GateWorld is proud to continue our celebration of 10 years of SG-1 with one of the most recurring — and popular — guest roles on the series! Alex Zahara, the man behind Xe’ls, Michael, Eggar, Kor Asek and many, many others, sits down with GateWorld to discuss his career with the series in this special video interview.
Alex expresses his disappointment over the cancellation of SG-1. He takes us back to his days as playing Michael, the various Unas in “Beast of Burden,” and even the “squid men” in “Foothold.” He also explains why fans have not seen him in the series since the middle of Season Seven.
You may be seeing Alex at a convention, though! The actor has been a regular of late at many of Creation’s official Stargate conventions across the United States and Canada.
Our interview with Alex runs 20 minutes. It’s also available in audio format, and transcribed below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m here with Mr. Alex Zahara — Michael, Xe’ls, Kor Asek, Iron Shirt …
Alex Zahara: Uhh, let’s see. Eggar, Shy One, and a bunch of other guys. You know.
GW: Warrick. One of my favorites.
AZ: Thank you very much.
GW: You actually picked that one up. You carried it completely around a solar system, actually.
GW: OK. That was a very bad joke.
AZ: That’s alright.
GW: News of SG-1‘s demise. It’s reached fans recently.
AZ: I know! Crazy!
GW: How do you feel about the show being cancelled?
AZ: Well, it’s a bit of a bummer because it was like — seriously, it basically helped me get my career started.
AZ: Oh, yeah! Well, Stargate, that was the second guest lead I’d ever done on TV — was when I played Xe’ls. A little story I maybe should’ve told out there: I actually auditioned for an episode of Stargate before the first one that I did and got it, but what had happened was Carol Kelsay, who I work with now. I don’t know, apparently there was a mistake in timing. She didn’t get back to my agent in time, but it was a good thing because there was another show phoning up just after here.
The Sentinel TV show, said “We loved Alex. Here’s the days. Here’s the money. We want him.” My agent Ken Walker said “That’s cool, but Stargate has first dibs because he auditioned first and they’re interested. I’ve got to give her [Carol] 24 hours.” So called back, and for whatever reason she didn’t get the message, or this or that happened. They didn’t get back, so we went with the other show.
They [Stargate] phoned back the next day and said “OK, here’s what we want for Alex.” And he said “Look, I’m sorry, I had to let …” And oh, dear. Oh, boy. I’m thinking “Oh, I pissed somebody off.” Pardon the language. Anyway, long story short, in the end, I was supposed to be an alien in that with big makeup. But Gillian Barber, I believe, ended up playing the character, and they just put a little veil in front of her face. So here’s the deal. Had I got that gig, who knows? Because they would’ve seen my face the first time! They may have been reluctant to bring me in for anything else. For Michael especially, or anything else!
Who knows what would have happened? So it was actually a gift that there was a little mis-timing there, because I may have done one episode and you never would have seen me again.
GW: I know! That happens all the time. Ben Browder was supposed to play Amanda Tapping’s love interest in Season Seven. Low and behold he’s now Cam Mitchell. Fate just has a funny way of working. What episode was it that you didn’t make? Do you remember which one it was? The plot?
AZ: Oh. Something about the keepers or the guardians or something?
GW: “The Gamekeeper.”
AZ: Was it “The Gamekeeper?”
GW: They were in the video game.
AZ: Was that the one with —
GW: Dwight Schultz.
AZ: Dwight Schultz. I can’t remember right now, it’s been so long. Suffice to say, Gillian Barber — we’ll have to look it up online — she played the character, and they had little veils in front of their faces.
GW: Yes, that was “The Gamekeeper.”
AZ: OK, so there you go!
GW: I should’ve gotten that!
AZ: Trivia! We had a big trivia contest earlier. I had my one trivia question, which we’ll talk about later.
GW: You’ve repeatedly stated that your favorite character is Kor Asek. Iron Shirt.
AZ: Pretty much, yeah.
GW: What was appealing about this character?
AZ: Well he was standing up for his people. He was fighting for what was right. He put the time in. They lived under tyranny and slavery. He overcame a hell of a lot of odds, if I may, to have freedom. To be able to be self-determined. Like most of the free democratic countries — like I’m sitting in right now. America!
And I’ve just been across Europe, so it’s interesting. Like the French Revolution and all of the freedoms. The amount of sacrifice people have fought for over the years. That was why it’s my favorite character. Also, mind you, I was in the catacombs in Paris, and the millions of bones of the people. But you think about that. In the episode I did play Kor Asek, in “Enemy Mine,” think about all …
That’s what I did. I thought about all the people, all the Unas, fellow creatures that died under the tyranny of the Goa’uld, et cetera. That was a big motivator. When these guys come in, I’m sorry but SG-1, [in terms of] my character, might as well be a Goa’uld. We’re never going to be trodden over by another people.
