It seems like everyone wants a piece of Christopher Heyerdahl! With appearances on shows like Smallville and Sanctuary, he is a familiar face to the sci-fi world. Chris has now played three distinct roles in the Stargate franchise, and GateWorld felt we were long overdue for a chat with him!
In our interview with Mr. Heyerdahl, Chris discusses his origins on the series in the SG-1 episode “Revisions,” and later returning for the Atlantis pilot episode “Rising” as the gentle Halling. Chris also explains why Halling disappeared so abruptly in the middle of Season One. More recently, a dream to play one of the Wraith has come to life for Heyerdahl, who now plays a critical role in the portrayal of the species.
GateWorld’s interview with Chris is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening, and is over 38 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. Christopher Heyerdahl who has played, I think, three characters so far in the Stargate franchise. Chris, welcome!
Christopher Heyerdahl: Thank you very much! It’s a pleasure to talk to you!
GW: Pleasure to talk to you. Are you a fan of science fiction?
CH: Always that question. The fan of science fiction. I’m a fan, I would say, of fantasy. It’s something my girlfriend told me the other day, because sometimes I can be dismissive of so many genres. And then she said, “What are you talking about? You love this stuff.”
I love anything to do with the boundaries, or lack of boundaries, of our own imagination. And the possibilities that are within us all. Who knows what’s out there. I would say I am a fan of fantasy, and science fiction would definitely fall into that category.
GW: Do you think Stargate is at its best when it’s pointing a mirror back on us?
CH: Always. Or itself.
GW: Right. It’s very good at being self-effacing.
CH: It is! And so it should be! Anything that travels in this genre that takes itself seriously, I think, is a big mistake. That’s one of the great things about this franchise. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s perpetually poking fun at itself. It happens on screen, it happens behind the scenes, it happens everywhere. And it’s notorious for a place where everyone has a lot of fun.
GW: How much Stargate had you seen before appearing in Season Seven of SG-1?
CH: I think I’d maybe seen an episode here and there. I’m one of these people that doesn’t have cable, so I watch these shows on YouTube. YouTube is now my friend, and all the advertisers out there are going to hate me for it but I’m thankful for everyone who downloads these episodes on YouTube because that’s how I get to watch it.
GW: Even your own episodes?
CH: Oh yeah. I watch my episodes in extremely poor resolution.
GW: I’ve talked with actors who have guest starred. If you contact bridge I’m sure they’d be more than happy to send you a copy!
CH: I’m sure they would, but the amount of things that I do over the year, if I’m chasing down every episode … Sometimes I do it and sometimes I just leave it for a few years and I get stuff from years back and it’s actually more fun to watch it. It’s like reading an old letter that you wrote ten years ago. You think, “Who the heck is that person?”
GW: I know!
CH: So it’s the same thing when you’re watching old footage of yourself, whether it be family footage or a higher production value. It’s kind of fun to look and say “Who the heck is that?”
GW: Have you seen “Revisions?”
CH: Yes, I have. Yeah. Long time ago.
GW: Tell us about your original experience working as a guest star in that episode.
CH: Well it was all new to me. I didn’t know anybody at that point, and that was really the beginning of quite an adventure, because I met Amanda [Tapping] on that. I met Martin [Wood] on that, and it turned out that we were all neighbors. So that started a whole adventure into friendship that has led on to where we are today [with Sanctuary].
It was a great start because they’re wonderful friends and wonderful people to work with. That was a great day walking in there. It was an odd thing, especially because we were on this very bizarre lot known as “Fantasy Gardens,” I think it was called, which was started by a rather odd premier here in BC, and his wife. This Dutch garden. It was walking into a very surreal world out of somebody else’s imagination. It was a timeless little world and strangely realistic.
GW: Yeah, that episode was a very gorgeous location that they chose for that.
GW: You’ve done a tremendous amount of television and movie work. How does Stargate compare to other sets that you’ve been on in terms of their production value, the emotions, the strain on the set?
CH: Depends which studio you’re in as far as strain on set. There’s a studio that’s been talked about a couple of times. It’s where the Wraith hive is. It’s the most hated place by everybody. It’s where everyone gets stupid. If you compare that to Bridge where SG-1 is shot and most of the rest of Atlantis is shot the difference is made, because everyone is much happier, where as when we have anything to do with the Wraith, the hive, everyone thinks more slowly, is not in as good a mood. It’s a nasty bit of business in there.
