GateWorld recently traveled to southern California to chat with Ben Browder, Stargate SG-1‘s new leading man. We visited Camino Real Park, found a bleacher, and gleefully eliminated a roll of digital film talking about Cameron Mitchell and the actor’s first year on the long-running show.
Because Ben does not like to add to the spoiler and rumor mills, we stuck mainly to the first half of Season Nine and some of the broader strokes that made it what it was. Ben tells how he is ready for Season Ten — whether his character is alive or not after the stunning season finale — and fills us in on his feelings about Browder thunkers, Jack the caterer, and this year’s “Stargate Donut Day,” among other topics.
GateWorld’s video interview with Ben Browder runs a little over 30 minutes, and is also available in an audio-only format for your convenience. The complete interview is also transcribed below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read and I’m here with Mr. Ben Browder, SG-1’s Cameron Mitchell and yes, yes, Farscape‘s John Chrichton. [Laughter] Ben, thanks for taking time to talk with us today.
Ben Browder: My pleasure, David. Thanks for having me.
GW: You’ve told me before that you’re a fan of Stargate. Does that help you get out of bed in the morning, knowing that you’re going to go and make great television?
BB: My alarm clock helps me get out of bed in the morning. Being a fan of the show gets you through the middle part of the day when things start to get long. When you’ve been standing around and you start to get tired, it helps to enjoy what it is you’re doing. But it’s good to like what you do. I’m a fan of my job, so that makes my life a lot easier.
GW: Do you ever get to a point where you’re saying to yourself, “OK, I’m ready to go home. For today. I don’t want to go on any further. Have you ever said that?”
BB: Everyone gets to that point, where you start thinking, “Okay, that’s enough. I’ve been standing in the rain for 10 hours. My body temperature has now dropped to the point where I’m shivering. Can we go home now?” And you certainly get that in Vancouver. [Laughter] “Can’t you guys see that it’s raining?” “Nah, it doesn’t read, keep going!” Steam coming out of your mouth. Your body temperature — you’re into hypothermia. They’ve got Chris Judge laid out under a blanket with three girls trying to keep him warm and you’re going, “Can we just go home?!”
GW: Exactly. [Laughter] Now hopefully there haven’t been too many of those this year.
BB: We had a couple of days, particularly early and then a couple of days as we got late, where it got cold. It does get cold. Not too bad, though.
GW: One year of Stargate is now behind you. Were you pleased with any particular part of your acting this year? Is there anything you’re just kicking yourself over?
BB: Where do you get these questions? [Laughter]
GW: Up here. Kidneys.
BB: I usually get to the end of the day and kick myself over three or four things that I’ve done during the day. You’re in the car on the way back to your box that you sleep in at night. There’s that moment where you recycle what you’ve done and you go, “Oh, should’ve done this. Could’ve done this. Maybe this would’ve been better.”
You know, most of the stuff that I do I have second thoughts about, and doubts about.
GW: You ever have an urge to go into the edit bay and say, “Please don’t use this?”
GW: Do you have that kind of control?
BB: No. No. I have enough control that I could walk over and whisper in Rob Cooper’s ear and say, “Hey, Rob, do me a favor here.” And sometimes you’ll have those discussions with whoever’s editing the piece. First you talk with the director and then you talk with the producers and you talk with the editor.
But for the most part, no you don’t have much opportunity to do it because you’re back on the floor getting on to the next scene. By the time you get up the next day you have to pretty much put behind you how much you screwed up the day before.
GW: Trust the editors.
BB: Well, yeah. The thing about shooting a television show, or film in general, is it’s a collaborative art form. I’ve said this before. If Cameron Mitchell as a character works it’s a credit to a large number of people: the writers, makeup, hair, lighting, your D.O.P. [director of photography], the camera operators, your fellow actors, your directors, your editors. All these people make Cameron Mitchell work. If Cameron Mitchell doesn’t work it’s usually my fault. I believe that to be true.
As an actor in front of a camera you are dependent upon a large team of people to make you look good. And so when credit rolls around, if credit is due, it’s usually due to a large number of people, not the individual who played the role.
