In our exclusive video interview, Garwin discusses the possibility of Narim’s death, and suggests how the writers were planning on bringing the character back. He admits his character’s love for Samantha, and for his own personal affection for Amanda Tapping herself.
Additionally, Garwin takes time to discuss Simon, the short-lived significant other to Stargate Atlantis‘s Dr. Weir. He takes time to clear up the question of whether or not he was her boyfriend or her husband, and admits his true feelings for the direction the character went. We also learn about Sanford’s other talents — lots and lots of them. (GateWorld’s editors have unanimously agreed that he was one of the highlights of our trip. Be prepared for the possibility of falling out of your seat.)
Our video interview with Garwin Sanford runs 30 minutes. It’s also available in audio format for easy listening, and is transcribed below!
GateWorld: Garwin Sanford — thank you for being with us today, sir!
Garwin Sanford: Thanks for asking!
GW: What have you been doing occupying your time since you last appeared on Atlantis?
GS: Actually the business had slowed down a bit before Atlantis picked me up. And then all of a sudden things just took off again, starting last June. I did a lead in Merlin’s Apprentice with Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. And I got to play the king of Camelot, Lord Weston. King Arthur has passed away 50 years nigh on and now Camelot’s in trouble, because the Holy Grail has disappeared and no one knows why. We all think there’s something wrong. And there is. Turns out it’s me.
It was nice. I’d been growing my hair because you don’t get to grow your hair much in the business. So actually I was growing it again. I hadn’t had it long since Hawkeye, which was twelve, 13 years ago. So I started to grow it. And each job I got they said “No no, we like it! Keep it!” And then this came along. So I actually got to have it down to the shoulders for the first time. It’s my hair. So it was a lot of fun. It was armor, riding horses, fighting barbarians and being noble, and then turning out that actually I’m not that noble.
GW: Where was that shot? Was that shot up here?
GS: Yeah, out here. Maple Ridge, mostly. They built a fort out on a studio where — what were they filming also? They had filmed the “Three Musketeers” series. Whatever that’s called. I don’t know the name of it. But anyway, they built a complete fort out there. It was absolutely fabulous, actually. We had a great time. And David Wu directed. And Mike and Matthew O’Connor produced for Hallmark. So it was a mini-series. It was nine weeks of heaven. Except for wearing chain mail armor and heat.
Most shows, I find out since then, will use rubber, so it’s light. But, no no no. They didn’t like the way the rubber flowed so they used aluminum links. Still, I’d go there in the morning, and I weigh about 200 pounds — 195. By the time I finished putting on the boots, the chain mail, the sword, I weighed 260 pounds.
GW: Holy cow. That’s a lot of armor.
GS: So all of a sudden you’d gain — and I went, “Wow.” So by the end of that nine weeks you didn’t notice it after a while because you’d get used to it. But it was a fabulous shoot.
GW: Would that help with the performance at all? All that weight? Like a mask would?
GS: I think it does. I mean, some actors say “Hogwash.” Always, don’t you try to have what they would have? Now the armor: the props guy gave us a couple of pieces of real chain mail armor, and just the headpiece weighed as much as my whole body piece did.
They’ve dug up skeletons of old knights who were short enough to begin with, but everything was compressed. And you found that in a twelve-hour filming day you’d actually have to lay down. You’d have to take 15 minutes. Because you can’t get out of the stuff. It takes a lot of time to get in and out. I discovered that after a few days of this I went, “I know what I have to do. I have to lay down for about 15 minutes somewhere in the middle of the day just to take the weight off.” But it’s amazing to gain that much weight in one go.
GW: Did you get to know your chiropractor very well during this time?
GS: [Laughter] Luckily nothing fell out of place. An aging actor’s cry. [Laughter] But it was a lot of fun. And I loved working with David Wu, and Sam Neill was a lot of fun.
GW: You ever work with him [David] before?
GS: No. I never have. And he’s now filming something in China. “The Thief,” or something. I can’t remember the name of it. But he’s fabulous to work for. We had a great time. I really enjoyed that. And then things just started picking up. I did a movie in Toronto, a comedy, called “Recipe for a Perfect Christmas” [with] guys I’d worked with in Victoria before.
