Beware of SPOILERS for all of Baal’s appearances up through SG-1 Season Eight’s “Reckoning, Part 2” in this interview!
When someone mentions Stargate SG-1 and its long list of villains, Cliff Simon‘s nefarious Baal is not far behind. The South Africa-born actor has become a hallmark of the show’s mythology. Making his first appearance in Season Five’s “Summit,” Cliff proved his acting ability and was selected as the only one of the many new System Lords introduced in that episode to make multiple return appearances.
GateWorld is proud to bring you this exclusive conversation with Baal’s namesake, who shares his thoughts on his most recent appearances in Season Eight (“Reckoning” parts One and Two, as well as “Threads”), tells us about his first convention, and reveals how Baal narrowly averted a very different fate.
GateWorld’s audio interview with Cliff is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 33 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. When you’re done, be sure to visit Cliff’s official Web site!
GateWorld: This is David Read for GateWorld.net. I’m on the phone with Mr. Cliff Simon, the one, the only, Baal. Cliff, it is great to have you with us.
Cliff Simon: Thank you. Good to be with you guys.
GW: How aware were you of Stargate before becoming Baal?
CS: Well, obviously I knew Richard Dean Anderson through his acting. I’d always liked him as an actor. I’d never met him. I grew up watching MacGyver so it was really good to work with him. I knew of the show. I hadn’t really seen it before I came out to the United States five years ago. South Africa used to get it, but very occasionally. We never really go the full seasons so I never really watched it too much.
But I loved the movie. I loved the original movie with Kurt Russell.
GW: Great. Not a lot of fans know that you were the first-ever Mr. South Africa. Can you tell us about that?
CS: Sure. South Africa decided to run a competition called “Mr. South Africa” which was not a body-building competition, it was more of an action-man talent competition. At that time I was modeling full-time and I was sort of pushed into entering saying, “No, you’ve got to enter, you’ve got to enter! You’ve got a good chance to win.” Because I used to do a lot of big screen kind of stuff.
So I entered and you sort of go through different phases of the competition. And they had one or two competitions before that which they didn’t call “Mr. So-and-So” from whatever various area, and then they decided to do an official “Mr. South Africa.” And I won it. It was a really good competition. There were some really good guys. Sort of the talent part of it — some guys would dance, some would sing. Others would do gymnastics, like me, whatever your talent was. And I won it. It was great.
It was really good prizes. The main reason I wanted to enter that time was part of the prize was an audition with the top television show in South Africa, which I really wanted to get. I didn’t even worry about the cash prizes or anything else that was going on. All I wanted was that audition. And what they did — I think they took about 15 of us, the finalists, and they auditioned all of us for the show. This was before the actual show was held.
They wanted to see who else was in the competition, so they didn’t know who was going to win it at that stage. And already at that stage they had broken it down to three of us that they would like the audition, and then I happened to win. I met with the producer and I explained to him, “This is the direction I’ve been heading in. I’m studying drama. I want to act full-time. I don’t want to go on some show as a walk-on or a small, one-day part.” So he said, “Fine, carry on with your drama and your drama coach will let us know when you’re ready to join the show.”
And I went up for the show for about three months. I said to them, “I’m not worried about the money. Pay me the minimum but I want to be seen as much as possible.”
If I demanded a lot of money they would’ve put me on one episode a week which wasn’t enough, so I ended up doing about three episodes a week on that show, and then after three months they offered me a full-time contract. And then I became a permanent cast member and stayed on the show for six years, and that was amazing. That was really good.
As an actor you want to work every day, and I worked every day, so that was my full time job. It was really good — really, really good training. So that was the main reason I entered for “Mr. South Africa.” So it was really good. A lot of people remembered me and they still remember me today because of the television show. I didn’t just fade to black, straight off from “Mr. South Africa.” I was on the show and became very popular on the show. So people still remember me to this day.
GW: So that’s really great that you won that. That just opened a lot of doors.
CS: Yeah, it did.
GW: You said that you were a fan of the original Stargate film. Are there any other science fiction genres that you’re particularly attached to?