GW: Season Ten has just been confirmed.
BB: Yes, I’m still waiting to find out whether I’m alive or not.
GW: [Laughter] But otherwise, are you game for it?
BB: “Am I game for it?” Yeah, I’m game for Season Ten. I’m very happy that there is a Season Ten. Obviously there was a concern coming in on Season Nine — “Would this be the last year? Would this work?” To the degree that it has worked and people have tuned in, it’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to come back and do more.
GW: Have you been pleased with the feedback of the fans in terms of your performance?
BB: Feedback to an actor’s performance … You hear the worst possible things and you hear the best possible things. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Hopefully the truth is somewhere in the middle, and not at the lower end.
When I started on Farscape I ventured out into the Internet to see what was being said about the show and about John Crichton and about me. I think the first article I clicked on basically said I was the worst actor in the history of the universe. I was “the most wooden actor that anyone had ever seen,” and … [Laughter]
I don’t know whether it’s true or not. There may have been some truth to it, but a couple of months later you read how you’re the best thing since sliced bread. You can’t live and die by that. You do the job. You do the best you can. You hope that people like what you do, but at the end of the day as an actor, I’m there to service the story and do the best job that I can do.
What do you say to someone who thinks you’re the worst thing that’s ever hit the screen? You can’t. Otherwise it becomes very difficult to even hear your alarm clock to get out of bed — to make that mid-day point when you think, “Gosh, I’m tired.” So, yeah.
GW: Does it ever hit you while you’re filming that fans are going to be watching this and, “Boy, I’d better put on a good show?”
BB: When I’m filming, no. I don’t usually think about the end product when I’m filming. I’m involved in the scene and involved in the discussion of how we’re doing it and where it fits in the story. On the better days you’re more engrossed in the story than anything else. And the bad days you certainly go, “Wow, that was terrible. That sucked. Please save me!”
No, you know, generally speaking it’s not something — thinking about fan reaction is not necessarily something which occurs while shooting a scene. It may be something which occurs when you’re reading the script or when you’re thinking about it outside of work. But when you’re actually working you’re pretty busy and you’re concentrating on your job, and your job at that point is not thinking about, “Wow, Bob in Iowa is going to hate me.” Bob in Iowa may hate me regardless of what I do.
It’s one of the facts of life that people will love you and people will hate you for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons, and it’s very difficult to sift through that. If you can’t accept the fact that, no matter what you do, someone’s going to hate you … You’re standing in front of a camera and you’re on a TV show where a lot of people have watched it for a very long time, somebody is going to hate you. You don’t want them to hate you, but you have to accept the fact that it’s going to happen and no matter what I do it won’t have any bearing on whether that person hates me or not. I can’t address that issue anyway.
You can beat yourself upside down and backwards worrying about whether people hate you, or you can be worrying whether people are going to love you or not. At the end of the day that doesn’t really matter. You just do the best you can and accept the fact that people are going to believe what they are going to believe and you can’t change that. If you’re trying to change it, I’m not sure that you’re doing your job as an actor.
GW: You can really get swept away in that current.
BB: Well, actors get swept away in either the attention or the reviews. I never went into this particular kind of job for either, I don’t think. I love the process of acting. I love what goes on in the floor. I love the interaction. I have a really great job. I have a job where some days I get blown up, and some days I get to swing a sword, and some days I get to kiss the girl, and some days I’m standing around speaking techno-babble.
But it’s a great job. That’s why I do it. Not because it affords me an opportunity to have someone clap me on the back. It’s nice when that happens, but it’s not sufficient reason to be away from your family. It’s not sufficient reason to spend your life looking for praise, I don’t think.
Wow, that was philosophical, wasn’t it? [Laughter] All of these lessons can be spread out to the broader strokes of life. I want to be President because people will vote for me! Don’t you realize they will hate you! Look at the opinion polls. Wow. You can go from an 80 percent approval rating to 20 percent with a single stroke of your presidential pen.
