Just try to sit down with Stargate Atlantis co-star David Hewlett and make it through an interview without laughing. Though he plays the Atlantis expedition’s arrogant and condescending astrophysicist, Dr. Rodney McKay, David himself couldn’t be a nicer, funnier guy. We recently had the chance to sit down with him again to talk about the new third season of the show.
In our interview, David discusses Rodney’s idiosyncrasies, shares his thoughts on “coming home” to Stargate SG-1, and reveals which fellow Atlantean he’d like to get to know better. He also talks about working with his sister, actress Kate Hewlett, who soon after our interview was cast to play his on-screen sister Jeannie in the September 8 episode, “McKay and Mrs. Miller.”
GateWorld’s interview with David Hewlett is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is about 14 minutes long. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Darren Sumner. I’m here with Mr. David Hewlett. David, thanks for letting us into your little home away from home!
David Hewlett: Yes, indeed! My grandmother’s basement. That’s kind of what the trailer is designed like. [A] wonderful blue. I need a shag carpet. That’s what I need. And then I’d be really at home.
GW: Last year from “Duet” to “Trinity” to “Grace Under Pressure,” Season Two was a bit of a tour de force for you and your namesake, Dr. McKay. Do we have similar McKay pathos look forward to this year?
DH: We’ve definitely got some interesting McKay stuff coming up. I’m a little hazy on the details. There’s talk of sisters. There’s talk of possible multiple McKays, something else which I’m interested to see. Apparently there’s a “Rod” and a “Rodney,” which is interesting. That’s all I know. They don’t tell me anything, because God forbid I should learn my lines in advance or anything.
There’s SG-1 as well. There’s a little SG-1 episode. Yes, I’m bouncing all over the place again. As usual, causing chaos and generally irritating the hell out of everyone on Atlantis. That’s it. Pissing off the planets.
GW: So, we know that Rodney and several of his cohorts appear on SG-1 early in the season [“The Pegasus Project”]. What can you tell us about that?
DH: It’s like coming home. That’s where it all started. All of a sudden I’m sitting across from Amanda Tapping again. It’s just like, all of a sudden, being jettisoned back five years, six years. Since I first came up here.
It’s just a pleasure. And it’s so neat, because you’ve got another show now. There’s like a whole new show. There’s the whole Ben Browder aspect to it. I’ve still got to shoot the stuff that we do with the lovely and talented Vala. Still got to see McKay’s prudishness to Vala’s, shall we say, casual take on life. So yeah, we’ve got that scene to do. Should be kind of fun. And it all takes place on Atlantis, so we’ve got the advantage of the home turf.
GW: Rodney ends Season Two in a precarious position, as a prisoner of the Wraith. I assume you’re not just here for the catering today, but that he actually does survive …
DH: That’s right. McKay doesn’t make it and I’ve just been here eating for the last, how many weeks? Some people may say that’s the case. Yes, McKay and our friend Ronon do manage to work it out, and yes, there’s some fun banter between [him and] Ronon — which I’ve never really done. We’ve never had a lot of banter, per say. And we’ve actually got some chatting in the cocoons. We’re side by [side] in these cocoons chatting to each other. It could be quite …
GW: You haven’t shot that yet?
DH: Well, we’ve shot part of it, and now we’re going to shoot some more of it. They’ve redone a lot of the Wraith stuff this year. There’s some new Wraith cocoons that we’ll be playing with. People will see that the Wraith ship that we get trapped in has changed, has mutated over the hiatus. It’s really quite horrific; the set, it’s pretty brutal. There’s this wall of skulls and things. It’s really creepy. And very sinewy and muscle-ey. It looks like the Wraith have just been taking steroids and their ship is now, like, cut.
It’s like Joe [Flanigan] going to the damn gym every morning. Obviously the Wraith ship has been doing the same thing.
GW: Tell us a little bit about the challenge of playing this kind of a personality week-in and week-out. It’s one thing to do it as a guest spot on SG-1 once a year. But the challenge of keeping him so prickly and abrupt all the time?
DH: I’m actually just a jerk, so it’s really not that hard for me. I’m just foul all the time.
I think the writers have so much fun writing for Rodney, and so it makes my job very, very easy. He’s just one of those characters. The key to the whole Stargate universe, the same thing with SG-1 as well, is making the science fiction stuff interesting. Trying to explain the nuts and bolts to the people who do want to know the science part of the science fiction without it being boring to the people who really just want the fantasy-like elements, and the explosions and such.
They walk this great line of making, with this character, Rodney, that somehow manages to insult and offend while explaining the technology that we’re dealing with. It just makes it that much more interesting to watch, I think. Because even if you don’t completely understand all the concepts that he’s dealing with — and they’re good with that stuff. The research that stuff. They make sure that it’s all legitimate stuff. Apparently. But if you choose to ignore that, there’s still this sense of enjoyment about watching Rodney make his fellow explorers’ lives a misery, and generally embarrass himself.
GW: So what is Rodney like on a good day, then? [Laughter] Could he possibly ever have a girlfriend if he’s like this all the time?
DH: It’s funny because Jane [his real-life girlfriend] has actually said that I have 15 minutes when I get home — of Rodney. That’s it. And then she shuts it down. Because I’ll get home and do things like snap my finger and point. And then she’s like, “Alright, that was Rodney. And you have five minutes now.”
He’s so much fun, because he says and does all the things you want to do. Like at a party, he goes into a party and tells people that they’re dressed funny, or that they’ve got food in their face. He says all the things that you wish you’d say —
Everyone’s wiping their mouths now. “What do you mean, food on your face?” It’s just after lunch. It’s always a great joke after lunch.
