Beware of SPOILERS for Stargate Atlantis Season Two’s “Duet” in this interview!
With the performance of David Nykl as Dr. Radek Zelenka in Season One of Stargate Atlantis, one may easily forget that Dr. McKay’s Czech sidekick never left the Ancient city — not once in the entire year! Zelenka, who has become something of comic relief and the frequent bearer of unfortunate news, spoke with GateWorld at Creation’s Stargate SG-1 / Atlantis Celebration for the Fans event in Vancouver. There, he was pleased to report that Zelenka will finally breathe some fresh air in Season Two.
Since his initial appearance in “Thirty Eight Minutes” many fans (and particularly Czech fans) have emerged in overwhelming support for the actor and his character. GateWorld Forum has been flooded with miles of Zelenka threads. In our video interview, David expresses his sincere appreciation for the love and support that fans have shown, and reveals that he lurks regularly on Stargate message boards.
GateWorld’s video interview with David is a little over 20 minutes long, and is also available for your convenience in an audio-only format. The whole thing is also transcribed below!
GateWorld: This is David Read with GateWorld.net. I’m here with the one and only David Nykl, Dr. Zelenka. Is it “Radek” or “Radeek?”
David Nykl: It’s Radek Zelenka. It’s a fairly common Czech name, Radek, so I was told that I have now come into my own as a character because I am Radek. This is a name that was given to me by my TV parents. I had no hand in choosing it.
GW: Your TV parents?
DN: Yeah, I don’t know. Rob Cooper and Brad Wright!
GW: We were talking with Rainbow Francks yesterday and he got to choose his first name.
DN: Did he really?
GW: Yes, he did. It’s a combination of Joe Flanigan’s son and Brad Wright’s nephew.
DN: How about that? No, Radek had no such luck. It was just Radek right from the beginning. “Oh, OK.” Especially because McKay mispronounces it all the time.
GW: I bet that must burn Zelenka’s butt!
DN: Oh, there’s a lot. There’s a book that could be written.
GW: How did you get cast for the show? Was it the normal audition process or did someone refer you?
DN: Pretty much. I came in as a “day player” which was a character in “Thirty Eight Minutes,” so when the breakdown came my agent sent me out for “Thirty Eight Minutes.” They were looking for a Russian character that was going to be featured. It was earlier on in the series so there’s always a possibility that there would be more for that character, but of course nothing is ever promised.
So it was just a lucky break because Brad was sitting, watching the monitors. I did that little scene from “Thirty Eight Minutes.” He said “That’s great. That’s what we’re looking for. Something like that.” They had already had the script ready for the next one, which was “Suspicion,” I believe. So they wrote me into that little scene where we come in, we open the roof, the roof opens up. That was originally supposed to be just McKay but they threw me to go in there and go …
So that was the first of the recurring bits. And it was 10 episodes last year, and I’ve already done four this year.
GW: Amazing, and there’s only five shot so far! Excellent! Very sweet. [In] “Thirty Eight Minutes” they introduced Kavanaugh — no one likes him. But Zelenka …
DN: People have got to understand Kavanaugh. He’s just misunderstood.
GW: Well, he solved the problem at the end of “Thirty Eight Minutes.” And I’m sure you’re going to be saving the day left and right, putting McKay down. The only one who even has the potential to put McKay down.
DN: That’s what they have me there for. Keeping him real! It comes to log your heads sometimes to [???], as you will see in Season Two.
GW: Sweet. How does a guest appearance turn into a major recurring role?
DN: Providence, luck, and a little bit of all of those. I know for a fact that they want to have an international aspect to this, and as much as it’s an international team, I obviously am representing the Czechs, they really are trying to write from more of a humanist side where there’s more about cooperation, there’s more about working with other nations, there’s more about working with other groups of people.
So it’s kind of like more like the classic sense, what Star Trek was about — to go and discover, and we as people, as human beings, are going to these other worlds to discover. And that’s not just America, and that’s not just Canada. It is the whole world because it’s we as people, as it were. So I think the idea that we have a Czech scientist appealed to Brad and to “T.P.T.B.” … [To camera] I know what you guys write about! I’ve seen you write.
GW: He watches! Uh-oh, look out!
DN: I know that they wanted this international thing so I was just there and I was lucky to do that. And it’s a blast. And I do speak Czech, and I speak French, and I speak Spanish, too.
GW: One, two, four languages!
DN: Yeah, English only sometimes.
GW: Now were you born in the Czech Republic?
DN: Yes, I was. I was born in Prague. I was born in Prague and I was all of two years old when I came here to Vancouver. And I grew up here on the West coast, so I’m Czech-Canadian.
GW: How do you feel about this huge surge of fan response for Dr. Zelenka?
DN: It’s kind of wild, isn’t it? Isn’t it neat?
GW: It exploded!
