Before of SPOILERS through Stargate SG-1‘s ninth season finale, “Camelot.” If you have not seen this episode and do not wish to know more, stop reading now!
From his humble beginnings as a Russian envoy to Stargate Command in “The Tomb” to a critical character in the Season Nine finale “Camelot,” Colonel Chekov’s importance in the Stargate universe has had greater impact of late than ever before. Originally meant to be a foil for the S.G.C., Garry Chalk‘s character has grown more sympathetic to the burdens of Generals Hammond, O’Neill, and now Landry.
Garry met with us in Vancouver to discuss the developments of Chekov, from playing the thorn in the side of the Americans to commanding the Russian space vessel Korolev. He regales fans with stories of his experiences in golfing with Teal’c actor Christopher Judge, his own personal obsession with Russia, and dances around the possibilities for what may come in Season Ten.
Our video interview with Garry runs about 15 minutes, and is also transcribed below. The interview is also available in audio format for your convenience!
GateWorld: Garry Chalk, thank you for being with us today, sir.
Gary Chalk: Hey, it’s my pleasure!
GW: It’s been five years since you first started playing Colonel Chekov. Did you have any idea that this character would go on this long?
GC: No! I had no idea whatsoever. All I knew was that I was coming in one week to play this Russian guy. And it sort of came out of the blue from Michael Greenburg and John Smith. [They] said, “Come and play this Russian. Oh, by the way, do you speak Russian?” And I said, “No.” “No matter! You’ll learn!”
So they got me a Russian coach named Sasha.
GC: “Sasha.” His name is Alexander … He played one of the Russian soldiers — remember when they went through the gate and they all got killed?
GC: He played one of those guys. Alexander … I keep thinking it’s “Buhnin” or “Bucchunin.” Something like that. I can’t remember the last name. I think it’s “Buhnin.” I’m not sure. But he’s a Russian actor. Good guy. Anyway, he came and coached me Russian. So I had this whole scene to do in Russian.
GW: In the language, not the accent?
GC: In the language. So I learn this scene for weeks. I’m getting all the pronunciation just perfect. Everything is right. I get to the day when we’re shooting that particular Russian scene, and he says, “We’re pressed for time. We just need the last three lines of the Russian scene before you go into the English scene.”
And I said, “To hell with that!” [Laughter] “I studied this for weeks, I want to do it!” And he said, “Well, you can do it, but we’ll have to cut it.” So that was very funny. That was Peter DeLuise who was directing that one. That was the first one. I remember that.
Since then I’ve gone on and did several other episodes and finally got command of my own space ship —
GW: — the Korolev —
GC: — the Korolev — which is really cool. And saying all those Russian things, because everybody in there is Russian. And they all speak Russian. I mean, for real, speak Russian. They’re Russian actors. I was pressed to get that accent and the delivery right, because they go “[snicker]” …
GW: [Laughter] “Who do you think you are?”
GC: That’s what they do! “Why couldn’t we get a real Russian? You know, we have Russians here!” I said, “Well …” Anyway.
So it went on from there. They kept bringing me back. I’m going, “Well this is kind of cool!” Because right from the very beginning of the series — I had worked with Michael Greenburg and Richard Dean way back when in the MacGyver days, in 1985, or ’86, somewhere around there. We’d had quite a good relationship, and I had a great relationship with John Smith that went back to ’81 or ’82 for The Beachcombers.
They said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. No, we’re going to have you on the show.” A few years went by. Nothing. Nothing. Not even an audition. Nothing. Then all of a sudden I got the call and it was for a Russian. Then he said, “I told you we’d bring you!” And I said, “OK.” But I’ve had a really, really good time and [have] since become good pals with a lot of the cast. Chris Judge, who played — I played golf with him every once in a while. He’s a good golfer!
GW: Yes, he is.
GC: He’s a hammerer. I have a funny thing of him and I. One day we were playing at this golf course called The Northlands, and I said, “OK. Hit the ball over the stump, hit the sidewalk, gets to the sidewalk, hit the rock, bounce onto the fairway, sand wedge to the green, putt in for eagle.” So I got up, I hit the ball. “Bump, bump, bump, bump.” Went onto the fairway. Chris gets up, he does the exact same thing. Hits it over the stump, hits the sidewalk, hits the rock, comes down on the fairway. We both hit sand wedges to the green and both of us eagled the hole.
[Laughter] Now how weird is that? Seventeenth hole at Northlands.
GW: No wonder you guys like to golf with each other.
GC: Oh no, I do. I haven’t golfed with him for a while because he’s been tied up in the series. I like them. I like them all. Amanda — just a doll. Michael and Richard, of course, is a great guy. Don and I go back all the way to MacGyver, as well.
And the new cast are really, really fun. I really like those — what’s his name, Mr. Bridges.
GW: Ben Browder and Beau Bridges.
GC: Ben Browder. Ben Browder, what a cool guy. Just the nicest guy! Sometimes you think of these guys, you go, “Uh, I wonder was he’s gonna be like. Is he gonna be like, eeeh …” Just a down-home guy.
And Mr. Bridges, down-home guy. They’re all great. The thing I like about that show is that it’s such a close-knit group of people. They’ve all been working together for so long. The same producers, and same directors and whatnot. It’s really fun to go in there, and you just have a good time.
GW: In the four, five years you’ve been on the show you’ve done nine episodes now.
GC: Nine episodes, yeah.
GW: That’s a lot of work for a sci-fi series like this. Garwin Sanford’s only done three in six years. Which one do you highlight as your favorite?
