David Nykl never thought that a “day player” role as a Czech doctor in “Thirty Eight Minutes” would have turned into one of the most important satellite roles of the hit television series, Stargate Atlantis. Now in its fourth season, Radek Zelenka is more prominent than ever.
GateWorld got to sit down with the actor who portrays him just after shooting wrapped for Season Four of Atlantis he discusses the changes which have come, and what fans can expect. Nykl talks about cast additions such as Amanda Tapping and Jewel Staite, unhooking himself from McKay’s side, and hope and confidence in a fifth season.
Beware SPOILERS for Stargate Atlantis up to “Adrift!”
GateWorld’s interview with David Nykl is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is 15 minutes long. 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 David Read, and I’m on the phone with Mr. David Nykl, Radek Zelenka.
David Nykl: Hello GateWorlders everywhere!
GW: [Laughter] Thanks for taking time to be with us again, David.
DN: My pleasure, my pleasure. Thanks for having me!
GW: Now Season Four has just wrapped. How do you feel during this time of the year? Is it a typically similar feeling from year to year that the season’s over?
DN: Yeah, it is similar in that an actor’s daily bread is uncertainty. Really, we have to remember that we’re in the lucky minority, us Stargate people, to be working as regularly. Even the four seasons that have been around so far.
Now, of course, we’re all optimistic and looking forward to a Season Five, but there are no promises. There are no guarantees. We carry on and there are contingency plans, and plans B’s and C’s and D’s. I’m speaking for myself of course, in my head, but I think other actors have a similar trepidation. “What will happen if we don’t go back?”
GW: Right. Now what are the impressions on the set? Was there a feeling that this could potentially be the last season? I imagine you probably went to the wrap party, right?
DN: Yeah, yeah. No, on the contrary. The feeling was cautiously optimistic, in the words of some famous politicians. We see all that particularly with such sites as GateWorld, and with the online support, and with the worldwide following. It just seems to be such a shame that the fate of a popular series should make or break on the fate of a couple of boxes on some TV sets. The paradigm needs to change.
We’ve been following Nielsen ratings. Everyone lives and breathes ratings this time of year. The model is so different now with online viewing, with online delivery, with webisodes and mobisodes that it really is only a part of the picture on how many people tune in on Friday night.
GW: Yeah, we’ve really become a different culture, one that we have to have what we want and we have to have it immediately.
DN: Yeah, that’s true, but it’s only because we have the technology to be able to deliver that, and I just think that the companies and the people that provide the metrics for that need to catch up to that.
GW: Right. You said you appeared in about 10 episodes this season?
DN: That’s right.
GW: OK. Great. Now, is there a single moment that pops into your head from this past year?
DN: Oh, there’s been several. There’ve been some really fun episodes, not the least of which was “Adrift,” which just aired recently. That was a lot of fun shooting that space stuff and all the green screen stuff. The astronaut outfits were phenomenal for that, made by our set dec[oration] shop. The realism in them was fantastic.
Also, all the stuff was found on the Internet. [Laughter] In terms of plans for the astronaut’s outfits. It was really quite cool. Right down to the details of the wording on the chest being written backwards so you could flip a little mirror on the top of your glove and read the controls on your chest.
GW: Oh, sweet.
DN: Yeah, it was very nice. It was a lot of fun. And working with Joe [Flanigan] is always a pleasure.
GW: Was this your first spacewalk on television?
DN: I guess it was! Yes it was. [Laughter]
GW: Any claustrophobia?
DN: Ah, no! No indeed. Actually they’re very comfortable. We were suspended like marionettes. We were just air-lifted into our little spots there, on wires, and carried on from there. [Laughter]
GW: Have you seen the completed episode?
GW: Yeah. Did you hear about “Doppelganger” premiering early?
DN: I heard it was released inadvertently out to iTunes.
GW: That’s right. A bunch of us caught it and it was excellent!
DN: “It was excellent?” Well, that’s good. Yeah, it’s a great little episode. But I don’t know, has it aired yet? I guess it’s this Friday.
GW: No, this Friday is episode 3, and then next Friday is “Doppelganger.” So, yeah, this Friday is the episode where Jason [Momoa] features heavily.
