GateWorld continues the festivities with the final part of an exclusive audio interview with actor David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay)!
In Part 2, David discusses the departure of a regular cast member (without revealing the fate of the character), the possibility of conflict with bringing Samantha Carter to Atlantis, and the series greatest strengths and weaknesses. He also takes time to answer several fan questions and discuss his new film, A Dog’s Breakfast.
Part 2 of our interview with David is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs over 27 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you.
GateWorld: User “teknikal,” otherwise known as Tina. “If they were making a movie based on your life, and you could have any actor in the world, apart from yourself playing the part of you, who would it be and why?”
David Hewlett: Who would play me and why? Like a contemporary, you think? Who would I love to see play me? I tell you who I would love to see play me. What’s his name? Lukas Haas. Lukas Haas. The kid from “Witness.” He’s grown up now, and he’s done — I just keep seeing him in things. These interesting things that he does. Most recently I saw a film called “Brick.” Have you seen that?
GW: I have not.
DH: As a filmmaker, you should see that. He’s a young — I don’t know how young he is, the guy who made it. Just an interesting film. It’s a film noir set in a high school. I think it’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. But Lukas Haas plays this drug dealer who lives in his mother’s basement. Does business out of his mother’s basement. He’s so nerdy-cool. The guy is threatening to kill a guy across the kitchen table from him, and his mom comes in and starts serving them, asking them if they want coffee or tea or orange juice, cereal. I don’t know. He’s one of my favorite young actors right now. Whether he’s right to play me — he’s how I feel, if that makes sense. When I see him I feel, inside, that’s what I feel like.
GW: That’ probably coming from the truest place, then. He may not have to look like you, but whatever you guys do comes out, it’s coming from the same place.
DH: And for everyone else’s sake, Jane says it would be Daniel Craig.
GW: OK! [Laughter]
DH: I wish I thought of that before Lukas Haas, but yeah.
GW: Paul — his role has been moved from regular to recurring in Season Four. What are your thoughts on this, and how does this make you feel?
DH: This is one of those weird things where, honestly, it’s in such limbo right now, I don’t know what I can and can’t say. I loved having Paul around every day. Forget Beckett for a bit. Just McGillion himself. He loved the show. He loves the people. He is one of those people who walks on set and the crew just loves him. The crew’s going to miss him more than we will, because McGillion and I have had a lot of scenes together, but I loved the fact that there was this, as him being a part of the cohesive team, if that makes sense. Last season it’s been less of that and more about us having a scene here and a scene there. It’s kind of fun just having him around. From a purely selfish level.
GW: Well I was there on set and was like “This is as it should be. This guy here, with the group.” We sat down and talked with him in his trailer. It was like, “He perfectly belongs.” And now what the hell happened? I’m sure that will be revealed. But this is not a good decision.
DH: I said this before. One of the things about a television show is that it mimics life in many ways. When we joined the Stargate franchise, for want of a better word — the franchise universe — we got a social scene. We had friends. It’s like an instant life. You have friends, then eventually you end up meeting the fans. It becomes this giant sci fi party. But along with a series comes these unexpected things. Like life, you don’t know when things are gong to change and when things are going to stop, when people are going to die. When people are going to move on or go somewhere else. The thing about sci fi, and I stress this over and over again, [is] no one dies in sci fi. There’s always a way to bring people back. We’ve seen that numerous times on Stargate already. I hold out a lot of hope on that front.
GW: But still, you have relationships that have actually been made, that are subject to the storyline, and being hurt and being damaged as a result. Not that anything happened between you guys, but you are subject to the story. In terms of your relationships.
DH: We are subject to the stories in the same way that us as people are subject to life. The decisions that get made upstairs, I think, come from a lot of different places. Part of good television is keeping people guessing. To do that you can’t keep the status quo all the time. It’s got to change. Things have to change. Personally, I think it’s unfortunate. I don’t think it’s the last we’ll be seeing of Paul. I’m sure of that. But I’m also not the guys making the decisions. But again, on the other side of stuff you don’t want to get to a point where you know what’s going to happen. If people don’t die then there’s no peril.
GW: Or a risk of death, at the very least.
DH: Exactly. You’re right.
GW: What from this show did you take away with you as being the source of the most growth for this character?