CS: You know what, I’m actually enjoying — I’ve started watching the new Battlestar Galactica. I love Ed Olmos. He’s a great actor. I’ve always liked him as an actor and I’ve watched a couple of episodes so far and I think it’s a great show. I would love to get on to that show. I’ve never been a huge sci-fi fan as far as viewing them, but I think it’s a good show, and especially these days with the effects and the technical side of it is so amazing.
That’s what I enjoy. That’s why I enjoy watching Stargate, and I will always watch myself when I’m on, because I enjoy seeing the technical side of the special effects, the camera work, the lighting and all that kind of thing. It’s certainly different, obviously, when you’re shooting, so it’s quite interesting as an actor to watch the end product.
GW: Right, exactly. And sci-fi just announced that they’re doing a 20-episode second season, so that’s even better for you! [Laughter]
CS: I hope so! I hope so.
GW: How did you prepare yourself to play a god and how did you take that to the scenes that you were in?
CS: The first episodes I went into Stargate I left it completely open. Sometimes as an actor you have to keep a completely open mind and see where the character goes, because a lot of it is up to the writing. If the writing is good it’s going to take you to a certain place, so you can’t precede any ideas about what you would like because it’s also hard to put things in the show.
The first episodes I did [“Summit” and “Last Stand”] when we had all of the meetings, all of the gods in there, I could see the kinds of attitudes as the gods coming through and I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to act tough the whole time and never smile, those kinds of things. I’ve always believed the best bad guy is the bad guy who smiles before he kills you. That makes a very dangerous person.
So if you’re in a room, let’s say right in the beginning with the other gods, and everyone’s trying to act tough — if you go the complete opposite way. There are such things as an actor that you think about and what you try to do, then you stand out a little more, I think. So I didn’t really have any ideas going into it. I just saw where it would lead me and who I would be working with, and the writing.
And I must say, as far as “Reckoning,” I did watch it last night and I thought that that’s definitely the best work so far that I’ve been doing on Stargate — and next week is even better.
GW: Right. Oh, yes. A big purpose behind the System Lord summit in Season Five was to unearth the threat of Anubis, but also to find some new Goa’uld lords that worked really well. What was it about your performance that you believe nailed you for this role? I mean the voice is a killer, obviously, but what else about your performance nailed you for the part, do you think?
CS: I think it’s very important as a System Lord, I think that look is very important as well, and it’s a look in the eyes. Television is very close up on you, and it’s very personal. You’re going into people’s living rooms every night. A lot of it is in the eyes. I think that’s what they liked about me is that I have a sort of an edge, as opposed to just being “bad.”
In the episode of “Reckoning” last night, some people can see that I’m looking at Anubis as if he’s not a threat to me at all. And I think that came across a little bit. I want that to come across and I’ve sort of had free reign on what I could do, and I think they haven’t had a System Lord like me before. I don’t know. It’s strange.
I look at the other System Lords. They’re very, very good with what they do. I don’t know. There’s something different about my character and it’s definitely to do with the writing as well. They’re writing very, very nice scenes for me which I’m very happy about, and I don’t think Baal’s full potential has been seen. You’ve never seen him kill anybody. You’ve always heard about Baal being this big bad guy and killing off millions of people — but you’ve never seen it. And I like that because it keeps an air of mystery about it. And I think the writers have specifically done that.
So when the day comes when you actually see some blood and guts I think it’s going to be quite hectic. But yeah, I think Baal is just a different type of character and I think he’s also a little bit more human than the other System Lords.
GW: Is that what you find appealing about him? His humanity?
CS: Yeah, definitely.
GW: And he really is the only one who has actually gotten under O’Neill’s fingernails as well.
CS: Yes. He’s the only one that irritates O’Neill, and I think now more so since he’s got the power to just appear in the Stargate room without being invited. He can break through all their security and just appear there as a hologram, which has really freaked him out because they know that his power is growing. He’s actually taken a lot of power from Anubis, because I think Anubis was the only one who could do that before. Now Baal can.
And looking at the show last night, there’s a weird kind of love-hate relationship between him and O’Neill, which could actually go the other way — which would be great if we actually worked together against some other bad entity, which is the way I’d like it to go. I think O’Neill and Baal could actually get on very well because they both are the same type of personality, if you think of it like that.
