GateWorld is proud to present an on-set interview with actor David Hewlett! Several weeks ago, GateWorld’s Darren Sumner was invited to visit the British Columbia set to talk to the cast and crew. We’re pleased to be able to share our interview with David, conducted in the lunch tent outside Stage 6 just six weeks into the filming of Stargate Atlantis … complete with Vancouver’s monorail train passing by overhead!
David got his start on Stargate SG-1 in Season Five’s “48 Hours,” where fans were introduced to the arrogant but lovable Dr. Rodney McKay, a brilliant astrophysicist with a serious aversion to citrus. Starting July 16, welcome David and McKay into your home every Friday night on Stargate Atlantis — if you dare!
David talks about landing the role of Dr. McKay back in SG-1‘s fifth season, making the leap to being a regular on the spin-off show, and his fellow cast members. It does include minor spoilers for the Season One Atlantis episode “Hide and Seek.”
This interview is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, as well as transcribed below! The audio version is about 19 minutes long.
GateWorld: Your first appearance on Stargate was in Season Five’s “48 Hours.” You were really an antagonist in that for Amanda Tapping’s character. You came back in the Season Six opener, “Redemption.” You were kind of a little bit more redeemed, more of a protagonist. And now you’re a regular on Atlantis! So tell us how you made this switch from the antagonist to one of the heroes.
David Hewlett: I’m not sure it’s that much of a change — I mean McKay is still definitely McKay. He’s still rather prickly and a little bit condescending of the rest of the — of the world, for that matter. He always believes he’s right about everything; unfortunately, he generally tends to be. But, yes — and he just has a few more people to flirt with now. His goal now is to try to date the planet, you know, as opposed to — or I should say the Pegasus galaxy now. He sees it as his singles’ bar.
GW: McKay wasn’t originally going to be in Atlantis.
GW: How did that come about? How was the change was made? Did you approach the producers, or did they decide this needs to be McKay, and come to you?
DH: Well, I think it was — most of it went along sort of without me knowing. I’d certainly heard about the fact that there was going to be an Atlantis spin-off series to compliment SG-1. And so I’d heard rumors about — someone had mentioned that they might be interested in bringing McKay back. Then there were some other discussions and some other characters …
Originally, actually, the episode that we started with, the pilot of — the two, the sort of double pilot episode — the character was Ingram. So for a long time, even with signs and stuff, we kept getting signs with Ingram. So, you know, I had to figure out what I was saying, when I was saying — it often had the wrong name attached to it. So it was quite a last-minute change.
I think the big thing was they were trying to get a — this is an international mission, they wanted a nice mix from all over the world, and wanted that representative. And it was just a matter of who’s going to be from where.
GW: So McKay’s from Canada …
DH: McKay’s from Canada, yeah! Sort of a dubious honor for Canada! The Canadians, I’m not sure how amused they are about the fact that Canada’s being represented by this rather obnoxious scientist. But this is the thing. I think the thing with Atlantis, the advantage that we have with Atlantis, or that McKay has with Atlantis that he didn’t have with SG-1 is that it does fall on the shoulders of this crew to solve the problems.
GW: So the 2-hour pilot, “Rising” — were there a lot of rewrites done to bring McKay out, or did you have to work McKay into that?
DH: Yeah, I mean pilots are always really difficult because you’ve got so many characters to establish and so much information to provide to the audience. Again, the advantage with going from SG-1 to Stargate Atlantis is that a lot of that background stuff that — the fans are already going to know that. The people who are watching Atlantis are going to know what’s going on. And what’s nice about Atlantis is that we’re hopefully going to bring in new people, as well. So they can start with our team and see where we’re going.
There were definitely some changes made from the script that I read originally. Because I actually ended up auditioning for the role when it was Ingram. So I actually came in and read as Ingram, thinking, “Oh, it’s too bad this isn’t McKay.” Because McKay was just so much fun to play. And then I know that Robert [Cooper] was — obviously Robert was the one who originally brought McKay into Stargate, with “48 Hours.” And I know that he was a big champion for that, and I — the people who we’re working for here are just great, a great bunch. They remember people, and they like to bring people back.