DH: I think him meeting himself in another universe will probably lead to the biggest changes in McKay. More important than seeing himself, from the outside, he saw someone who he could be with the people who are important to him. The most telling stuff in “McKay and Mrs. Miller,” I think, is McKay seeing what he cold be to his sister and what he could be to Sheppard, to Teyla, all those guys. That’s the stuff that’s going to have, I think, the most resounding impact on McKay. I think it’s going to make him a nicer person. I think he’s going to have yet more stuff to feel guilty about afterwards.
GW: Well we already see that growth later on in the year. He’s just a little bit more open, a little bit more willing. A little bit softer, a little bit more tender around the edges. Not much! [Laughter]
DH: And at the same time, it’s a habit that dies hard. It’ll slam shut when it needs to. Again, it’s like anything. You can’t remove that tension entirely. If we all got along then it’s going to be the dullest show in the world. I think the fun comes from the difference of opinions and the difference of approaches. I’m very-much looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen to that dynamic. And with Amanda [Tapping] and Jewel [Staite] and Micahel Beach and all that kind of stuff. We’ve got new characters in the mix as well. I’m dying to see how that stuff’s going to play. Obviously Amanda being the big one for me just because Samantha and McKay have such a great past.
GW: Right. From a writer’s standpoint that will probably be where they will be most interested to go straight to as of Season Four. Let’s continue on, on that front. What are your hopes for next season?
DH: Well definitely I’m dying to see the power struggle with Samantha and McKay. That’s going to be very interesting, because they do play very similar roles.
GW: Yeah, not only from a casting standpoint will that be interesting, but also from their own perspectives as scientists. This should be a conflict.
DH: Oh, completely. I mean, given the choice of who you want to work with, you going to work with McKay or you going to work with Samantha?
GW: I’m not going to answer that question.
DH: Very wise. This interview is over! [Laughter] But I’m with you! The thing about Samantha is she’s been doing this for a long time. She knows her stuff. She’s got all the smarts and she’s actually nice about it. Why the hell would you want to work with McKay? What would I hope to see? I hope to see that insecurity in McKay, because he’s not an idiot. You know what I mean? And again, who knows how she’s — I don’t know how she’s going to be a part of next season. We, like you guys, are pretty well left in the dark … Hey, forget this “left in the dark!” You know more than I do, judging by reading GateWorld this morning! I didn’t know there’s a third series! What the hell’s that? Who told you that? Don’t disclose your sources. I was like, “I’m doing an interview with a guy who knows more about the show than I do! The future of the show.” You tell me what’s in store for McKay, mister!
GW: Well — you know, we’re just going to find out.
DH: I heard rumors about it. You hear stuff like that all the time. I never know what’s legit and what’s not. I’d be very curious to see what they do with that. There’s so many opportunities for where to go with this kind of story. I look forward to it.
GW: What do you think is Atlantis‘s greatest strength, and what is the show’s greatest weakness, in all honesty?
DH: Interesting. I would say the greatest strength, without a doubt, is the humor. A fantastic sense of humor — there you go — I’ve got an interesting answer for you. I would say the humor is both its strength and its weakness. I am not a huge fan of very serious sci fi. I think there is definitely room for it. I think there is room for the “Blade Runners” in the world. I’m hooked on Battlestar now. That’s not a happy show.
And again, I love it, but I need some levity. I don’t believe that people are only serious with each other all the time. I need something that lightens it up, that makes it my life. In my life, Jane and I laugh all the time. And so I identify more with that. And I think Stargate — not even Stargate Atlantis. Stargate in general has always been very, very good at looking at itself and laughing at itself, and laughing with itself. It’s just very good at pointing out the ludicrousness of these situations that they’re in.
GW: Well in addition to that it’s built very much like “Indiana Jones.” You have this tension, you have this adventure, but sometimes you’re just laughing like crazy. The way that it’s designed lends to that. But in the same respect as that, you don’t want to have “Three Stooges.”
DH: Exactly. So that’s why I would say that it’s both its strength and its weakness. I think there’s always the danger of going too far into comedy that you loose track of the peril that you need to keep the conflict going. If Sheppard and I only have goofy banter then it’s like you might as well just play the silly music every time we show up. [We’re going to] have one of those conversations. And I think there’s always that danger that that could happen. It got to a point where every time we walked through a field we’d have some inane conversation about something. Which I think was a lot of fun, as a flavor within the show. Had they continued with that I think it could’ve gotten very tiring very quickly.
