A veteran sci-fi star, David has previously filmed episodes of The X-Files, Andromeda, and First Wave. In fact, David spoke with us during his time off from shooting with Morgan Freeman in the upcoming movie Edison, also starring Kevin Spacey and Stargate veteran Andrew Jackson (Per’sus).
In this first segment, David discusses the similarities and differences in portraying Anubis and Sokar, and we try to nail down a couple of rumors that have been floating around for a few years. He also expresses his gratitude to the creators of Stargate SG-1 for his memorable characters.
GateWorld’s interview with David is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, as well as transcribed below! The audio version is about 20 minutes long. Be sure to take time to check out David’s official Web site at DavidPalffy.com!
GateWorld: This is David Read for GateWorld.net talking with David Palffy, SG-1‘s Anubis. How are you doing, David?
David Palffy: Very good. How are you doing?
GW: I am doing great! Thanks for taking time to chat with us.
DP: My pleasure.
GW: Are the two Goa’uld lords you have played unique in any ways to other characters that you have ever done?
DP: Well, both Sokar and Anubis, David, are unique, I suppose, because they’re both villains who, from my point of view, they lust for personal power regardless of the consequences of their actions — what their actions have toward any alien race including their fellow Goa’uld brethren. What these two gods, they live by — like so many other Goa’ulds — they live by vanquishing those who oppose them for fear that they will someday — they may be vanquished themselves. Now, this seems to be a trait among the Goa’uld, probably stemming from their desperation to survive as a race, but undoubtedly will probably lead to their demise. Because the fact is each one of them is out for their own personal gain.
Now comparatively speaking with other aliens or villains I’ve played, they’ve been driven by revenge or love. And of course, you know, with both Sokar and Anubis, there’s not an ounce of love in any of those people. But sometimes when you are playing villains who are driven more by what we would consider more humanly motivation, it sometimes becomes more complicated to play because of the interpersonal relationships that have been woven into the fabric of these characters.
Now both Sokar and Anubis don’t really have these kind of relationships. They’re not seeming to have a series of personal relationships with others that pose a problem for them in making decisions over matters that define them in what we would call humans. And as a result they are not restrained or effected by human emotion or the morality of, let’s say, annihilating an entire race simply with the wave of a gloved hand as with Anubis, or Sokar’s penetrating glance. Because I find in playing these kind of villains that are kind of bigger than life, you always try to find one particular characteristic that sets them apart from each other.
And these characters, of course, are fun to play because they are — they’re bigger than life. What’s nice about them: there is a sense of grandeur when playing them because the situation created by the writing basically demands that of you, the actor, and as a result of the character — but basically because you’re not dealing with these bad-assed street punks in a city turf war. They’re more like intergalactic samurai who have basically outgrown their city neighborhood, right?
But, yeah, I suppose because they are set apart, because it appears that both Sokar and Anubis are seemingly very straight-forward gods in the sense that they don’t have a conscience about what they do. Comparatively speaking, with other villains I’ve played there is a sense of a conscience. They’ve had a certain human quality about them. But as I said, with both Sokar and Anubis — and especially Anubis, because Anubis basically is just displaced energy. He’s just energy that’s floating inside this cloak, this veil, which, you know, makes him anything but what he is. He’s just — I would say he’s evil incarnate.
GW: Yeah, he has every reason to believe he’s a higher life form.
DP: Yeah, absolutely! And because, I mean, he doesn’t really have a human form. Whose to say what is lurking underneath there? That’s a question that’s often posed to me. “What is underneath that cloak?” Well, the answer to that is you could say a lot of things. I mean the main thing is that — of course he could be wearing women’s underwear, as far as we know. But I mean I can say for sure that he actually isn’t. But it’s funny because when you motivate these kind of characters you have to find a reason why — obviously for yourself as an actor — why they are, even though they might come across like Anubis does as being sort of very singular in his way of thinking, in his actions. There’s no gray area, especially with Sokar or Anubis. They’re very menacing characters who prey upon the fear of others. If they’re disappointed by somebody in action, they just do away with them.
GW: Right. When we interview an actor or actress who has portrayed a Goa’uld, we always enjoy hearing the response to this question. How did you prepare yourself to play a god, and how did you take that to the scene?
DP: Well, Dave, the preparation I suppose in playing a god is the same I suppose in playing anybody, in any role I take on. Even though with the gods there’s a sense of heightened reality that demands a slight reliance on the voice, articulation, body movement, that you have to be aware of. But not to the extent of these kind of externals, which I may say get in the way of what your emotional directives are. The only thing is you first, like anything, you go at it from the emotional perspective objective was why — you try to give it justification, emotionally — why they do what they do.
And then of course, in that, because they are, as I said, characters of heightened reality, you can afford to add a walk or a way that they look. Because they thing is you’re dealing with aliens. And I find that who’s to say —
The fun is finding a certain attribute with them that you can put on what’s called an external — a hand movement, the way they look — that sets them apart from the human race. Even though, yes, a lot of the gods have penetrated human form, but the thing is I find there’s something interesting if you can find something non-human about the way they move. But I think that’s basically the difference. I mean, it’s basically: you treat it the same as anything, except with playing with these gods you’re able to add that extra external onto playing the character.
GW: GateWorld reader Moriah would like to know how you got involved with Stargate.
DP: I got involved with Stargate like most actors, via the audition process You know in casting for actors to portray various roles that they’re introducing. Sometimes, of course, you get lucky and you score a character that may appear seemingly insignificant at first glance or grows into something of substance like Sokar, for example. You know, sometimes they call you in for an audition it’s half a dozen lines and seems a very simple character. But after you get the audition and they give you the job, and then of course they introduce you to the concept of that they had behind this character and what they would like to see. And then all of the sudden it grows into something more than you initially had perceived.
