Beware of spoilers for Stargate Atlantis‘s third season episode “Sateda” in the interview below!
Dan Payne is no stranger to the costume. Having a foot in the door of Stargate SG-1 since Season Five the tall, 225-pound actor has stepped into the boots of Kull warriors, Jaffa, Wraith, and even Atlantis security personnel.
Unfortunately, it is a rare occasion when we get to see his true face! GateWorld is pleased to present just that. We sat down with the actor at the Creation Chicago 2006 convention, where we discussed all of his roles in the Stargate universe.
Dan also took time to stress that he is not a “stunt man,” rather an actor who is fortunate enough to frequently get to do his own stunts. He also talked about the fundamental differences between SG-1 and Atlantis, and revealed a small surprise that may be in store for the lost city of the Ancients.
GateWorld’s video interview with Dan runs about 20 minutes, and is also transcribed below. It’s also available in an audio edition for you listening convenience!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m here with Mr. Dan Payne. Right there!
Dan Payne: Oh, hi!
GW: Hi. How’re you doing sir?
DP: Good, thank you. How are you?
GW: I’m very good. You have done so much work on Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis that we could sit here hours talking about it. But I’m not going to bore you with that. What was the first character that you played on the show?
DP: Dan Shea pulled me out of Snow Queen and made me a stunt Jaffa. That was the very first role. It went unnoticed because it was a stunt thing. I just ran, got shot, did the flip-la-roo and fell down. And then I met some directors through that, and the relationship grew and then I went on through the rest of them.
GW: What season was it that you first started?
DP: Wow. Five? I would guess? Because I know I’ve been through six, seven and eight. The stunt might’ve been in five. Fans know better than me.
GW: [Laughter] You’ve played numerous characters on this show. From Atlantis SFs to Jaffa soldiers to Kull warriors to Wraith. You said the “uber Wraith” from “Sateda.” Which have you enjoyed the most, and which the least?
DP: The most, just recently, was the uber — or big — Wraith on Atlantis with the “Sateda” episode.
GW: Just to clarify, this is the one that was in command of the Hive ship that went down and mopped the floor with Ronon.
DP: Yes. Until this brutal dismissal by missile.
GW: [Laughter] Yes! Exactly.
DP: Tag line right there! [Laughter] So that was fantastic. The makeup, the transformation, to be able to see my face and have that prosthetic done so well that anything I did transferred to the prosthetic. I looked in the mirror and I had a complete out-of-body experience, in a way, because it was so different from who I know I am. And to be able to jump so deeply into a character because they can see your face, and you can still move. Which is a little bit of an advantage to the super soldier. And for the least, there is no least. If I’m on set I’m having a good time.
GW: For this uber Wraith: You told the convention, but we’d like you to tell it here. How early was your call time?
DP: About 4:30 in the morning.
GW: 4:30 in the morning?
GW: And how long are you in the makeup chare?
DP: About four hours. Four hours from start to finish.
GW: So 8:30 set call?
DP: Yeah. Yep. And you’re pushing too. Todd Masters, who does the prosthetics — same as the rest of the Stargate crew — doesn’t want to be OK with something. Very meticulous. Perfectionist, almost. They’re pushing there, asking “We need him, we need him, we need him!” and he’s still doing some veins and stuff. As an actor, that’s what makes you transform. Because they put so much detail. When you look it’s something completely different. You don’t see seams. You don’t see makeup. It’s awesome.
GW: That was a pretty scary character, the uber Wraith. Some of them are a little bit hoky, depending on the actor behind it. I watched that and I was like, “I would not want to be in the same room with this creature.”
DP: That’s what was so fun. Until I got into character, when I was just looking at the makeup in the midst of being able to transform, I was like, “Awesome!” This guy is, with the Fu Manchu nastiness and the tattoos and the teeth, yeah. It was great. It was great. So when it came time to get into character they did half the work for me. At least.
GW: Did you know that you were going to be playing this character from script stage, or was it some time later in the game [when] they said “Oh, we’ll let Dan do this.”?
DP: They came and asked me. There’s a great relationship with Stargate directors and the producers. They’re fantastic. They’re so kind to me. They called up and said “Dan, we’ve got this Wraith. We want you to do it. Can you come in and do some testing? Makeup test, camera test?” So I was excited from the get-go.
GW: You said that you don’t really like to call yourself a stunt man.
GW: What would you call yourself?
DP: An actor who is very, very fortunate, by size or by character description, to get the opportunity to do his own stunts. So an actor who gets to do stunts. I just want to clarify that. I don’t call myself a stuntman strictly because I don’t want to deny the stunt men who do what they do, and study and train so hard to do it. I haven’t done that. So I haven’t qualified myself to be a stunt man. I don’t want to detract from what they do do because it’s fantastic.