DN: What happened? What happened? [Thump] As I hit my mic, I’m very touched. I think it’s fantastic, you guys. It’s great! Keep it coming. I’m a big fan of Zelenka, too. Some of you are writing letters, “We hope he doesn’t die.” I hope he doesn’t die either!
GW: Yeah, that would suck.
DN: Yeah, that would suck. That would suck big time.
GW: The character — he has quite a potential, not just McKay’s little next-door scientist. “Oh yeah, Zelenka, do you think that’s right?” “Ah, yes I do.” There’s more to this character than that.
DN: There’s also more to … It’s not just McKay and Zelenka, Dr. Weir. It’s also finding which characters work together. From the point of view of being an actor it’s a great set to work on because everybody’s an accomplished actor. And the work environment makes it just that much more of a pleasure to be put together, to be paired up. I’ve got scenes with Sheppard coming up in Season Two where there’s a chemistry that’s found there.
Of course, the most famous one is the one with McKay. That’s the one that works out. We work on it quite a bit. We do our lines. We discuss what would be good, to show there’s the arguments. But there’s also how we interact with each other, which we’re developing a lot more in Season Two.
GW: Excellent. Something to look forward to.
DN: Thank you.
GW: Would you mind talking to us for a moment in Czech in a way that, probably, Zelenka would say something?
DN: In Czech?
GW: Mhmm. Something that Zelenka would probably say in terms of the Stargate universe. Because everyone’s went nuts with “Letters from Pegasus,” translating what you said.
DN: Já tomu teda vubec nerozumím, co to tady s tím jako myslíte, že jako tady budu takhle sedet a jen tak si s váma bavit, no, no tak jo, no tak zkusíme to.
GW: [Laughter] I don’t want to know the translation. I want them to figure it out for us. “David is really ugly!”
DN: [Laughter] And Hewlett, let me tell you!
GW: Your most poignant memory from working on the show so far. The thing that comes to mind.
DN: Oh, my goodness, the most poignant. That’s an interesting choice of words. Well, a lot of the episodes, especially a lot of stuff that I’m doing up in the control room, are high-pressure situations. “Siege 1,” “Siege 2,” and the Wraith thing, that was very difficult.
What’s a poignant memory that I have? Zelenka goes off-world in Season Two, so I had fun when we were shooting that one just the last couple of weeks. So that was kind of neat to be off-world for the first time. It was nice to get out of the studio.
More than anything I guess I just recall different episodes like “Siege” and “Hot Zone,” some of the good scenes that we’ve had written for us. You’re looking for a poignant one …
GW: A lot of people like Rachel talked about when the producers came down and welcomed her into the series.
DN: Oh yeah, that never happened to me! [Laughter] Get welcomed onto the series. I remember that cast photo shoot. That was kind of cool. We had everybody gathered in the Gaterium and there was a big photo that was snapped of absolutely everybody that works on the …
GW: Oh, for the Season One shot.
DN: For the Season One shot. So that was a really cool day. Everyone came down and chatting. It is such a great environment. If you guys could see how it actually works there. It’s a really small, tight-knit community. We all sort of get there, go to the gate, learn our lines. Everybody’s greeting each other. It’s really friendly. You were there yesterday, weren’t you?
GW: Yes. And the day before.
DN: Did you go onto the set?
GW: Yes, it’s so well-oiled. We saw a shot filmed.
DN: Pretty incredible, isn’t it?
GW: It’s incredible! Everyone stops when the red lights go on and they they start moving again and they reset!
DN: It’s a well-oiled machine, utter professionals in absolutely everything that they do. From the lighting to the grips to the makeup to everything. It’s truly well-run. And it says a lot about the producers. There are some shows that we don’t get home until two o’clock in the morning.
We get a chance to get home normally at eight o’clock. You learn your lines for the next day, and breakfast, and then you start again. It is a lot like going to work and the environment that is created to make that pleasant is really a lot of John Smith and Brad Wright and what they’re doing. [To camera] Thanks guys.
GW: Because it could really be a bear to work with. And the people, they don’t have attitudes. It’s all very family-oriented. Everyone’s dogs are there, like you said earlier!
DN: It’s pretty down-to-earth, which is really cool.
GW: Tell us about Zelenka’s relationship with Dr. Weir. We kind of touched on that earlier, but it’s kind of like a special chemistry between the two of them.
DN: We get left behind quite a bit whenever there’s an emergency going on. We have a very professional working relationship. So before you get any ideas …
GW: Yeah, shippers start writing fanfic, Zelenka / Weir …
DN: But maybe … [Laughter] Working with Torri is also fantastic. A lot of the things that I’m doing is expository, which is sort of explaining what I’m seeing, what I’m doing, leaving it to her and letting her make the decision about that.
I think one of the things Zelenka does know is where his position is in the scope of things. Often I’m in the position of bringing bad news. [Czech?] There’s all this going on. We’ve ended up working a lot as a result of that.
GW: Mr. Bad News! Here he comes in his black suit!