But they were smart enough to have me blow up a solar system and lose his trust, and all of the sudden that adds a whole different dimension to the relationship. Which is a serious thing. It’s not funny. There were funny elements about going up and apologizing to him about destroying a solar system, but the nature of it was there was a loss at the end of that show. Not just obviously an entire solar system, but of a trust and a friendship that’s been jeopardized there. They’re very, very good at doing it. I’m curious to see. We’ve got Joe and Paul taking the reigns next year, and they’re really eager to get in there. I love how outspoken and opinionated Joe is about all this stuff. He loves it. I’m curious to see how those two make their mark on the show.
GW: A Dog’s Breakfast. We have a question from “Willow’sCat.” Was it harder than you thought it would be to direct yourself, and why?
DH: No. You know what’s funny? I had less difficulty directing myself than I did acting. Because all of a sudden I forgot that I had to act in the film, which sounds silly, but you get so swept up in the stuff that you don’t know. I did so much research about directing. Grabbing films to see and books and everything I could possibly find. I’m a big “manual” fan on that kind of stuff. If I want to do something I want to know everything about it before I get involved. So I spent a lot of time focusing on that. Then I got on set and suddenly went “Oh, God, I have lines!”
I knew what I wanted the character to do. The hardest thing I found was as the character, going “Oh, right!” I felt like I was letting the director side of me down because I found myself incapable of doing some of the things that I wanted to do, that I knew that as a director I wanted me to do. I got them, eventually, but there were things that I was, like, “Nope, that’s not what I wanted.” The best discovery I made about he directing was directing is less about telling people what you want than letting them interpret what you want. There’s definitely a kind of instinct to start telling people “No, this needs to be this color with that and all of these kinds of very specific things.” The reality is you’ve got a huge group of people working with you, and that’s the difference. Working with you as opposed to working for you. If you try to micromanage everything — hey, I’m just not that good. I’m sure there are people who can do that and who do very well by that. [Robert] Cooper is a perfect example of that.
But I prefer, and again I’m usually pleasantly surprised — or hideously disappointed — with what people bring to the table themselves. You know what I mean? You and I don’t design wardrobe. That’s not what we’ve done for periods of time. If you can get someone to come in who is going to do that, that is their only focus. If you can listen to what they have in mind it’s often quite surprising. If I told them exactly what I wanted Kate to wear then it would not have looked half as good as what they came up with for me. Because I never would have known to pick half the stuff that they picked. And of course you let Jane actually decide at the end.
GW: Are you pleased with how the film has been received, and the screening that you attended at Burbank?
DH: I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to do the screening because I just didn’t think we’d have time to get enough people there, and let people know about it, and do it properly, and all that kind of jazz. That screening’s a testament to Jane. She was the force behind that. It’s so funny because it’s already a million times better than what I ever thought it was going to be. Originally it was going to be just a little handycam. We were literally going to shoot it with a prosumer camera, and shoot it on weekends.
Again, it was going to be an experiment to see what it’s like directing, and we ended up making a real film. I’m thrilled with it. The most important thing for me, again, is I wanted to make a film that as a family you can sit down and laugh with. I didn’t want to make something that was going to alienate. I love horror films. I love sci fi. I love all those things. But I know they can be rather marginalized in their audiences. I wanted a film that my dad would laugh at, effectively. I thought it was very cute, and quite telling, that you got your father to look at the film.
GW: Yes. He won’t laugh at anything!
DH: Well that’s my dad! I read that review and I was thrilled, because that’s exactly it for me. I wanted one of those old Pink Panther movies, or one of those silly, “Airplane!” comedies that my dad would laugh at, because there’s not swearing or violence or explicit sex or any of that kind of stuff, but it’s all hinted at.
GW: Right. Well, one of the things that I was sitting there and did not expect, and I may have mentioned it, was the suspense. I was not expecting to start getting goose bumps while sitting there. I was, “Ooh, okay!”
DH: The music was very helpful in that. I think Tim [Williams] did a fantastic job with the music. And that really sells a lot of those creepy moments. But again, the comedy comes out of a release of tension. You need those moments of tension, I think, to get to the laughter. And the laughter is just so much bigger when there’s an element that things could go horribly wrong first.