I think it’s also nice because it helps with bridging — you know, those shows where it’s like a sudden, completely different spin-off to a show, which it just seems so obvious that they’re just going, “Oh, well let’s just add the stamp of ‘whatever’ to this new show.” This is something that has developed out of SG-1. The stories intertwine, the characters intertwine. We have the same rules to obey; we just have another galaxy to do it in now. So I think it’s a very, very nice complement to the legacy that already exists for SG-1.
GW: Now you’re filming literally next door to Stargate SG-1.
GW: Are there any hopes for cross-overs?
DH: I cross over often and grab food from them. And, you know, leave snide little notes for Amanda, and for Chris and stuff. Anyone who will actually pay attention to me, I’ll try to get them.
GW: Tell us about your fellow cast members. How are they to work with?
DH: They’re a blast — all a blast. Joe has got a wonderful — I think one of the beauties of SG-1 and that I’m definitely seeing coming into play in SG-A, as I’m calling it now — it works well with the Canadian thing: “SG, eh!” — is just this sense of humor about the whole thing. And Joe has this fantastic leading-man look, leading-man looks — which I don’t think is natural. I’m giving him tips on that stuff. But so he’s got this great leading man stuff, but he’s got this great sense of humor about it. It’s very much like Richard [Dean Anderson], with the quirky take on everything.
Torri’s fantastic. Torri has a difficult job of sort of wrangling us all together. She’s in charge, and she makes sure we know it. And so she’s got to balance the whole army vs. science vs. all this various international flavor. Because there’s all sorts of little barbs about where we’re from and our various different accents and backgrounds and all that sort of stuff. So she’s really playing the diplomat in this, which I think will be quite difficult for her character as it goes along. Because there really are so many different personalities going on here.
Then you’ve got Rainbow, who’s like all gung-ho, running around with these P-90 or whatever it is. They’re large weapons! They only let me have one little side-arm, which I tended to just sort of point 10 minutes after everyone else is killed. Whatever’s over there, I’ll spin around having just gotten it out of my holster in time. But apparently McKay has received weapons training: If that doesn’t scare you, then nothing will!
GW: What aspects of this character do you find most fun to play?
DH: Oh! I’m not sure there’s anything I don’t like. The only thing I don’t like is the fact that McKay seems to love these very high-in-protein power bar things. So I’m constantly having to eat them. And there’s really only so many takes you can do eating pure corn glucose syrup, or whatever it is that those things are made of! I seem to constantly be sucking those things back.
Other than that, it’s a joy. It’s amazing. I get to do everything. It’s fantastic. I’m going off-world, I’m running around with guns being chased by these massive, freaky-looking Wraith things. Wait till you see those! Have you seen any of those yet?
DH: Oh! That’s stuff — it’s great. We’ve got these … they look like 10-foot-tall guys running around with these things on their faces. It’s amazing. It’ll be amazing to see. Because they’re all these like, vampire-like Wraiths stomping around the planet with us blowing things up. It’s great. It makes a change, because you know, McKay is normally stuck in the lab looking at the computer, concerned — looking back and forth. Now I get to point guns at things.
GW: Have you had any conversations with the writers over how you might want to see McKay develop, now that we get to see him on screen more?
DH: Well the writers aren’t really allowed anywhere near us. They’re scared, the writers. The writers really have their own little section upstairs, and you’re not supposed to go down there. You’re allowed to throw the odd treat to them once in a while, maybe an M&M or something. But they have their own little corridor.
