In 1997 Brad Wright — then working on MGM’s The Outer Limits — created Stargate SG-1 with former executive producer Jonathan Glassner. In addition to producing the series, Wright has penned such memorable episodes as “Solitudes, “The Serpent’s Lair,” “1969,” “Threshold,” and “Abyss.”
In 2004 SG-1 producer Robert C. Cooper joined Wright in creating Stargate Atlantis, an ambitious spin-off series that immediately shattered ratings records on The SCI FI Channel. Cooper had worked his way up the ranks of SG-1 from story editor to producer to executive producer, and wrote episodes including “The Torment of Tantalus,” “The Fifth Race,” “Fair Game,” “Redemption,” and “Threads”. In Season Eight Cooper took over as showrunner when Wright devoted most of his time to the spin-off series. But the two continue to work in tandem on both hit shows.
In Part 1 of our interview, Wright and Cooper looked back on the overwhelming last year of Stargate, and shared their insider’s perspective on the demands of producing 40 hours of television in less than a year’s time. In Part 2, they go on to discuss the new casts of SG-1 and Atlantis, and how impressed they have been by the likes of Ben Browder (“Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell”) and Jason Momoa (“Ronon Dex”).
GateWorld’s interview with Brad Wright and Robert Cooper is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening. Part 2 is about 15 minutes long, and is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: Were you guys surprised at all by the ratings success of Atlantis? The fact that it up and beat SG-1?
Brad Wright:: Well, it did beat SG-1 on average.
Robert Cooper: But that’s what I’m saying. It brought a new audience, people who want to see science fiction. I think there’s a big audience out there for science fiction and who — I think, maybe, a segment of the audience who was watching SG-1 who felt it was too late to jump into that. And so they started with something fresh and caught on to Atlantis because they felt like they could jump in at the beginning.
BW: Ironically, it’ll be now easier on July 15 for people who have never seen SG-1 before to step in. And now they’ll watch Atlantis afterwards and go, “What the hell is going on?” [Laughter]
RC: Honestly we think that Atlantis — believe it or not — in retrospect, brought a new audience to SG-1. It helped SG-1 grow.
BW: The whole night works.
RC: And now, if promotion works the way we hope it does, a whole new chunk of audience will come to SG-1 and help pick up Atlantis a little more. It’s …
GW: … a symbiotic relationship.
RC: We hope! We hope. You never know, right?
BW: The truth is when SCI FI and MGM approached us and said, “OK, we want to do your Atlantis that you’ve been pitching” — and we said, “Yay, that’s great” — “but we also want Season Eight of SG-1,” we kind of almost … Robert said quite often on the other side of the speaker phone, “Brad, don’t jump out the window!”
Because it was such a lot of work they were asking us to do. Neither one of us could even contemplate doing 40 hours of television. But we realized that with the — you said “symbiotic relationship,” which makes me think of this — with the multiple production you get benefits. This year we’ve even done it more — planned the multiple production benefits even in broader terms.
RC: Well, also because now the studio sees them together to actually understand [how it benefits them].
BW: So we have one stunt department for both shows. We all give notes on all the scripts. We have one art department who does both shows.
RC: It’s kind of funny when we read stuff about the writers on Atlantis being better than the writers on SG-1. [Laughter]
GW: Both shows have had significant cast changes. Tell us a little bit about the creative decisions that have gone into some of those on both shows.
RC: Well, it started with, I think, “Prometheus Unbound,” where Claudia came in and just blew us away. She was fantastic.
BW: Hit it out of the park.
RC: And we saw the chemistry between her and Michael. We started immediately spinning, “How do we get her back and make her a bigger part.” Because what you don’t want to do is completely soften her character and lose this dynamic that was so wonderful, that Moonlighting kind of thing.
And we kind of had a feeling that Rick’s role was going to be significantly reduced if not eliminated entirely. And so we knew we needed another character to be the military presence. And then, of course, we needed a new general as well. So we started kicking around a few people. And the fact is that Beau Bridges and Lou Gossett were both interested in doing the show and we were all interested in both of them being a part of the show. And so it’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches. And basically Beau was chosen to be the General …
BW: I remember the conference call. I said, “I can’t believe we’re in a situation where we’re going, ‘So, Lou Gossett or Beau Bridges for the General? This is, oh, hmm …'”
RC: And really it came down to having another character that we were trying to create which would be a bit of a foil for Teal’c and be an arc for a villain. And Lou was thrilled to play something a little different from what he’s done in the past.
BW: And he’s been great so far. And frankly, our new doctor — she came in and auditioned. And Robert said, “Hey, Brad, look at this!” And I said, “She’s terrific. It’s a no-brainer. Just cast her!” And she’s going to be a semi-regular.
RC: I think I apologized to her at one point about a small — one of the episodes of her having a smaller part. Pivotal, but … And she said, “Are you kidding? I’m just happy to be wearing cotton!” So then in the next episode I put her in a rubber suit for the whole episode.
But the fact is Ben, who we haven’t said enough about, is also — he just dives into the deep end.
BW: Got to say, we thought he was kidding when he said, “Can you send me every episode, because I’d like to watch them all.” We went, “OK, we’ll highlight the ones that we think you should probably watch.” And he said, “No, no — I want to see your bad ones, too. I want to see them all.”