GW: They’re encroaching on your territory. Not only that, they’re cutting it up!
AZ: Exactly. And going into basically our tombs. Our catacombs where our dead are buried. There’s no messing around here. Some things are sacred. There’s got to be a little black and white at some point. Everybody has a little line in the sand. Well, that was ours. And I failed to mention, but I was about ten thousand other aliens, because they had us all play. The four of us, the big aliens in that episode, was me and [Sean] Tyson and my friend Wycliff Hartwig, six foot seven, and then Patrick Currie. I think there was one or two more. I can’t remember. They had us all come up and go “roar, roar roar!”
GW: All the way down the line!
AZ: All the way down the line. Behind green screen! We did it a bunch of different times, changed weapons, and then digitally created more of us.
GW: And that wasn’t the first time you did that. That was “Beast of Burden.” Where you played another Unas, who was also under oppression, “Shy One.” One of my favorite characters, who was barely in the limelight. Was a great character.
AZ: Thank you. Do you know who I based him off of? Fiddler from Roots. Louis Gosset Jr.’s character.
AZ: Yup. Old slave, who had been around in the system for a long time, was used to it, and he had found his way. He had found his way to make things OK. If you’re a slave, nothing’s ever going to be good or great. Things are going to be “OK.” And that’s who I based it on. I was basically doing Fiddler. Thank God I’m old enough that I saw it when it first came on. [Laughter]
GW: Michael is probably the one you’re most remembered for. Would that be a fair guess?
AZ: Oh yeah. For sure.
GW: Is there anything about the character that resounds with you even today?
AZ: Oh, huge. That’s the thing. It’s hard. I said earlier, some people boo-hoo and criticize sci fi for being “sci fi.” [There are] other actors who just can’t get their heads around the fact that these are character with desires, wants, and needs. So anyway, with Michael. He was my favorite episode and character for years, because throughout the episode he didn’t want to go to war. It was about the Vietnam War. The “right or not” about that war. My character said “I don’t want to go to war, I don’t want to go to war.” He said it two or three times, and at the end I said to Charlie Correl, God rest his soul, I believe he’s passed away now. Charles Correll, he directed it. I said “Look, my character, I don’t want to say that. The thing is ‘I don’t want to kill anybody.'”
GW: Two completely different things.
AZ: Exactly. And that’s the key. And he said “Let’s do it.” He’ll try and get permission, but “We’ll do it both ways. Once the way I have and once that way. And we’ll go with whatever works.” And they went with my suggestion and they kept it that way. Because that was the truth of that character.
I mean, writing is great. And the writers, I totally respect their work. Don’t get me wrong. But when you inhabit a character and things start coming up, if the word comes up naturally or something happens naturally, then that’s coming from your character. It’s not you. It’s not your ego. It’s from the character’s needs and wants.
And that’s my job as an actor, to service the needs and wants of the character, and then I service the needs and wants of the show. The writer, the producer, the director, everybody. But if you remain true to what your character needs then you can’t go wrong. And that one is the first time I stood up and said, “Look, I can’t say this line anymore. I’ve got to say this.” And it worked.
GW: Did you record the other line of dialogue just in case?
AZ: We did, just in case, but Charlie was like — even before we got permission, Charlie was like — let’s do it.
GW: Let’s focus on this one. Good. You’ve done so many characters. Which do you wish you could’ve developed more?
AZ: Oh, boy. Well you always wish you could develop more, because you do one episode. You’re in and your out.
GW: Episodic television for you.
AZ: Yeah. And you don’t have a lot of time to rehearse, usually. But what’s been great with the Stargate guys is because they’ve known me over the years, and they’ve called me up. I’ve known months ahead of time that I’m going to work on the show. And so that’s great. So I can prepare, and say “What’s the story about? What’s going on?”
So I have an idea, usually, of what’s going to happen beforehand. And I’ve had that since about the second season. I auditioned for Xe’ls. They actually called me up and said “Hey, would you come in and audition?” I was doing a play in mid-northern British Columbia, getting my stage actor equity card, and I flew down on a Sunday, worked for my buddy Matthew Harrison, worked the audition. I did the audition Monday morning, 11, 11:30, came totally dressed in the hippie outfit. “Far out.”
They were totally laughing from the minute that I walked in the door. But also there’s heavy-duty stuff in there and I had them right there. I flew back to Prince George, landed at 4:30. Got a call at 5:30. I was their number one choice. As I’m leaving to the theater to do the show, 6:30, I get the call. “You’ve got the job.”