It’s actually very funny — it’s kind of like walking into a prairie, because you walk down this little hallway and all these little heads come out. They’re all like, “Hmm? Who’s walking down the hallway now?” You have to remind them that they’re supposed to be writing stuff. And they’ll come out and say, “Oh, and you’re going to do this and this!” “Yes, yes, off you go. Go and write it now …”
I’m so out of all the rest of the scripts now. McKay’s going to go looking for a file and never come back now. “Yeah, I thought I saw it in the other room.” Cut to Season Eight: “Yeah, he died! That McKay guy …”
No, they’re great. They’re very open to helping us out with character stuff. I mean, every so often something will come along and they’ll go, “Hey, why am I — this seems more like this fellow rather than me,” or whatever. They’re great; they’ll come down, they’ll talk us through. And they’ve got some great ideas. There’s some I — I cannot wait, you know. Season One already has got some fantastic stuff happening. So I can’t wait to see what’s brewing, you know, for the Pegasus galaxy.
GW: So we got to watch your last shot before lunch. What’s the episode that you’re working on?
DH: The episode we’re working on now is called “Hide and Seek.” Did I get that right? Look at that, see? I’ve got it down already! “Hide and Seek” — we’ve got an entity that has been released into Atlantis, and we are now charged with trying to recapture it and stop it from, well, destroying us, the planet, and anything else it can get its hold on.
And as a sideline, McKay has — I shouldn’t go into too much detail, but McKay has volunteered for some gene therapy that allows him to access Ancient technology. And in doing so he gets himself into a small amount of trouble, which you’ll see comes into play when dealing with this dark entity that we come across.
GW: That’s the green device?
DH: That’s the green device — or, as everyone likes to call it on set, the “turtle broach.” I try to dissuade that as much as possible, in that it makes me invulnerable! But the turtle broach has given me some powers.
So I walk around with magnets on my chest the whole time. Everyone keeps asking whether I’ve got a pacemaker, you know. It’s a little late once the magnets are attached, isn’t it?
GW: Tell us how you first landed the part back in Season Five of SG-1.
DH: This is something you should ask Robert, because I know that he … I think he had seen some stuff that I had done on another show up in Canada, playing an extremely eccentric day-trader — a derivatives fanatic. It was someone who is very, very good at manipulating very obscure, very confusing stock market, stocks and bonds, etc. If the price of wheat goes down in Japan and rice is hit with a tornado then the price of oil will do this. That’s the kind of things he was doing.
I think Robert had seen some of that stuff, and had an idea for a character along the McKay line that would do that. I think that originally he was suppose to be an alien of sorts. And then — I’ll just say again, you should ask Robert about it. But I believe that’s where it came from. I got this call, and they were like, you know, “Come up and do an episode of this.” And it was just so much fun, I couldn’t believe it.
And I’m a big sci-fi geek myself, so I tend to — I’m like a huge William Gibson fan, and of course all the “Star Wars” and the Star Trek. And I just love that stuff. Dr. Who was a big thing for me. So I love all this going through — I love this whole Stargate stuff, because it’s very reminiscent of growing up and loving the TARDIS, you know, when you get to show up on different worlds. They all still have English accents, and, you know, solving things that way.
GW: Were you familiar with Stargate?
DH: I was, yeah. I mean it wasn’t something that I would watch regularly, but it was definitely — the great thing about Stargate which I always forget is, because again we don’t get to see it so much, are the effects. I’d often find myself flipping around the channels and suddenly go, “Oh, cool! What’s that? Oh, Stargate! Cool!” And then you end up watching the show because of — because you’ve just seen something, some huge vessel explode, and you’re flying through space or something. That’s the geek side of me, definitely catches that every time. So, definitely, yeah, I’d been watching. I’d been watching.
GW: I think it’s safe to say that McKay has been a favorite character with Stargate fans, ever since Season Five, despite calling Carter a “dumb blonde.”
DH: (Laughter) I’ll never live that down!
GW: Have you thought about doing appearances at conventions, meeting fans?
DH: Yeah, I’ve — it’s been mentioned. I don’t know much about it. I’m very new to this. I did a bit of it for Kung Fu, when I was doing that show. But I came into that at a very sort of late date and the other actors seemed to like them.
