From “Children of the Gods” to “Unending,” Michael Shanks and Dr. Daniel Jackson stand tall as pivotal to the story and the success of Stargate SG-1. We always have fun talking with the actor — which we once again got the chance to do at Creation Entertainment’s Official Stargate Convention Tour in Vancouver, British Columbia!
In the interview Michael talks about the upcoming DVD movie Stargate: The Ark of Truth, challenges in the final episodes of Stargate SG-1 (specifically “The Shroud” and “Unending”), and finally moving on from the decade-long series.
GateWorld’s interview with Michael is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and runs about 20 minutes. It is also transcribed below. You can also download the interview to your MP3 player and take GateWorld with you!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Darren Sumner. I’m here with Mr. Michael Shanks. Michael, thanks for being with us today.
Michael Shanks: Pleasure!
GW: Tell us, what did you think when you first heard the cancellation news? Were you surprised at all?
MS: For the first time, actually, I was surprised, because we’d survived so many years. At our own caution, from Season Five onwards, there was always the threat of looming cancellation. And for the first time they negotiated a two-year deal instead of the one.
I wasn’t even aware that cancellation was possible until I heard it. Especially based on the ratings, which weren’t that bad. They were pretty good considering most of TV had dropped off 25 or 30 percent across the board. I thought we were doing just fine. And then to hear, it was a surprise. We thought for once that we were guaranteed, and to find out that we weren’t …
But at the same time, after doing the show for five years, then not coming back for the sixth year, and then coming back to the show, it’s hard to be terribly upset about it because we’ve had such a wonderful run. I’ve been through so much with the show that as much as there’s people out there that believe the show can go on forever, there’s always the question of “What territory haven’t we discovered? We haven’t we gone over?” We’ve gone over so much. Part of me felt strangely satisfied and relieved that we were done, because we were going off on such a high note.
So I felt proud of the show. It wasn’t this empty feeling that some shows would get. We knew that we were finishing the season. We knew there was a potential for these movies which are now happening. So we felt pretty good about it overall. We’ve had a nice lovely run and we’re ready to move forward.
GW: You’ve got some movies to keep telling the story.
MS: Yeah! I’ve just read the one script. I’ve breezed over the one script for Ark of Truth. We’re going to wrap up the Ori storyline in that one. And I think that the second one will show that there’s more life in the franchise beyond the series. And for everybody that’s great. It’s nice to have that potential, if there is more, to come up.
We never have to truly leave the Stargate universe. At the same time we also get to move forward with our careers and do other things, and be available to do other things, for once. So we’re pretty happy about that.
GW: When you look back on these ten years, and on taking the sixth season off, does it feel like two separate pieces to you, or like you took a vacation?
MS: It feels like two chapters. It truly does. I knew that at the time, on how I felt, that it was time to go, at that point, when I left the show after Season Five. When I came back it was a different environment. I felt really good to be back on the show, and it felt really good to tell the stories that we were telling at that time. I think there was a little bit more wiggle room.
It was nice to have that break. I think for Christopher and Amanda, who didn’t get the chance to have that time away, I think they suffered more fatigue the further we went along. And for me I was a lot fresher when I came back. It was nice, but it does feel like there are two separate stories there. Two separate series.
And then with Claudia and Ben coming over in the last couple years, and Beau as well, that felt like a whole different chapter in [and] of itself.
GW: Exactly. And Daniel got that much more of a chance to step up over the last two years.
MS: Yeah! That’s the thing. I was really happy that we had those two years to tell a different kind of story. It really was a different series for all of us, and we’re really pleased with how that turned out as well. We’d been through it all, I think, and we’re very happy with how the show evolved, as well.
GW: What hints can you give us about Daniel’s role in Ark of Truth?
MS: From what I know about it, I think that we’re off searching for an ark. [Laughter] And Daniel has some more leftover baggage with two characters in the universe. One is Merlin and the other is Ganos Lal, otherwise known as Morgan Le Fay. We have some leftover stuff that we’re going to be bringing to the table that Daniel’s knowledge of is going to be intricate.
He gets to be by her side — for Vala. She has to deal with her husband — or ex-husband, however you want to look at that — Tomin. And Adria as well. So there’s still a little leftover stuff that Daniel gets to be intricately involved with. We get to search for this secret weapon that might solve all of our problems. Of course, with the Ancient experience, and with the knowledge of the Ori, Daniel becomes intricate to that particular story.
GW: Maybe some of Merlin’s marbles are still rolling around?
