Once he was Officer Doug Penhall on TV’s 21 Jump Street. Then he was Dagwood on seaQuest DSV. And he’s always been a showman, the son of legendary comedic actor Dom DeLuise. Now, Peter DeLuise has made his indelible mark on Stargate — mainly behind the camera.
As one of the show’s anchor directors since his debut with Season Two’s “Serpent’s Song,” DeLuise is responsible for an inestimable amount of what Stargate is today. In addition to directing such episodes as “Legacy,” “Window of Opportunity,” “Orpheus,” and “Babylon,” he has also written several episodes of SG-1 — from Jaffa favorites like “Allegiance” to Unas episodes like “The First Ones.” He has also appeared both in front of and behind the camera on such series as Andromeda, Jeremiah, Highlander, Friends, and The Outer Limits.
GateWorld caught up with DeLuise during our visit to the show’s production offices earlier this year, before the ninth season of Stargate SG-1 and the second season of Atlantis had premiered. In our chat he talks about the new seasons and the new cast members, losing Richard Dean Anderson, Jaffa politics, Jeffries Tubes, and the joy of being able to direct his own scripts.
Our interview with Peter DeLuise is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 27 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. Or, download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you. GateWorld Forum members can also download exclusive outtakes from the interview!
GateWorld: Mr. DeLuise, tell us first your evaluation overall of Season Eight.
Peter DeLuise: That’s your question? You start with “Mr. DeLuise,” so I think “Aw, look at me, I’m a Mister now.” Everybody just calls me “Freak Show” over here. And then you ask me “What’s my overall …” So you butter me up with the “Mister” and then you say, “What’s the whole thing about Season Eight?”
And I’m supposed to go, “Oh, yeah, Season Eight. We’ve got great things in store for you! The characters are amazing, the bad guys and the action and the sex … Oh, I’ve got the relationship stuff. Oh, man it’s fantastic!” And the reality is it’s just like it always was. It’s a clown-car, Chinese fire drill. Everybody’s just completely overwhelmed doing the best that they can.
GW: As a director, what do you think was some of your best work this last year?
PD: Oh, you’re being more detailed now?
PD: Well, I want to try to answer your Season Eight question. I think Season Eight is … Are we talking about Atlantis or Stargate SG-1?
GW: Stargate first.
PD: I’m sad to see Richard Dean Anderson go, and I actually thought it was stronger to see him having left the way he left at the end of last season than to actually come back and transfer the baton. Just for our own needs, our own business needs, he has to kind of sit there and go, “Well, I’m not in charge anymore. Beau Bridges, you’re in charge. And there’s this other guy [who is] going to head up SG-1. Thanks, goodbye.”
We just needed to see that because the alternative was unthinkable, and it was Beau Bridges on a telephone having a one-sided conversation and saying, “Yeah, yeah, I know! Oh, you’re hilarious, Jack!” And you didn’t hear what he was saying, and it was kind of silly.
So it was better than the alternative. But I always thought the stronger way to go out for the O’Neill character was the fishing. The Simpsons liner on “Moebius.” Remember when he said “Close enough?” Do you guys know what I’m referencing there, when he keeps changing the timeline and then the guy has the forked tongue in that episode, and he goes, “Close enough?” because he can’t get the timeline right? So he sees the fish in his pond and he says, “Close enough.” So there’s a wonderful homage to The Simpsons.
GW: Hopefully it’ll start raining doughnuts.
PD: Hopefully it’ll start raining doughnuts! So I’m sad to see Richard Dean Anderson not a part of the thing anymore, but I totally agree with his choice to concentrate on being a father to his daughter. And we were lucky to have him for [Seasons] Six, Seven, and Eight, because I remember him addressing the troops at the end of the fifth season, saying, “I guess this is it. It’s been fun. I’ll see you later. Bye!”
And then we came back for Six, and [he said], “This is probably it for sure! I’ll see you later. Bye!” And then of course Seven, and then Eight. “What the heck is going on?” Every genesis of Star Trek has only gone seven seasons, so it just blows the mind when you realize that we’ve gone this far.
And, of course, it was a just strange quirk of fate because of being on Showtime and then switching over right to SCI FI. So they got new blood. They started spending money on advertisement. They beefed up their core audience, and then getting the cover of TV Guide — that was an amazing thing. Because, more times than not — and I know I’m getting a little off-topic here — but more times than not, you’d say, “Hey, what are you working on?” “I’m working on Stargate, the series.” “They made a series out of that?” “Yeah.” “I didn’t even see the movie! Really? They made a series out of that?”
