Michael Adamthwaite has become a black pearl to loyal watchers of Stargate‘s recent shows, etching himself into television history as the right-hand man of the worst bad boy in the galaxy, Anubis’ First Prime Herak.
Having recently finished filming The Chronicles of Riddick (arriving in U.S. theaters this summer), Michael took time out for a lengthy audio interview with GateWorld, chronicling his own history through the four episodes of Stargate SG-1 he has thus far filmed. He discusses his laugh-out-loud audition process, his quirky and obsessive tendencies, as well as his amphibious moments under the Jaffa armor. Yeah, that’s what we thought.
Be forewarned: This interview includes major spoilers for the climactic ending of “Lost City!” GateWorld’s session with Michael is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, as well as transcribed below! The audio version is about 25 minutes long. Be sure to check out Michael’s official Web site, too!
GateWorld: This is David Read for GateWorld.net talking with Anubis’ First Prime himself, Michael Adamthwaite. How you doing, Michael?
Michael Adamthwaite: I’m doing wonderful.
GW: Glad to have you with us.
MA: Thank you for having me.
GW: What was your experience with Stargate before becoming Herak?
MA: My experience with Stargate before becoming Herak was limited. I will admit I had obviously watched the show. I had sort of been following as a — I would call it more of a part-time fan basis. Because it was an interesting show, the concept was sound, and I had also obviously seen the movie with Kurt Russell and I knew it was a really, really solid sci-fi kind of derived show. And I really liked it. I didn’t, however, know that most of it, if not all of it, was done here in Vancouver. And I’m like, “Wow.”
GW: It’s right down the road!
MA: “It’s here! And I’m acting! My God! Maybe I should try and put that together some how. What do you say?” So it was kind of funny. I got the together with my agent when I moved here, and — yeah, after a while I started getting auditions for things. And I got an audition for Stargate and that went really, really well. But prior to actually working on the show, it was just sort of a part-time fan, almost wishful thinking basis of, “Man, if I could only get my foot in the door.” But that changed for the better. Absolutely.
GW: So after you went on-board did you kind of get more into it then?
MA: Oh, well, you can’t not get into it! You’re wearing stuff that you can’t even pronounce. You know, wardrobe and these weapons, and I mean, oh, the sets — oh, David, they are incredible, incredible sets. They’re obviously worth more than most people’s education, but you know, they’re significantly accurate. That’s the thing I always find interesting, is that you can approach these walls, and they’re textured and they’re aged and they’re old and they’re researched with all the language, and all the art, and all the artifacts. It’s so accurate, because they’ve chosen to keep the theme and the genre of the original film the same — this whole Ancient Egypt style of foreign worlds. They’ve gotta be really accurate with all of that. But they go to such detail, it’s a beautiful, beautiful environment to work in.
GW: So you liked the production values put into it?
MA: Oh, absolutely! The production value and the design of the whole show is, I mean — you can’t go wrong. You can’t beat it. And all the special effects. It’s great. All the sequences are just spot on. They’re amazing. They really look wonderful.
GW: What did they think about your style that won you this role?
MA: What do I think about my style?
GW: Like the casting directors.
MA: Oh, what did they say? Well, it’s actually a really interesting story. I had never seen Carol Kelsey for an audition before. So we have a pre-screen, a step that we sort of need to go through. It’s kind of like, “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so let’s not waste film! If you’re bad, I don’t need to tell you, I just don’t call you ever again. And no one ever has to see a tape or no one gets embarrassed and they don’t get on my butt for wasting money,” you know.
So, it’s a pre-screen. There are no cameras. It’s usually just you and the casting director. So I went to a pre-screen with Carol Kelsey and (cough) — excuse me if I cough, feeling a little under the weather. So I went to the pre-screen and I did the reading, and she was like, “Yeah, yeah, great bud, thanks! Great read. Listen, are you available for an audition tomorrow?” And I said, “Absolutely. When and where?” And she said “Bridge Studios,” and she gave me the address and information and everything.