I have seen BamBam [James Bamford] and guys like Glen Ennis, Dan Shea, Ken Kirzinger do insane things that you couldn’t take an actor like myself and just ask them to do it. I’ve been very fortunate, as an actor who gets to do some stunts.
GW: How would you describe your working relationship with them?
DP: With the stunt guys? Once they realize that I have a great respect for them it’s reciprocated fully. Some actors don’t understand how hard stunts are. They think that they’re the guys who are just crazy enough to do stuff. Well, there’s a process of learning that can’t be denied. And I fully respect it. BamBam and Dan Shea. I think because those guys study they should have first rights, so there might be a little bit of tentativeness, hesitation, to say “We’ll let Dan jump in there.”
But I think because of the rapport we have and the time that we’ve had to spend, that they’re like “OK. If he’s willing to respect what I do and train hard enough to do it well enough, that it’s not going to be like, me as the stunt coordinator, is losing out by putting this guy in there.” It’s just a mutual-respect relationship.
GW: Was it Dan Shea who originally got you roped into Stargate?
GW: OK. And you haven’t looked back since?
DP: No. Every opportunity back in that stage, was “I love it. I can’t wait.” I didn’t know what was coming. I think my enthusiasm, and the relationships just got built quickly helped catapult it to where it is.
GW: Have you sustained any serious injuries on the show?
DP: Just the bumps and bruises. And the odd scrape. Nothing that needed healing. I didn’t blow an ankle out. Because they look after me so incredibly well. The actor. Especially because I’m not a stunt guy, the actor is extremely looked after beyond anything you’d understand as a normal person. You see these crazy things going, you think “How can they do that?” Well I do it under the utmost safe conditions with the utmost care and due attention from all the people around.
Stunt guys do stuff that are stunt related and they do get hurt, because there’s no other physical human way to do it. In the world we demand that now. Bigger, better.
GW: You’ve had the privilege of working on both SG-1 and Atlantis. From your standpoint as an actor, how are the shows different?
DP: Stargate SG-1 has had more time becoming a family and getting a comfort and familiarity with the process and with one another and how each other works. Their quirks. Just how to read each other. So there’s a comfort and a familiarity and a confidence that’s immediate when you walk into SG-1. And because I got to be at the beginning of Atlantis as well, I watched that confidence and that family unit grow. And it was a president set by SG-1, that family unit, and Atlantis took it and ran with it.
The difference is, it’s just like watching a kid grow up, I guess. The maturity that’s borne out of having the years SG-1 has, and watching the growth to get to that level of maturity that Atlantis is going through.
GW: So do you see Atlantis becoming another SG-1?
DP: I hope so. I can’t see why not. The formula’s there. With enough twists and turns and different characters. As a viewer as well as an actor on the show, it’s got all the odds.
GW: What is your fondest memory of working with this franchise?
DP: Laughing. Laughing.
GW: Something tells me that happens a lot!
DP: I love to laugh and I love to make peoples laugh. “Make peoples?” Make people laugh. And Dan Shea, BamBam and Gary Jones and Peter DeLuise and Martin Wood. Jeez. Almost every director. Robert Cooper on “Sateda,” he was hilarious. Normally he’s a little bit more stepped back. He was right in there! And he was hilarious. It was fantastic. The environment of laughter. That’s my favorite thing.
GW: So it’s almost a necessity that you would have to wear diapers when you got into these outfits.
DP: Yeah, pee myself laughing. Absolutely. It was unreal. Unreal.
GW: The Kull warriors. You have always been the master Kull warrior. They brought in, I think Alex Zahara, for a Kull warrior at some point.
DP: I think they couldn’t get me for a day. Alex might be able to know better. They needed a bunch of Kull warriors to be CGI’d against a green screen to run from a ship to a cave entrance, and they just needed thousands of them.
GW: “Evolution [Part] 2,” Yes.
DP: They wanted to have a different look to them. So Alex did the CGI running for some of the Super soldiers. I came in next day and did a whole bunch more. So yeah, Alex jumped in the suit to do some running. I don’t know if he’s been on camera, up front performance-wise. But he’s definitely donned the black mask. [Laughter]
And then there’s also been times they needed two super soldiers to be on the back of Anubis. You never have one guard. They’d get another gentleman. They call it “SAE,” Special Abilities Extra. It’s not necessarily an actor role because they’re just meant to stand. We joke in the industry that they’re mobile furniture, which is not the case. It’s just that they don’t get to showcase their talents as much as they’d like to. It’s more of “Just fill this costume out and be positioned around.” So I’ve had a lot of co-pilots in the suit, which is fun.