MS: Well, there’s a residual “something” with Merlin … and I won’t give away what it is, but he will be part of this story, for sure.
GW: Chris [Judge] is already set to put in an appearance on Atlantis this year. Is that something you’d like to do?
MS: I’ve always welcomed the idea, especially with Atlantis. I think I’ve said it before. The character — he’s that little curious boy. And the discovery of Atlantis, after the first seven years of the show, the idea that he didn’t go there at all and was kind of OK with that was something that I went “Eeh …”
It was nice to go there for “Pegasus Project,” because that was a city built by the Ancients. I think there’s a story in there that could have Daniel involved, so I’m certainly open to the idea. I know the guys are up to their ass in alligators writing for the cast changes that they’ve had, and they’ve got a lot on their plates in terms of setting up everything for that show. The last thing they need is somebody else from SG-1 showing his face over there! But hopefully, maybe, in the latter half of that season, they’ll find some room for it, for sure.
GW: With a third series of Stargate now in development, many of your fans are crossing their fingers that Daniel might cross over as a main character. Is that something you’d be open to when the time came?
MS: I’m open to everything. I think in the Stargate universe the character’s got a lot of mileage left, in terms of stories to tell. I’ve had so much fun playing in that universe. The character almost has more than I have. I’m open to the possibility of anything.
I do know that nobody wants to turn around and make that show SG-1: The Next Generation, because they have their own story, and their own characters, and their own universe going there, and we don’t want to be too intrusive.
I think a guest spot would probably satisfy, nicely, what ever things they want to see. But I’m always keeping my options open, for sure.
GW: One of your spotlight episodes in the final few is “The Shroud.”
GW: Tell us a little bit about the challenges of playing that.
MS: Well, “The Shroud” was funny because I know that they had a lot of information. They intended that to be a larger, more of an arc kind of story, from what I understand. They took all the main points of that and crammed it into one story. So there was a lot of expositing going on. A lot of exposition that had to be said to catch everybody up, including the characters, on what was going on.
As I’ve said in a few different interviews, there’s heavy prosthetic makeup that is involved in being a Prior, as well as some rather cumbersome prosthetic lenses that you have to wear to be the Prior. The way that story went, Daniel gets captured and strapped in a chair, and spends three quarters of the episode expositing. And so you strap somebody to a chair where they can’t move their arms or legs. There’s heavy prosthetic makeup. They can’t really move their face, and prosthetic lenses. So I’m practically weeping every take.
It was very much a challenge because it was kind of like, “OK, entertain me for 45 minutes, white boy,” with all these different, cumbersome things that were involved with the story. So that was challenging, to try and find a way to have that be somewhat entertaining — because it’s a very talky episode for a long time — to be entertaining for that amount of time and that amount of information, when you have no abilities facially. You can only use your voice to do it.
So it was a challenge. Not only was it a challenge to come in five hours before call to put that makeup on, where by the end of the day you’re so tired you don’t even know how to think straight. I think in that particular episode we shot scenes where I was both in the makeup and out of the makeup where there was an hour changeover process as well, where your face is just burning when you’re actually putting other makeup on to be on camera as regular Daniel.
It was an interesting test, I will say. I will always look at that as one of the biggest actor challenges I’ve ever had to do, because of so many different things that the audience isn’t aware of that go into that particular story. It was very challenging to film that, I’ll say.
GW: What really surprises me about that episode, which I guess was kind of the point, is the team beams up Daniel onto their ship and he’s happy-go-lucky Daniel. He’s not changed and evil like we think he should be.
MS: Yeah, that was one of the things … I didn’t really talk about it with Rob [Cooper] that much. He’d given me a lot of license to bring to it what I wanted to. It reminded me a lot of “Absolute Power” from the perspective — we don’t want to see. I certainly didn’t, with the amount of information that had to be delivered, that I didn’t want to assume the character, or caricature, some of the Priors have. That sort of “mono-tone-kind-of-voice and being-the-evil-guy. Kind-of-talking-slowly-like-this.”
I didn’t want to take on a persona like that. I thought the best way to do it, especially because of that, it puts a taint on the character as well. It makes the audience think that he’s not the real character and think for the ambiguity. “Is he on our side or isn’t he?”
The makeup did it’s own work. It told you there was a transformation involved. I think that Daniel has to remain who he is and try and convince people from his place. I couldn’t imagine trying to do — he had to speak very quickly to get through a lot of this expository stuff. I couldn’t imagine trying to do it the way the other guys do it as the Priors. I made a choice and said, “No, Daniel is Daniel. The physical appearance is what’s different about him, and the fact that he possesses these powers. And we’re not sure what he’s up to.”