I look forward to it. It’ll be interesting to meet the people and see what they make of the stuff. And it’s nice to talk to — it’s nice to hear what — I mean, I think it’s important to know what the people who are watching the show think about stuff. The good and the bad. I prefer to hear the good! If you want to come tell me good things, sure! Bad things they can write in letters and send to other people.
But yeah, I’m looking forward to that kind of stuff. As I said, I don’t know much about it. So I’m sure I will learn. Every time I see the SG-1 guys I ask their advice on various different things. They always sort of smile, smile with that kind of knowing grin.
GW: You can always check the Internet to see what fans are saying!
DH: That’s it! Yeah, I’m always scared to do that. That’s true.
GW: As long as they don’t know you’re there. So they’ll say anything.
DH: Yeah, I don’t know if I want that! I think I’d rather they’d know I was there, and then they could be polite! Although, I mean, again, that’s the great part about playing McKay is that part of his likeability is how unlikable he is. He’s one of those people who it’s fun to hate. Or I hope it is, anyways! I have fun hating him.
And he has some of the most complicated dialog there is to speak. You try saying — what was it today? It was — I can’t remember it already. “Negligible naquadah.” Try that in the same sentence! That’s what I had to do in front of my family while they were visiting.
GW: So at this moment, Stargate Atlantis is a show that nobody in the world has ever seen. How would you like viewers to approach the show when it finally airs in July — both those who have never seen Stargate before, and those who are, you know, the hardcore fans?
DH: How to approach it … oh, my God. Very, very carefully, and with a lot of friends! How’s that? I think they should watch it in large stadiums, with as many people as they know. And they should write lots of letters about how great that McKay fellow is.
I think that’s something — I think it’s just, keep an open mind. You’ve got — SG-1 has established a fantastic sort of history for this stuff. We are in no ways trying to replace that. We are a compliment to that.
Yeah, I think it’s — I think what’s great is that you can come into this show brand new, and I think you’ll — there’s a lot of characters and a lot of storylines to explore. And there’s also a lot of great references back to the old show, as well. So I say as long as people do approach it, then there’s no such thing as a bad approach to how to watch this.
GW: Last question: Are you anything like your character?
DH: I have no idea what you’re talking about! People always say it’s very difficult to play dumb; I find it very difficult to play smart. So, you know, there’s an intelligent factor that I would love to have that McKay has that I’m not sure I would have, given the things that he’s faced with. But, yeah — it’s just aspects of — I think it’s all just aspects of your own personality that you bring into your character, which I think is the strength of all of these characters — it’s certainly the strength of SG-1 — is that you get these great insights into the personalities, not only of the characters but also of the people who are playing it.
I think that’s what makes their characters so real is that you’re seeing wonderful personality traits that come out in all of the scenes, no matter how much techno-babble there is, or science fiction, or technology to talk about, or whatever there is. You can always expect to see some kind of little flash of what the characters are like and what’s going on, both in their personal lives and in their personalities and stuff.
So I think that’s definitely something that we’re seeing in this show, and it’s great to see. It’s great to see Rainbow just so eager to do things and blow things up and make a difference! And you’ve got Weir trying to keep everyone calm, and trying to keep everyone from each other’s throats. And you’ve got Joe, who just really didn’t want to be here in the first place, and it’s that kind of — he’s being dragged onto this mission that he had no intention of being on in the first place. And there’s this wonderful sort of reluctant hero happening there.
And you’ve got the lovely Teyla. Yes! Our Athonian. I just saw her practicing all of her — for want of a better word — stick fighting. Luckily, the most dangerous thing McKay gets is like a donut once in a while. But she’s out there whipping this stick around. So that’s going to be neat to see. And, again, there’s a character who’s learning the culture of Earth — in an environment which is foreign both to the Earthlings and to herself and her people.
There’s a lot of great stuff going on. You know, most of it’s McKay stuff … but somewhere in the background apparently other people have lines as well.