With 30 episodes of Stargate Atlantis in the history books it seems clear that the SG-1 spin-off is here to stay. David Hewlett could not be happier. His portrayal as the whiny, super-genius Dr. Rodney McKay on the series is a continuing highlight for many fans who have been watching him since “48 Hours.”
GateWorld visited the Atlantis sets during the first days of filming “Trinity,” and sat down with Hewlett and his adopted dog, Mars. In our interview the actor discusses engaging his co-workers and top-notch scripts for a second year on the hit series. He takes time to talk about the now infamous “Kissing Bandit” episode (“Duet”), a McKay tour de force that left few fans disappointed. Plus, David looks into the long-term future for the series and reveals he has no plans to leave as long as Atlantis is in production.
Our interview with David Hewlett is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 22 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. Or, download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: What is your evaluation of Season One as a whole?
David Hewlett: Oh! To watch it or to be in it?
DH: To watch it, it’s a pleasure. I finally got this new TiVo set-up that allows you to record in HD so I can watch it in HD. That’s the way we shot it. So it’s just beautiful, just absolutely gorgeous to watch. The effects look beautiful. I probably look better grainier, but just to actually see it in the format it’s supposed to be in, it’s just beautiful. Of course I get teased by the producers with larger TVs than me, because I’m still struggling to watch it on my 27-inch, or whatever the hell it is.
But it’s so much fun to watch. And it’s really fun to watch other people watch. When you get family members come to you saying, “What’s going to happen next?” And to do it of course is just … it’s huge.
I’ve never had a year go by so fast as that. It’s like, “What? What do you mean it’s over?” I’m calling Brad on the holidays. “Is this hiatus thing over yet? I’ve got nothing to say! I need some witty retorts!”
GW: What’s your most poignant memory from the first year?
DH: It would be Brad taking me on the set for the first time. That was like a scene from a movie. You step into this, and it was just chaos. There was people hanging from the ceiling, and “We’ve got to get this baby moving! We’ve got a day!” And just this massive complex coming up, three or four days before we were actually going to get in there and start shooting.
And then you’re standing there, you’re looking and … “That’s the new gate.” That’s what everyone wanted to see, and all of a sudden you’re standing there going [sounds of gleeful excitement]. That was really it for me.
When you’re a guest star on the show, like with SG-1, it doesn’t matter how welcoming they are — you’re still an outsider coming in. You’re not a part of the family. They’re so good there about bringing you in and making you a part of it. Just the nature of the fact that you’re not in every day, you’re not in every episode makes a big difference. Just to come in right at the very beginning of this stuff and to see it all get built and get larger.
Look at this year! It’s just expanded. We’ve got villages! Imagine how big it’s going to be if keeps going for a couple more years! So we bought Vancouver! [Laughter] Well, just the outside of Vancouver! Vancouver’s now in back. It’s the set for Atlantis!
GW: How do you feel about Season Two so far?
DH: It’s relentless! It has been non-stop. Last year it was almost like there were more cerebral shows and there were more action-packed shows. There was obviously a mix, obviously to some extent in all of the shows. But this year it’s just this blend, if you’re not talking you’re running and jumping. If you’re not in the scene you’re shooting second unit stuff.
So it’s, like, explosive! I don’t know whether they got more money or just decided to sort of kick it up a notch. The first three episodes … what, are we on the fourth one now?
DH: Is this the fifth one? We’ve done “The Siege [Part 3],” we’ve done “Intruder,” we’ve done “Runner,” “Duet,” and now — right, of course, right. That’s a testament right there. It feels like two shows. It feels like I’ve shot two shows because it’s just been non-stop.
And so much has happened! Already, episode five! We’ve gone back to Earth, we’ve got screwed again by more Wraith … This year, especially this episode we started today, is just really messing with the whole concept of who we are and how fallible we are. Just when you start getting to the point where you think, “Oh, OK, well McKay will say something unintelligible, snarky, and then walk off and the problem will be solved.” This is an episode that just goes, “Yeah, no. You can be as snarky and arrogant as you want but just some stuff you can’t fix.”
I think that adds a nice … You don’t want to fall into a formula and I think so far this season is really just blown that apart. And Rainbow — that dark side of Rainbow all of a sudden. He’s running around with that funky looking eye, screaming at me and hanging me upside down.
I can’t wait to see “Duet” — the Kissing Bandit episode where I have to make out with every single person on the bloody set … man, animal, and beast!
GW: Has that been particularly challenging?
DH: Yeah! Well, first off you’re dealing with the multiple personality thing, which is always fun. Jaime Ray Newman (I guess it is; first names I’m good at) is the guest star on the show. She’s one of the characters trapped in my head, so she was great. We just hung out and I could get some sense of how she spoke, and make fun of her.
So there was a lot of acting stuff and there’s also a fair amount of physical stuff, it was quite challenging as well. But it’s fun! Backing up here Dan said, “I’m really sorry, you’ve had an awful lot to do!” I’m like, “Please God, don’t stop giving it to me!” Although I am beginning to sort of banter around that whole “McKay loses his voice” episode. [Laughter] That’s what I’m hoping for! An episode of that where I’m just in the background going [nodding, shrugging shoulders].