The same thing with “Absolute Power.” The character has to remain true. There’s no generic, evil acting you can do to throw the audience. The character has to remain true, and we have to believe that he’s the character, but still think maybe something is up. That was an important choice, I think, to make it as ambiguous as possible without hanging a lantern on anything.
GW: In the series finale, “Unending,” there was a very startling scene between Daniel and Vala. I think you know which one I’m talking about.
MS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. That was — I’m sorry, what was your question?
GW: What are the decisions as an actor that go into taking it to that extreme? Daniel is so mean, and then there’s that totally unexpected turn at the end.
MS: Yeah, that was something Rob — I think it’s OK at this point to sort of talk about. Rob, he wanted some sort of confrontation of sorts to take place. He had a written a particular version of that scene that wasn’t what we did.
Claudia and I kind of balked at it, because it didn’t feel like the characters. It didn’t really feel true to the relationship as it had developed. The way it was written, I think, was a bit more … What struck me as a bit odd is that they sleep together out of the blue. All of a sudden you have Daniel coming to her, going, “What does this mean? Does this mean we’re in a relationship now? Tell me what this means.”
It kind of castrated the character a bit in terms of the resistance he put up for so long, that why would he all of a sudden arbitrarily sleep with her? Why would he all of a sudden deal with her in a different way? Because he understands the animal that she is. There’s always been this underlining, keeping her at arms length because of the fear of getting too close.
Out of that, through that, Rob turned around and wrote the scene that he wrote, and we decided to take our own stakes with it, where there was all this pent-up animosity. A lot of what’s going on between Daniel and Vala has been about the unspoken stuff, about who they are and where they’re coming from. There’s been an accepted understanding about who these characters are, but they’ve never dealt with each other in a head-on kind of way.
We’ve never seen her truly vulnerable to Daniel, and we’ve never seen him be absolutely truthful and direct in terms of is own baggage that he carries in relationships, as well as what she represents to him. That felt a lot truer to us. And because of the nature of it … we didn’t want it to be PG, or just to sterilize it by having it be just a conversation. We wanted all the emotional baggage for myself, the emotional baggage of not just her, but the emotional baggage of everything that she represented, and how vulnerable he was making himself to come across in a way that was, let’s face it, defensive.
In reality, when people are defensive they behave in a not-quite-constructive kind of manner, and we wanted to make that as real as possible, because the reconciliation was going to be there at the end. It wasn’t out of character. It was very much in-character, but it was a level, a place that the character went that we hadn’t seen him go in real life before, and that was very important for us to do.
So yeah, it’s a little bit “not Stargate” in a lot of different ways. And I know people have commented on that in terms of it not looking really out of the place for the character, but at the same time it’s very much in place for the character in my mind.
GW: Do you think that resolution at the end of the scene comes about because Daniel was testing her, or because he’s truly, genuinely surprised by what her response is?
MS: I think both. I think that there’s an innate testing that’s going on through the course of that, and he’s expecting a certain response. He’s expecting a more sort of playful, more sort of “How dare you.” He’s expecting her walls to go up, because it’s almost like a poker match. He’s waiting to see if she’s going to be vulnerable first before he is — and because she’s so vulnerable, and he didn’t expect it, that we see that resolution, that turn around with him.
It is a test, but I don’t think he was expecting it. That’s the genuineness of it. When he sees her actually hurt, he’s actually mortified himself that he’s taken it so far. Yeah. I haven’t actually seen the scene, but that’s what we were commenting on the day. All those notes felt right.
GW: Tell us about your new gig on 24!
MS: There’s only so much I can tell about 24. I have never worked with Kiefer at this point. I just started watching the show in the last five or six episodes, because I wanted to get caught up because it all blends together in a lot of different ways.
I caught up to it and recognized a story going on with the President this year, and attempted assassination on D.B. Woodside, who plays the President, President Palmer. And then taking over his character is the Vice President. So there’s an on-going storyline that is involved in the White House that I’m a part of.
And my character is a lobbyist, Mark Bishop, who is in a covert relationship with one of Vice President Daniels’ staff. That will come to fruition in a lot of different ways. The character also has an ace up his sleeve as well, so there’s a lot more intrigue that goes on that isn’t immediately apparent.