GW: Jason Momoa has told us they come away coughing and hacking at the end of the day! Like they’re catching something!
CH: And still it’s a good place to work because it’s this family in the worst case scenario. It’s basically the rich family slumming it. It’s a family that has been together for so long and has bonded so well, has lived high on the hog, and every time they go and shoot anything in that studio they’re back to the slums. And it’s great. It’s still a good time in spite of the fact that it’s [a] horrific situation. It’s very unhealthy in there.
It’s funny, this summer I was going back and forth a lot between Montreal and Vancouver, and doing all sorts of night flights. Doing a series and a feature in Montreal, then another series here in Vancouver, and it was just madness. One day I came in and I was just so tired. I was having such a hard time with my lines and getting them out and thinking straight. “What’s my name?” I couldn’t remember my name. I was getting really frustrated. And that’s when I learned the whole history of this place.
“OK, I know that you’re tired, Chris.” Everyone was saying this to me. “But everyone gets stupid here. Just watch. Just watch.” And I started taking a step back from my own drama and looking around, and going, “Oh! I’m probably stupider than everybody here, but they’re all acting really … kind of stupid! Maybe it’s not so bad.”
It’s an amazing place. And I think it bodes well for the energy of when anybody has anything to do with the Wraith. They’re terrified. They’re terrified, truly terrified, of the Wraith and everything that they represent simply of where they have to go to deal with them!
GW: Exactly! You have to go to that nasty place to shoot. [Laughter] Atlantis was a pretty major new production going into its pilot movie four years ago. How did your casting as Halling come about?
CH: That’s a good question. How did it come about? I went in. I did the usual song and dance. You go into the audition. Everyone gets called in to do their auditions. I was called in for Halling, and I’d actually wanted, instead of playing Halling, I wanted to play the Wraith.
CH: Yeah. I had no idea, really, what the Wraith entailed, but I just loved this idea of this odd, vampiric kind of space-alien life-sucking creature. I thought it sounded pretty cool, but I didn’t get to live my fantasy of being a space vampire. And I got picked for Halling. I got to be one of the nicest guys in the universe instead.
It’s fun because so many people ask me, “Heyerdahl, do you ever play good guys? Have you ever played a good guy?” So this was one of those opportunities where I could say “Oh yes, I get to play nice people like this guy.”
So yeah, I walked in, did the song and dance, and they decided I was the guy for the part, and away we went!
GW: Halling appeared in several episodes early in Atlantis’s first season until the Athosians were relocated out of Atlantis to the mainland. Did you expect this abrupt end to the character?
CH: Well, the abrupt end in all honesty came out of the fact that I was unavailable to shoot, and I was doing a number of other things away from [British Columbia] and I wasn’t able to come back and step into that character. So they created another Athosian that basically filled those shoes, and then just shied away from them altogether.
However, who knows. We may see the Athosians again. We may see them again.
You never know. It has so much to do with availability. Art imitates life. So you never know. But did I have any idea? No, I had no idea. It just happened, and I actually found out that I wasn’t available long after, apparently, I wasn’t available. So it wasn’t even one of those things that I could try and sneak off in the middle of the night to Vancouver and breathe in a few hours on set. It just never happened.
GW: Well one of the big arcs this year has been dealing with the Athosians. Teyla’s been saying that they’re still alive. We just don’t know where they are. So hopefully you’ll pop back in there at some point.
CH: Yes, I just raised my eyebrows. [Laughter] That’s the great thing — it’s been so long since I’ve done any radio gigs, but it’s always kind of fun to do things that nobody can see. Vocalize what I’m doing with my face here as we go along. Raise my eyebrows …
GW: Now Sheppard’s Wraith —
CH: Sheppard’s Wraith? What is he, a dog?
GW: Is his name Todd? Is that what they’re calling him?
CH: These human beings, they need names. They have no idea what our names truly are. We’ll never tell them. What we call him, actually, in the makeup trailer is “Ace.” It’s something that I mentioned once before in another interview. The character is an homage to a space rock’n’roller. The space rock’n’roller — there was a band, not terribly well known band, it doesn’t have a lot of fans — called Kiss.
CH: The lead guitarist, his name is Ace Frehley, and he’s the space guy. He’s the rock’n’roll space guy. That’s his whole entity in the band. He loves Stargate Atlantis and is apparently a big fan of the Wraith. So this character was an homage to Ace. The Wraith have crazy tattoos, and this guy has got Ace Frehley tattoos. So he’s known in the inner sanctum as Ace Wraith.
