It’s quite possible that post-Stargate SG-1, the cast member with the most visibility in various forms of media has been Michael Shanks. Whether he’s been reprising his “Daniel Jackson” role on either of the television spin-offs or in the audio adventures produced by Big Finish, starring in his own series, lending his talents to other Vancouver-based genre series and made-for-TV movies, or popping up in cinemas in big-budget theatrical releases, there’s no denying the man is virtually everywhere.
That conceit makes it all the more impressive that GateWorld finally was able to track the actor down and reconnect, both last fall when the actor was a part of Creation Entertainment‘s Official Stargate Convention in Chicago, and since then. And while Shanks has been busy, there’s no doubt he’s enjoying the amount and variety of work he’s been getting.
In our newest interview with Michael Shanks, the actor discusses television without Stargate on it, his latest series Saving Hope, the variety of film projects he has on tap, and the one project so near to his heart that he and others would have (but didn’t) work on for free.
GateWorld: For Gateworld.net, I’m Chad Colvin. I am here sitting with Michael Shanks after a 2-year absence from our pages. Good to see you, Mike. It’s been a while.
Michael Shanks: Oh my god, it has!
GW: I think it was before Red Riding Hood came out.
GW: How are you, Michael?
MS: I’m good! I’m good. I’m very good.
GW: Let’s talk a little bit about your thoughts on the television landscape right now … where there is — for the first time in a long time — no Stargate at all. Does it feel odd to you?
MS: Yeah, it’s interesting. What’s the best way to put it? It’s strange, it’s very strange.
I did this movie Elysium. I did a small part in it last year. And we were in the studio. We were filming in Stage 6 at The Bridge Studios. Seeing that space occupied by a different set after, not just SG-1 but Atlantis, too. Having a different set there, and knowing that everything was kind of unfamiliar. Not having been there for the destruction of everything … it was kind of weird in the first place. Let alone having another alien control center built into that stage. And next door where we had other sets, Once Upon a Time is filming and time marches on.
It is weird to not have the show be on the air. And not to know that something is being filmed in that studio Stargate-wise. But, what’s great about doing conventions and just even interviews like this with GateWorld, is that it’s like the legacy kind of lives on. I think I have been apart from the franchise enough in my life, where there is a bit of a more healthy detachment from it. And I know there is a certain adjustment period that a lot of people are having to make right now. Including our producers and our writers and regular directors and stuff. They are now having to transition out into the real world from basically this Stargate cocoon that they were in for many years.
Even after SG-1 ended, Shanks brought his character to both spin-off series in subsequent years.
A chunk of us from the original show had to do that a few years back. We’re a little more [adept after some time] on the “finding our feet” kind of thing. And moving on to other stuff. But I know those first few years — it was a weird transition. And for our audience as well, to not have the show be on the air in any form is probably pretty strange.
GW: Congratulations on the Season Two pick-up for Saving Hope.
MS: Thank you!
GW: Can you tell us a little about the role and what kind of drew you to it initially? I know you had said it was a little bit different as far as how it was envisioned when you first signed on.
MS: Yeah! Well, the show itself was so different. We didn’t even know what we were going to do.
We were doing the pilot and before we even started shooting the next episodes, we were fleshing out aspects of the scripts. You know, the initial script was caught between being this kind of preachy procedural — and there were supernatural elements to it — but they weren’t quite defined. And we sort of defined them more as time went on. And quite frankly, what was really born out of all of the pilot parts was this understanding that this was more of a love story then it was just a procedural show mixed with a “ghost” element. It was kind of all on-the-fly. As much as you can say it’s got some supernatural aspects to it, it’s still a medical procedural to a large degree with a love story in it.
It’s much more about the relationships and the characters than most of the shows that I’ve shot before. That’s the one thing, I’ve noticed prominently, with both the audience’s reception of it and the making of it. That when we don’t get our characters and our relationships right, those scenes just don’t work. Dialogue scenes and stuff like that. The scenes you crave when you are doing an action-adventure show. You crave to do scenes like that. I think Stargate Universe was the one that got closest to actually doing that.
On SG-1, it was something our writers always discussed. We would get a script draft, and there would be a scene where two characters are bonding about something. And then the next draft would come out and that would be gone. And we would go, “Why was that gone?” and we’d hear “We can’t fit it in because we have to get to such and such by Act Two and such and such by Act three.”
With Saving Hope, there’s none of that. Its more about the characters and the relationships. And if we get that wrong, we’re dead. We have no spaceships and alien battles to fight.
GW: There is a nice natural chemistry that you and Erica [Durance] have. Do you think that maybe the interaction you guys had on Smallville helped a little bit in building that?
MS: Erica and I are very committed actors and we understood from the beginning that this was what the show was kind of about. That level of desperation, of commitment to that particular core, was strong on both sides. Which you don’t always get sometimes. Sometimes you get this sort of…
You know, I think with her and Tom [Welling] on Smallville, the dynamic was a little different. Where he was kind of a lot more stoic and she was the kind of person that was like “trying to figure it out, trying to figure it out.”
And with both of us in this one, we just sort of jumped into it. And there was a natural trust that we had with each other. Both for the stuff where you’re doing intimate scenes in the bed, and also for the stuff where you’re having to cry and weep over that person. We’re helpful with each other. We help get each other. She’d helped me to get to some great places in scenes and I’ve helped her as well. So there is a great mutual reciprocation there and a great trust and friendship as well. Absolutely, the time on Stargate and Smallville and all the times in between, our sort of natural friendship has come to the fore with that. It’s been very helpful.