GW: Well, despite the fact that Baal murdered him countless times, you think it would get to that point?
CS: Exactly, it could.
GW: [Laughter] One of our forum members would like to know: How does it feel to be seen as one of the sexiest villains on Stargate?
CS: [Laughter] Well, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve heard that and I have seen some of the people — on my Web site, you know, people write into the Web site. Obviously it feels good. I think Baal should be sexy in a way, and he should be sexy in a way that guys would like to have his power and girls would like to be with him. If you can get that across, I think you have a winner.
It’s not that I try to be sexy or act sexy. I wouldn’t know how to do that. But it’s just the way it’s come across. It maybe my looks. But it’s nice to know, you know? It’s good to know.
GW: You’ve had the most incredible costumes. How do you feel about them?
CS: You know, that is a huge part. I was actually watching the show with some friends last night and they’ve never seen the show before. They said, “Wow, your outfit is amazing.”
When I first arrived for my first episodes of Stargate, and they gave me this outfit, even the crew and the people who work at Stargate behind the scenes were like, “Wow, you have got the most amazing outfits for the show, the most amazing costumes.” And I’ll tell you something — when I put on those costumes, especially the one I was wearing in “Reckoning,” I really become Baal. You just feel like a god, actually.
You can’t really see the whole costume. I had these amazing boots that go right up to the knees, beautiful, soft leather. I put those on and you do feel amazing. I’m happy about that. That’s another reason why I like the character so much is that his outfits are really cool.
GW: Joseph Mallozzi was so taken with your first outfit he actually wore it to a Stargate convention!
CS: I heard that! I read about that, yeah. That’s pretty amazing. And that goes with the whole look thing that is appealing.
GW: Right. What is your most poignant memory from the past three years of working on this show?
CS: It’s really great to work on the show every time I go up there, but as far as memories … I think the laughs that we’ve had. Everybody is so relaxed when we film.
Even when shooting on “Reckoning,” the one scene, if you remember last night when I was waiting for O’Neill and he wasn’t arriving. We were waiting and one of the three guys standing down in the Stargate room was actually Peter [Martin] Wood, one of the directors. He’s a very, very funny guy. He’s a great guy. He directed me right in the beginning of Stargate for quite a few episodes. He is just the funniest guy, and he just made me laugh. While we were standing there, everything was “action,” everything was “go.” I would just burst out laughing at him.
Those are the kind of things that I love and those are the kind of things that I remember in shows, because it eases a lot of tension. You know, there’s a lot of dialogue. You are under a lot of pressure, but that eases tension. I’d say the laughs from the fun we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of fun on that show and I hope to do more.
GW: Definitely. And with Season Nine now announced that’s almost in the hole right there.
GW: What did you think of “Abyss” when you first heard about it or got your first pages of it?
CS: I loved it because I don’t think O’Neill has been tortured before. And I sort of found out a little bit of the background. I had to go into the background of what’s gone on before I got there, who’s done what to who, and that kind of thing. So I was really excited to do that episode and to work directly, one-on-one with O’Neill, with Richard.
It was really great to work with him and I was excited to do that episode simply because there were a lot of effects in it. And it took a long time to do that episode. I think I was up there for two weeks just on the one episode. It was a lot of work and he was great to work with. And after doing the previous episodes which wasn’t really much, it was more of just introducing Baal to the viewers. That was the first good work that I was doing on the show and that was great.
GW: It’s my understanding that Dan Shea stood in for a lot of Richard’s time in the torture chamber. Is that true?
CS: Not actually Dan, his other stand-in. Unfortunately I don’t remember his name. He’s a very nice guy. Richard unfortunately had to leave for some other work that he had and he couldn’t be there, so I’d say about 80 percent of that I shot with the stand-in, which is very, very difficult in a way.
Let’s say they’re shooting on me and I’m working with an actor who’s reading off a script. He’s not giving me anything. I have to come up with all of the emotions and all the reactions when he’s not giving me anything to react to. So it was a lot of pressure on me and everyone, at the end of that episode, actually congratulated me and said, “Good job.” They understood how hard that was.