They can call him whatever they want, but we know what his real name is.
GW: His real name. What is it that you think make the Wraith tick as a species, and what about Ace as an individual?
CH: [Laughter] Well, I think Ace, his drum is going to a much more complicated beat. He’s a lot of fun because when we originally made him, he’s been sitting in a cell for an awfully long time, in a hell of a lot of pain, and has given up hope. The most distasteful thing, I think for him, was the fact that he was given hope by a little creature that he doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot of respect for.
I think in his meditation that he has been dealing with, and living with, for the last number of years, he has created an ability to give up on life. The law of the Samurai, that once you are able to accept death freely then it creates a certain freedom.
He’s given hope by this guy and there’s a bond that is formed between this Wraith and Sheppard that’s not necessarily the same bond between Sheppard and the Wraith.
CH: Well think about it. Sheppard is a guy who never gives up. He always thinks his friends are going to come and get him. He always thinks he’s going to be saved. He always thinks he’s going to get out. If not by somebody else he’s going to get out on his own. He never gives up. Here’s a guy who has given up. He’s completely given up. And yet he’s given the gift of life, hope, brotherhood, through the strangest venue, and that’s Sheppard.
So his connection to Sheppard is much more — at least from my point of view, right? — much more profound than the other way around, because Sheppard has given him a key out of years of his life, whereas for Sheppard it’s one more adventure. One more life-saving detrimental that turns into being a rather positive ending, as is his way.
It’s a much more complex relationship. And at the same time, the reality is that the relationship can only go so far. Left alone in a closed room long enough he’ll take him, and it’s just the way it is. It is his nature. So it creates a fascinating relationship.
That being said, the amount of trust that’s needed to deal on both sides is enormous. The amount of trust that a human being would have to have in him is so much more than the other way around, simply because you never know. You can be friends with a shark but ultimately you’d never know.
GW: Well it’s not their fault that we are their food supply. They have no choice but to eat us to survive. And I’ve talked long and hard with Andee Frizzell about this. She believes the Wraith are not evil. What is your take on this?
CH: [Laughter] You know, evil is a point of view. I think that evil comes out of choice. If you have a choice to do one thing that is cruel, hurtful, sadistic, and you choose not to do it, well there’s the option that we all have in varying degrees in our lives.
Take what we deal with every day, our own human species, and we look at what we do in the world. We make all sorts of choices. We do so called “good” things and so called “bad” things. But as far as if the Wraith, or that race, being evil simply because they feed on human beings, it’s like saying a wolf is evil because it eats a sheep. It’s in its nature.
There’s a wonderful story of the scorpion and the frog. They become friends. There’s a scorpion on one side of the river, and the frog is there. It convinces the frog to take it across the river. In the middle of the river it starts to sting the frog. The frog looks up just before it goes under the water, and he goes, “Why did you do that?” He looks down and says, “It’s my nature.”
GW: “I can’t help what I am.”
CH: Exactly. So there are certain things that the Wraith cannot change. It’s simply that’s what they are. They feed on human beings. Given that, then with what each individual, if there can be an individual within the Wraith — we’re not always sure — but it certainly seems that the “Common Ground” Wraith, or “Ace” Wraith, has somehow been either altered by his experience, certainly being influenced by his experience in captivity.
What we know of him is he was a very powerful and influential Wraith before he was captured. Now he has lost his place in that society and now looks at the whole community so differently. It is all about survival, going from a mindset where he had given up on survival — certainly survival outside of that cage — into so much bigger — his picture and his universe vision, is so much bigger. And he’ll do anything to reach that end.
GW: So you think he’s at some point working towards getting back to power, or do you think those are no longer his priorities?
CH: Oh I think it’s definitely a priority. Absolutely. I don’t think he wants to put himself into a position. The amazing thing about him is that he’s willing to take enormous chances. He’s willing to risk it all to win it all. It makes him very dangerous. Very smart. He plays with Hewlett on a regular basis, and holds out and gives and takes and plays dumb and just gives everything he can just to get what he needs. And no more.
GW: He hasn’t done us exactly many favors. It’s all, “Will this be ultimately good for me in the end?”
CH: Absolutely. Absolutely. And they’re following the same path.
GW: Yeah. It’s pretty typical of survival.
CH: The same game. They’re only giving as much as they have to. So we’re dealing with extremely good negotiators and it’s an interesting play. He’s got the ass-kicking ability of Ronon, he’s got the smarts of McKay, he’s got, now, the desire and belief of continuing on from Sheppard, he’s got the good looks of Teyla … why are you laughing?