People laugh out of relief that there isn’t a mangled body outside. The funny thing, and I’m sure you’ll probably find the same thing, you go through so many stages with the directing. You hate it, you love it, you hate it, you love it. The only thing that I need to work on for that film, if I can, I’d like to play with the sound mix a bit more. In hindsight I would play with the sound mix a bit more. We did that in a very short period of time. We did, like, a TV mix for a feature film. I’d love to do it proper. The levels and such make all the difference.
And the other one — I love the music so much, I wish there was more music. In fact, Tim and I have been talking and we’re even thinking about trying to get a little more music in there. Again, I think Tim is very smart about where he picked to use music and where he picked to use silence and sound effects. I had a very specific idea for the soundscape. I love sound in films. I think it’s, in a strange way, more important than images in a lot of ways. Especially with comedy.
There’s a classic Pink Panther moment with Peter Sellers. It’s a wide shot, and he gets sent into the bathroom to get a glass of water and an aspirin for his wife. You don’t see any of it. You just see him leave from the right hand side of the screen and he walks off the left hand side of the screen. You hear the water and then you hear the pills all hit the floor. And you don’t have to see it. You know what’s happened. You can see his face without hearing anything other than a million pills hitting the floor, and the crunching sound as he obviously has left them and just decided to not clean them up. He walked over them to get back into the room again. And in order to do that you need a lot of time to play with the various different levels. A little too loud, a little too soft, and you just don’t get the same kind of comedy out of it.
GW: Last fan question.
GW: “Cat the Alien,” this is her question, and she is the winner of a Stargate mouse pad!
GW: The Atlantis cast are a very diverse bunch, which is uncommon in major American shows. What sort of elements, if any, would you say that this adds to the experience of working with the Atlantis set? The diversity.
DH: Well the smart thing about it is it’s built into the plot. We’re supposed to be a diverse bunch of people. The nature of our mission is it’s an Earth mission. It’s not an American mission or a British mission. We are representatives of the entire world. So that’s why we have Canadians and Americans. I think we pretty-well cover — most of the world is covered now.
GW: Pretty-much every free nation. You’re right.
DH: And that’s the point. That’s smart television. It’s not done for political correctness or for cultural flavor in the show. It’s built into the plot of the show. The countries of the world have got together and gone on a mission to a new galaxy. Look, you’ve got Paul McGillion. David Nykl. If those guys were all just Americans it’s a very different feel to the show. There’s so much room for misunderstanding if you all come from different backgrounds. Different race, religions. Actually that’s an interesting thing to explore in the future.
GW: Yeah. It’s one of the things I hope they use more.
DH: Yeah. Because it definitely is neat. Stargate SG-1‘s been very good about building up the whole religious-like culture around the Stargate. That whole angle on things. They’re always big on their god-like figures.
GW: That was built in from the beginning.
DH: Exactly, yeah. What was the name of the movie? Something “of the Gods?”
GW: “Children of the Gods.” The pilot, yeah.
DH: It’s an interesting question. There’s a tendency with television today is to go “Okay, we’ve go to have a black actor, an Asian actor, and we just cover all our bases and we know we’ve got fans from all over the world.” It’s just so hokey. The industry tends to ghettoize actors anyways just by looks alone when you get into racial issues as well. The nice thing about Atlantis is it covers the whole gamut and it also opens up plot points because there’s so much stuff to explore. Not just about the characters, but where they came from and what they believe in.
GW: What has Meredith taught you about yourself? [Laughter]
DH: Be very careful what your name is — [that’s what he’s] taught me about myself. I think the thing I’ve learned from McKay is it’s not about being right. It’s not just about being right. There’s so much more to life than just getting the answers right. It’s getting there as well. I think that’s the big thing I’ve got from him. I always wanted to be the guy who was the first person to finish a crossword puzzle. The first person to figure out the tip on the restaurant bill. All that kind of stuff. It’s good to know your stuff but it’s not necessarily the most important thing.
GW: It’s one of the things I think I’m seeing the character develop too — there’s more to life than academics.
DH: Exactly! Indeed! Yeah, that’s the whole thing. You learn something in a book. We’re doing renovations right now. It all looks easy in a book. As soon as you get into actually sitting down and doing it changes it all entirely. That would be what I’ve learned.
The Official A Dog’s Breakfast Web site