For almost eight years actor David Hewlett has had Rodney McKay‘s technobabble-intense, egocentric dialogue running through his brain. As production continues on Season Five of Stargate Atlantis, he has much more on his mind nowadays: a television series in development, a movie script, a wife and son and yes — Stargate!
In this interview, David hints at what is to come in Season Five before remembering some highlights from last year — some good, and some not so good. He also talks about fatherhood, working with new full-time cast members Robert Picardo (“Richard Woolsey”) and Jewel Staite (“Jennifer Keller”), and where things are at with Star-crossed — a new comedy series he is writing for SCI FI Channel.
GateWorld’s interview with David runs approximately 28 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe to the iTunes podcast. The full interview is also transcribed below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I’m David Read, here with Mr. David Hewlett!
David Hewlett: Indeed, the Davids.
GW: Yes, all the Davids are present …
GW: … in his “fresh” trailer here.
DH: [Laughter] It’s the new Havana Cuban cigar smell, apparently. It’s actually a Cuban cigar candle that Jane gave me. Cause apparently it’s the manliest scent she could find.
GW: How’s she doing? How’s the baby doing?
DH: She’s great. Jane, I think, is some kind of an android who has been sent from the future to make my life perfect. Because I don’t know how she deals with the kid, myself, and running a house and doing taxes and all that sort of thing. She’s unbelievable. Inhuman, in fact, I would say. She’s my own little “Fran.” A “Fran” with attitude. It’s great.
GW: And now you’re a father.
DH: Mmm-hmm. I’ve started to spawn! I’ve found that it’s much cheaper to just have children than to try to recruit crews for things.
So basically, I’ve just decided to breed myself an army and take over the world from there. A little army of McKay-like creatures.
GW: Or at least a film crew.
DH: Exactly. At the very least. At the very least a film crew. Non-union. They’d be cheap. They’d work for milk … which Jane produces.
DH: So, basically, we’re a self-sufficient little society.
GW: What episode are you currently working on?
DH: We’re currently working on “Ghost In The Machine.” A lovely Police song, and now a fantastic episode of Atlantis.
GW: And you’re bringing Fran back!
DH: We’re bringing Fran back. Yeah! We’re bringing a few things back … which I’m sure I probably shouldn’t say anything about. It definitely threw a number of curves at us.
It was fun to read because, you know, I like those episodes where you go, “What?! Oh my God!” And then you’re eager to go to the next page. As opposed to the ones where you don’t.
GW: Any stories coming up that are Rodney-heavy that you were surprised at, or looking forward to?
DH: My favorite script of all time, I just read: “The Shrine of Talus” — Which is Brad Wright. (Ed: Since this interview, the episode has been renamed simply “The Shrine.”) He’s just written this script. And it’s good to have Brad.
It is truly … it’s the script. It’s the one that is going to blow everyone away. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a wicked acting piece. Whether I’m supposed to say this or not, Kate [Hewlett, “Jeannie Miller”] is coming back. We’ve got “Jeannie” back. And it’s … just brutal. It’s like total tear-jerker. It’s gonna be neat.
And for McKay, it’s fantastic because there’s this whole deterioration thing happening. And it’s just … it is the one, without a doubt, that I’m most looking forward to right now. Andy [Mikita] is going to direct it, too. So he’s very excited about it, as well.
GW: What are some of your favorite scenes from last year, ones that resonate with you now?
DH: Last year? My god! I’m trying to think which episodes jumped out at me. “The Last Man” was just an interesting one, for many reasons. Just because there was so much going on, including the birth of my child. I mean, we were literally waiting for Jane to have the kid during that episode.
And it was like four hours of prosthetics. And talking, just this endless stuff to talk about. And I was kind of worried, because when I read the script I was like, “That’s a lot of talk.” It’s a lot of flashback stuff. But I saw the episode and I really, really liked it. There’s poignancy to it that I really didn’t expect there to be. It was a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
GW: Your performance was really solid in it.
DH: Well, thank you. Actually, the funny one was that someone said, “What did they think of the prosthetics on the face? And did they give you a thing for your belly?” And I was like, “No. I just stuck my belly out …” Bause I consciously stuck my belly out the whole time. I took the … what’s it called?
GW: The fat suit?