I’m very happy working over there. One of my favorite people in the entire universe, Brad Turner, who directed a few episodes of SG-1, is a supervising producer over there and has been for the last couple of years. He directed the first two episodes I was in. It’s this wonderful, familiar feeling.
The gal who plays my love interest is an actress I worked with 13 years ago in Stratford. We hadn’t really seen a lot of each other until we showed up on set. It was like, “Oh, my God!” So that was a lot of fun.
It was a very comfortable environment. They have a wonderful crew. The casting director is actually a huge fan of Stargate. Peggy Kennedy is a big fan of SG-1. It felt very much at home over there, and I’ve enjoyed my time that I’ve spent there. It’s a lot of fun.
GW: It’s going to be great to see you on such a high-profile network show.
MS: Yeah, it’s great. We like to look at it more as another opportunity in a really great show. I’m not a big fan of the notion of “hit shows” or anything like that, but this is just a really well-done show. Their attention to detail, their writing and everything like that is really wonderful. It’s been a lot of fun. I will say that. It’s been a hoot to play in that playground, for sure.
GW: You’re headlining all four of Creation’s official conventions this year.
GW: Are you still having fun entertaining and interacting with the fans?
MS: I do. I don’t know ten years from now if I’ll have as much fun. It’s always nice to talk about the new things that are going on with SG-1 and whatnot. I don’t know if I’ll necessarily be headlining them ten years from now, but it is fun to interact with the people as long as there’s continuous, fresh questions about fresh material that are coming up. I’m happy to do it. It’s always nice.
At this convention there’s so many new faces as well. It’s nice to meet the fans from all across the world that come out to these things. We like to entertain, us actors. So it’s nice to get on stage and talk about them — even telling old stories — it’s nice to put a fresh spin on them. So I’ve always enjoyed my time with the audience.
It’s such a breeze, and they’re so passionate about the show. They’ve reminded me a lot of the time that I have to remember all this stuff [Laughter] as the years go by, as well. And Creation’s been very good and very patient, with my schedule over the years, so I’m happy to work with them again.
GW: When you look back on Stargate SG-1 20 years from now, what do you think is going to stand out in your mind?
MS: “What a great place to start.” I plan on still being a part of the industry and still being part of the business 20 years from now. I had one of the best experiences a young person could have, starting out fresh in the business, right out of theater school, right out of Stratford, that I didn’t have much experience.
And the fact that I didn’t have to learn by bouncing back and forth between shows. I got to stay on one for long periods of time, and really learn the business from the ground up. That it was a great opportunity and a wonderful group of people to go through that with.
I think this experience will: A) probably never be repeated in my career, but something that I’ll always have tremendous admiration for with not only the experience and the homey feeling it was every day to go to work — but also [B)] the people that were involved. I will always feel a special affinity to those people and will always remember this experience fondly, for sure.
It’s amazing to go out into the world and work with other actors now. Not that I haven’t worked with them before, but with a different perspective having that show be done now. Not to just say, “Oh, I’m just on a break from such-in-such and so-in-so.”
First of all, there’s so many people who know about the show, which I never really knew before, in the business itself. And the high regard that they have for it. But also the admiration, even on a show like 24. They’re on their sixth season right now, and their admiration for lasting as long as ten years.
You really realize, when you look at a show like 24, that crew on there is very tight-knit as well. Looking at a 10-year run is amazing. In television it’s just such a rarity to be going down in pilot season and be reading for shows that may not ever see the light of day, let alone get picked up for six episodes, or 13, and last 10 years. It’s such a pipe dream for so many people.
In a strange way, I guess I was naively blessed with the fact that my first one turned out to be so good. I’m actually looking at the rest of the industry going, “Why does this seem so hard to you out there? It’s so easy back here!”
But yeah, it was a great place to start, and a great place to learn so much about the industry and the process on so many different levels. I would have never, if I’d just been bouncing from show to show to show, ever directed or written or anything like that. It was nice to be in a place that allowed us the opportunity to take those chances with us, really, and I’ll always have that warm, fuzzy feeling for all the experience that this show has given me. For sure.
GW: Do you have any final words for your fans?
MS: Nope! Just I hope I’m sorry that we’re so behind the U.K., and I hope they’re pirating it as much as they can, but hope they keep watching in April, just to show the SCI FI network that this horse still had a lot of legs left in her.
And that we’re looking forward to being on the screen for the movies, and I hope they join us for further adventures. It’s been a wonderful ride, and we hope to keep going a little longer.
GW: We’re looking forward to lots more.
MS: Yeah, definitely.