And then I came back and did a movie called, well they’re not sure yet. “Eyes” or “Night Vision II.” It was a feature that was originally going to be Wesley Snipes, and somehow that all fell apart. So they decided to make it a straight-to-video deal. Tretch was in it. He was a rapper. And Mia Peebles. So I got to play the head of this secret service who protects the president’s wife. And I’m not such a nice guy.
I love playing bad guys. It’s fun! And then I just guest starred on Evidence, which is a new series they’re filming in Vancouver. So it’s just picked up. It’s been great.
GW: Awesome. Are you a fan of science fiction?
GS: Since I was about — I’ve told this story before and people think I’m nuts. I was 13, I think, and I discovered Keith Laumer’s Ratief series. Now this stuff is not high science fiction, but when I was thirteen I thought it was very cool. It’s like “Double-O-Seven in space,” basically. And that’s what started me on that. And then I graduated to [Theodore] Sturgeon and [Robert] Silverberg and [Arthur C.] Clarke and [Ray] Bradbury. And for years that’s the only thing I read.
And then after college I started flying planes, and then acting came along, and the science fiction kind of all went to the wayside. Now I don’t know who anybody is anymore! I still just go back and read the old guys over again. Frank Herbert. That’s the newest. I actually met him at one point.
GW: You met Frank Herbert?!
GS: I had to haul out my copy of Dune for him to sign.
GW: I’m actually in the middle of it right now. It’s one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.
GS: It is. I haven’t read the newest one that his son and someone else collaborated on. I haven’t read those yet. I saw that in the bookstore the other day, and I kept going, “Oh, I didn’t want to spoil it.” I wasn’t sure. I haven’t heard any reviews one way or the other.
And Kurt Vonnegut of course. I was filming a series called “[Welcome To] the Monkeyhouse,” which was an anthology series. I was living in LA at the time. They flew me up to Calgary to film it. And Vonnegut came to do the beginning talk where he’d introduce each episode. Sort of like doing the Alfred Hitchcock thing. So Vonnegut and Stan Daniels, who was directing, who wrote for Mary Tyler Moore and then created Taxi, stuff like this, they all decided they were going to the Banff film festival. So the three of us got in car and drove to Banff and back. Spending five hours with Kurt Vonnegut and Stan Daniels was one of my favorite things of all time.
Vonnegut, I love his work. I’ve always loved his stuff. Schlachthaus Fünf –Slaughterhouse Five. So we started talking about his books, of course, and I asked him about what it’s like. When we were there people were pestering him all the time. So he told this great story.
A guy asked for his autograph, so he drew this kind of asterisk-looking thing, and then wrote, you know, “blah blah blah.” The guy asked him “What’s this?” And, of course, the guy said he was a fan of all his books, read them all many, many times. And he didn’t get it. Because in Breakfast of Champions there’s a line drawing of an ***hole. [Laughter] Sorry! Sphincter! Sphincter. So it looks like a little asterisk in the middle of the page? It’s a line drawing of an ***hole. And he goes “That’s because you are one for asking for my autograph.” But he’d been going on about how he read all the books.
It’s the people that effuse that way. I love it. That’s kind of Vonnegut wrapped up in a nutshell. She’s a really wonderful man, but he’s quite caustic at times. Anyway, that has nothing to do with what you asked. Sort of!
GW: Can you take us back to the beginning of your involvement with SG-1? How did you get Narim?
GS: I was filming a show in South Africa, and the day before I was flying back, my agent phoned and said “Stargate‘s phoned. They said they’d like you to guest star in the next episode.” He said “But the thing is you start the day after you get back.” And I’d been there for six weeks, I guess, so you fly to London, then you fly here. You’re already flipping your hours majorly.
And then I said “Well can they get me a script?” But he said “No, because it was three days before.” I said “OK. So can they get it to me in London? The airport?” The London Airport takes no packages. I went, “Oh, right, of course.” They’d been suffering under terrorism for a lot longer than everybody else. So they won’t take any packages. I said “OK, fine.”
So I fly in. And then that night I pick up the script. Next morning you’re in wardrobe. The next morning you start filming. So I was like — [mush-mouth] [Laughter]. I was tired. I was kind of jet-lagged. I was trying to get my lines. And I didn’t know a lot about the show at the time because I had been working and hadn’t seen much of it. I think it was the second season, wasn’t it?