Everyone was claiming ignorance. But when it’s on the cover of TV Guide you can’t go, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Because it’s on the cover of TV Guide. And if they’re making fun of it on the Conan O’Brien show, then you can’t ignore it anymore. You can’t pretend like you don’t know it’s there. You have to at least go, “Yeah, I may have seen one or two of those episodes.”
So I was blown away by the fact that it’s gone this long, but I’m also aware of the fact that eventually we’re going to get into “Jump the Shark” territory. Season [Nine] has two wonderful new cast members in it from Farscape. And there is the jokes flying around that this is “FarGate.” No. But Claudia and Ben are wonderful and Ben is very enthusiastic, and I think he’s excited to be not auditioning and actually working.
And, of course, Claudia can do no wrong in my eyes. We’ve got her in this hot little tightly-cut dress. It doesn’t even matter what she’s saying. She’s just perfect.
GW: So tell us what you’ve been working on so far this season. What have you been writing and directing?
PD: Well, that’s the other thing. That’s why I’m eluding your question a little bit, because I haven’t really been working on SG-1. I’ve been concentrating on Atlantis. Not because of my own choices, just because it’s been scheduled that way. So the first three episodes that I’ve been assigned have all been from Atlantis.
I mean, I like the storyline. I like what they’ve done with it. And it feels new. It feels different — it feels brash and political.
PD: SG-1 does, yeah. There’s politics with the Jaffa. The Goa’uld are not the threat they used to be with Anubis out of the picture. I mean, thank God we didn’t kill Baal. That was actually in the damn episode [“Reckoning, Part 2”]! It was one of the versions of the script where Anubis said, “You betrayed me, now I’m going to kill you,” and it did the old “Empire Strikes Back” electrical show and just zapped the hell out of Baal. Deep-fried Baal, right?
Michael Greenburg championed Cliff Simon, who I think is a wonderful actor, who I think does an amazing job. He said, “You know, why are we killing this guy? It’s not us killing him, it’s the bad guy killing the slightly less bad guy. And it’s the last five minutes. It’s kind of like an after-thought. Why don’t we let the guy live and see what happens?” And thank God we did because he’s in a storyline coming back. And his collars are higher and pointier than ever.
He’s great. I think I did a commentary once and I said, “He’s got high cheek bones and he’s like this underwear model!” And I’d never met the man. This is the other thing. I had never actually met the man and I went off and I did German City Con with him. And he came in the room and he goes, “That was funny about the underwear model thing.” I said, “Oh, good! I’m glad you liked it!” [Laughter]
GW: So he’s hiding out on Earth this season. He’s not wearing baggy pants and a sweatshirt and trying to keep a low profile?
PD: Maybe. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.
GW: He might be pulling an “Isis.”
PD: But he is back. He is coming back. Isis in the jar?
GW: Not Isis in the jar. I meant Seth. I get the brothers and sisters mixed up.
PD: “Seth,” that was a weird episode. You know, we actually pretend that one didn’t exist. There’s a couple of episodes where Brad Wright actually instructs us and he says, “That never happened. Really.”
But we already know that — I think there’s one episode, “Hathor” in particular. I mean that chick is hot. And I mean that in the less misogynistic way that you think. I like the character of Hathor. I thought she was quite striking, and not just because she was beautiful because I thought she was a good actress. But the fact that she needed to have sex with the Daniel Jackson character and then go in the hot tub to spawn the little symbiotes. And then there was the issue of “Where is that coming from? Where did that come out of? Where did it come from? If the queen is in her head, where is the big sack that we’ve seen in the past? Did it come of her mouth when they were born? And why is she sitting in the hot tub instead of upside-down in the hot tub if that’s the case?”
So it was just kind of a “Don’t go there” kind of a thing. And so sometimes Brad says, “Yeah, that didn’t happen. That didn’t really happen.”
GW: With all the changes that we saw at the end of Season Eight with the defeat of the Goa’uld, the rise of the Free Jaffa Nation now … Obviously you’re a huge Jaffa fan, Jaffa author. How does that impact where you’d like to see the Jaffa storyline go?
PD: Well, the interesting [thing] about new-found freedom is you don’t know what to do with it. Right? And that is, in fact, where they’re going with this. They’re having to self-govern and they can’t agree on what the right way to go is. And, of course, Teal’c has a lot of ideas about proper self government.