So there was a lot of pressure on me. I’d be sitting in my hotel room thinking, “Man, how am I going to do this? How am I going to do this?” It’s basically working with a wall. Not to be rude to the stand-in, but he’ll understand how it is. As an actor, acting is reacting. If you don’t have somebody to react to, it’s very hard to act. [It’s like] standing in your own living room reading the script and trying to get all the emotion as real as possible. You have to have somebody giving you reason to have those emotions.
GW: Did you feel that “Abyss” might be your final performance?
CS: No, no. I felt that “Reckoning” might be my final performance because I knew, in a way, that everything was coming to a head. There was a lot of rewriting on “Reckoning.” I think they were also not sure of what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go with it, and also whether there was going to be another season.
So everything could’ve come to a head, and even if they went for another season I could easily have died in “Reckoning.” Anubis could easily have wiped me out — but that doesn’t happen, luckily. So yeah, I think “Reckoning” was the closest where I actually thought that was coming to a head and that would be the end of Baal.
GW: How did you feel about only appearing on-screen in Season Seven’s “Homecoming,” only through a communications screen? Because a lot of fans were disappointed that that was your only appearance in Season Seven.
CS: Yeah, I was, too. They’ll let me know, “OK, Cliff, you’re working in March.” They say, “You have a contract,” and that kind of thing. And then you receive the script and you see there’s only a scene where you’re a hologram or you’re on the screen.
And it’s a little disappointing. But I always say, “There’s no small part. There’s only small actors.” Even if you’re on the screen for five seconds, if you make an impact in that five seconds, people will remember you. You can go through a whole episode, as an actor, very weak and insipid and it’s not going to be anything. So all I hope for at that stage is that the writing is good and I can spend a minute on screen doing something good and something that people will remember, but unfortunately that’s out of our hands.
But yeah, obviously as an actor I want to work as much as possible and have an arc of a story, because it’s very hard to go in and just do one or two scenes that don’t really mean anything. But I don’t think Baal ever is a fill-in. There’s always a reason why he appears — he links stories together or anything like that. It was a bit disappointing. I’d like to do more work with him, but it’s just one of those things that’s out of my hands.
GW: And I think that because Season Seven was not the end I think that really was an affirmation, not only to the fans, but to you as well that there was more to come.
CS: Yeah, yeah.
GW: Are you pleased with the character’s development this year?
CS: Yes, I’m very pleased. It’s exactly the way I wanted to go. That’s why I was excited to see “Reckoning” because Peter DeLuise and myself sat down for a long time. And I explained to him where I wanted the character to go and he was totally open to it.
That’s one of the nice things about playing a bad guy is that you have a lot of freedom to take him in the direction you want to take him, and also you have to bring a lot of your own personality into it. Playing a bad guy is like the bad side of your personality. We’re very lucky as actors to be able to play that out without getting into trouble!
GW: So it sounds like you really had a lot of input in terms of where Baal was going to go.
CS: Yes. Well, in a way. I spoke with Peter and I said, “Look, Peter, this is what I want to do. I want Baal to have a few more human qualities. I want him to be angry, I want him to smile, I want him to be happy. I want him to be … whatever. I don’t just want him to be mean the whole time, because that’s boring as far as I’m concerned.”
You know, you look at Al Pacino playing a bad guy role. You actually like him, and at the end of the movie you’re rooting for him. Even though he’s a bad guy you want him to win. And that’s actually what I’d like to get Baal, that’s the state I’d like to get him to. I’d like people to think, “You know, I want Baal to go and kill them. That’s going to be so cool!”
GW: “I don’t like them, either!”
CS: Yeah. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, kill Baal! He’s horrible! He’s nasty and bad.”
So I’m very happy with it. I did have a lot of input and it was great that they let me play it to a degree that I wanted to play him.
GW: Last time we spoke you said that you were pleased with “Reckoning” and that you injected a little bit of humanity into him … and I think I found a couple of the moments. In Part One when you turn from Anubis and roll your eyes — that was a killer.
CS: Yep. Yep.
GW: And in Part Two when they ask if you know what you’re doing with the weapon and you say, “Well, I am a god!” Were there any other moments?