GW: It was the first.
GS: Was it the first season? So they said “Amanda Tapping.” Again, I had no idea. I said “OK, that’s great, whatever.” And they said “You’re sort of a love interest for her.” So I said “OK.” And they’d hired me — Ricky [Dean Anderson] and the producers had used me in a couple of episodes of MacGyver years before, so they knew who I was. But they’d looked at my new demo tape to see what I was up to, and apparently that’s what they gave Amanda, saying “Here, what do you think?”
And she said “Oh, that was kind of neat.” Because they’d never asked up to that point. Richard said “This guy might be your love interest.” So she had input. And she goes “Yeah!” Or whatever. I guess she must’ve said “Yes,” because I was there.
I had no idea the experience it was going to become. Working with Amanda. And that’s who I worked with almost the whole episode. I didn’t have much to do with anybody else.
GW: Yeah, that’s really hard, isn’t it?
GS: It was really rough. [Laughter] And that kissing scene was so horrible. I think I asked them to do it again. I don’t know, about eight or ten times. [Laughter] And I said “Is that it? Can we do it from another angle?” I’ve been in the business a long time, but that’s the best screen kiss I’ve ever had. Ever.
GW: From the original episode [“Enigma”]?
GS: From Amanda. It wasn’t hot and heavy. It was just this wonderful, romantic … And she’s fabulous. Totally in love with her.
GW: When you did eventually get the script what did the breakdown say about the Tollans? What was your first impression of the society?
GS: In fact, the breakdown — I never got one. I got the script that night. The next morning — there was no breakdown explaining who they were — then I got there I talked to Bill — Bill Gereghty directed the first one, I think. And we just started talking. Because I was defining, sort of — me and Omac [Laughter] — we were kind of defining who they were. And little did we know that we had defined a society that has really bad leaders — [Laughter] — who can’t make a decision to save their life, and when they do it’s always wrong!
We’re so technologically advanced, we’ve wiped out every other living thing on the planet but us. [Laughter] The more advanced our technology, we think that’s good, but somehow you’re affecting your society and your environment to its detriment. The better you are at that, the more advanced you are! [Laughter] Come on!
We kind of decided that he was very polite. It’s very traditional to have aliens not speaking with contractions and stuff. But we played with that. And Bill and I talked about that. He goes, “Well I don’t really want to go there,” but we found that they were very formal. Very formal people. We decided that was how we were going to start from. We made them very proper. They have etiquette that they follow, and it’s a very regimented series of things that make them respond the way they do … Of course, you’d never know it from Omac.
GW: He kind of did his own thing.
GS: He was fun! But the whole basis of it was that I am, supposedly, the pinnacle of what that is supposed to be. Integrity, honor, and nonviolent. Completely. And just very —
GW: — curiosity.
GS: Yes. Huge. And the thing that drove us the most was trying to discover and push the boundaries of our own technology. Which, obviously, we could. We could walk through walls and stuff. Which was cool. And, of course, I love the thing about not sharing with anybody because we’d already destroyed one civilization. Two of them actually.
GW: Right. Serita and then …
GS: Yeah, what was the other one? That’s very good. I don’t remember the other one.
GW: Yeah. There were a few of them. It explains why they’re kind of isolated. “No, you don’t want to know us.”
GS: No no, we mess up everything we touch. But I liked the fact that he was kind of a milquetoast. But what I liked about what they did with the character was they gave him such an arc. By the time I did the last episode that I filmed he had to step up to the plate.
I remember Michael Greenburg coming and saying about filming that last episode. Because [in] the middle episode I was kind of “This way. Step this way. Come this way.” I made a joke. “Please, this way.” And then I walked through the wall at one point and kind of save them. But regardless, it was “Come this way.” So I was the butler in that episode.
In the next one Michael was a bit concerned. They were. They had written the episode — apparently up until that point it was the largest guest star role that had been written. Normally it’s about everybody in the show and the guest stars fit in. This time Narim was basically in charge of the whole nine yards. He was running in most of the scenes and had carried a lot for a guest star, which they hadn’t done before. And they were a little concerned because he is such a milquetoast. They were going “Oh my God, what have we done?” Because we’re going to end up with an episode that’s just kind of [demonstrates something lame.]