So I went down there prepared. And it was actually kind of surreal at first. I was like, “OK, I’m walking into a room and this guy is a potentially recurring character. It’s a guest star. And I walk in and I’m OK. I’m 20, sure — or I’m 19, I don’t remember how old I was at the time. And I walk in and there’s these gigantic hulking men, these titans that look like they just woke up from some gigantic cement sleep, and I’m like, “My God, this man is six-foot-seven, he looks like an alien, he’s going to get the part. Damn.” I’m like, “Man! Where’d they get an eight foot orangutan? I don’t know!” But it was just crazy. So I really kind of went in almost doubting at first. Then I’m like “No no no, you can’t do that. You’ll screw yourself over. You can’t do that.” So I’m like, “OK, just stick to the material. Stick to what you’re doing.”
MA: And I went in, and I read the scene — and Martin Wood, he was like, “OK, great, yeah, thanks! Excellent! Awesome!” Because I really focused on bringing a voice to it, you know, to bring some intensity through something. And I’m like, “Michael, just do nothing, do nothing, do nothing. Because if you start getting all complicated and weird and creepy like you do, then it’s not going to work.” So, I did the one scene and I walked out of the room and I’m like, “OK, I did what I did, and it sounded like they liked it, let’s see what’s what.” So I kind of walked away and I was putting on a cowboy hat and a checkered shirt to go to my next audition, and — yeah, it was great. Everybody loves blue plaid.
So I was leaving the audition room and all these guys were kind of standing in there, you know like, “Yeah, whatever, OK. Peach fuzz?” “Yeah, thanks. Great.” So they were all kind of looking at me with total disregard and I’m walking out. Carol Kelsey comes bolting out of the audition room! “Michael, can you come back inside?” “Of course I can!” Take the hat off, rip off the checkered shirt, throw it in the chair. I walk back in, all these dudes give me a look like, “Oh, what did you do?” And I’m like, “Hey man, whatever, guys! See you there, buddy!” I just kind of walk in with that look. And it was great.
Martin Wood immediately asked me — the door’s not even closed — he’s like “Do you know the other scenes?” Obviously he was like, “If you don’t, this is a waste of my time,” pretty much. So I obviously said, “Yes, of course I do!” He goes, “Great! This is what I want to do!”
And he totally just instantly started giving me direction. And I was like, “This is no longer an audition, I am working with this director.” And it was great because through the first read I had seen them all going from leaning back to practically elbows on the table. And Damian Kindler, the writer of the episode who obviously created my character — he was so great because he went from leaning in to sort-of cowering in the back of the chair. And I was like, “Wow! I got a rise out of these people, and now they’re really engaging with me.”
So it was really nice. I felt like I was working with them right off the top. They were super, and I did two more scenes, and then I left the audition room. And I called my agent and I’m like, “Yeah. They’re going to call. Real quick.” So yeah, I think it was like 18 hours later, I got a phone call. So it was an amazing process and just the whole thing came together so easily. I mean, not without work and preparation, but it just kind of fell together, you know.
GW: But you got in there!
MA: Yeah, I was in. I was in for sure.
GW: Herak is a fairly anonymous character — shows up in “The Other Guys.” And he showed nothing but utter devotion to the Goa’uld.
MA: Absolutely. A hundred percent.
GW: What appealed to you about him personally? What did you like about that?
MA: Personally? He’s a soldier. He’s a warrior. He’s an animal. He doesn’t do things thinking of, “Oh, this’ll get me this, this’ll get me this, this’ll get me this!” He realizes that that may or may not be a byproduct of his actions. He hopes that his actions take him to a positive end for his purposes, which are to follow the Goa’uld lords. I mean, I sort of looked at it and I’m like, “This guy is all or nothing,” you know?
GW: He isn’t a guy that goes home, watches I Love Lucy and clips his toenails.
MA: No no no no no (Laughter). He’s probably standing, working out all the time, doing whatever it is he does, I mean whether it’s like — I would would doubt it’s like martial arts, but you know what I’m saying? Like basically kicking ass all day, you know? “Send eight guys to my room, I’m going to beat the crap out of all of ’em!” Like, hey, it’s like working at the gym.
GW: Yeah, kind of like a Yoda concept behind his “Size does not matter, I’m going to kick your butt.”