GW: It is first and foremost a Canadian series and it got picked up for a larger Season Two in Canada, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that NBC is committing to broadcasting it in the summer as they did with the first year. Especially in light of what was done with the last two episodes of the season where it was only broadcast online.
MS: Correct. But we’ll see. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to air in the States at all. It probably could, I would imagine. We’ll have to wait and see. I mean, anything’s possible.
GW: You stayed in genre mode a little bit with a couple other projects. Can you talk to us a little bit about 13 Eerie, which is scheduled to come out in April?
MS: Oh, yes! 13 Eerie, my zombie movie! It’s sort of an independent film — a horror movie — that we shot in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. It’s got a nice young cast that includes Brendan Fehr (Bones, Roswell) and Brendan Fletcher (Alcatraz) and … goodness gracious, I’m blanking on some names here. [Laughter]
The cast is mainly a bunch of great younger actors playing these students. And I get to play the equivalent of their professor, a guy named Tomkins. And they go through this sort of mortician’s … well, it’s like a coroner’s course. And bad things start to happen and things start to become alive in the woods. [Laughter]
Shanks in a scene from Season One of Saving Hope.
I think doing any zombie movie, everybody has their own take on it. I kind of agreed to do it because I really wanted to. You know, after checking off so many different things off the list of the horror movies and horrible movies that I’ve done, I thought “You know, I haven’t done a zombie movie yet.” My son is big into zombies, so I wanted to do it kind of for his benefit.
GW: You mentioned Elysium earlier, and that’s going to be coming up in August. I know you can’t say much about it outside of the fact that Jodie Foster is in it. [Laughter]
MS: Yep! Jodie Foster and Matt Damon.
GW: Plot-wise, what has been released thus far makes it seem like it may kind of draw some parallels to the “Occupy” movements that the States have had — in terms of class struggles and rich versus poor.
MS: Absolutely! And it also aligns itself with the immigration issue in the United States. The notion of where some people want this building of a wall across the divide between the United States and Mexico. And about the socio-economic differences that are there. It kind of looks at it and says “What if you were on the other side of that? How would that feel?” Neill is very good at taking a topic and making it accessible, even if it’s an metaphor.
GW: That’s Neill Blomkamp, right?
MS: Yeah, Neill Blomkamp. He is very good at taking a very politically, sociologically relevant topic and then finding a metaphoric way to approach it. And this is another one of those examples.
I haven’t seen it. We had to read the script in the production office. We weren’t allowed to take it outside of that. And things got changed along the way. And I understand that they have done some re-shoots as well. We’ll see what it ends up being. I’m not in it that much. But I’m proud to be in the film. I think he is a wonderful filmmaker, with obviously some great ideas.
GW: In the fall it was announced that you would be playing the lead in Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, which chronicles the life of the Detroit Red Wings player. Besides being a fan of his story and a hockey fan itself, what drew you to the role? Or was that pretty much all you needed to sign up?
MS: That was pretty much it! [Laughter]
Andy Mikita had contacted me when I was doing Saving Hope. I knew our writer — one of the creators of our show, Malcolm MacRury — wrote the script for it. He had been talking about it before, just sort of off-hand. And I was like, “Oh, okay.” And then when Andy came into Toronto to do something, he sort of mentioned, “Oh, you guys should get together or whatever, I know you guys know each other.” But Andy and I didn’t hook up because we were both working at the time.
Later, he ended up sending me an e-mail sort of saying, “By the way, I am doing this Gordie Howe movie and I want you to play Gordie Howe.” And I was like, “Dude! I’d love to do it!” But I knew it was on offer to somebody else at the time. In the end, everything kind of worked out.
When I got back into town, I had finished working on another project and finally sat down with Andy and had coffee. We were both kind of like kids in a candy store. We both love hockey. We both love this idea of doing a hockey movie. We both have been doing genre stuff for so long.
It’s funny! One of the first thoughts to cross his mind to play the wife [of Howe] was actually Erica and one of the second people to cross his mind was Amanda [Tapping]. And at both intersections, both of us were like “ehh” and Andy was like “Yeah, we can’t.” Because we wanted to keep it separated from our other shows. Especially him with the Stargate thing. He didn’t quite want to go down that road. So we have Kathleen Robertson [the original 90210] who is going to play Colleen. We’re just very excited. We had said we’d do it for free. He said even if they tried to take the project away from him, he’d show up on set and direct it anyway.
GW: You’re constantly busy. Do you see yourself taking an extended break from it all and just concentrating on family?
MS: Probably. The thing I’ve tried to explain to my children is the strange way that actor’s lives are compared to how I grew up. My dad was a shift worker — a nine-to-five worker, Monday through Friday. An actor’s life? We’ll go three months being unemployed. Natural breaks will happen, and you’ll see Dad taking you to school every day until you get sick of him. He’ll be picking you up from Tae Kwan Do and driving you there. And he’ll be in “grill out on the barbecue” mode too much, but then he’ll disappear for periods of time.
So, at the moment, we’ll sort of see what happens. You never know. I’ve been given a sort of edict by the children to try and spend more time at home, so to speak. So we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what kind of opportunities come my way in that time.
Interview by Chad Colvin
Transcription by Avi Zisook