GW: Because it’s true.
CH: You think so? I don’t know if everyone would agree with you on that there, but that’s nice. He’s a fun character. It’s a character that the writers have embraced and have taken down some very enjoyable roads.
There’s a lovely little thing that’s going on between them, unexpected certainly for me, with Momoa. He has such a major hate-on for anything that smells like Wraith, and Jason plays it to the end. The first time that I met him, he was just so, “Can I point the gun at him? Can I shoot? Can I hit him? Can I punch? Can I bite him?”
It’s this seething beast that’s wanting to do anything possibly intrusive. Very funny. So it was great fun to play off, and it was the birth of this relationship that’s growing between them. It’s deliciously playful, because every little chance that that Wraith gets he just pokes him.
GW: Ronon’s, his origins, anywhere the Wraith go, if there’s a chance for him to hurt them, he’s there.
CH: Absolutely. Well, revenge is sweet, isn’t it? He’s a bitter man.
GW: Is there any potential for Ace to return in more of Season Five, you think?
CH: This is science fiction. There’s always a possibility. To be honest I have no idea, and we’ll see. It’s always the same thing every year, especially with a character that’s a recurring character. There’s no contractual obligation.
I don’t get a call from my agent saying “OK, they’re calling and they’re wanting to renew your contract.” It doesn’t work like the regular stars of the show. So there’s no way to know. I’ll just get a call maybe a week before shooting. “There’s a script in and you’ve got a couple lines to learn, so come on in and get ready to dip your head in the glue factory.”
So you never know, but I certainly hope so, and it’s a wonderful character. I’d love the character to keep growing and growing and cause more trouble, and pose more questions, and screw up the hornet’s nest and see what happens. He’s kind of like the guy that comes over to your house if you have kids and winds them up and just runs out the door at nine o’clock and leaves you with a screaming, laughing —
GW: — mess!
GW: There is a rumor going around that you are in “The Last Man.” Can you confirm or deny that?
CH: Can I confirm or deny it? Maybe. Sure, I was in “The Last Man.” There’s no need to say that I was or wasn’t, I don’t think. So, sure I was in “The Last Man.” What I was playing in “The Last Man,” who knows?
GW: OK. What did you think of that script as a season finale? You’ve been in other season finales for Atlantis.
CH: Right. It’s a fun script because it’s the unknown. It leaves so many wonderful question marks. I was very happy that I was going to be a part of that because it’s a sweet little bit that myself and one other character get to do. I’m looking forward to seeing it, actually.
GW: Alright. On YouTube.
CH: Well on YouTube, exactly, but I’ve seen a little bit when I went in to do the ADR, and it looks great!
GW: Yeah, there was a lot of ADR for this one with the sand everywhere.
CH: Yeah. There’s tons of ADR. And there’s always ADR for this character anyway … There’s so many things going on. Fans and other machines and engine noises. There’s always a little something to do.
GW: Visually I think this show is going to be very different. They should pull out all the stops for it.
GW: So you’re saying that a lot of what began of “Revisions” culminated into certain parts of what ultimately became Sanctuary?
CH: On a personal note, yeah, that connection. That was the first — personal and professional — that’s what started the relationships that of course led to [Sanctuary].
There’s so many things about this business. People that you meet and people that you get along with you respect. People that you want to work with, that you want to play with, because you spend an awful lot of time with these people, and you want to be with people that you respect and that you get along with. The fact that it happened to work out, that’s where it started. Through a long series of events we end up with Sanctuary, and a rather odd call from Martin saying, “Oh, we’re doing a reading. Can you be here in an hour?”
He was complaining about [Stargate Atlantis stunt/fight coordinator] James Bamford’s bad reading ability, what an awful actor he was and “Please, at least you’re slightly better than James Bamford. Would you come over and give us a hand?”
So I came rushing in about a half hour late to this reading and read a bunch of different characters and got my hands on Druitt. I was immediately jealous of whoever this horrible and hateful actor was who was going to get to play this role. It was such a fantastic, juicy bit of character. And to my great surprise and elation at the end of the reading I was offered the role.
It was pretty sweet and unexpected. I guess they liked the sweat of my brow and the huffing and puffing of the late arrival. It all worked to my favor, I guess.
GW: You got this call an hour and a half before you showed up. The life of an actor …
CH: Yeah! You never know what’s coming down the pike!
