It’s been a year since GateWorld last spoke with David Nykl, who plays the loveable Dr. Radek Zelenka on Stargate Atlantis. In that time the character’s growth has doubled. From scenes in “Duet,” “Trinity,” and “Grace Under Pressure” to the new third season, there was much we were eager to discuss! David was good enough to make a special trip to The Bridge Studios in Vancouver to speak with us. While technicians reorganized the “Gaterium” for a cafeteria scene, we went up to the Atlantis conference room for a brief chat.
David tells us about “Irresistible,” the episode he was currently shooting (beware of minor spoilers), and takes us back through Zelenka’s growth in Season Two, bailing Rodney McKay out of trouble, and expanding his palette with the show’s other regular cast members.
GateWorld’s interview with David Nykl is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is 17 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: David Nykl, thank you for being with us this fine morning. Thank you for coming in!
David Nykl: My pleasure! It’s nice to see you guys.
GW: Nice to see you. What is Zelenka’s involvement in the episode you’re shooting this week?
DN: [Laughter] The episode is called “Irresistible.”
DN: “Irresistible” is the name of the episode, featuring Richard Kind. And Zelenka is doing much what Zelenka does quite frequently, which is in the control room with Weir. But, let’s just say that there’s been a remarkable effect to the Atlantis crew that has changed their behavior, and Zelenka is susceptible to that. Almost more so than everybody else.
GW: So is this kind of a tour de force for Zelenka in this episode?
DN: Oh, no. No, no. Not this one. It’s kind of a comic piece. It’s similar to what, I think, in some ways what “Duet” was last year. Almost kind of sitcom-y. It’s a comic piece. It features Richard Kind, and we’ve just got a certain mood-altering element in Atlantis. And I’m just affected by it. No, it’s not a big episode.
GW: You mean in terms of you as a guest star?
DN: Not yet.
GW: OK. Have you been able to do something in this episode that you haven’t been able to do in Atlantis yet?
DN: Oh, yes!
GW: OK, good. So it was different in that respect?
DN: M-hmm! M-hmm.
GW: In terms of Radek’s relationship with the other regulars, are you satisfied with the growth for this past year or do you hope to do more?
DN: Well, in any case I’d certainly hope to do more. But yeah, I’m very happy with it. I’ve said this before. The relationship between the actor and the writers … you don’t want to give away too much. You do want to leave space for the writers to do what they want to do. So I don’t want to stack the deck in terms of putting things out there that they’re not intending to do. But certainly, the growth has been from a supporting character to a more regular presence.
What’s been happening through Season Two and now in the beginning of Season Three is I’ve been put together with various other regulars and working off of them — which has been a real pleasure. I’ve had a chance to work with Joe [Flanigan]. I work with Dave [Hewlett] quite frequently, with Torri [Higginson] quite a lot. Yeah, the character’s developing slowly but surely. That’s the speed I like to go at.
GW: Do you get to see the director’s cut before the aired version?
DN: No, I just borrow the DVDs from the production office and watch the show, just like everybody else.
GW: Occasionally there’s deleted content. Has there been anything we’ve missed in terms of Zelenka that’s already out?
DN: That’s a really good question. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been any scenes that we have shot that have not made it to the screen. As a matter of fact, I think we’re doing some extra shooting for one of the first episodes of the season, so a little bit extra Zelenka stuff.
GW: So the time was too short, so they decided to fill it in with you?
DN: Indeed. Yes.
GW: Excellent. Have there been any lines that you’ve been especially tickled with that you’ve been given?
DN: [Laughter] There always are. Almost every single episode. We trade off with Hewlett for the techno-speak. One of my favorites was: “If they are the least bit resourceful, which I must assume that they are, they can easily reverse-engineer their own intergalactic space engine from the wreckage on the sea bottom.”
DN: “From the wreckage on the sea bottom. If they are even the least bit resourceful.” They’re wonderful lines like that. It’s fantastic stuff. It’s science fiction. Matter streams and event horizons and wormholes. It’s fantastic.
GW: “I don’t think it matters how much cake that you walk on.” [Laughter] Lit up my house. Absolutely lit us up.
