GateWorld is proud to launch a retrospective interview series in celebration of 10 years of Stargate SG-1. We plan to feature key actors, writers, directors and producers over the next nine months, rounding out every corner of the series that gave birth to this Web site. And GateWorld is privileged to kick off with bedrock SG-1 co-star Don S. Davis!
Don met with us in late March, long before the show’s cancellation was announced. That morning he had received the script for “200,” but had not had the chance to open it. Beware of spoilers for that episode in this conversation!
In Part 1 of our interview Don updates us on his retirement plans, including renovating a private art studio for himself. He reflects on his role as General Hammond, tells us how he got the part, and how he wanted to avoid playing the military stereotype.
Part 1 of our video interview with Don runs 18 minutes, and is transcribed below. The audio version of the interview includes both parts together for your listening convenience.
GateWorld: Don S. Davis, thank you very much for being with us this afternoon.
Don S. Davis: Thanks for inviting me!
GW: You’re still looking good. How’s your health been?
DD: Pretty good lately. Pretty good, yes. I’ve had some more medical things done. You know, when you get old the machinery starts to fall apart.
GW: Well hopefully later rather than sooner for you. I think you’re going to be fine for a while. You’ve got a few miles left to go.
DD: I don’t know. I’m held together by scar tissue and bailing wire.
GW: It’s been two seasons since General Hammond was a regular on SG-1, and you told us that one of the reasons you were looking forward to retirement was to get all these wonderful artistic ideas that you had in your head out on canvass or out on wood. Have you been able to do the amount of artistic expression that you had hoped you would have time for, or have other things continued to be a distraction?
DD: I’ve continued to work in the film and television industry. That has kept the art from happening. But as it so happens, I’m in the middle of that transition right now. This morning, before coming here, I was in my wonderful little shack, which is an hour out of town. It’s on the banks of an irrigation ditch next to a cranberry bog in a fenced compound.
And it literally is a shack, without any plumbing, but it’s fully insulated and has tons of electricity. No one can get to me. And so that’s where I was this morning. The building’s been vacant for four years. It’s owned by a friend of mine. So the rent is very reasonable. But I’m tearing out debris that probably CSI couldn’t identify.
GW: What do you plan to do with this place?
DD: I plan to use it as a painting and a carving studio. It’s 16 by 24 feet.
GW: Enough room to move around in there, then.
GW: Great, great. What types of mediums do you usually like to focus on? The painting and the carving — I guess that is the answer to the question, isn’t it?
DD: Yeah, that’s it. Primarily, I think of myself, and I have for years, as a wood carver. But I hardly ever carve anymore. I paint in every medium and in every style. We’re trying to put together a Web site called DonSDavisArt.com, and when we get it together there’ll be examples of both paintings and carvings and the people that are putting it together are trying to talk me into selling prints of my paintings and drawings. I haven’t yet —
GW: — given in?
DD: No. I tried to have some prints made of stuff a few years ago, and market them, and the colors weren’t right. The sizes couldn’t be reproduced. So it was a very negative experience, and I quit doing it. Now I’ve got a group of very reputable people who are claiming that they can market the stuff and that they can produce quality prints. And if they can, we’ll do it, but if not, this’ll just be so people can see what the ‘ole fart was talking about. [Laughter]
GW: Don, are you a fan of science fiction?
DD: I am now. I wasn’t always. I never really liked science fiction in film and television because when I was your age it was all cardboard and very crude, and it wasn’t realistic. And I could read someone like Asimov and envision all of these wonderful things. Or Wells, or whoever, and then I would see it on TV or in a film and — no. In fact, my son, when he was about four years old, I guess — or five years old — Star Wars came out. And he had to see “Star Wars.” He really had to make me lots of promises in order for me to get me to take him to it. And I came out of that movie a Star Wars nut.
DD: Oh, yeah! Then with the Star Trek, — not the original Star Trek. Again, it was silly — the crudity of the thing. Even though the actors, a lot of them now, are friends of mine. But I don’t like crudity. I’m a painter and a sculptor. I spent twenty years teaching people how to be artists and craftsmen. And then to see something, especially on film, that looks like a retarded two-year old created it in their back yard, is not entertaining to me.
GW: You said the later Star Treks you were more interested in, like Next Generation, I would suppose?
DD: Oh yeah. And most of them on. And one of my favorite shows on television, for years, was a thing that’s a Canadian production called Lexx. It’s just magnificent. Within the science fiction realm, Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Hell, I’ve got DVDs of all of them!
I’m just saying I came to it late. One of my favorite authors — again, he happens to be Canadian — happens to live in this area. His name’s Spider Robinson. If you want to read great fun, read “The Callahan Chronicles.”
And his wife is also a wonderful writer. I love detective stories. And she has written a sci fi detective story called [the] “Lady Slings the Booze.” And if you can read that — I read that on an airplane and the hostess actually became concerned because I was alternately laughing and crying and moving around in my seat. Just the imagination of these people!
But yeah, I like sci fi. I was reading Ray Bradbury at the moment that John F. Kennedy was shot. People say you always remember what you were doing, and I happened to be reading Ray Bradbury at the time.
GW: OK. Wow. So you do have a special attachment to sci fi.
DD: Yeah. See, I grew up with some magnificent science fiction. All the H.G. Wells stories, and Ray Bradbury, and again, Issac Asimov. Just great writers.
GW: The Da Vincis of sci-fi foretold so much stuff of what was to come. As Greenburg and Wright, and Glassner may very well be.