So he calls Robert in the fall and says, “Yeah, I’m in a dark room and I’ve got a week-and-a-half beard and I’m almost three quarters of the way through.” He really did it! He watched every one!
RC: And you know what? He still references them.
BW: He remembers!
RC: The shorthand that we have with each other, he’s been immediately able to get into that.
BW: He did not want to be outside of that access to the lexicon. I was so impressed by that.
RC: It’s not just a job for him. He lives the character. On set he’s aware of everything that’s going on, not just his own lines and what he has to do. And I think the rest of the cast is so invigorated by his enthusiasm and his commitment.
He did a day early on. There’s a big sword fight in episode two. He fights a knight in armor.
BW: It’s a broad sword, too — a big, broad sword.
RC: Heavy, heavy thing. And he spent the entire day doing absolutely all of his own sword fighting and stunts, and had rehearsed it for days on end beforehand and was just killing himself, throwing his body all over the stage. I think it’s like the other actors sort of saw a guy that they would go to war with, that they felt confident having on their team.
I think from that point on the chemistry between the cast has been just magical. And I think it will translate into the show. We’d been sitting there first watching dailies and then watching the cuts going, “How can people not see what we’re seeing?” We love them and we hope that other people will like them just as much. Because, honestly, you do after eight years start to see a little bit of tiredness creep into what’s happening.
BW: In everything! Even in yourself it’s hard to get enthusiastic. And this year — I mean, I contributed to a story last year but I was pretty knee-deep in Atlantis, and on SG-1 I contributed to a story. But this year, I’m prepping an episode right now and …
RC: Very early on when we saw things coming together he was like, “I’ve got to write one of these! It’s great!”
BW: Well, we were spinning them together. I wanted to make sure he helped a little as he was creating an entirely new series.
[Cheering in the background]
RC: That’s what we do during dailies all the time. Just cheering and laughing!
BW: It was a fun experience. It was a lot of fun to get back into it. But to be running an SG-1 and writing scenes with three or four new characters that weren’t in the previous … it’s fairly frightening and fun in a good way.
Now as far as Atlantis is concerned, you’ve got Mitch Pileggi as a recurring character as the commander of the Daedalus, which if you saw “Siege II,” [you] know will probably be showing up soon.
RC: But he’s also sort of — he outranks Sheppard and kind of sees himself as maybe someone who should’ve been given command of Atlantis. So there’s a little bit of a friction between him and Sheppard and Weir.
BW: He represents an agenda that is probably on the higher levels of the Pentagon, who sort of resent the fact that this expedition has turned into a base without reverting to military control as it has on the Stargate Command world.
And Jason Momoa is going to become a regular on Atlantis. And he is gold, man. He’s amazing. He looks fabulous. We were spinning for the longest time what we wanted this guy to be, and what we agreed on the most was he’s got to be dangerous. The one thing that our Atlantis team lacked a little bit, and that just comes so naturally with Teal’c on SG-1, and with Jason.
RC: With the Atlantis team you get into a situation where you get into trouble and you’d wonder how are they either A) going to charm their way out of it with Sheppard, or [B)] think their way out of it with McKay. It never dawned on you that they were just going to shoot their way out or fight their way out.
BW: But then it might’ve been Teyla who did that, and that’s not right either.
RC: Not that there’s anything wrong with her being tough and a fighter and cool, but Jason — all you have to do is cut to him in the scene and it adds a whole different level of intimidation.
BW: When we auditioned the role Robert had written a line in the episode “Runner.” He says, “The guards aren’t necessary.” And Sheppard says, “Well, you keep escaping,” and all that stuff. And he says, “No, I mean if I wanted to leave they wouldn’t be able to stop me.”
And person after person after person is reading that line and you just go, “Nah, we’d be able to stop him.” And when Jason read it you go, “OK, I believe it! I believe you wouldn’t be able to stop him.”
RC: “I’m thinking about whether to kill you and all your friends.” And out of most people’s mouths it would just be kind of …
BW: He’s got a centeredness, too, and an ability to just fly into action as an actor. He did a scene where he was basically beating the crap out of people in terms of an exercise. And you’ll see it — he’s flinging people around the room!
RC: A lot of actors put various things under their special skills: martial arts, whatever. Jason has studied Kendo and he really has studied Kendo. It’ll become obvious when you see some of his fighting.
BW: And he’s a great guy and having a great time. And that isn’t to say that Ford isn’t going to return as a recurring character. And yet I would even argue that he’s a different character.
RC: He actually delivers the best performances he’s ever delivered in early [Season Two].
BW: I wanted to give him a chance, because in a way part of what may have been considered a shortcoming in his character was that he didn’t really have enough of a defined role on the team. And so [he] was kind of never really at the center of anything. And now he will be. So we’ve done something to him that makes him really kind of a unique character.
RC: And we’re not abandoning Ford — or Rainbow, for that matter, as an actor.
BW: He’s already going to be in three or possibly four episodes this year. Maybe more.
It’s funny: Atlantis has become the veteran series. I think the audiences must think this too, because it’s been commented on. We got our mid-Season Two stride by about episode 10 or 11, so we’re just clicking along on with Atlantis.
And I would argue that the very beginning of Season Nine — which is almost the beginning of a new series — feels like it’s been on the air, and that these characters and actors have been working together for years already. Just an amazing dynamic.