DN: Well, thank you. It’s science fiction based on science fact and I really get a kick out of that.
GW: What about last year, particularly in the season finale? Zelenka had some great moments with Beckett. Will we be able to see that explored more?
GW: “They call it flashing!”
DN: “– call it flashing!” That was a lot of fun. David, Paul, Torri. They’re just great actors and any chance I have to work with any of them — I’m grateful to the producers that they’re putting me together with different actors to sort of bounce off, act as a foil to. But certainly with Paul, we joke around on set all the time, so it’s great to have a scene with him.
GW: So you’re not always going to be attached with David?
DN: No! No, no no no no no. I’m hoping that — well, no. There’s other places that Radek can go. That’s for sure.
GW: Do you think Radek has any resentment for playing second fiddle to McKay?
DN: No. I think there’s a yin and yang to every kind of relationship. Second fiddle is a matter of perception. McKay is the hero scientist. He makes his own decisions. But Radek has his own thoughts and feelings about those decisions, and the direction they should go. A little bit of that is being explored, and a bit of that tension is being explored.
GW: You get to insert a lot of Czech — almost every episode that you appear in. How much of that is you and how much of that is the writers in the script?
DN: Well, [Laughter] I’d say about 50/50. Meaning that what is given to me is what’s written, and what I add to it is the other 50 percent. Usually the line is in parentheses: “In Czech.” And then it’s written in English. And then I just say it in Czech, because I speak it fluently.
What ends up happening is usually I’m swearing. Usually it’s a scene of some kind of high emotion, so I end up throwing in extra stuff that Terry or the script supervisor ends up coming up [to me] going, “So what did you actually say?”
GW: Well, how much of it is actually, “OK, guys, just to be advised, when I’m walking around here, I’m going to, by the way, say this.” Or how much of it is actually integrated into the script to begin with?
DN: I would say it’s all integrated into the script to begin with. The fact that I’m speaking, as written, into the script, what I’m saying is left up to me to a certain — I translate it usually verbatim. It’s difficult to translate anything completely precisely. Certainly the gist of what’s being said, and the ideas that are meant to be conveyed at that time is what I’m saying in Czech, yeah. But the words are mine.
GW: It’s cool that they trust you to do that.
DN: I wonder, huh? [Laughter]
GW: What is he saying, now? Can we get that translator here? Is there another Czech speaker?
DN: Yeah, I think our Focus Puller this year, George is. He’s Czech. We have our own laughs.
GW: I imagine so! A big theme last year was the iratus retrovirus. Will we be seeing Zelenka get more involved with Beckett’s scientific work this year or will you be sticking with McKay more like you said?
DN: I can only speak to what I’ve seen so far, and what I’ve seen so far the answer is “No,” in terms of working with the retrovirus. The work on “Allies” was very specifically related to that. And the developments since then have progressed. By default I’ve been working on it, but we’ve got other problems to deal with right now.
GW: Any more of a chance of you bailing McKay out from a situation that he’s trapped himself in? Like “Trinity,” you’re trying to explain to him …
DN: “Grace Under Pressure,” “Trinity,” the list goes on and on. And I’m pretty sure it will go on and on again. It’s McKay, after all. He gets himself into these pickles.
GW: What do you hope to accomplish this year as an actor?
DN: Umm … Hamlet! [Laughter] What do I hope to accomplish this year as an actor? I enjoy this character very much. I enjoy working with the Stargate cast and crew very much. The direction that Zelenka has taken has been growing, like I said, incrementally, bit by bit, every year. I’m very happy with that. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to work on the character. I like him. I like Radek Zelenka. It’s fun to work on him.
GW: How often do you get recognized in public?
DN: You know, it happened just recently. I was at the superstore in north Vancovuer. I was putting groceries into the car. A lady comes up to me and goes, “Are you — are you — are you the guy on that sci-fi show?” I couldn’t believe it! Not that often. You know, I don’t wear glasses, and when I shave it’s almost like taking the mask off. It’s a little bit incognito. But, yeah, she recognized me. I was very surprised. And then, of course, at conventions.