GW: In that similar vein of attention, last week I came across a keychain for sale on the Internet. It had a picture of you and underneath was the caption, “When God created Ben Browder he was just showing off.” [Laughter]
BB: That’s a reasonable balance to “the most wooden actor in the history of the universe.”
GW: First of all have you seen this keychain —
BB: — No, I haven’t seen this keychain.
GW: Or others of it’s kind? And two, how does that make you feel?
BB: It’s baffling. It’s a baffling question. I hope that my mom kind of feels that way. Maybe my mom made the keychain. I’ve got to give her a call. “Mom, what are you doing with those keychains?” God bless my family. And the people I pay to do that stuff. I’ve got a little factory producing “Ben Browder is God” artifacts. It’ll be on sale immediately following this video …
GW: Yes, “Check out the GateWorld store.”
BB: Oh, my gosh, could you imagine!
GW: How long are you prepared to work on SG-1? Five years? Seven? [Laughter] Nine?
BB: As long as I’m enjoying doing it and as long as they continue to be able to pay me to do it. As long as Rob Cooper and Brad Wright want to do it and the stories are engaging. That’s an impossible question to answer in terms of number of years. You can’t sit down and say, “Yes, I’m going to play baseball until I’m 90.” You don’t know. You get to the end of a year and figure it out.
GW: Have you discussed exercising your writing talents on the show?
BB: No, I haven’t discussed it.
GW: Haven’t gotten to that point yet?
BB: No, I haven’t engaged in that conversation.
GW: Would you like to eventually write for SG-1?
BB: That is not a question that I’m entertaining at the moment. They have a long-running writing staff. The guys up there are doing their job and if I was to write for SG-1 it would be because the writing staff wants to engage me in that fashion, so …
GW: But if they come to you and say, “Would you be interested in this?”
BB: Then we would talk about it at that point.
GW: Is that what happened with Farscape?
BB: Yes. With Farscape David Kemper and Rockne O’Bannon asked me if I wanted to write a script. I did not approach to write a script.
It’s a hell of a lot of work, writing a script, and to see it through from beginning to end. I’m a stickler for finishing what I start, so on Farscape every word which appeared on a page was written by me. I was doing rewrites in the middle of the night. I was writing scripts while I was shooting — shooting during the day and writing at two or three o’clock in the morning.
You do it because you love the show and you want to be that far engaged in the show. But I don’t know that I’m comfortable with letting someone else finish what I start, so in order to do it it’d have to be something that I really want to do and, quite frankly, the writing staff really wanted me to do. I don’t know whether that would happen or not.
GW: Having done sci-fi previously, did you have any preconceived notions that were blown out of the water when you stared filming? I mean, Farscape, as you said, is “sci-fi crack.”
BB: [Laughter] I did call Farscape “sci-fi” crack, didn’t I? Well, it is! You mean preconceptions about what?
GW: About going into production on SG-1 — something that you were expecting and it was like, “Well, I guess we’re not doing it this way. Okay!”
BB: No. Going into SG-1, my job as I perceived it to be, and as I still perceive it to be, is to find a way to be part of the team that makes the show. So when I was coming in to do the show my first job is to learn how the folks at Bridge [Studios] make the show. So I’m taking my cues from my fellow cast members. I’m taking them from the director, from the writing staff, from Jack the caterer, and whoever else is there.
So I suppose my expectations of how the show was made were relatively low in regards to — I didn’t know what to expect, and wanted to try not to anticipate what my influence in the show is going to be or, “Well this is the way things should be done.” There’s a common language for making film no matter where you are in the world. Whether you’re in Australia or Canada or the U.S. or France or England, film is made in a very similar fashion.
But every set has its own peculiarities and its own strengths and weaknesses. And coming into a show which has been successful for eight years, you don’t want to come in and try and reinvent the wheel. Or at least I don’t. Maybe someone else would, but that’s not what I perceive my job to be.
GW: You want to facilitate the storyline as best as possible.
