanks. "It's a real departure for me In that it involves a lot of sexual exploits and is a pretty dark film."
Asked if this darkness is likely to expand to his Daniel Jackson character in season four, Shanks thinks not. "There's a general reluctance to go any further down that route, especially with the situation surrounding the storyline at the end of last year. Given the circumstances with Daniel's wife and the resolution of that issue which gives him new purpose, I think that Daniel actually has to lighten up a little bit and come back round to who he was at the outset of SG-1's journey. Things are coming full circle and I think it'll become a little easier and a bit more fun." Sighing with relieved resignation, Shanks also confirms, "I know the writers were following my lead in terms of going darker in previous seasons, but I think given the occurrences that happened with the characters, particularly towards the end of season three, it's definitely time to get a little more upbeat."
Although the crew members that make up the infamous Stargate team are notoriously tight-knit, the show's cast members have remarked that a slightly deeper delve into their characters' interpersonal relationships wouldn't go amiss. It's a view shared by Shanks who'd like to see more opportunities to develop his character's relationships with Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Teal'c (Christopher Judge). "I know that there's a lot - a lot - of unexplored routes in those relationships and I hope that we get an opportunity to develop them... but I can't honestly say that that will happen, because it seems to be the way the show generally works is that it operates round Richard Dean Anderson's character (Jack O'Neill), and we all tend to be a bit satellite-ish in terms of our relationships with characters other than his."
Obviously perfectly comfortable with this arrangement, Shanks nevertheless suggests that "Given time, we will find out more about the characters' personal lives and there may well be an episode which focuses - just for example - on the growing antagonism between Teal'c and Daniel or sees a relationship burgeoning between Carter and Daniel - or maybe something else along those lines but I can't honestly say our relationships will go much further in terms of what we've already seen."
"Others have talked about the whole idea of developing relationships between the characters, as in a love interest between O'Neill and Carter for example, but to me there's just no place for it. If you want to see something like that, there are a lot of shows on television that offer that kind of thing and have a lot more time to do it." Carefully avoiding being down on any particular one, Shanks says, "It seems to me that shows can get a little weighed down with love stories and it's not something, especially as a random viewer, that I particularly care about. When you want to watch an action show you want action, you want adventure. You don't necessarily want smooching all the time."
Apart from his own creative team, Shanks suggests the one other producer who 'got it right' is Chris Carter of The X-Files fame. "What Carter did more, which was very good, was almost tease the audience with the idea that he was never going to show a love relationship between the lead characters but actually courted the effect by saying 'Well, I might', then, 'Oh no, I'm not,' and it worked tremendously well. The show was a huge success without the 'love interest."
That said, does Shanks have any plans to write his own episodes to nip any such developments in the bud? Not a chance! He is firmly of the mind that "writing is something best reserved for those who can. I can come up with certain ideas but don't think I'm capable or experienced enough to bother trying to actually write a script."
TV HIGHTLIGHTS: I saw you in the television film Escape from Mars.
Michael: It was supposed to be called mission to Mars, but the title was modified, when we heard Brian dePalma had a film of the same name. We were quite aware of the fact that with the Disney film's insanely high budget we wouldn't be anywhere near it, because we filmed our television film with only 2-3 million dollar budget after the end of the 2nd season of Stargate - it was relayed in November/December in my hometown Winnipeg at different workstations. I can remember that it was very cold during the filming, but it was time to do something else and the technique shown in the Film had nothing to do with Science Fiction really, instead it was based on what is possible nowadays. I wasn't absolutely happy about the movie escape from Mars. The movie nevertheless came out better than I had originally assumed. A funny note in regards to the movie: two of my colleagues in this film also ended up with being astronauts in the movie mission to Mars.
TV HIGHTLIGHTS: When did they play?
Michael: They were a part of the first Mars expedition and as you know, they where the first to go in the beginning of it. When they visited me during filming in Vancouver, we were very amused by it.