DN: Exactly! Yeah, being Mr. Bad News, too. But also, by the same token, I’m really trying to … There’s a lot of doomsday situations that we’re in to try and lighten it up to bring the human element to it.
GW: Going back to the McKay / Zelenka banter, do you enjoy that yourself?
DN: Oh, it’s great! Oh, yeah. It shows. I think it does. We work on that quite a bit. We also discuss how we’re going to approach a situation. But a lot of that happens organically, the classic couples — Laurel and Hardy, two person-series. So that’s one thing that I think we both enjoy. I don’t know … [To camera] Do you, Hewlett?
GW: Hewlett? David? I guess we’ll find out. So do you guys find yourselves spending a lot of time outside running lines?
DN: He’s got a lot of scenes, a lot of things. When we have a scene we’ll run it with Paul or Joe. If we have some time before to develop the scene — you block-rehearse and you shoot, so by the time that’s done a half an hour has gone by. You’ve already chosen what your marks are going to be, what you’re going to do. You try to do what you want to have done in that scene.
It does take quite a bit of preparation. It doesn’t sort of happen. You have to be prepared for it to happen — the magic.
GW: David Hewlett as an actor — what is your opinion of him?
DN: He’s great! I think he’s a fantastic actor. He has a lion share of the work. And I know the text is hard to synthesize and to try to make sense. He does a great job with it. He’s got a great sense of humor on set and he’s able to mold the character. It’s always under pressure circumstances that we find ourselves. I think he’s got a lot of grace under pressure.
GW: What can you tell us about Zelenka in year two?
DN: He’s got the same nose as I do, otherwise everything else is completely different. He does go off-world in year two. More relationships with other characters are beginning to be explored. Sheppard — some scenes with him. Some scenes with Torri when they’re away.
Zelenka is off-world for the first time in Season Two in “Duet,” so watch out for that one. That was a lot of fun.
GW: What can you tell us about “Duet” besides he goes off-world?
DN: You mean spoilers?
GW: Well, we know the whole thing about McKay and being taken over by a woman, and the whole thing with Beckett, which will be very interesting to watch. But from your standpoint …
DN: I think what “Duet” is saying as an episode is fantastic. It’s about control and it’s about control of your body. I think by now you know the premise. Not control of your body but who has control — men or women? It’s a good episode, men versus women, because, well … one of the security officers gets beamed into McKay is what happens. They’re fighting for possession of his body, so it’s quite funny.
Each of these things — which is also great about the way these shows are put together — each of these things have a very definite lesson for what’s going on here on this planet of ours.
For me it said a lot about the relationship of men and women, this particular episode. And it also said a lot about control and the ability to lose control or to let go in certain circumstances, which is a lesson McKay needs to learn. So that gets explored.
GW: What other episodes are you presently working on?
DN: “Trinity.” I’m in the middle of “Trinity.” We did several scenes yesterday and I’ve got more coming up after this weekend. Got three days next week. Yeah. That sort of McKay / Zelenka thing comes to a head in “Trinity.”
GW: Awesome! Good, can’t wait to see that. What do you most look forward to about the rest of the year and this series? More Zelenka.
DN: More Zelenka, obviously. Like I said, I’m a big fan of the humanist aspect of what Atlantis is trying to do, and the fact that it’s using other nations, other countries and other people. There’s more to us from planet Earth than …
GW: Just the U.S. …
DN: Or just the military. Stargate has been able to synthesize everything from archaeology to politics to religion to the skills of negotiating. So yeah, it’s a microcosm for what we’re dealing with. It really does touch on big, broad subjects. Yeah, I think to some degree I see my role in that as, Zelenka is a very gifted scientist, but he’s also a humanist at heart. I think that’s what one of the strengths of Atlantis is — the human aspect of it all.
GW: And the excellent writing that drives it, the production quality is so high. What has Stargate taught you as an actor?
DN: A great deal, especially in terms of the technical aspect of acting — how to put scenes together so that they mean something, so it’s not just about hitting your marks and saying your lines. With technobabble it’s very easy to lose your way into what’s actually happening. “Someone has died.” Yes. “Well, someone has died.”
The difference is that technology is fine and someone always needs to die in an episode. But what’s happened? What is actually happening in the people that have caused that? It’s like in the real world, when things like this happen it’s a tragedy, so we have to address that. Is that your question?
GW: The Wraith and the Genii, and the folks that created the virus in “Hot Zone” — all these races, the bad guys. Do you think Zelenka will have a direct run-in with them?
DN: I hope so.
GW: Good. Yeah, that would be sweet to see.
DN: That’s all I can say …
GW: You hope so. Well, he’s going off-world so you’ve got a 50/50 chance right there.
DN: Well, sometimes they come to us, too, the baddies. There’s different ways to fight, too.
GW: That’s a good point. [Laughter] He’s just tossing ’em here! David, thank you very much.
DN: My pleasure, David. Thank you very much.