DN: Uh, “Reunion,” I think.
GW: That’s right. That’s right.
DN: “Reunion’s” coming up. OK, so they just flip it around a little bit like that. Alright. Cool!
GW: How would you compare Season Four to the past seasons of the show?
DN: Interesting question. I think the biggest difference was the way the cast has changed, and how writers concentrated on developing those new characters and getting them to fit in to the Stargate universe. There’s two major new cast members that have had a really positive influence on Atlantis. A lot of the scripts and the situations were focused in that direction.
GW: Right. How has the additional presence of Amanda and Jewel changed the dynamics of this set?
DN: Simply by who they are, of course, it’s going to be different. Both of them are tremendous to work with. The few scenes I’ve had with Jewel I’ve really enjoyed. I had the opportunity to work with Amanda entirely in one episode, in “Quarantine,” and they’re fantastic ladies. They’re great to work with.
The dynamic, it remains to be seen as to how it looks in the episodes, but from what I’ve seen so far it’s tremendous. From what I’ve seen. Having said that, I really miss Torri and Paul, so I’m saying the change is positive but it’s only because we went through a bit of pain to get to it.
GW: Right, exactly. A lot of us are hoping that Season Four is going to be darker and grittier. From what you’ve seen, does it accomplish this?
DN: Oh yeah, it does. The way the show is shot, the tone of it, the lighting, the moods, the subject matter. Much more sort of a darker, grittier — exactly. That’s a good characterization of the Fourth Season. Yeah. I would agree.
GW: How does the addition of Samantha Carter affect your character as one of McKay’s leading scientists? Do you still have the same role-play in scenes with McKay, or has it adjusted a little bit to accommodate a trio?
DN: I think it’s adjusted a little bit. I didn’t have as many scenes with McKay this year as I’ve had in the past, and I don’t know if that’s a cause with the addition of Amanda. We’ve had a female “captain” since the beginning, so it’s just the nature of the character. As I said, they were focusing a lot on the new characters that came in this year. It’s developing them, and developing relationships with them that is going on.
Yeah, I still have some fantastic scenes both with Amanda and David this year, and it’s just making room for everyone to fit in to the new Atlantis.
GW: Radek has, usually, seemed to play second fiddle to Rodney. With the addition of Amanda, are we going to see some growth away from that this season for your character?
DN: Perhaps. The few scenes that I’ve had this year with Amanda indicate that they’re certainly using Radek in more capacities than just working with McKay, which is great to see. But also the bread and butter are the scenes with McKay. That kind of relationship. I’m a big fan of them. I really enjoy doing them, and I really like working with David Hewlett, so I’m happy to see more of those coming down the pike.
GW: Martin Gero has said if he doesn’t want to explain something he’ll put you guys together and that shorthand that they have between each other is the excuse for not expositing every little thing.
DN: [Laughter] I’ve noticed that! I’ve noticed that little trick. We jump on each other’s sentences and not have to explain everything! [Laughter] It’s a good way to do it!
GW: What episode from this season really stands out in your mind for Zelenka’s character? You mentioned “Quarantine.”
DN: Yeah, that was a very good one. That was a terrific episode where we all get a chance to pair up in rather unconventional groups, which is a great little character piece by Carl Binder. I really liked that script. As you said, “Adrift.” “Adrift” and “Doppelganger” were a lot of fun to do. I really enjoyed “Reunion” as well. Those four stick out particularly since I had a chance to, again, work with Amanda and with Joe and David.
GW: Right. Well, fantastic!
DN: M-hmm! Pretty terrific. Yeah, a great year. A great year.
GW: Any opportunities for Zelenka to go off-world again this year? Maybe get into mortal danger?
DN: [Laughter] No! No off-worlding. Actually yes, “Doppelganger.” There is some inherent peril there in that one. Other than that I think that was the only time I went off-world this year. Yes. The reason I couldn’t think of it [was be]cause it was in the studio. Usually off-world is somewhere on location. I haven’t done a location this year.
GW: Well they were pretty good for creating a lush environment for that. I had to ask myself, “Are they outside or are they inside?” Even I didn’t get it at first. That was really special.