Actually the romantic — or non-romantic — element, the person who I was most worried about with the kiss … I don’t know how much you guys know about what happens. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say. What am I allowed to say?
GW: We know a little bit. We know about getting her consciousness stuck in your head.
DH: Right. Here’s the problem. Her consciousness and her — she is in love with, not in love, but she’s got a crush on Beckett. So when she gets control of my body … Have you seen “Ghost?”
GW: So you and Paul …
DH: Me and Paul … Yeah, me and Paul have some “intimate” scenes, shall we say. Which was as shocking, I think, to our characters and ourselves as it was to the rest of the crew. But as it was done it was Paul and I, [our] little thing was actually probably easier to do because we know each other well enough. It’s like “mercifully unerotic.” It’s these poor actresses who’ve had to come in and on their first day were supposed to be making out with me. And I’m just like, “I’m really sorry!”
GW: There’s a new guy in town, Jason Momoa.
DH: Yes, indeed!
GW: Tell us your thoughts of Jason.
DH: The coolest man alive. I think I’ve said five things to him. “You big, eh?” Something like that.
He just adds this amazing presence, because he’s just this figure to be reckoned with. He’s got these cool dreads and you see this stuff with him running through the forest, and you just buy it. The guy looks … He’s got this great, committed, a man who has made some mistakes and made a lot of enemies type thing. Just a great character to come in.
And just his physical presence. I mean, know I am a very tall and imposing man, but Jason towers well above us. And certainly when you’ve got him decked out it’s just really … Just like Brad and Robert were saying: It’s like when we arrive on a planet now there’s a presence there. We’re not just there for diplomacy now. We need some protection. We’ve got Teyla, we’ve got Ronon now. It’s not all brains now. We’ve got some brawn behind us as well, so when we show up on a planet we’re a force to be reckoned with.
And I’ve got more taller people to hide behind, which is nice, because Rainbow was always a little shorter. But again, we’ll be seeing Rainbow again as well. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing as much of him as we did. I know he’s back for some more stuff.
GW: There’s an interesting dynamic that is continuing between McKay and Sheppard. A lot of fans are hoping that we’re going to see more of that.
DH: Right! Right. Well, it definitely continues. This episode I’m in — [to Mars, his dog, who is yawning audibly] oh, yes, do get comfortable! — which I’ve now forgotten the name of. What’s the one that we’re on now?
DH: “Trinity.” Yes, thank you. That’s it. “Trinity” is interesting because it breaks down that relationship further. It’s obvious that it’s a prickly, though well-mannered relationship. We are sort of banging off each other. This one breaks it down further and goes, “Come on, trust me!” Ike! Yikes, I screwed up. And I brought him in on it, and that kind of stuff.
It’ll be interesting to see how the barbs work now. There’s definitely more conflict now between the characters. There’s definitely a breakdown this year of the established relationships. We’ve been back to Earth. We’re now here by choice rather than because we’re stuck here, so people are beginning to get their own agendas. McKay’s beginning to play with the military side of stuff and going, “Well, when I want something that I can’t get through the diplomacy of Weir I’m going to go to the military.” Because that is McKay. He definitely gravitates to the stronger force; as much as he’d like to, he has to look after people.
For the most part he is very self-serving, because he believes, like any true scientist, he believes his ends justify the means. He’ll do whatever he needs to do to do what he thinks is right. I think what’s great about Brad [Wright] and Robert [Cooper] and Martin [Gero] and all of the writers is that they definitely have that dark side there; they like the darker side of the science fiction as well.
There’s always a danger [that] you set up these characters and they just do the same thing every episode. They’re very good at throwing these things for a loop. We set them all up in Season One and now we’re going to just deconstruct them all again and see how they fit back together again.
And it’s good, we’ve even got Mitch [Pileggi] now. You guys talk to Mitch?
DH: I think the ultimate compliment I can say for Mitch is that it’s like he’s never not been here. He fits in so well. We’re teasing him already. I think he goes back and cries, but he’s learning to get a thick skin. It’s great having him here too. Just a great actor, a great personality to have around. He just fits in so well, even though we try very hard to make him feel like he’s standing out.
GW: Where would you like to see this character go before the year is out?
DH: Like Hawaii?
GW: [Aside] I knew he was going to say that!
DH: Somewhere nice? It’s a good question! I’m constantly surprised at where he goes, so as long as I’m surprised and as long as he doesn’t become predictable, it doesn’t matter to me.
And I keep saying it: It sounds like it’s a suck-up, but these guys [the writers] are so good at what they do and they obviously are so attuned to the McKays of the world. This episode was a big surprise for me. I found myself going, “Do I not like this because McKay doesn’t like this?” Is this a legitimate actor complaint about what this character’s doing or is this a McKay thing? And you find yourself going, “That’s McKay!” McKay’s going, “Excuse me! I’m wrong about what? I don’t think so! I think that’s a typo! Let’s change that!”