MA: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, he really doesn’t calculate error very well. And that really, really creates the beautiful chemistry between O’Neill and he, because he’s like, “You keep screwing me over. I have these plans and you’re always in the way.” It’s the most antagonizing thing. I remember when we were shooting “Full Circle,” when I was walking down the stairs into the catacombs there, and “Surrender or die!” was the line. And during the rehearsal, Richard [Dean Anderson] sort-of peaks his head around the corner, and he goes “What?” He sort of yelled it, like “What?!” like across. And I stopped dead in my tracks, and I said it again. And Martin was like “Yeah, I love that. That works great.”
And it was really cool to work in that kind of environment where he did something just being himself. And it just works through the scene. And all this stuff came out and it really played well because the more he jokes with me the angrier — well, Herak — the angrier he will become. And it’s just the chemistry back and forth, the “I want to kill you like no one before. You are the thorn in my side.” And it’s the worst possible situation because, yeah, every time I screw up, every time he screws up it gets closer and closer to being the end of me. So, yeah, it’s a really interesting balance. And he is “No B.S.” at all.
GW: And Anubis orders that he can’t kill him.
MA: I know, and that was so difficult to read. I’m like, “What? What do you mean?!” It was really hard for me to have to deal with that. I was pacing. I was like “OK, that’s all he wants!” And now he’s ordered not to do it. There was actually that moment where it was really about just being in O’Neill’s face, and Rick was really, really cool working that way. He was like, “Oh, yeah, I think absolutely.” It was really all about — it’s this close to being the moment of absolute fatality. It got so close and he has to step away from it. It was a really great moment shooting and it was really cool to work with that. I really felt like my work had really come to a huge, huge new plateau.
GW: It really shows up on screen, that whole chemistry.
MA: I hope to see so! I have yet to actually peruse the tape, as I have not received it. But that’s wonderful that you did that, thank you.
GW: It’s on it’s way, not to worry. Yeah, he comes out there and it’s like: “I assume you know about the part where you don’t shoot us.”
MA: (Laughter) Yeah, I’m like, “Grumble-grumble-grumble, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember that part, whatever.”
GW: Did you prefer scenes on the bridge or on away missions, where you were doing stuff out there.
MA: Away missions tend to be more of the architectural sites like the catacombs and that sort of thing. But away missions, as far as shooting goes, obviously means there’s like a great world — you’re sort of in this great set — or you’re outside, which is nice. Because that offers obviously new challenges to work with, you know.
It brings a new element of — you don’t have to necessarily rely on the set to sort of create your environment because you’re surrounded in it. You’re in your element, basically. So it’s really nice to just kind of work with that without having to be like, “OK, I’m keeping the trees, I’m holding the dirt, OK, la la la la la,” and all this silly actor mumbo jumbo which just doesn’t make any sense. I’m like, “You’re in the woods. Go.” (Laughter)
But yeah, working outside is great because those suits can get a little warm in the studio. It’s really, really hot inside that suit, so they’ve got fans all the time. So that’s why we like outside … unless it’s summertime and hot. Then it’s bad because they’ve got people with umbrellas trying to keep everyone from falling over.
GW: Did you like wearing that costume, or was it like a pain in the butt?
MA: Honestly, there were moments when I would — it’s kind of funny, because it’s totally delusions of grandeur, I know. But, you know where it’s like the most dramatic sit-down of ever-filmed history. You know. “I’m sitting down.” The chin collar would always come right up to my chin, and I felt like a turtle. I had moments where I’m like, “Turtle! Turtle!” I felt really, really stupid. But then again, I’m also really glad that they got rid of the bald cap for Season Seven.
GW: Let the hair shine.
MA: You know, it was really kind of an interesting topic. I was like, “How are we explaining the new symbol?” And they’re like, “Well, let me tell you the thing about a sarcophagus. You can throw anybody in there and do pretty much whatever you want because you need to reflect the hierarchy in which you work for. So you know, it’s no problem changing a few things here and there. It’s like a salon, really.” I’m like, “OK, and people are going to buy that?” They’re like “They’ll buy it because we tell them to buy it.” I’m like, “Hey, yeah, sure, change the symbol.” But consequently, I actually ended up with my own Jaffa, because Khonsu’s guards were renamed as “Herak’s Jaffa,” which I thought was …
GW: So Herak kind of took over Khonsu’s symbol?