GW: You’re a very tall guy. If they bring in a Kull warrior that’s kind of stockier, do they have to put a box under him? If you’re having a couple of Kull warriors behind Anubis, you don’t want to have one up here and one down here.
DP: Yeah, no. The height is fine to match. The difficulty comes from the fact that they built the costume to my body. My physique is what fills out that costume, barring bad pizza rushes and burgers. Fill out the wrong spot. But yeah, it’s getting somebody who has the same physique. Sometimes a guy will have a smaller chest or bigger chest and smaller arms or whatever. You have the two of us standing there. This is a skin-tight suit. You’re going to notice, wait a minute.
GW: Ruffles or something.
DP: Yeah. So it’s hard. They’ve had a few guys come through and try to match up the size, and they just keep shooting.
GW: This character is probably the one you’re most famously known for, I would hazard a guess. You’re completely masked. How do you articulate your performance?
DP: Uhh, yeah. There’s a challenge there.
GW: Obviously he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t have any dialogue.
DP: Well, I had the one time. They unmasked and “I serve Anubis.” Do you remember that? The transparent face. Yeah, that was me back behind that.
GW: But other than that, you just mostly have to operate on movement. What is your motivation, Dan?
DP: Well I had a lot of help from Peter and Martin. The producers came down. John Lenic. All the guys who had a stake in it came down and said, “We want to create something that has human elements, robotic elements, is a killer so he has a hunter’s instinct. But it’s not personal. So we had to find a way. We worked on a walk. We worked on a run. We worked on a demeanor that comes out. If you’re getting pelted with bullets, try and find that way to be nonchalant verses robotic. “OK kill him? Fine. You’re done.” Versus like [Robot sounds] the robotics.
DP: Yeah. They didn’t want a Robocop. This is a drone that’s mutated, living. So not a robot.
GW: When you went into this did they say “OK, we want you to stay away from the Borg. Stay away from the humanoid Replicators.”
DP: We actually didn’t even mention anything else. We wanted to birth it from its own place. So it’s kind of cool. I don’t think they wanted to engrain any ideas in my head. “Let’s work on some runs. Just run in different ways that you think this costume fits well, what feels comfortable, arms out or in, or high-stepping or low. Basically we just did test runs. “That looks good.” Not, “That looks like Borg. That looks like Robocop.” No names were mentioned. And when you’re noticing stuff, you turn your head. A robot would just register information and turn and go, but you want to have that hunter instinct. So when something catches —
GW: — your nose.
DP: Exactly. Your sensory –. When I was chasing Amanda down (“Death Knell”), she was down an embankment, and I walked up to the edge and just could sense that something was nearby. Whether it was her or not. And a robot would just stand there and the computers would read everything. And they wanted not to have that. It doesn’t read and it doesn’t serve the character. This is, like, really finicky, because there isn’t a lot you can do behind the mask. But they did want me to scope it out. Your killer instinct tells you that there’s something going on, and then move on. Rather than [Robotic noises].”
GW: The Kull suit, you said, was based on you. You once told me a couple of years ago that it is the most comfortable thing you’ve ever worn.
DP: In terms of, yeah, from what it looks like to what it actually wears like, yeah. It is the most comfortable thing. Because the polar bear suit I wore (in Snow Queen) was uncomfortable, but as comfortable as it could be made. This looks uncomfortable but isn’t. It just isn’t. The costume designers took a body mold, a full body cast — which is an interesting experience in its own — and built the costume to me.
GW: But the Kulls lasted for about two years until they were finished off in “Threads.” Was there any change in the suit after all that period of time? You got to that last episode, did they have to have anything change at that point in terms of how you fit into it? Was that at all a problem? Did you maintain the exact same physical condition for yourself over [that] two year-period?
DP: It fit perfectly. There might’ve been a few stitches here and there. But that’s just from wear and tear. It wasn’t from [an] actual change in physicality. One of the things my agent talks about is not conveying an image that isn’t true. Your headshots have to match what your hair looks like. If you age you should get new head shots. Well if my body changed too much, I should as well. I’ve been avidly pursuing maintaining my physicality to be exactly what it is.
So when my agent presents Dan Payne, “This is his physicality,” that I don’t walk in after the pizza-burger runs with my gut hanging out. They need to know that. Well this character may be taking his shirt off in this scene. We don’t want jelly belly. We want the six pack. “OK, I’ll make sure it’s always there.” So it always fit. The body suit fits straight away.