I don’t want to know where he’s going. That’d be my ultimate goal in this. I want to be continually surprised by what he does and what trouble he gets into and what he gets people out of.
GW: What is your feeling on the production over this year and the writing and the quality compared to the first season?
DH: It’s completely comparable. I think they’re equally as strong. I think you can’t help after time to start picking up the rhythms that people have and strengths and weaknesses and all that kind of stuff. I’m not sure I have any weaknesses.
I think Season One is probably the toughest of all the seasons. You’ve got so much to establish. You’re finding a series and no matter what you do it’s still a spin-off of SG-1. There’s just extricating themselves from that. How are they true to the fans who love SG-1 but also develop a new show?
I think what’s nice about Season Two is I feel like they’ve done a fantastic job setting everything up in Season One. Now they can play with it. And I really feel like they’re coming into their own now because they’re no longer trying to build a show. They’re now having fun with the show and I think that is really, really showing. That would by my take on the development side of stuff.
And also I think because of the success of the show. It seems, from what I hear, it’s beyond what they expected. They’re, I think, very, very happy with the ratings and the response and stuff. That’s definitely having an effect. We got a little bit more money, a little bit more at stake now. So it’s definitely fun.
GW: A lot of people are thinking that you must be the biggest request for conventions and we’re wondering why you haven’t shown up at so many, besides a little incident in London with one particular fan.
DH: One particular fan? When was that?
GW: We were talking with Rachel and she said …
DH: Oh, God, did she tell you that? Oh, horrible woman. Horrible Rachel! I’m never telling Rachel anything ever again!
Rachel is so lovely, isn’t she? She’s so sweet. I feel like I’ve not only been provided with a job and a life. I’ve been provided with entire friends as well. “Here’s the social scene, too! You can all hang out! You’re going to get along with these people fine!” Yeah — no, I do.
I get very uncomfortable with the economics of them. It feels very strange to me that money changes hands for autographs and that kind of stuff. I understand the need for it. It just makes me uncomfortable and I’m not saying that — obviously we get paid for what we do and that’s great, obviously it helps.
So it’s that. It’s also just time. Unfortunately, there’s a convention in Vancouver this weekend and I’d love to be there, but I haven’t seen my girlfriend in three weeks and I have so many lines to learn for next week.
I know that I’ll get dinner, some time with Jane and then I’ll be learning lines for Sunday for sure. So I’m really, I’m very, very protective of what free time I get. And then during hiatus, I’ve got a lot of family, and they’re all over the place. We’re going to go to Australia because I think it’s important to get away and to see things and if that can be under the auspices of Atlantis, then great. It’s certainly a place that I’ve always wanted to go to, but …
You finally earn enough money to actually do those kinds of trips but you don’t have enough time to do them. There’s a lot of stuff. I’ve got some writing that I’m really enjoying. I’m trying not for my life to be entirely Atlantis, even though I love it. It’s not that I need to get away from it; it’s just that I think it’s good to get a rest every once in a while.
GW: Have you thought about combining the two and writing for the show?
DH: Yeah! I would love to do that. I know Joe’s been doing that and I’m amazed. They know their stuff so well. They’ve done all this. They’ve been doing this for so long now. It’s not easy. [Regarding Mars] Yeah, he’ll start snoring pretty loudly later.
It’s very difficult to come up with stuff that they haven’t done. I’ll think of something and then the reality is it’s too similar to something else, something coming up. So I’m just not smart enough. I think that’s what it comes down to. They’ve definitely been very open to suggestions and stuff, and it’s something I’m very, very interested in doing. I would love to do it at some point.
But it’s just a matter of just coming up with the right thing. These guys do this — this is their job. They’re really good at it. They make it look effortless but the fact is it’s really, really hard work. And they’re really good at it. So you’ve got to come up with some pretty good ideas before they’re going to drop theirs and start with yours.
Plus, you’re gonna get desperate in Season 50. “I don’t know Dave, what do we do?” “What about ‘McKay Loses His Voice’?”
GW: Realistically, how many seasons would you be willing to shoot?
DH: I’ll do ’em all. I love this. I know that some actors find science fiction — I think they see it only from the money standpoint. I grew up on science fiction. I love science fiction. In my free time as a kid I made science fiction with my friends with 8 millimeter. I love this stuff. Doctor Who is what got me into it. I’m doing Doctor Who, in effect. I don’t understand why Eccleston would walk away from Season One!
GW: They should ask you to be Doctor Who for Season Two.
DH: As soon as she heard that he’d walked away from it [my girlfriend] was like, “We’ve gotta call them!” I was like, “Call them and say what? Can’t you wait until Atlantis is over?”
That will never happen. I love this show. This is so much fun, and I’ve committed to it, and I’m more than happy to do it. Doctor Who is funny, though. In the back of my mind I keep thinking, “Oh, but imagine Doctor Who …”
Doctor Who is one of those things that have definitely influenced McKay, as well. The original Doctor Who, going way, way back, the John Pertwee and [William] Hartnell and all those guys — they were grumpy old men. So hopefully by the time, when Atlantis finally winds down and they’re wheeling me around the set, I can come back as, you know, Davros or something.