MA: Absolutely, because he was a traitor and he deserved to die. Bottom line. Traitors die.
GW: In all of Stargate history Herak is probably the most loyal Jaffa to his master, in the entire series. Do you think there was any part of him that doubted Anubis to be an all-powerful being?
MA: Any part of him that doubted … Wow. I don’t know. I think that he sort of — Anubis as a character, his whole purpose is to exude complete omnipotence and complete, 100 percent power at all times. So he really takes control of those situations. When he can crush something, he crushes it. He will float above your planet and he will shoot you out of the sky. Anubis is the man. I think there is no doubt in his mind of his power, absolutely. Herak can’t deny that, because he’s seen his power. He’s seen what he controls, the respect and the fear that he kind of manifests around everything in his path. It’s kind of like the Dark Midas Touch, right? It’s not gold, it’s just black matter, and death. He’s a horrible dude. So it’s not the kind of thing I like to question him on, ever!
I think if anything, it does come down to more of — there’s something that sort of agitates his patience, almost, because as much as he is loyal there’s always that teacher-student sort of like, “Yes, I’m following your orders.” But at the same time, “Maybe it’s time for a change with this one little thing. Maybe we can have another idea instead of just the killing all the time. I mean it’s starting to lose meaning — and I like the killing so I want to keep it important.” You know, like, “Have a change of pace, boss.”
But yeah, I think if anything, it would never come down to any kind of altercation because … there’s no chance. As powerful as the Jaffa are, especially First Primes who serve theirmasters, they’re still not invulnerable. They can be taken down.
GW: Teal’c said to Bra’tac, “If you know the truth about these creatures, then why do you still serve?” And Bra’tac says, “Because there is no choice but to.”
MA: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Bra’tac is an amazing character for this whole purpose. Because he, along with Teal’c, really do represent almost the elder Jaffa First Primes who have really seen the whole change from the beginning of their lives. There’s been a huge change in history because of all these mortals that are now being thrown into the mix. They know all the change that’s happened, so when they talk about it they know what they’re talking about, but obviously Herak hasn’t reached that point because his service hasn’t been compromised.
GW: Kind of a different breed.
MA: He is a different breed. I really think he is obviously beyond a drone. There’s definitely intelligence there; there’s creativity in his art. He takes pride in the art of killing, the art of war, the art of mastering your enemy. But there definitely isn’t a sense of, “Well, I don’t know, maybe we should take a break.” I think the frustration that he finds from Anubis definitely comes from, “Well, I’d rather do it this way because it involves more killing.” That’s the only frustration, is that he has to bide his time or he’s not allowed to kill.
So those were things that sort of came up as frustrating reactions, but obviously he would never let on visually, anyway. Because for all he knows, not only can he [Anubis] see it with his own eyes but he can read your mind, right? He doesn’t necessarily know everything about the Goa’uld either. So it’s an interesting character base to come from because it’s so deep. You can take it as far as you want, as an actor. And that’s a really rare thing to have that kind of freedom.
GW: He must know that either he does his job well or he dies, because all the other Jaffa humans, or the Jaffa-Jaffa — not the super-soldiers — they’re all gone, and here comes Herak!
MA: I know! I don’t really know what to expect, because obviously last I was seen in Season Seven there was a pretty big explosion. And, granted, they have survived before! The other day I was watching an episode on television of Stargate and, “Wait a minute. Apophis survived. Man!” It was one of those things where, “Oh, crap. He survived again!” “Oh, yeah, he must’ve used those ring things.” “Great deduction, doctor! Thanks!” So it was really one of those cool episode where I’m like, “Wow! There’s the proof. People come back all the time.”
GW: So you never know. He may come back.
MA: I actually ran into — I can’t for the life of me remember his name right now. The actor who played Apophis.
GW: Peter Williams.