DD: [Laughter] There you go.
GW: Take us back to the very beginning, Don. How did you get General Hammond?
DD: Years ago I was brought to Canada to teach at the University of British Columbia. And I had a PhD, and I taught for about ten years. And I was published. So my summers were pretty-much mine. But they insisted that if I did work in the summers it had to be theater related. One of the other faculty wanted to act in film and television. He taught acting. And he talked me into meeting his agent.
And I wound up doing some extra work, and then, through a fluke, wound up on a film letting some people shoot a mortar full of spaghetti and cottage cheese and food coloring in my face as if the man in front of me has had his brains shot out. And the A.D. on that show — the second A.D. on that show — a couple of years later, wound up being the second A.D. on MacGyver.
And when they shot MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson’s boss was played by an actor named Dana Elcar. And they couldn’t find a stunt double for Dana who looked anything like him. They were having to put padded suits on these guys, and bald caps, and it just wasn’t working. And in a production meeting this guy said, “Well, hell, there’s an actor in town that could be his brother! He looks just like him!” And so I wound up becoming his photo double, and then his stunt double.
And so Michael Greenburg and Rick got to know me. When Stargate came along, they called me in to read for Hammond. So that’s how I really got that. Not through talent or beating anybody out! They are two very loyal people, and they knew that they could trust me.
GW: I’ll be darned. Awesome. Awesome. What were your honest thoughts about this character when you first read his breakdown? Did you find him to be unflappable, someone with a lot of potential, or someone who just served a cookie-cutter purpose?
DD: I thought he was a two-dimensional figure. And I had served in the army in Korea during the Vietnam War. I was an officer; I started out a Second Lieutenant, got out as a Captain. And I had served under officers that were heroic, certainly. Some who weren’t. But who were, as they really are in the Army, a cross-section of humanity. I served under guys that were poets, and painters, and dreamers and schemers.
And when I saw Hammond, he was by-the-book. A foil for O’Neill. And it just wasn’t true to what the service is really like. And so they were kind enough to take my suggestions to heart. And they let me, especially as the show [went] on, make him more and more human.
GW: OK. So that didn’t happen overnight?
DD: No. In fact the director of the pilot, a man with very limited imagination in my opinion named Mario Azzopardi, wanted him to be the stereotype. But he didn’t have a 5-year contract — I did — and I wasn’t going to spend five years betraying the kind of character that I was supposed to portray.
GW: So your experience as a Captain — the Army — is that the right branch?
DD: Yep. I was in the Army.
GW: So that really had a lot to weigh in on the way that this character developed?
DD: [It] had everything to do with it.
GW: OK. Out of the seven seasons that you were on the show, can you remember the most grueling day, for whatever reason?
DD: No. Acting isn’t a very grueling business, really. I started working when I was 13. Acting isn’t really work. It’s playing cowboys and Indians.
GW: OK, then what about some of the most joyous moments that you can recall on the set?
DD: Too many to single one out. I’m not trying to avoid your questions. I was really — especially in this show, but I’ve been lucky in a lot of shows — I was working with a cast that I really liked every member of. And with a crew that I had already worked with for twenty years. So I was surrounded by people that were friends and family. I loved Stargate. Every moment of it. And still do. I’m apparently going to do another episode here next month.
GW: Great. For Season Ten. Good. Will you have a little bit more involvement than you did in the previous —
DD: — I doubt it. One of the good things about good drama is it mirrors life, and in life people move on. They get older, they retire, they die, they get a better job — or a worse job, whatever happens. And Hammond has been gone now for some time. I don’t even know how they’re going to bring me back. In fact, that’s another coincidence. The script for the episode I’m in just arrived as I got home and threw these clothes on to come and meet you guys. So I haven’t even looked at it yet.
GW: You’ve always been considered the fatherly figure of the cast. And it’s very obvious to anyone who has come to see you at conventions that to this day you feel very close to these people.
GW: Can you tell us a little bit about your feelings toward each member of the regular cast, as well as Teryl? If you wouldn’t mind.
DD: Well, everybody knows, Teryl’s like a daughter to me. In fact she refers to my wife as “Mom.” She’s just an all-around special person. And amazingly talented. Her and Amanda both are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside, and they’re both very, very talented people.
Michael is a special guy. I think that Michael — I don’t know how to delicately put this — Michael will do himself a disservice if he doesn’t quit doing television and start doing film. He really is exceptional.
Chris Judge has the biggest heart of any man I’ve ever met. I’ve never seen a guy who can walk into a room — it doesn’t matter if they’re ambassadors and diplomats and little tiny kids, and somebody in off the street — he makes you smile. He’s got an aura about him that is the best part of life.
And Rick … You know, you forget — or some people forget — that how long he’s been around, and how unique. He’ll be in all the history books of television. In fact the dictionary, actually —
GW: — MacGyver.
DD: Yeah — was going to add MacGyver to the American language. That character was so strong. And he’s done the same thing with O’Neill. He took a character that another man introduced, Kurt Russell — in the movie, introduced the character. And he went in an entirely different direction. He made the character a giant standing next to a midget. And I’m a big Kurt Russell fan. I’ve worked with him. He’s a lovely man. I’m not, in any way, belittling his talent. It’s just that Rick took this character, and he did exactly what he did in MacGyver. To the extent that the Air Force literally gave him a medal!
GW: Yes! Honorary Brigadier General.
DD: There you go.
GW: That was incredible.