Freedom and enlightenment can be a very dangerous thing. The phrase “Ignorance is bliss” is not so far off here. And suddenly you have a bunch of supposedly very intelligent people who are over a hundred years old, so their life experience is huge, and they all have an idea about what is the proper way to self-govern.
And the interesting thing that I think that they’ve done with this is they actually have a political argument where the Louis Gossett, Jr. character is saying, “Well, the power base, based on ships and so forth, should in fact have something to do with your ability to vote for the leader (versus one man, one vote) — which is exactly what happened with the Kerry/Bush election where this area, if we had the one-man, one-vote, may have been a little bit different. But if you own the whole south of the Bible belt, then those particular states are voting for Bush, how can you win? And if 90 percent of Washington, D.C. is voting for Kerry and basically all of California — there’s more people who live in California than all of the country of Canada — are voting for Kerry. And then suddenly, “Yeah, but you have to have Bush.” “Well, OK.”
This is almost like a political statement, which is, to me, very interesting about sci-fi. You can disguise these topics and have a discussion about them. The most obvious that comes to mind is the old Star Trek classic where the guy is black on one side and white on the other. And then Kirk says, “Well, why do you hate them so much?” He goes, “They’re black on the right side and [white] on the other! And we’re the opposite! Why shouldn’t we hate them?” And you go, “Oh, well now it’s preposterous,” now that they’re both half-and-half and then just switch the sides, right? So if you talk about racial issues in that way and then bring it into a different light …
This episode that we’re doing on Atlantis has to do with incarceration and criminal punishment [“Condemned”]. If you’re overbearing, it’s a bit of a cliché. You touch on these things. “OK, well, that’s the theme. That’s the backdrop. What’s the human aspect of it?” And then go from there.
Most of the time when I would introduce a story topic, Brad would hit me with: “What’s the theme? OK, that’s what they’re doing, but what’s the theme going to be, what’s the story we’re trying to get across?” And then they would go ahead and write a two-part episode where they were trying to escape being killed for two hours. And I’d say, “What’s your theme? Don’t die? Don’t be killed? Where’s the lesson in that?”
GW: Well, you’re in a really unique position around here, which is as both a writer and a director you get to see your stories through from beginning to end. Tell us a little bit about that.
PD: There is an advantage in that. Part of the fun of being able to direct your own stories is you know what you intended when you were writing what you wrote. And there’s only enough room in a script for about 8,000 words. And “a picture speaks a thousand words,” so this is only worth eight actual pictures if you’re doing your math. So there’s way more than eight actual pictures in a script.
And because it’s sci-fi it’s not like we all have a common reference. As I’m speaking to you I’m keenly aware that there are an enormous amount of pictures on the wall. We’re in the concept phase of this next episode in the board room. And the cork boards on the walls are filled with pictures of ideas about what’s going to be in the show. So we don’t just all go, “Hey, it looks like, you know — a really modern building.” We have a picture of a modern building. “And it looks like a space ship.” Well, we have a picture of a space ship.
We don’t just assume we all know what we’re talking about. We have pictures to refer to, which gives us a great baseline to riff from. What is a trebuchet look like? If French soldiers have made it from two hundred years ago it looks one way, but if aliens have cobbled it out of garbage it looks another way, right? So that’s why you’ve got to have pictures.
For me that’s the fun part — transferring or taking symbols that represent words or ideas from a piece of paper and creating visual images and relationships and chemistry and comedy and action, and being able to move somebody enough to feel something, who you don’t even know. And they’re watching it months later in a city that you’ve never been in and perhaps a language you’ve never spoken, and they’re affected by what you’ve done. And that’s huge. Yes, it’s not easy, but it’s exciting and it’s stimulating and it’s worth it.
Sometimes at the end of a day, a long, long day — my feet are hurting, my knees are throbbing — I say, “Man, I can’t do this anymore!” Especially if the actors don’t know their lines. And then in the morning I wake up and I think, “Wow, I’m the luckiest dude in the world. I get to direct. I get to do something I love and I get paid for it.” In the morning I’m ready to go and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
And then I’m completely mentally exhausted by the end of the day, and I go, “Now I know I’ve had a good day.” And every day I realize at the end of the day, “Ah, I’ll go to sleep and it’ll be fine tomorrow. Right now I can’t believe it! I can’t go on! But tomorrow it’ll be fine.”