And I also, when I read it, I realized that was the case. But it was about Narim having to step up. It’s like, “OK fine.” And it gave him an arc of extreme conflict within himself to go against the “society,” because I’m fighting the authority figures at the time. But I did what was right, basically.
GW: So that must’ve been a really rewarding experience from the other two.
GS: And it was fun. Yeah. I mean, it was nice to have the fact that he actually did this arc. He actually went somewhere. Instead of just being the same guy every episode, he changed. And there had been some talk about what was going to happen if he came back. And of course they didn’t do that. But I wish they had. Because they were going to take him a whole new way.
GW: Well you got this great episode and then “Oh, by the way, you basically commit your race to death.” I guess it’s the sacrifice that must be made.
GS: Well but the thing is it was the right thing to do.
GW: They would’ve killed you anyway, probably.
GS: Oh, of course. The Goa’uld, right? [Laughter] Honor among thieves. But basically if we had given them the weapons that they wanted they’re absolutely invulnerable. They would wipe out the whole place. It’s, again, him stepping up in many ways. He could have run away, to! I love the fact they gave him the choice to leave. They said “Well you can come with us!”
GW: “No, I have to stay with my people.”
GS: Yeah! I thought that was kind of good. The John Wayne thing to do. It was kind of fun for him. Again, that’s the integrity thing stepping in. But overall, the thing that runs Narim’s character is the fact that he’s so much in love with Samantha. He’s just absolutely —
GW: Do you think he did what he did for her? So she would survive? Yes, his people as well?
GS: I hadn’t thought of that before. No. Of course, he gets to save the girl and be the guy on the white horse. But it was more about the bigger picture. If they all had to die for this, it was just “I’m glad that they could make it. I’m glad they could get to the gate and go.”
GW: Right. You saved Earth.
GS: Yeah, really pleased about that. It was a good thing. But if it had cost their lives as well it would’ve been worth it because of what we were giving up. Again, our leaders. This advanced race has a bunch of leaders that just can’t think past next week. Which I thought was interesting.
GW: We never did see the Curia but I think it would’ve been interesting to see them. Probably would’ve been pretty much as you described. Very bland and boring, and not thinking of much other than themselves.
GS: Yeah. Yes, basically.
GW: It’s been almost five years since we’ve last seen him. Is he dead? Is Narim dead, you think? Or do you hold out hope?
GS: I would love to do more of these. Again, working with Amanda. And the Kang. Christopher Judge. Him and I go back to a series called Booker with Richard Grieco. They had offered me a regular role to start. I wasn’t sure about the series, so I said “We don’t know what it is yet. Why don’t we do a couple of episodes and see what we can come up with.” And then they changed producers and they said “Well we have to do another one.” New producers. It happened two or three times.
I’d finally done about six or seven episodes as one of the investigator-kind of guys at this place. Anyway, he was in that also. So I loved working with Christopher. I loved working with Ricky. The gang is just fun. But most of my stuff was always with Amanda, of course. That’s hard to take. [Laughter] It was just really fun. I love her as an actor. It’s great. And I’d love to do more. There’d been rumors. They actually talked to me at the party for the 100th episode about what they thought they were going to do with him, and then they must’ve changed their mind because it didn’t come to being.
GW: What did they think they were going to do with him?
GS: Just in case they decide to do it, I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag.
GW: Can you give us a little —
GS: — not a word! [Laughter]
GW: OK. Alright!
GS: Just in case! And I think Narim’s gone. I really do. I just would love to do more of them, because I enjoy working on this. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun.
GS: Yes. Yeah. They just said “This is the role we’d like you to do.” That was flattering and fun. We had talked about — I’d asked them before — the reality of these worlds. And they said “It’s fine. We can bring people in from this because Atlantis is a new deal. It is the same universe, however. But apparently there’s been a bit of fan reaction to that.
GW: About you having the same face in two different parts?
GS: Yeah. They said “Well they didn’t do anything to change him!” There were some people that were upset that Narim had become a human.
GW: “It’s the same guy!”
GS: “It’s the same guy!”