CS: Well, Part Two I haven’t seen yet. It hasn’t aired here — it’s only airing next week. So I don’t really remember too much about that. I’m remembering as it’s going on. But the main part, yeah, was in Part One when I was with Anubis. And I think it came across that I was looking at him, I wasn’t afraid of him. I could’ve killed him just as easily as he could’ve killed me but we chose not to. I just wanted it to come across that Baal has no fear of Anubis.
GW: Were you surprised to find him working for Anubis once again?
CS: I was. It felt pretty sudden because we’d had no interaction at all. Well, Anubis had disappeared — everyone thought he was dead. So I just think the way it happened was a little too sudden. There was no background to it about how we got together again. How did we find each other or that kind of thing? But it was strange. Baal hasn’t been with Anubis before, physically.
But it was pretty cool to do it because I think it also came across that it was carrying on. It was, “OK, he’s back now, so let’s see what he wants. And then he’s getting a new body and he’s going to be all big and strong and powerful again. It was pretty cool because I thought it was two huge egos coming together. Baal has a huge ego and so does Anubis. And they both think that they’re the supreme being, and I just hope that it works out that Baal is the supreme being!
GW: I’ve never been able to picture Baal as a yes-man. What do you believe happened that made Baal submissive? Did Anubis offer him an ultimatum after taking over his fleet, or where did that come from?
CS: You know what? The reason why Baal was like that is because he has his own agenda, and he has to do, to a certain degree, what Anubis wants, because he doesn’t want Anubis to suspect that he’s trying to take over everything. He doesn’t want to clash with Anubis. That’s why he was looking to Anubis and Anubis would say, “Wipe them out,” And he’d, with a half smile, say, “OK, yes.” And that’s when I turned and rolled my eyes a little bit. It’s like, “Yeah right, I’m really going to listen to what you’ve got to say.” And then I’d run to O’Neill and say, “Listen, this is what’s happening. Guess who’s back in town? Let’s sort it out.”
I think that came across because that had to come across, because even when we were on set that day — and I’m glad you brought it up — is that Baal is definitely not subservient to Anubis. And I think that came across in a way. I didn’t want to make it too much because he can’t be disrespectful. But Anubis doesn’t see him being disrespectful. That’s why I had to turn away from him. Do his little thing and show what’s going on in my mind … I’m going to get him somehow.
GW: So he’s kind of biding his time until the right time where he can squash him.
GW: Was it always the plan for Baal to escape at the end of “Reckoning,” or was there a time when he was going to be destroyed?
CS: There was a point when the writers were going to kill him off.
GW: There was?
CS: Yeah, there was.
CS: The reason why they didn’t kill him off, I’m not exactly sure. I can only think that they had future plans for some Season Nine storylines. I think they realized that Baal is quite a popular character, so why kill him off? Even though I think they’re going to be introducing some more bad guys, it’s taken a long time for Baal to get to the place he’s got to, and it’s a bit of a waste of a character to kill him off like that — even though it is sci-fi and he could come back as something else, maybe.
But yeah, there was a point that they did kill him off. And it was all rewritten because it just didn’t make sense. I think we had, like, three or four rewrites on that script.
GW: Wow. What are your feelings for Season Nine?
CS: You know, at the moment I actually have no idea. I don’t know when I’m going back yet. I haven’t been told anything. I just hope there’s space for Baal in Season Nine. That’s up to the viewers. Tell them you want to see Baal! I can’t really say anything about that because I really don’t know.
I mean, obviously I’m hoping to go back. I love working on the show. If it happens to be the last season I’d like to be there for the last season.
GW: Do you look forward to exploring the relationship that has developed between Baal and Anubis?
CS: Yes. I think it’s very powerful. The scenes that were in “Reckoning, Part 1” last night when Anubis and Baal were in together I think were very good. I think there was a lot of mystery around it because they’re two foes and they could both kill each other very easily and they didn’t. And I think there’s a big reason why they didn’t, so I hope that reason comes out.
GW: In the scope of the entire series, is there anything about the character you wish could’ve changed or you wish was done differently? Or do you think it has come right where it should be?