So that’s basically like so many actors, David, that’s also my introduction also to Stargate, via the audition situation.
GW: Did you perform the voice of Sokar in “Serpent’s Song?”
DP: You know, it’s interesting, that question. It’s funny because in doing Sokar, I did what’s called ADR in post production for some lines in some of the other episodes, and I’m sure “Serpent’s Song” was one of them. Though I can’t, to be honest, say for sure. But again, they don’t — you know, if they hire you as the actor and you are playing Sokar, they’re not going to hire somebody else to do the voice, even if it’s a voice-over or something they’ll hire you to do it.
GW: So, basically when you get the part you’ve got it for good.
DP: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, just like Anubis. The funny thing with Anubis is, you know, it appears that anybody can be underneath that cloak. My mother could be there playing that, and you just get somebody with the male voice to say the lines. And of course they flange it, and as a result some of the finer inflections are kind of washed over. As a result anybody can be underneath that cloak, but the good thing about that show is when they hire you for playing that character, regardless of the demands — whether it is simply a voice-over — they get you to come in and do it. Like I said, when they flange the voice, again, depending on how deep that flange is, basically anybody could being doing it.
GW: So, basically, they like to keep authenticity with the characters and to make it true.
DP: Yeah, I mean, because the thing is — it’s like anything. After you’re given the role, initially it always starts with the writer’s idea. And then the writer gets it into script form, and then it’s the director initially who works with you a little bit off the top to kind of give you a conceptual idea of what they want in mind in relation to the rest of the show. But after you start doing it, after your first episode, second episode, basically you take over. It’s no longer — the writer has given you the seed, but you now take over the character, and it becomes yours. And as time goes on, the more episodes you do, the more it becomes yours and the less it is theirs, if you understand.
And then as a result, they start writing certain things around, also, what you do, which gives them ideas. So again, it’s funny, it’s like a symbiotic sort of relationship which develops, which is kind of a journey in itself. And it’s a creative journey which is built on trust. You trust what the writer is giving you and the writer has to trust what you’re doing with it. And of course the director does that too, and then the writer is kind of the go-between.
GW: So basically you start following their lead and then as the character moves on they begin to follow you.
DP: Well yeah, to some extent. But you know, I see it more as — I suppose it is like that. But then again there you’re never without the creativeness as the actor. It’s a gentle leading of what’s — for example, an episode happens where the writing somehow doesn’t quite suit the situation. And you, as the actor, you come up with the answer to that. And, of course, it’s built on a trust factor. They will trust you to, if it needs to be changed, to change that, to make it work.
And of course, the director or producer, they’re watching you to make sure. I mean they’ll have the final say regardless of what you do. But as time goes on they are going to trust you more and more with coming up with the right choice, if it is necessary. But for the most part with Stargate everything is very organized. There’s little to do with really changing the dialogue — and especially when it does come to someone like Anubis, because he is a god of very little word, and big actions. That’s what he is about. He doesn’t say very much, but it’s what the response is behind what he says is what’s important. And that’s kind of one of the keys to playing somebody like that.
Of course, as an actor, you’re always anxious to get lots of dialogue. But for a character like him, where you’re just looking at a void, basically a void under a hood, and there are no noticeable voice inflections because of the flange, and there are no noticeable facial gestures or eye-glances — things for you, as an audience, to hold onto while the words are being spoken. You easily can fall in the trap of just listening to something that just eventually has no weight behind it.
What I’m basically saying is that characters like that can be given too much to say. That’s why, for example, like Sokar, he can get away with saying more because of the fact is you can do more with your face to underplay things.
GW: Right — with his presence and the candles and everything. You appeared as him (Sokar) in two episodes, “Jolinar’s Memories” and “The Devil You Know”, and then he got blown away! Did you feel he would return?
DP: Yeah, David. For the longest time I hoped, and of course I hoped in vain. And it was nice that Michael [Greenburg] and some of the other creators, Peter DeLuise — as a result of killing him off when they did, they found that they were a bit disappointed that Sokar had not lived longer. And I think, also, I too was so disappointed because he was a very enjoyable character to play, and I think that he had great, great potential, that character, of being a really sort-of colorful god to play.
And, of course, in the back of my mind for the longest time after we had shot those episodes there was hope, yes, that he would come back. And of course there were murmurs, rumors that he may be coming back. So you hold onto those so-to-speak “rumors” for a while, but eventually you have to let them go because, that’s what they are — they’re just rumors. All those decisions, as I mentioned, are up to the writers, and there’s no sense in second-guessing what the writers feel they want do with a character or characters.
GW: Well, in a few ways, he did come back. His spirit formed into what made Anubis, especially with you behind the wheel.
DP: I was very lucky with that, because I know a part of that — when you end up playing another character in a show, especially like Stargate, I suppose it comes from decisions either made by Michael Greenburg or Peter DeLuise, where they’ve seen something in Sokar that they felt was useful, or could be usable for Anubis. And I think that’s one of the things that helped me get Anubis, because I suppose with Sokar, with both playing Sokar and Anubis requires a quality of menace that is conveyed through stillness. Being evil is kind of easy, but the strength of that power is found in how you kind of communicate that evil.
See, regardless of the reason, though, I must say that I’m grateful to Michael and Peter DeLuise, also to Martin Wood and John Smith and the rest of the executive staff at Stargate because I’ve enjoyed the journey with both characters. And I must say I’m grateful to those who created the show. You never know the length or how many episodes you’re going to end up playing on the show, because as you know, especially with Sci-Fi, one moment you’re alive and the next moment you’re dead, and the next moment you have a rebirth! So it keeps you guessing.