GW: Are you glad that the Kull are done. Is there any part of you that says, “Oh my God, I’m thankful that they can’t bring them back.” Because they all died when Anubis died.
DP: Uh … Atlantis …
DP: I don’t know if I can say anything.
GW: We’re talking Kull warriors here?
GW: He’s perhaps not done?
DP: I’ll just tell you I don the suit very briefly again, and it wasn’t for SG-1. A little teaser. Just for people who might be keeping an eye out. I don’t think it’s aired yet, because we filmed it very recently.
GW: They’re very cool to look at.
DP: Yeah, so it came out again.
GW: You actually brought it to Gatecon ’03!
DP: Yeah! There was a huge request by fans, which was really fun for me. I think it was my first convention. I’m pretty sure it was my first convention.
GW: And no one saw your face!
DP: Yeah! And I kept my face hidden. But there’s such a huge response. And me, I’m awestruck by fans and how unbelievably cool they are, and kind. So if that’s what they wanted, I didn’t want to deny them that. Whether it was comfortable or not it didn’t matter. I wanted to be there in that way. So it was pretty cool. But yeah, the Super Solider does make a little glimpse appearance again.
Sorry, I didn’t even answer your question! I would love to come back. I’d love to come back as a character with my face out. So I can act a little bit more from the truth of me. But anything to be playing with that family. If it’s the Kull warrior and they want me back, I’m there. It’s good times, guaranteed. Like I said, laughs. It’s a great set to be on.
GW: You’ve done Kull warriors. The Wraith are so different. Obviously they’re different. They’re not robots and they’re not sub-human Goa’uld. What do you find appealing about the Wraith to play?
DP: The Wraith warriors were supposed to be the lizard-like … if you had an ant, there’s the queen and all the workers. It’s like the worker ant.
GW: With no faces?
DP: Yes, the barnacle boys. The barnacle face. Or as Martin Wood called me, “Bone head.” “Bone head?” “Yeah, I’m coming Martin.” Yeah those guys, at first it was interesting. I called them the “doormen.” They were Wraith doormen. Make sure the right people were in the right place. And they’re supposed to be lizard-like and quick. So that was neat. But I didn’t get too much experience with that because it was just the pilot episode.
GW: You did “Rising?”
DP: I did “Rising.” And then they made them “SAE” — the Special Ability Extras. Because they wanted to get performance-based stuff that they could mimic and ask the SAEs to do. Because they sort of took a background. They were kind of canon fodder after a while. But the big Wraith, oh it’s fantastic. There’s no precedent set. For that uber-Wraith. So it was fine. It was just unbelievable. It was a clean slate.
GW: So you weren’t given any instruction going in? “This is a Wraith commander who happens to be really big and really ‘uber’.”
DP: Here’s his back history. He chased Ronon before.
GW: Oh he has?
GW: OK! I don’t think we knew that for sure.
DP: Well, see, they built that in. They wanted to know that I had a vendetta.
GW: That’s why Ronon was so key on kicking his butt.
DP: Oh yeah! Yeah yeah, absolutely. I’m the one that went back and destroyed that village. So it was nice to have a history for that guy, and a reason for pursuing Ronon. There’s a motivation to go and get him. Yeah, it was a damn good time.
GW: What do you hope your performances that you’ve already done and your performances you do in the future will bring to fans who view the show, every episode, and love it for what it is?
DP: The ones in the past, I hope that I’ve maintained or at least satisfied a desire. I have a fantastic fan group that emails me and stays in touch. Bless them. Thank you. New fans are coming in each convention. So I’m hoping that what I’ve delivered so far is the reason why they’re coming, and that I maintain that. But in the future, the me that I get to bring to the conventions when I’m on stage and stuff, I, knock on wood, pray that I’ll get an opportunity to display that on the show for more fans as me. As a character.
GW: “That’s Dan Payne!” “Is that Dan Payne?” “Well he looks about the same height!”
GW: So someone we’ll be able to see.
DP: Something you’ll be able to see with the personality that is me, that I get to show at conventions more than through an alien creature or a mask.
GW: Yes. You knock ’em dead on stage. You love to joke around. And we don’t see that! That’s a surprise!
DP: Which is fun, because people get to see that. For me it’s fun. It’s great. Like I said, my two favorite things are either laughing or making people laugh. There’s a self-deprecating tongue-and-cheek about both SG-1 and Atlantis that I really feel I could sink my teeth into. If there is another season coming back, but we’ll make it happen, that they do those miniseries that may happen. That I might get a shot at that. So we’ll see.