MA: Peter! I ran into him last week. Crazy.
GW: Do you wish they would’ve went in more directions with this character, or did he serve his purpose?
MA: I think the character, at this point — I mean, technically from a story standpoint, I think that it could, as an option, be finished. Because they’ve sort of tied up the ends that they laid out, which is the whole purpose of creating a storyline. You have to finish what you start, otherwise it kind of doesn’t pay off, nothing works, and then all of a sudden you have this bad episode.
But I definitely think that there’s room to grow, because the thing that I really would like to see — not only as an actor but someone who follows the story, who follows these two characters — I think O’Neill and Herak have issues to resolve. Far be it for me to tell anyone how to write an episode about anything, but I’m talking about — I’ve had day-dreams about, “Man, wouldn’t it be great to have a fight to the death?” You know? Really getting nitty-gritty. We’re going to kill each other with our hands! “I hate you!” Like really, really in there.
But alas, I’m not a writer. I have no authority with anything like that. But anyone whose out there who would like to write a script and submit it in that would do well, I think!
GW: Well, there was a lot of chemistry between you two.
MA: Absolutely, a lot of conflict.
GW: That definitely serve to be a very decent story if not an excellent one. And there is still Season Eight, like I’ve been saying. So you never know!
MA: That is true. You never know.
GW: Were you disappointed that he [Herak] became space debris?
MA: Was I upset? At first I sort of — well, to be honest, every time I got a script I went right to the end to see if I lived. Because I’m a working actor in Vancouver! I have bills just like everybody else! I’m like, “Am I dead? Am I dead?” I was always sort of playing the end in my mind, just for fun! But I obviously did read the whole script every time. I know, I know, I know. Toward the end I looked at the final script and I was reading through it and, sure enough, “Bo-boom! The explosion rocks the ship. Falls back and forth. Falls down. Cut to: Explosion.” I’m like (gasp) — they did not actually write “Herak dies!”
GW: They never do.
MA: I know they never do, and that’s the whole beauty of it! So long as it never says the words in one sentence, “Herak dies. He’s dead. Horrible death. Bye-bye buddy,” then I don’t ever believe that I’m not going to come back. But you know, I would really still, right now, hold that in very high regard because I really do love working on that show. It’s a great character.
I really enjoy what I do when I come there because I get to apply all the things that I’ve amassed over the years of working and just living and having my own experiences. Like my drill sergeant voice! I get to use it! I get to speak from the diaphragm and really have that “omnipotent voice.” It’s kind of funny in a way, I know, but I think it really supports the character because he is solid, and the voice is solid. I think it works well, and I would love to come back and play, absolutely.
GW: Has this role effected you in comparison to other things you’ve done, on a personal level?
MA: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, a hundred percent! I can’t stress that enough. Not only has it really shown me the perfect working model of what film-making should be — even though it’s a television show. Don’t let that fool you. It is the finest crew I have ever worked with. They are family. They are amazing people and they really do have creative vision, and they really try to go out every single day and make the best show they can. Money aside, egos aside, agendas aside, they go out there to really put a story together and to engage people who watch the show. And I can’t say that I have found that level, that caliber of people in any other show I’ve worked on.
Don’t get me wrong — I’ve worked for some really nice people, and I’ve had some really great experiences, a lot of people have touched me in various creative ways that I have really taken as wonderful memories. But this show — this show tops them all. Absolutely.
GW: They’re still on the air and they’re still going.
MA: Oh, yeah! And they’re going strong! And they’re stronger than ever. More people in the world want to know about Stargate every day! Not that they’re saturated by it, but people are catching on and they’re talking to people, and they’re like, “Man, do you have any idea of what’s going on in this show?” “No.” “Well you’d better get on board, Jack, because you are missing out, man! You are missing out, guy!” And that’s the great part, is that you know what? The fans are die-hard. They are all-or-nothing. That’s the kind of fans that make a show work.
GW: That’s right. That’s what keeps GateWorld on the net, too!
MA: Absolutely, absolutely.
GW: Well Michael, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us.
MA: Oh, hey, no problem. It’s my pleasure, David.