GC: My favorite one is the one where it was a clip show. The clip show with —
GW: — “Disclosure” —
GC: “Disclosure,” that was the one. Because they had all the different nationalities and we’re sitting around the table yacking. I like that one. That’s the first time I got to meet the alien guy.
GC: Thor? Yeah, Thor. That’s an eerie experience. I’ll tell you that. Because he looks so real. And when you feel him you go, “Eww, he feels alien!” And he’s all made out of silicon. But when he starts talking to you you’re going, [slaps table, laughs] “OK! Hello, Mr. alien!” It’s quite something. So I enjoyed that. That was one of my favorites, yeah.
GW: Chekov’s original purpose, originally, was basically a thorn in the S.G.C.’s side — originally. Later on he more or less became and ally, but to push the Russian’s involvement. Did you ever find yourself sympathizing from the direction he was coming from?
GC: Of course! Because we have this operational Stargate in Russia, and the Americans don’t want us to use it! And they won’t give us the equipment. Or they threaten us with all kinds of sanctions. I say, “Well what gives you the God-given right to have your own Stargate and when we have one we can’t use it?” We want to explore. We’re explorers! We’ve been around! We’ve got Siberia! Try and explore Siberia! That’s an alien planet all in itself. That’s the strangest place in the world!
I always found myself sympathizing. I’ve met — through the course of doing it I met a lot of Russian people. You know who I sound like? I sound like, when I speak Russian, Joseph Stalin. It’s very strange, but my coach, he says, “It’s so eerie. You sound like Stalin!” Not that I like Stalin. I don’t like him. But when he goes [recites Chekov’s Russian dialogue from “Camelot”]. Because he speaks like he’s got this slow way of talking. So I’m going, “OK, that’s great. I sound like Stalin. Yoo-hoo!”
GW: “That’s wonderful.”
GC: “Wonderful!” But all the Russian people I met, they’re so great. They’re just lovely people.
GW: If I were you I would ask Michael Greenburg, “Why did you pick me to play the Russian again?!”
GC: Yeah. “Why’d you pick me to play the Russian?” “Well, cause you look like a Russian!” I said, “I don’t look like … it’s the eyebrows, isn’t it?”
GW: After these episodes, have you developed a fondness for Russia in any respect?
GC: Well, I’ve always had a fondness. I love the food. I love some of the vodka. I love the music. Russian music is great. It’s so soulful. Especially their folk singers, their folk music. It’s amazing. My wife quite likes it. She has Russian, or Polish, relatives in her background.
She was all keyed up about Russia — she actually went over there. I haven’t been over there. But she went over there for a while and she went to … What’s the name of the university? Woodbridge University in Vermont? It’s where the state department goes to learn languages. She went there and took a course in Russian for a whole summer. A Russian intensive. That’s where they send all their diplomats to learn how to speak the language.
That’s a tough language. It has so many tenses, and so on. When I saw that and she was going to go over there, I thought, “Well, I’ll go over, too.” But I didn’t go. The only thing I don’t like about Russia is they don’t have any golf courses. [Laughter] I know, it’s stupid, but they just don’t have any! So I thought, “What is the cultural advantage of going to Russia if you don’t have a golf course? What the hell am I going to do? Go the museum? Big deal! Go to the Hermitage? So what?!”
But no, I know a lot of Russian guys and gals. I find in cultures where people are so used to difficulty, that if they don’t have difficulty they’re miserable. So they’re only happy in their struggle. I love their sayings: “Life sucks. But death isn’t that hot either.” So you go, “OK!” That’s the kind of people I like.
GW: My favorite Russian proverb is “A full stomach likes to preach about fasting.”
GC: Yes! [Laughter] That’s a good one!
GW: Which I can personally attest to.
GC: Aah, me too! [Laughter]
GW: For this character, I don’t think there was a greater move then allowing him to take command of the Korolev. After all these years was it rewarding to take the Captain’s seat?
GC: You have no idea. I begged and pleaded, years ago. I said, “Please let me go through the gate! I want to go through the gate! I love the gate! I just want to do that ‘foosh’ thing!” You know? But they’d say, “No, you can’t go.”
I said, “Well, can I go to Atlantis?” “No, because you can’t come back.” So. “Alright, Alright. I won’t.” “But, we’re giving you a space ship.” “[Hyperventilating] You’re what? You’re giving me a space ship?” The Korolev.
And I went, “This is so cool.” And we go in there — there’s explosions and stuff going. The thing is flying and we’re yelling out orders. It’s a great set. The Korolev is a beautiful ship. Have you ever been on the set there? The set is spectacular. I just love it. Just the idea of sitting there. I always went, “Engage. Warp factor one.” [Laughter] I just wanted to do that. Just to see what it’s like.
GW: Yeah. “Engage.”
GC: [Laughter] Yeah, I was very excited about that.
GW: Last question. For anyone who hasn’t read spoilers for Season Ten, we’ve been made to think that the Odyssey and the Korolev both had an equal chance of being the cruiser that was blown up in “Camelot.” What can you tell us about Chekov’s fate?
GC: Chekov’s fate, at this point in time, is up in the air, because we don’t know. When you look at the season finale and you see those massive explosions, we don’t know who died and who didn’t. We also don’t know who the survivors are, because there were survivors off the ships.
One thing I can say: “Well, I can’t die! Shanks is right beside me!” Or not Michael Shanks, Ben is right beside me. “Can’t kill Ben, can’t kill me!” Right?! [Laughter]