DN: It was done really well, wasn’t it? Yeah, we have a terrific crew.
GW: Do you feel like Radek has grown as a character since he was introduced?
DN: I think definitely. I mean, I definitely think, considering Radek started as a day player on —
GW: “Thirty Eight Minutes” —
DN: “Thirty Eight Minutes,” yeah, exactly. And then the pairing with McKay and the development with the other characters. It’s tremendous to see how much the character has grown. I greatly enjoy working on it, and working with that group of actors, and I just hope we can continue.
GW: Do you ever fear that the character’s going to bite the bullet, or have you been assured by the writers that Zelenka’s too valuable?
DN: No, no. I haven’t been assured of anything. [Laughter] No, no. I don’t get much in the way of assurances on anything. I don’t even know if I’m in the next episode. A script appears on my doorstep and I go “Oh, OK, I guess I’m going to be in this next one.”
GW: But you don’t always go straight to the end, right? To see if he’s still ticking?
DN: Like flip the pages to the end? Well, no. I first read the script for its entirety and then start breaking it down into its individual segments.
GW: Is that a pleasurable experience for you when you get a new script? What’s the reaction when that comes in?
DN: Oh, I love it. “Oh great! I get to be working!” I love it when I’m in the episodes. I’m always eager for more.
GW: So they don’t call you first? A script just lands on your door and you’re expected to show up a few weeks later?
DN: That’s right. That’s how it happens.
GW: Wow. That’s kind of cool!
DN: I know! That’s how it happens. The script shows up and I’m going to work.
GW: Are you under any kind of contract?
GW: Oh, OK. So if you are working on another project then you call …
DN: Well yeah, then it becomes an issue as to management of availability and time management.
GW: OK, scheduling.
DN: Scheduling, yeah.
GW: If this is Atlantis‘s last season how do you feel this show will be remembered five, ten years down the road?
DN: Oh, goodness, I don’t want to speculate on that. I personally don’t believe that it’s going to be the last one. I think that we’re going to go on. I feel quite optimistic. I think a lot of the other actors and writers feel that way as well. And as for its legacy, it’s just way too early to talk about it.
From what we’ve put together so far I think we’re a classic space/sci-fi show, and I just hope that the real powers that be, the ones that make the decisions as to whether the shows continue or not, will see that and let us go on for as long as the fans want us to.
GW: Indeed. Do you have any other projects going on at the moment that fans should be expecting?
DN: I’m working on a film called Helen, coming up, with Ashley Judd. It’s going to be coming up next month. I’m shooting a couple of days on that. I’m going to be playing the husband of one of Ashley’s friends in the film. I know very little about it. I only know that I was cast, but I haven’t yet got the script. It’s a feature film, so that’s going to be kind of fun. Looking forward to doing that.
As far as that I’ve got a couple of conventions. I’m going to be going to Amsterdam next week for UtopiaCon, and then I’m going to Germany for Wolf Events, close to Hanover, and then CollectorMania in Manchester with Jason Momoa. I’ll be there.
GW: Wow, keeping busy. Excellent.
DN: Doing a little bit of that, yes.
GW: Sci-fi actor’s work is never done.
DN: Sci-fi actor’s work is never done! Exactly. Hopefully that’s a prophetic statement for our next season.
GW: Any recent memories of cons you’d like to share? People can sometimes be unpredictable.
DN: People can sometimes be unpredictable! That’s true. I’ve enjoyed all of the cons I’ve gone to. They’re a great opportunity to meet the fans, and to really see what’s going on out there. The bits and pieces I get from emails, and some wonderful letters I get, is just a fraction of the fandom that I get a chance to see when I go to these things.
I’m always amazed at the worldwide following, and the way people pay attention and care passionately about the show. I think that’s a tremendous phenomenon which is unique to Stargate.
GW: And any message to your fans in particular who may be listening in?
DN: I love you guys all! [Laughter] Thanks for all your support, and I hope to be able to continue next year.
GW: Here’s to a Season Five. Yes sir.
DN: Here’s to a Season Five, David. Thanks.
David Nykl’s official Web site