GW: So you’re spending a lot of time on Atlantis so far, the first part of the season.
PD: Yeah, I’m going to be doing five Atlantis and five SG-1.
GW: Wow! That’s a quarter of everything.
PD: Is it? I guess that’s 40. Martin Wood has a similar schedule, and Andy Mikita also, as well.
GW: Have you written any of those episodes yet?
PD: No. I won’t be writing any episodes this particular year. I have a 1-year-old and I basically just said, “I feel like I’m spread a little too thin.” I want to concentrate on that. Jake is my son’s name. He just turned one.
GW: Well he’s worth it, but we’ve certainly enjoyed the episodes you’ve done.
PD: Cool! Well, I’ve enjoyed writing them. It’s been quite an experience for me, to be paid to learn. And I have learned so much. I never went to film school and a lot of what I know from visual effects, about 90 percent of what I know about visual effects I’ve learned from this show.
And I’ve been able to carry a lot of the tricks that I’ve learned here to other directing shows, Andromedas and V.I.P. And I did an Outer Limits across the way there.
GW: So what are you directing so far? What’s on your plate right now?
PD: I just did “The Intruder” which is, basically, the same story as the “Entity.” Remember the storyline of the artificial intelligence that comes through and goes into the computer and affects the base, goes into Carter? She starts talking through the computer. And then her consciousness is kind of downloaded into this alien mainframe that it created.
“The Intruder” is like that, but it’s a Wraith artificial intelligence. It’s a virus that’s in the Daedalus. And so that’s a lot of fun.
GW: Does it take place largely on the Daedalus?
PD: It does. And Mitch Pileggi from X-Files is the captain of that ship. He’s a real nose-to-the-grindstone kind of hard core captain. I like him. He’s a really good character.
GW: Do you like directing him, as an actor?
PD: Oh, he’s fantastic. He can do no wrong. He just sits there — the thing about Mitch as an actor is he just trusts that the lines are there. He trusts that they’re good. And he just stands with his weight evenly distributed over both feet, just like Cagney used to do, and he just says the lines.
Do you know what I mean? He doesn’t walk around and go, “I wonder how I can enhance this somehow.” He just trusts that the lines are good. And he sends it out there, and he goes, “This is the quality that I’ve been hired for. This is what I did on X-Files. This is what I do here. I have a lot of life experience. I’m a captain of a ship. I’m just going to say these lines.” And he does it and you go, “Yes, I believe it.”
So that’s why it’s so cool. And the Daedalus, of course, is infinitely more cool than the Prometheus because it’s got the hyperdrive and it’s got sneeze guards on it now.
PD: Have you seen it? Have you seen the sneeze guards? The pieces of plexi against the wall. Well, there used to be bare wall with copy machine fronts and phones and sprinklers, but now there’s a sneeze guard piece of smoked plexi in front of it, which gives it added depth. Because it used to be the Prometheus walls. Now they’re Daedalus walls.
And sneeze guards is so you don’t sneeze on your salad as you’re serving yourself on the buffet.
GW: That would be helpful on a starship.
PD: Yeah, yeah. Also the bulkhead, it’s not up here [on the cork board], but the front window of the Daedalus is way cooler as well.
GW: We were on one of the other stages the other day and there was this corridor of bulkhead, and I’m not exactly sure what it was for.
PD: Where were you?
GW: On the “Blade III” set. And it was just this long corridor, the wall was the exact same thing.
PD: That’s a Jeffries Tube.
GW: We have a Jeffries Tube now for the Daedalus?
PD: Well, [you’ve] got to have a Jeffries Tube.
GW: [Laughter] We’re not going to call it a Jeffries Tube though, I bet.
PD: We actually do refer to it as a Jeffries Tube. We should. If it were up to me, which it isn’t, I would call it a Jeffries Tube. Was it Stan Jeffries? Was that his name? Mike Jeffries? Well, Mr. Jeffries who used to design sets for classic Trek, took a big sauna-tube thing — Matt Jeffries — and he put it on an angle with a latter and a gut box, which is just a box with a bunch of wires and stuff in it. And Scotty would climb up and [he] goes, “I’m doing the best I can, Captain!”