CS: No, I think it’s right where it should be. I think nothing else should’ve been different. I did suggest to them once that I think we should have some kind of love scene.
GW: Oh, really?
CS: Yeah! [Laughter] I actually suggested to them, why doesn’t Baal have a love scene with Osiris? “Well, Cliff, write this and let’s see how it works!” I don’t know if you ever saw “Species” the movie, when there was a love scene between the two entities they turn into what they really are. And to me that scene was such an amazing scene, because there were these two amazing beings making love in this weird way. They were like these huge snakes, or whatever they were.
And I just thought if that could happen on Stargate between Baal and Osiris, even though there’s no male and female, that’s what would make it so interesting. We would both just be these asexual beings in some kind of love scene. Even though she looks like a female and Baal looks like a male, we’re both the same inside. So I just thought that was interesting. So they just said to me, “Well, write it and let’s see” … which I never did. [Laughter]
GW: Well, supposedly Osiris is dead. But that would be definitely an interesting story because maybe Baal has a thing for Osiris’s host.
CS: I think so. Because if you remember with the scenes with Osiris, Baal — and I also played it as, you know she’s a very striking woman. She’s very tall. She has a great body and she’s very sexy. I played it in a way that there was some kind of an attraction. If they could’ve carried that through to something else I would’ve been happy. I mean, it would’ve been a different spin on everything. I don’t think they’ve ever had that in Stargate.
GW: Right. Yeah, that would definitely be an interesting direction to go in.
CS: So I thought I’d plant the seed and see where it goes.
GW: Tell us about your first convention experience.
CS: Ah, Germany. Germany was great! In South Africa I used to do a lot of appearances and a lot of judging, so I’m used to arriving with a lot of people. And generally, the show we were doing in South Africa — we would do what we called a road show. We would travel around the country, all 15 or 20 cast members and base the show on a fashion show. So we would have them in huge — like a football stadium. We would have twenty, thirty thousand people there. When we walked out on the stage you couldn’t even talk to each other on the stage because of the screaming and all that.
I’d experienced that and that was amazing. But a convention is a different type of thing because you’re getting people who are fans of science fiction. It was a very different experience in the way of the people were really interested in what you had to say, and see you as the real person because science fiction is fantasy, whereas the show in South Africa I played was real life, so I was basically playing myself, whereas here I’m playing a character which is totally different.
And it was very interesting. I loved talking to the fans there when we do the panel discussion. They had some very interesting questions …
GW: What did you get asked? Anything that sticks out?
CS: You know, a lot of stuff people wanted to know mostly was what kind of things I enjoy to watch, and also things like exactly what you’ve been asking — what it feels like to play a bad guy on the show. But the people there were really cool.
On the Sunday, which really struck me quite a lot, there were a couple of girls who came up to get autographs and they were crying. And I was like, “Wow, what’s wrong? Are you OK?” They’re like, “Yeah, we’re sad that today’s the last day and you’re going to go.” I just felt so bad for them because I just didn’t know what to do. That made quite an impact on me, that people are — not really dedicated to you, but so supportive of what you do.
GW: Yeah, they care that much about your work.
CS: Yeah, and as an actor that’s so important because without the viewers we wouldn’t have a job. As an actor you need to have people watching you. If you don’t have people watching you, you’re not an actor. So that’s very, very important.
So it was an amazing experience from that point of view. I’ve had quite a few letters from London that people want to see me in London, so I’m really hoping I can get to the U.K. and do as many conventions as possible. And that also just depends on the people who are watching the shows and the more they ask for a character. That’s basically how the conventions are working. If people want to see someone then they’ll try and get that person there.
I always think it’s good because at a lot of the conventions there’s never the bad guys. I always think it’s nice to have the good guys but also have the bad guys. It makes it complete. So hopefully I can get to more.
GW: Great. Very cool. Well, Cliff, best wishes for Season Nine. I can’t wait.
CS: Thank you. Me too. And keep watching! It’s a great show and I hope I’ll be back. I want to thank everybody again for watching and being so supportive of me. And the viewers help the character get to where he is as well. We get a lot of feedback and it helps us as actors. We want to give people what they want to see.