BB: That’s a succinct way of saying it, yes — but it’s not just the storyline. There is also a day-to-day process which goes on in making a television show. There’s a community which is already making the show and has been for some time, so you’re coming into a community of people who are doing this body of work and you’re trying to find a way to fit in with these people and add your bit to the story where you can. But the story is created by the writers, by the producers and by the people who were there before you. So what should you expect when you enter a long-running show?
I think one of the pitfalls is thinking that you have a better idea than everyone else around you. For me it’s just a great opportunity to see what other people are doing and learn from it, and pick up from it, and carry it to the next show and wait for an opportunity to exercise it. There’s things I learned on Farscape that I was able to use in Stargate, and there are other things that quite frankly I wouldn’t begin to touch using because they’re different shows, and because the culture and the people who make them are different people.
You come in, and you muddle through, and do the best you can and hope you don’t screw it up too bad.
GW: What has been the hardest aspect of filming Season Nine?
BB: The hardest thing about filming in Season Nine was being away from home, being away from my family.
GW: Were they with you when you were shooting Farscape?
GW: Ah, so this was different.
GW: Okay, okay. I was talking to you earlier, and you said you were trying to run home as often as you could.
BB: I was, yes, getting on a plane as often as I could.
GW: Is that something that you’re not looking forward to in Season Ten?
BB: Well, that’s something I wouldn’t look forward to at any time. You want to be with your family. You want to be with your children in the best possible world. Sometimes jobs come up and they’re in other places and so you’re accommodating the lives of your children to the best degree that you can, the life of your spouse, and creating this family. So you don’t want to be away.
It’d be difficult no matter Season Ten, Season Twenty, or Season One of a show. It’s a difficult thing for me. Maybe other people are OK with it. I find it difficult.
GW: Well, there’s always a degree of sacrifice. I mean, you love your job, but at the same time you do need to bring home the bacon.
BB: At the end of the day you have to provide for those that you’ve brought out into the world, don’t you? Last time I checked they still grow and they still need new clothes and they need feeding. They need the odd word of wisdom.
GW: They need their Dad. Yeah.
BB: I was on the phone with my Dad getting my words of wisdom while I was driving up to meet you. Hopefully I’m not messing them up too bad.
GW: Is there any particular moment this year that just sticks out in your mind as I ask this question? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind from Season Nine?
BB: The first thing that comes to my mind from Season Nine?
BB: Uhh … [Laughter]
GW: He’s found something. [Laughter]
BB: Eight inches of mud. Eight inches of mud. [Laughter]
GW: And we won’t go there!
BB: No, that’s what sticks out in my mind. Eight inches of mud.
GW: Your family’s very important to you. How accommodating has the show been this year, besides being able to go home and then come back? Have you been able to request certain things? Like, “Okay, my son’s birthday is coming up. What can we do here?” How accommodating has the show been?
BB: Production is as accommodating as they can in order to make the show. My first responsibility when I’m working is to be at work. So there are times when I’ve made certain trips that I needed to make and times when I’ve missed certain trips that I’ve needed to make. So it’s a reality of shooting a television show.
GW: Have they been able to visit the set?
GW: Good. What did they think? Were they impressed?
BB: [Laughter] Well, the thing is my family has seen sets. But they loved coming and visiting the SG-1 set.
GW: Is there anything about your experience with Stargate that you want to ask to be changed if there is another season? Little things? “I’d like the caterer to be –”
BB: — Further away from the sound stage?
GW: “He’s too loud! Dang-it!”
BB: I think there should be no catering because Michael, Chris, and I are not able to avail ourselves of it.
GW: I’ve had it. It’s very good!
BB: The catering is very good. Actually we did have a day, the final day of shooting … There’s the other thing: donuts. Mmmm.
BB: Yes. Michael, Chris, and I asked for donuts and we sat down with, oh, probably 20 boxes of donuts and milk and shared them all with the crew. But we sat down and had a donut feast on our final day of shooting. [Laughter]
So I guess I’d request another Donut Day, yeah. One Donut Day a year. That was actually my whole contribution from Stargate for the whole year. Donut Day. “What did Ben Browder add to the show?” “Donuts.” Donut Day. They had donuts before … but they never had Donut Day.