GW: Vancouver’s only so big! [Laughter]
GS: I thought it was nice, because they liked my approach to what I’ve been doing, and it was fun to do. And, of course, I think in the long run they decided that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. So they found a way to.
GW: Fit you back in.
GS: But also get me out. To say “I found someone else, honey. Sorry.” But it ties her up. What are you going to do with storylines? If she has a husband or a boyfriend back on Earth, and I don’t go with her, she can’t have any [relationships]. It just ties up a lot of stuff. How often do they come back to Earth? So I think they did the right thing. I really did.
GW: One of the big questions is was Simon Elizabeth’s husband or just her boyfriend? Is that another — do you know for sure which one he was because they never specifically say. And some of the producers have said “He is her husband.”
GS: Yes, OK. If the producers have said it, so can I. In the first episode I was her husband. And in the second episode I was still her husband because it was a dream sequence —
GW: — “Home” —
GS: — Yeah, exactly, where they come back. Not a dream sequence, but the aliens give them the ability to live out their life as they would like to have happen. And I think they realized that they painted themselves into a bit of a corner with the character. What are they going to do with this guy? Are they going to take me and make me a regular on the series?
GW: Which would tie her down.
GS: Yeah, exactly. I just think they realized that it wasn’t a good place to go. They saw where the show was headed and they realized, and I think they made the right choice for the show. It was a smart choice, unfortunately for me. When they brought me back they changed my name.
GS: Yes. So the thing was, and I don’t think in the first episodes they even had my last name on the credits. So they looked back and they decided. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s how you do shows. You look at them, you start something off, and then you realize “This isn’t going to service us” about the storytelling. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s always where you have to go.
At the moment I’m in charge of the acting department at a film/arts school up here in Langara College called Film Arts Branch. Two years ago they asked me if I would head this up. My Alma Mater is Studio 58, which is the theater school up here at Langara College up here in Vancouver. And I used to teach them some film stuff. And they asked me to get involved in starting this film branch, which we did two years ago. This is our second year. And we teach them how to make short films.
And this is what I keep telling them over and over and over again: the most important thing is the story. Story, story. I’ll forgive production values, I’ll forgive everything if your story follows through. The series starts to develop, you have an idea where it’s going, but until your characters start living it, where do you take it? And they saw where it was going, and I didn’t fit in. So.
GW: I’ve heard a couple of fans mention your art work. Does that ring any bells?
GS: Yeah. I’ve done pen and ink for years. But about five years ago, when the business slowed down here for a while, I started sculpting in clay. And I’d never worked in clay before. I’ve always been interested in masks and things because of theater work. I’ve done comittedelarte. I’ve done neutral mask and character mask under Wendy Gorling. Again, at that theater school. And she’s amazing. She’s brilliant, actually. She’s a genius, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to mask work. And under mask is where I learned to become an actor. All of a sudden, when I was under mask, I felt like “Poof,” I had power and everything could free up. And it took me a little while but then I caught on and went, “Oh, right. Every character is a mask.”
GS: So I thank Wendy Gorling for that little “ding-ding.”
So I’ve always loved “mask.” I said OK. I had nothing but time. I wanted to make some masks. So I put my hands in clay at a friend’s place. A guy has a studio of his own. He’s a potter. He said “I’ve got some old clay over there, if you want it.” And it was raku clay. He says “It’s a little dry but you can use it.” So I did, and I made the first one, and he walks in and he goes “Oh, you’ve done this before.” And I said, “No, I haven’t, actually.” I said “But it’s turning out alright.”
Somehow I was able to translate all the years of drawing, because when I draw it’s always portraiture. It’s always faces, mixtures somehow. It’s always faces. And all of a sudden I went “Ooh, right.” So I found the medium that I wanted — three-dimensional representation. So I spent a few months. Someone said “Well you’re going to go take classes.” Because raku’s very difficult. I said, “No.” They said “Well how are you going to learn?” I said “By doing it.” Right? Because I figured it’s just like anything. Acting, art, no matter what it is. If you go and have someone show you how to do it, somehow you’ll buy the limitations that they present to you, or whatever.