GW: No! [laughter] Gonna hit you in the head like a ton of hammers!
CH: Pretty sweet hammers! I just gobbled them down. It’s a sweet bit. That’s the thing. So often in this business you really don’t know what’s happening. People will say “What are you doing next?” “I have no idea what I’m doing next.” Then three hours later you say, “Oh, I’m doing a new series on the Internet. It’s going to be a Guinness Book highest budget Internet show ever produced. Who’s to know what’ll happen? That’s just a few hours later.
It’s an exciting business that way, and also to be able to do it with everyone that I’ve mentioned plus [Damian] Kindler and getting to meet Robin Dunne, and Emilie Ullerup. It’s a lot of fun. They’re very eager and playful egoists. They’ve got good strong egos, but not an obnoxious way. Everyone of these people are just very strong, thoughtful, interesting, playful people.
GW: Are there any more episodes in the works yet?
CH: Oh, that’s the million dollar question. That’s the two million dollar question. Forty million dollar question. Right now I’m hoping that any day now we’ll get the word, but I have no idea. I don’t call, and just sit back and let them do what they need to do in order to make it fly, and get ready to go when they call.
The hope is that any day now we’re going to get the green light and go ahead in the next couple of months and start shooting.
GW: Well I know the first eight episodes were shot on everyone’s free time and just for the love of the project, but now that the project is starting to make some money the next few weeks and months are going to really tell whether or not it’s going to be able to float.
CH: Whether it’s going to be able to float — well I guess it’s going to take a little bit longer than that. Once we get the money it’s going to go into production and then we’ll see whether or not people are going to watch. It’ll probably take until, who knows, maybe next fall. I’m not sure when they’re planning on actually airing it, putting it onto the Internet and then onto whatever network decides to step up to the plate and take hold, and will be the lucky one.
So we’ll see. It really all depends on when we start, and then we’ll see what happens. For sure. It’s one of those exciting, terrifying, things for everyone involved because there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that’s already been put into it. If it doesn’t fly I would be shocked. I just don’t see it happening. I think probably now it’s just a lot of positioning on everyone’s sides to try and get the best thing for everyone.
GW: Exactly. Yeah, a lot of strategy.
CH: Yeah, which is the name of the game. You want to make sure that everyone’s feet are well planted before going ahead.
GW: Right. And no one’s really done this before, so you really are paving the way to something brand new.
CH: Absolutely. It’s been done to lesser degrees, or less ambitious as far as all the elements of green screen and all the visuals, especially in this kind of format, are something that’s certainly never been done before to this level.
It’s truly paving the way, because everyone is now getting on the boat. All the big players are wanting to have their own piece, and right now because of the writer’s strike, and everyone’s talking that the actors may go on strike as well, because the idea is that it’s all based around basically what we’re doing. It all has to do with the Internet and what the Internet truly, where it begins, where it ends, how it contributes to television. I’m doing those little quotation marks. “Television.”
The broadcasters are holding onto this idea of television — how it exists now as opposed to who knows what it’s going to become. We all think we know. We all think the advent of Apple TV and the next progression of how it’s going to be delivered to your screen, whatever screen that may be. So who knows what the format is going to be. That, I think, terrifies the people that are doing all the distribution. So how that’s going to unfold, we’ll see. The next few months, the next year, who knows.
Certainly when we’re getting into negotiating with broadcasters it’s a big deal. Where does it begin and where does it end? Is it an Internet show? Is it a television show? Is it going to be both? Is it going to be more than that?
There’s so many ideas and the people at Stage 3 — there are no holds barred. They are going for it, and going for every avenue that they can and taking it, I think, where some shows have dabbled with, some movies have dabbled with, and certainly started the footprints. They really want to take it everywhere. Everything and every possibility.
If you’re watching the television, maybe there’s a comic book coming out. There’s talk of a game. There’s talk of the television show. Each aspect may have slightly different information, different paths to walk down. Who knows what it’s going to be. There’s so many options.
GW: Can we expect you at any conventions in the future?
CH: Who knows what’ll happen in the future? I can’t say. Conventions, from my understanding, are things that you’re invited to, and I’ve yet to receive an invitation.
GW: Well! We’re just going to have to change that!
CH: [Laughter] That’s the only way it’ll happen. It’d be so rude of me just to show up!
GW: No, I’ve known people … They get so excited when you’re not expected and they see you anyway. Especially someone with your character history, it’d be very interesting to see.
CH: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind of you.