GW: Did you have Donut Day on Farscape?
BB: No. No no no, every show gets a new thing.
GW: Next year it’s going to be ice cream.
BB: “It’s Beer Day on Stargate! You can always tell when they’re shooting [on] Beer Day.” [Laughter]
GW: Is there any aspect of Cam, you or the writers —
BB: — Cameron Mitchell?
GW: Cameron Mitchell.
BB: Lieutenant Colonel “Cam Shaft” Mitchell?
GW: — that you or the writers have deliberately held back from portraying so that it could be saved for the next season?
BB: [Laughter] I don’t know what Rob and company have deliberately held back. There are things, as an actor, that I always hold back. But then, doesn’t that happen in life? “I want to know about the experience that you had when you were 13 years old and you first saw a Farrah Fawcett poster.” [Laughter] We don’t need to know that information about Cameron Mitchell! [Laughter] “He was really into Lee Majors and then he saw Farrah Fawcett. It was a seminal experience. I think we should give this to the audience.” No, y’know … Not necessary.
GW: If you were contributing to a time capsule for your distant descendents to find and you were allowed to put one of your TV episodes in this, which one would it be? For either Farscape or SG-1?”
BB: Woo! I don’t know that I’d put any in there! Whenever there’s an episode of something that I’ve been involved in, or a movie — whatever that I’ve done — is playing, if I walk into the room and someone is watching it, I leave the room.
GW: You don’t want to interfere with that process?
BB: No, I just get all wierded out about it. I just find it odd. There’s nothing I can do. I have to live with my mistakes at that point. You know what, I’ll just go do something else. I can watch my work in a professional environment. I watch all the cuts. I watch the final edits. But if someone’s watching it and it’s someone I know watching it it’s even worse. I have to disappear.
GW: Amanda [Tapping]. She’s always been very critical of her work. You have to wonder if it affects how she’s going to deliver the next scene. Do you ever watch something when it’s done and go, “Oh, my God …”
BB: Yeah! Yeah, I’ll watch something and go, “Oh, that was okay.” Or I’ll watch it and go, “Ooohoohoohoo … eeeh. Someone had better hire a better actor.” Some people don’t watch their work at all. Some people are not comfortable watching themselves at all and some people can watch everything they do and they don’t care, and some people seem to love watching themselves.
I’m kind of somewhere in the middle. I watch it technically. I’ll watch it to think, “Yeah, that works. Yeah, that doesn’t work.” I’ll watch an edit to see whether they saved me or not in the edit. But the reactions vary, and they change with time as well. Some things I can watch that happened a long time ago, that I can go, “Yeah, that was alright.”
GW: You think you’ll look on SG-1 in 10 or 15 years and say, “I’m glad I was a part of that. That was a good show.”?
BB: I don’t know. I don’t know. I would hope so. If I didn’t hope so I wouldn’t be thinking about Season Ten, Eleven, Twelve, and Seventeen, would I? Not that I’m thinking about those seasons.
GW: One season at a time.
BB: It’s always one season at a time. You can only do what’s immediately in front of you.
GW: Some fans have observed that, as a leading man, we haven’t seen many episodes in the first of the season that are especially Mitchell-heavy. What are your thoughts on this? Was it just a matter of the storylines, and you didn’t necessarily get the chance to be in the foreground the entire time?
BB: I think that’s a Rob Cooper, Brad Wright, writer question. I don’t frame the stories. I believe that they did certain things with a purpose, but I can’t speak for them as to what their purposes are. Even if I knew what their purpose was I wouldn’t want to speak for them in that regard. I have more to do as an actor and Cameron Mitchell has more to do as a character later in the season.
At the end of the day, which is the better road, will be determined by someone else. Not me.
It’s an interesting question, specifically an interesting question in regards to the fandom that exists around the show, because you have a show which has been going for eight years. Now you’re introducing a new character into this mix of four people. It’s a four-person team and the writers want a four-person team because it helps them with their stories. It’s a good number. It’s a good number for an SG-1 team.