And that was him fixing the wires. It wasn’t always underneath the one panel every time. He had to climb up into that tube. So that became, because it was Jeffries who designed it, became the Jeffries Tube. They referenced it in Star Trek as, that was what it was just called, the Jeffries Tube. It wasn’t just, “We’ll go up that access corridor.” It was the Jeffries Tube.
So there’s no reason why we can’t call it the Jeffries Tube as well, in the same way that we refer to extras that get killed at the beginning of the show as the “Red Shirts.” Because all these guys, supposedly these characters just like O’Neill watches The Simpsons, or “Austin Powers,” and references that, so too have these guys watched Star Trek as children. And why wouldn’t it influence their decision to be in the military or the space program, right? So why wouldn’t they call it the Jeffries Tube? And that’s why I’m sticking by that.
GW: Tell us a little bit about what you think of the changes to the Atlantis cast. We’ve got Jason Momoa in. We’ve got Mitch.
PD: Mitch is actually on both shows because wherever the Daedalus goes, so to does he. So Daedalus could be a defense platform for Earth, but it also ferries people and supplies back and forth.
GW: So Caldwell might pop up on SG-1?
PD: Could be. Why not? Anything could happen. Has he been on it already?
PD: Well, that’s an oversight. He will. Yeah, because eventually there’s going to have to be … the Daedalus could be on either show. So could the Prometheus.
I think Jason’s amazing. He has a very cool look. I think he’s going to be a big hit with the fans. He’s incredibly athletic. He has a very severe, intense gaze. He’s got the Rasta hair, he’s got the cool outfit. He’s got the cool gun. And I think the girls are going to like him a lot. And some of the men will probably like him as well.
Who else did you ask me about? Paul? Paul McGillion has been added to the regular [cast]. I think what happened is Paul did such an outstanding job as a recurring character they just realized he’s one of the guys. He’s just one of these people that you just can’t do without. We’ve got to get him under contract. And his contribution was so enormous last year and so great that they just went, “It’s a natural.”
The chemistry and the playfulness between him and David — I mean, they actually like each other quite a lot in real life. The banter between them on the show is very, very funny.
GW: Especially with the changes on both shows this year, what do you think that fans have to look forward to the most in the upcoming season for both shows?
PD: More in-depth information about each individual character. It’s not just The Joe Flanigan Show. It’s not just The Ben Browder Show now. It’s more about the qualities of the supporting cast, I think.
Now that the Daedalus and the Z.P.M. have been … I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, it is a bit of a spoiler. In “Moebius” we get the Z.P.M. from 3,000 years in the past, so now that Z.P.M. is available to create a connection, which was always the plan. The first year they were going to get cut off, establish a reason for watching the show. Because otherwise they would be dialing up and saying, “Could you send SG-1? We’ve got another problem.” Any problem worth having would’ve been worth getting SG-1 to come and solve it, or Carter at least to fix it.
So we had to cut ourselves off so that we could make the audience understand that these people could solve problems on their own.
GW: But now we’ve got the Z.P.M., we can go back and forth.
PD: Actually we can just go the one way.
GW: So it’d take three weeks to get help at the earliest convenience.
PD: So they’ve been cut off just enough. That’s exactly the plan. So you have the Z.P.M. in Atlantis, so you can power the city. You can investigate the city, and …
Ben Browder: Lies! Lies! Liar!
PD: That’s Ben Browder in the background screaming “Liar!” He’s behind glass. We’re not allowed to be in the same room at the same time.
So you’ve got the Z.P.M. powering Atlantis. You’ve got shields. You can cloak the thing if you need to, which we find out later … another spoiler. And you can establish the eight-chevron wormhole back to Earth if you need to. But if you want to come back you’re screwed. So you’ve got to get on the Daedalus and go 18 days. It’s an 18-day trip back.
GW: So do they have to share the Z.P.M.? Just swap it back and forth?
PD: No, they don’t share it. They just sent it. And now it’s up to the Daedalus to sort of go back and forth. And I guess we’ll be making yet another battle cruiser to help us defend Earth, because it’s kind of irresponsible to send the Daedalus away and leave Earth defenseless.
So maybe that’s what the Prometheus is doing, kind of hanging out and making sure … like those two guys in front of Cheyenne Mountain just going back and forth. That’s what the Prometheus is doing. “Guard-guard-guard-guard-guard. Car! Game on. Guard-guard-guard-guard-guard. Car! Game on! Guard-guard-guard-guard-guard.”
GW: Alright, Peter DeLuise, thanks so much for your time.
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