GW: Wow, that’s great.
AZ: Ever since then I’ve not really had to audition, but they’ve written episodes with me in mind, and that’s just amazing.
GW: So Xe’ls and Michael and now you’re a shoe-in regular.
AZ: Well not a “shoe-in regular,” but I did a fair amount of that. But it’s been great. Unless you’re a regular, that doesn’t happen.
GW: Right. Exactly. Only a handful of actors can say that they’ve worked on SG-1 as much as you have. Are you the only actor who has worked as many characters as you have?
AZ: I think so. I’m not certain of that. Dion [Johnstone]’s done a fair amount, but I’ve surpassed him. He’s been off doing other things. I played his character due [to the fact] that he was unavailable! He played Boromir in the stage version of Lord of the Rings. I don’t know if he’s doing the London one, but he’s doing this one. He did the one the one in the Toronto area, and maybe he’s still doing it. But yeah, I did that. I think pretty much eclipsed other people.
GW: Bit of a rivalry there?
AZ: Yeah … No. But even within episodes. Start looking at that. In the “Beast of Burden” I played Shy One. I was the waitress. I was one of the bloodhounds. I was the guy in the field in the beginning. I was toting boxes in the city and the town. I was hauling the water. I was hauling the little wagon train that got blown up. I played, like, seven or eight in that episode alone. Different little characters. Didn’t get paid for seven or eight. No, just kidding.
GW: Let’s not even go with all of the ones that you CG’d in with “Enemy Mine.”
AZ: “Enemy Mine” I CG’d those in. And then all the super Jaffa soldiers when you first saw all of Apophis’s men. The SG team were in a ship flying away —
GW: — “Evolution, [Part] 2”.
AZ: Yeah. And they ran after them and jumped on. That’s me. I’m the one running, and you see the little soldier jump up. That’s me. I have all the dots on in the little room. Like “The Matrix.” How they did “The Matrix.” Same thing. So there you go.
GW: They said when they were doing that massive shot with Anubis standing on his pedestal and all the soldiers beneath, that you were one of the guys that actually programmed those movements in.
AZ: That’s right.
GW: Was that something new for you?
AZ: Yeah, I’d never done that before. Funny enough, it was two blocks from my house. I had no idea this place was here. I was two blocks from my house. Literally I walked out the door, took the time, look at the address, looked around, went — “It’s right there!” And I just walked over.
They put you in a little suit. Did you see Tom Hanks’s thing from Polar Express? They put you in a little body leotard, and there’s little ping pong balls for reference all over you. And so they had me come in and do all the — “hoo — hoorah!” The Unas creatures and whatnot, and then they had me do all the super soldier guys.
And I did about 30 different passes of all the Unas guys, and I had to come up with 30 different walks and characters. Literally on the spot, “I’ve got to come up with a guy. Alright, here.” And off you go. And that’s the thing as an actor too — and we learned in theater schools — a lot of times the character will come out of the movement and the walk.
Especially when we did “Foothold,” Dion and I really talked about these guys. They looked like squid men, lobster sort of guys. So we thought they must have evolved under the water. Their movement, how they move, and their musculature is very different. Think of it. If they lived in the water too their muscles would be so developed. So moving in the air — like Superman, you’d have to hold back otherwise you’d smash through walls!
GW: OK! Very cool. Is there any particular reason we haven’t seen you in the Stargate universe recently? Have you just been busy?
AZ: I’ve been busy a lot. I really have. Also, too, it just depends on what they’re doing. What their needs and wants are as well. They haven’t come up with anything, saying “Hey, Alex, we need you to do something.” And I did audition for Atlantis for Christopher Heyerdahl’s character.
AZ: Halling. I auditioned for that. I was in the running for that. But no, I don’t know. They just do their thing. Do whatever. That’s the thing too — honestly, in the last couple of years I’ve been so busy. I haven’t seen a lot of shows, so unless they’ve got a lot of aliens on the show maybe they don’t call because they don’t — I’m no more than an alien!
GW: Write in folks! It’s up to you!
AZ: There you go. Exactly. But no, I’ve been doing other stuff and what not, too, so that’s kind of good. But it’s cool to see the guys working. Again, I just heard about the cancellation. I was in Europe and it sucks — pardon my language — but it sucks. It’s depressing because I have a real emotional tie to the show. Basically it got me going. And it’s been my bread and butter in some respects. I knew every couple of years, or every year or so, I was doing an episode or two.
GW: It’s your roots.