But when you introduce a character, how you introduce a character — is a very tricky balance. And I think they did a good job introducing Cameron Mitchell. Now whether more would be better or less would be better is a taste issue. It has to do often with how people who have been watching the show for a long time feel about the show or feel about the characters.
I think that it was a successful introduction to the character from a lot of standpoints, but the truth is — much like there will be people who won’t like you, David, because of who you are or because of your hair cut or the color of your skin or the sound of your accent, or the way you pick up the paper in the morning …
GW: Actually people don’t like the shirts that I choose!
BB: Yes. Well it’s the Southern Illinois University thing. You know. One-double-A powerhouse. [Laughter] But people are going to have strong opinions because they’ve been watching the show for so long. I think that it’s an interesting dilemma of how to introduce characters in long-running shows.
Most shows don’t do it very successfully. Some shows have done it very well. M*A*S*H did it exceptionally well. E.R. has done it well. But most shows live and die by the introduction of new characters. For Stargate, whose —
GW: — not had a new lead —
GW: Which you liked.
BB: Yeah, I thought that they handled it well. I thought they handled the absence of Daniel Jackson well. Daniel Jackson is a critical character to the story. Critical. His absence and how you handle it is a tricky balance. I thought they handled it well.
Do I think it was good that he came back? Yeah, absolutely. But now introducing someone else to the story, it’s a tricky one. I thought they did an OK job.
GW: A lot of people are upset that Sam isn’t commanding the team. We have this new guy coming in. Yeah, he was in “Lost City,” but we never really saw him. And now here he is commanding the team.
BB: Well, you know, there’s two things about that. One is we’re back to the question of fandom and being sensitive to the desires and needs of your fan base. There’s nothing I can do about that. But there’s another thing which actually has to do with a certain sense of reality, is that the military doesn’t necessarily operate that way. New leaders are brought in routinely into units from one place to the next. The guy who is commanding the Thunderbirds, when I arrived there, had not been commanding the Thunderbirds before. He was brought in to command the Thunderbirds. And this is what the military does. They bring people in to these positions. This is the way things lay out.
And there’s also a practical element to shooting in that Amanda just had a baby. She wasn’t available for the first six episodes. So creatively, as you’re juggling these questions, you’re not going to be able to make a decision which is going to make everybody happy. So you make the decision that makes the most sense for the storyline that you’re telling. You can never make everybody happy all the time.
GW: You think we’ll be seeing you at more Stargate conventions down the road? Comic Con, yes …
BB: Well, I don’t have anything currently planned at the moment. I do have a Farscape convention that I’m going to, my annual pilgrimage to thank these people for employment. They’re lovely people. They really are.
GW: What would you like to say to the hundreds of thousands of fans who are going to be watching you, hopefully for the next several years on Stargate?
BB: Be kind! Be kind. Be gentle. Be understanding. Don’t hurt me.
As an actor I hope that the work which is done on Stargate, which is the voice of the writers and the directors and the crew and the cast, does the speaking for me. I’m not a spokesman for Stargate, and as a spokesman for Ben Browder I prefer a more private tact.
I hope that people enjoy the show. I hope that people continue to watch the show. Thanks for watching! The fact that people watch the show means I have a job, and that’s a rare privilege. I understand I’m in a very privileged situation.
GW: But not just that you’re able to do it, but that your work is worth watching.
BB: Well, you hope so, but it’s not all my work. If it is worth watching it’s not my work. If it’s bad, it’s my work.
GW: [Laughter] That’s not true.
BB: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is.
GW: Well, we enjoy your work. [Laughter] The writers that do drive the show — the words behind it — they may not be your own but it takes an artist to be able to pull that off.
BB: You know what? I’m just a guy that does my job. When it works, it’s great. When someone’s entertained by it and it touches someone it’s great. It’s great to be a part of it.
GW: Ben Browder, thank you very much.
BB: David, thank you very much!