GW: Well, of course. You come through that door — “Aaah! It’s David, it’s David, it’s David!”
DN: You get recognized, yeah.
GW: So you can move around pretty much without having to worry about getting swarmed or anything like that. [Laughter]
DN: So far.
GW: A lot of viewers often think the actor in real life is very much like the character he plays. We, as fans, have a tendency to attach the person with the actor to the extent of sometimes calling them by their character’s name, which can be frustrating. If you can make one distinction known between Zelenka and David Nykl, what would it be?
DN: That’s an interesting question. It’s obvious that there’s a link because it’s the same person, right? You are using characteristics that are your own. But you’re obviously playing a character. So you’re leaning on things that you don’t necessarily, maybe, do in real life. Radek Zelenka’s a scientist. He’s much more careful. He tends to worry about things more than I do, tends to be much more precise about things than I do.
The distinction is character-based. He’s much more of a scientific mind than I think I would consider myself to be. By scientific mind, I mean the scientific approach to things. The precision, the care, the attention to detail, that sort of thing.
GW: Do you wish you had that or is it just that you don’t?
DN: Well, there’s a balance between risk and careful analysis. I guess in every decision that you make you have to weigh all of those. I think where Radek would tend towards careful analysis, I might in certain circumstances tend otherwise.
GW: What do you think is the best script that’s been kicked out so far this year?
DN: Oh, they’ve been really good. What I like is the different variety, the different styles that the writers come up with. The first two of the season, “No Man’s Land” and “Misbegotten,” are really good. They’re firecrackers. I love “Irresistible,” the one we’re working on right now. It’s very funny. It’s got some very funny moments in it.
I just read “The Real World,” the next one. That’s a whole other genre, psycho drama, which I really like.
GW: Have you been in all the episodes so far?
DN: It was 10 out of 20 in Year One, 10 out of 20 last year, and I think we’re on course for that this year. It seems to be almost every other one, which is great.
GW: Looking back on Season Two, one of my favorite areas to see Zelenka grow in was not just when McKay is in trouble and needs bailing out, but when McKay is actively wrong and Zelenka has to challenge him. “Duet” … especially in “Trinity,” though. Tell us a little bit about not just playing the foil or the competitive scientist, but when McKay is at a point where he’s putting lives in danger. He’s going to blow up a solar system. What does Zelenka do?
DN: I’m reading this book right now by Bill Bryson called “A Brief History of Nearly [Everything].” It’s this kind of a compendium of science since the eighteenth century. He covers everything from the beginning of time, from atoms to quarks, to the taxonomies and animals and plants. What’s fascinating about the science and the approach to the phenomenon that we see around us is that we’re people. We make our mistakes and pride and ego gets in the way. Especially in science. It’s remarkable how many times ego gets in the way.
In Bryson’s book he talks a lot about how ego has gotten in the way, sometimes decades in the discoveries for cures for diseases. Egos get in the way. It happens in science and people’s mistakes get in the way. The same way you accidentally discover a particular cure, you may accidentally discover radiation, as Marie Curie did. You accidentally screw things up. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in terms of accidents and science, and then of course the good with the bad in terms of personalities in science.
What I take out of it, or certainly what I try to bring to it, is that there is a human side to the science. Because all that’s going on is quite fantastical and quite mind-spinning, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty we’re just trying to figure out what’s going on. If we’re in another galaxy, if we’re on another planet or sometimes just even in our own back yard, what is going on in life? And we have to do it in concert with other people.
That’s where drama and that’s where the interesting stories come from. I think that might be what’s happening between Radek and McKay. It’s not always a walk in the park. There are moments of levity and fun. You mentioned “Trinity” and you mentioned “Duet.” I like to confront him when he’s wrong … especially when the stakes are so high. You mentioned blowing up the solar system. That’s about as high as stakes get, I guess, huh?
GW: Just about.
DN: — That if you think you’re wrong, yeah, of course challenge the assumptions. That’s how science moves forward. Challenging the status quo. That’s the only way to do it.
David Nykl’s Official Web Site