AZ: It’s my roots! My peeps! Stargate, yo. Anyway.
GW: You’ve worked with a great many directors on SG-1. Not Atlantis yet. Hopefully at some point. Who’s your favorite director to work with through Stargate?
AZ: Shoot. Two favorites, I have to say. Two favorites that I’ve worked with. I really like Peter and Martin Wood. Peter DeLuise and Martin Wood. They’re both great guys. The two that stand out. I’ve also worked with them the most. I’ve worked with Andy Mikita and Charles Correll. I’m trying to think who else. But I’ve worked with Peter and Martin the most. And they’re fun! They’re fun guys.
When you’re in the trenches like that, 16, 18 hour days sometimes for us. Especially in the makeup, you’ve got to have some fun on the set and you’ve got to have people who are supportive, and they really are. I did “Open Range,” the western with Kevin Costner. I had a small role in that. I was doing Eggar for “Metamorphosis,” and literally got a call Sunday morning from my agent. “The want you in Calgary tomorrow.” And I had agreed to shave my head. And I was like, “Oh, dear, what am I going to do,” right?
So I had agreed to shave my head. So what I did was I had Peter’s number and Todd Masters who does their makeup — a good buddy of mine. I just worked with him on Masters of Sci Fi. I said “I’ll call Peter, and I’ll call Todd. You call the producers and see what happens.” So I call Peter and I tell him what happens. I’m supposed to shave my head. He’s like, “Ah, do da freaking movie. We’ll make it work.” That’s exactly what he said. “Do da freaking movie. Whatever. We’ll make it work.”
GW: This is before “Metamorphosis?”
AZ: The Sunday morning I had to leave for Calgary, the next morning, and shoot that evening on “Open Range,” the western. Then the following week I’m supposed to be on Stargate playing the bald dude — Eggar, right? And I had to shave my facial hair for Stargate. Well, they wanted the facial hair for the western! So hilariously enough, I don’t shave my head. Todd Masters says “Don’t worry about it. We’ll punt.” Football reference. Americans. I don’t know. Just kidding.
American football — I went to a football game and the states. A college game. Fifty-two thousand people. It’s bigger than most cities that I’ve lived in. I was like, “Oh, a punt. Oh I get it!” Anyways, I’m on a plane the next day. I do the show. I come back. They put a bald cap on my head. Dave Dupuis, who did “Pirates of the Carribean.” He did Jeffery Rush’s makeup — I’m not sure.
He did my bald cap, and when I came out John Smith was there. I was like, “Alex, you shaved your head! What happened to the movie?” I said “John, John, it’s a bald cap!” Literally you had to get right up here to see it. Anyway, they’re great guys. I’ve worked a ton with both of them, and yeah. I love ’em both.
GW: Eggar. You get these characters who are under so much oppression. That was one of the great characters. Him and Wodan, they were good. Was anything appealing about Eggar’s character?
AZ: Oh, yeah. A good mix. Think about it. If you can see into someone’s mind and you can see what they’re really saying, that’s a heavy-duty thing, because you know what your friends think of you. You know? And can you imagine having to live with that? But he was also fearful enough from Nirrti. Living in fear and respect. It’s sort of like having faith. Imagine this, if you could read everyone’s mind and you met God … What do you do? So, there you go. That’s what really appealed.
GW: What do you hope your roles that you have done, and any that you are going to do in the future of Stargate — what do you hope they bring to fans?
AZ: Seriously, what I hope I bring to fans is, honestly, a sense of humanity. Because that’s the biggest thing. Actors sometimes poo-poo sci fi because it seems so out there. But if the shows I’ve done help people, inspire people, give some entertainment and enjoyment … honestly I’ve had people say some of the stuff I’ve done has helped them turn their life around. I’m like, “Wow.”
The day that 9/11 hit, I was doing Jeremiah. It was my first day on Jeremiah, and I thought “What the hell am I doing with my life?” There are people out there dying. There are people out there throwing themselves out of buildings so they don’t burn to death, and I’m making a TV show.
And then I met people after that that said they thought about suicide, they thought about killing themselves, they watched Stargate — and I’m not making this up just for your interview, and I’m not going to name names — but this one girl/woman said this to me. “It saved my life. I watched an episode and it just inspired me.” I was like, wow. Particularly one of the episodes I was in. I think it was “’69.”
And she said about not wanting to kill anyone. She thought about killing herself. I was like, “Wow.” So that’s what I hope. If I can touch somebody, or if we can touch someone, we can all be touched together and come together and just make life a little better. There’s so much going on. Everybody needs to just take a chill pill. So there you go.
The Official Alex Zahara Web site