To me the thing I miss most when I’m on hiatus is the ability that Rodney has to say all those obnoxious things you want to say. If you don’t like someone, being able to say “I don’t like you” right off the bat. He has absolutely no social graces. It’s something that I’ve always envied. I’ve always envied those people who just are completely oblivious to what everyone else [would] feel or think.
GW: But on the flip side of that, you don’t really ever see him having a good time or laughing with the others, or having fun. Is this something that you would like to see change, him actually get a life a little bit? Because we never see that. Look at the football scene in “Hide and Seek.” He is so uncomfortable in that scene, because he’s used to the presence of death and “hyper-excited” modes.
DH: Well, it’s funny, but keep in mind that he’s come from an academic background, right? His existence, up until Stargate — up until he met with Carter, really — he was purely the book-learner. He was computer models and paperwork.
I don’t know that McKay ever really truly relaxes. That’s why they seem to have such a fun time with McKay on various different medications or enzymes or whatever. It’s a John Cleese thing. It’s like watching people who don’t want to lose control lose control is much funnier and much more real in most situations. People don’t generally let their guard down. Actors are morons. Our job is to be able to break down all those acceptable behavior things.
But most people are uptight in their own ways. They have their own way of dealing with things. As a sci-fi fan myself growing up, that was always my thing. I always loved those sci-fi characters that were cool, who didn’t trip when they walked into rooms, who didn’t have their pens explode on them in school. Those people who could do and say all those cool things they do. And Rodney really thinks that he’s like that, somewhat. He’s the very intelligent man who always knows the right thing and always says the right thing, but has absolutely no ability to edit himself. Or to censor himself.
I think Rodney is in his element now, but you will never see Rodney truly enjoy himself because I don’t think he enjoys … He doesn’t relax in the same way that people do. Rodney’s the sort of person — I always think of my grandfather, just who never stops. He’s always doing something. Sitting down and relaxing is traumatic for him, unless he’s so exhausted that he falls asleep. … And then the nightmares.
GW: Well, I hope that we would get to see an episode at some point where, like a Dwight Schultz “Barclay” transformation equivalent —
DH: — where he actually gets to chill out?
DH: Well, again, we’ll see what happens with this second Rodney thing. Apparently this dual-Rodney episode that may or may not be coming out. Because it sounds like that guy’s got it right. He sounds like the James Bond of McKays, as opposed to … Which actually makes me quite nervous because I know how to act like the Rodney that we know and love. I’m not sure how good at “cool” I’ll be.
I’m hoping some kind of a wig. I think that would probably solve it.
GW: Maybe get to spread your wings a little bit as an actor and take a different step in a different direction.
DH: But this is the beautiful thing about McKay, is that McKay — yes, there’s an on-going McKay, a theme that runs throughout. There’s a certain type of character that he is. But I really do get to do a lot of different stuff. Some episodes you really are doing: “It’s Rodney as the action hero!” As sad as that can be. And then there’s other ones where you are the love interest. “Duet” is a romance, to a certain extent.
It’s so much fun, because in a way I get to rip off all the great actors. I got the Gene Wilders, and I’m still not sure that Mel Gibson’s come into it yet. I do try the odd “Mad Max” look. [Laughter]
GW: Obviously you’ve had more screen time with your cast mates than with others. The writers have said that they want to focus on the team’s relationships with one another this season. Tell us which Atlantis character you’d most like to explore Rodney’s relationship with.
DH: I’m always interested with — well, we’ve done it this year with Ronon. But Teyla. There’s no connection with Teyla. There’s sort of a healthy respect, because he’s seen her with the sticks. I would love to be in a situation where it’s Teyla and McKay stuck in a situation, because I’d be very curious to see how they get along or don’t get along. Because McKay also has two settings with women: absolute disregard, or complete love. Obsessive, almost.
So I think it would be very interesting to see what he’s like with somebody who is neither. Obviously he respects her and yet he also is not all over her all the time.
GW: He’s pretty indifferent with her.
DH: Yeah. God knows why. This gorgeous woman walking around all the time, you’d think McKay would be all over that. Again, the way Teyla holds herself. She really is from another world. And that’s something that I think McKay is probably … there’s a healthy respect there for Teyla. Which is probably wise.
It’s self-preservation, really. I think that’s it. So as not to get killed, McKay tends to avoid Teyla.
GW: There have been some hints that we might finally get to see McKay’s sister
[“McKay and Mrs. Miller”], Jeannie, who was mentioned in a previous episode. You think that’s going to come to fruition?
DH: I hope so. There’s definitely talk of it. Again, it’s one of those things, you hear the storylines going along. Yes, that’s looking very promising. Which is funny about that: When we did “Hot Zone,” where he confesses that he has a sister and all this kind of stuff, it had originally been written as a brother. And I’d said, “Look, just on the off chance, I’ve got a lot of sisters, and one of them happens to be an actress. I’m not saying you have to cast her, but can I say sister?” They were like, “Aw, that’s a good idea. That’s fine.”
And I’ve just worked with Kate. We just did this film together in January. And she’s fantastic. And that’s me saying [it]. I’m tougher than anybody on that kind of stuff. And one of the producers actually saw a couple of things that she did recently as well, and was saying she’s good. So we’ll see. I’ve got my fingers crossed.
And she calls up herself and goes, “You know, I was reading on GateWorld that, um …” [Laughter] I’m like, “Well you can’t believe that stuff.” You know. The speculative stuff.
GW: No, not a word of it.