This is one of the reasons, I think: I’ve often wondered why certain things seem to be stagnant in our society. And I think it’s because if you want to learn to do something you always go to somebody else to learn how to do it. As opposed to finding your own way. And my wife thinks I’m crazy, but I’ve always wanted to be a renaissance man. The whole idea appealed to me greatly. Because I flew planes. I’m into science. I like astronomy. I like music, I have guitar, and I play piano, and I play the harp. A little lap harp. All of these things — I just want to keep expanding. I want to keep being a jack of all trades, and master of none.
But you keep pushing and pushing the envelope. The only way you can do that is to do it yourself because then you’ll discover something that’s in here [in your heart]. This then gets expressed in a very clear way. So I went and I just found my own technique to make these things, how you build underbody, how I delt with the fact that I’m building pieces that are pushing the limits of the clay, and also the limits of what raku is. Because you have to heat them to 1,800 degrees really quickly. If you don’t, they blow up. I’ve had potters come up and say “You can’t do that. How did you do that?” And I said, “Well …” And I’d just explain what I’d done. Because I just thought about thermodynamics. “OK, if it’s going to be ‘this’ I’ve got to heat it slower.”
GW: The pilot coming in there!
GS: Right! So you have all of these things that you mix together, but what I ended up is me making — in the first six months I’d made sixty pieces. And most of them had survived. I’d lost a few but most of them had turned out reasonably well because I’d thought about what I want to do with them. And this potter friend of mine said “What are you going to do with them?” And I said “I don’t know.” I lived in a log house at the time, five acres in the woods and I built my log house. Another one of those dreams. And I built it myself. But anyway, you put it wherever you want, right? I said, “But the house is filling up. What am I going to do with this stuff?” And you’re very covetous of these things in the beginning. And then after 60 or 70, “Get them out! Go away!”
So he said “Do a show!” They’re very gothic. They’re born in fire and smoke. They’re gothic. And there’s some very strange pieces. I didn’t assume a lot of people were going to be interested in this type of stuff. Most of them have their mouths open, empty-eyes, the cutouts like Greek statuary. Some of them don’t. Lots of various themes, but they all end up being gothic in their approach.
Did you want this story to be this long? [Laughter]
But anyway, I did my first show and sold 15 on the weekend. And I went, “OK.” So I started doing things like, here in Vancouver, they have a big thing called Circle Craft. So you have to submit, and not many people get in. They accepted me. I did a couple of years there. I sold 30. I’ve sold, like, 90 pieces, and I keep pushing the limits of getting bigger and bigger. I’ve done armor pieces.
And then people come to the shows, they ask me to do stuff. And because the pieces are very unusual, science fiction pops into it all the time. I had someone ask me to do Muad’Dib. The Greek mythology, they wanted me to do the medusa pieces. I’ve been doing pieces for people. I’ve done commissioned pieces. But basically it’s about pushing my limits as I push everything else. So it’s been a lot of fun, actually.
I often wonder. When things start to fall apart in one area for one reason or another, what do you do? You go, OK, life is the s****. Can I say that? Every time a problem arises it’s an opportunity to find a creative way to overcome and make your life better. Making anything. Projects. Art. Movies. It’s always going to be something getting in your way. Well fine. Use that as your reason to step beyond yourself and make it better. Anyway.
GW: Last question, real quick. If you’re done with Stargate, what do you want fans to remember about your performances on the show? If you never go back — which is unlikely.
GS: [Laughter] Yeah, that I was in love with Sam. [Laughter]
GW: Well, aren’t we all?
GS: No kidding! No! Basically that’s it. I often wanted them to — in the last episode, he pops in and takes her and rides off into the sunset.
GW: “Hey, I’ve been gone, baby!”
GS: [To the camera] Hear that, Sam? I didn’t get to do it, because Amanda had cancelled, but we were going to do a convention in England with just her. Me and her privately. And Brian Cooney phoned and said “Would you come and we’ll surprise her. You’ll just come out.” And I said, “Yes! I would love to do this.” That would’ve been a lot of fun. JR Bourne and I know each other, and we were talking about if we could get the two of us to show up, and we could have a fight on stage over her. [Laughter] Melmac! I keep calling him Melmac!
GW: [Laughter] That’s ALF.
GS: “You stole my girl, Melmac.” And they go, “No it’s not, it’s Martouf!” I said, “What? What was that? Mark what? No. Melmac.”