DH: No, not the fat suit. The opposite … the girdle! That’s it! I undid the girdle and I did “The Last Man.” I did “The Last Man” as girdle-less McKay. And it was a lot of fun.
It was fun watching Kavan [Smith] as well. “Lorne” older, as well — who looks exactly like Ronald Reagan. That’s what Ronald Reagan looked like when he was older. I don’t know what I’d look like when I was older.
GW: Was it a difficult acting challenge to approach the character from that [perspective] the first time?
DH: The makeup was so beautiful that honestly I think there’s a tendency … the danger there is to act too old, because you’re so enthralled with what they’ve done to your face. I think the key there is to try and not flail around the place as much as you did when you were a “young” man. You know, just keep throwing my back out.
I was going to remove my teeth every so often. I wanted to lose my hair. I told them, “Come on! You’ve got to recede it back to nothing!” Because that’s just the ultimate depression for McKay. And myself. Or just have a really, really bad rug. Be really old and have this dark brown (toupee) that he sort of takes off to think every so often or something.
Surprisingly, they didn’t go for that. They went for poignancy. I saw comic possibilities. A galaxy of possibilities.
GW: What about “Trio?”
GW: Now that we can talk about it. Now that it’s aired!
DH: Yeah. “Trio” was absolute hell. I’m not afraid to say that. You were in a box that moved. With cranes and dust. And we were strangely miserable to the point of euphoria. Like we got to the point where it was … I’ve got to admit, there are worse things in the world to happen to an actor than to be stuck in a dark box with Jewel Staite and Amanda Tapping. I don’t think you get a lot of sympathy from people on that. And they were hilarious.
It was so tough and so technical — because it was so much stuff. You know, it’s funny, because I did this film, “Cube,” which was all based in these little boxes. And then, all of the sudden, here we are on a set which is basically the same thing. Only they had a bigger box and it actually moved. We had to do all the shaking ourselves on the “Cube” stuff. We couldn’t afford for hydraulics and things.
But I think Amanda and Jewel and I came up with an entire dinner theater musical version of Atlantis that we would do. I think when the show is finally put to rest, you will probably see a quick little dinner theater production.
GW: Parties and bar mitzvahs!
DH: You got it. And then a very shaky video camera edition of it released on DVD maybe at some point. So we had a lot of those numbers. We were driving the crew crazy with that. And they’re just so good. I don’t know how they do it.
I mean, Amanda’s been doing this for so long, she has every right to be the biggest diva on the planet. I’m the biggest diva on the planet. I’m the only one who lost his temper the entire time. It was me. And it was just so funny because … here’s a couple of examples:
There was one where I was supposed to … I can’t remember what it was exactly. It was a fall. I was supposed to do a fall. I leap out of the way, because of the fire thing. And I leap out of the way. So we have this stunt man who does all of the dangerous stuff. All I have to do is leap into a big pad. So we do the first take and I leap. And all of a sudden I realize that my trajectory is completely wrong. And I’ve missed the pad entirely, and I land on this big thing of rope. And it … oh my God, it was total agony.
And I look up. And there’s Amanda and Jewel trying so hard to look like they were worried about me — but just tears streaming down their faces. They’re giggling their little faces off. So there was a lot of that type of stuff.
And then, I lost my temper at one point, and I have been quoted back what I said. Jewel, everyday, pretty much comes into work and quotes it back. Martin Wood had asked me to do something, and it was something I was frustrated with. And I said, “Well, sometimes it’s called directing, and sometimes it’s just bullying!”
DH: And that gets quoted back to me by the bloody Jewel Staite on a regular basis — who is in Australia right now, I should add! While we’re all here slaving away, she’s swanning around in Australia. I did as much as I could to alarm her with tales of funnel web spiders and … what are they called? The drop monkeys that don’t exist.
The thing about Australia … I love Australia. I literally had dreams about the colors in Australia. The first night I was there, I slept. And I had these weird dreams about the colors. Because you don’t see those colors here.
And the other thing: everybody there is a crocodile hunter. You’re talking to a guy on the street and they’ll go, “Ah!” and suddenly disappear, and they’ll come back holding a spider. “This is the most dangerous spider there is! This bites you and you’re bloody dead!” And you’re like, “Why are you holding it?!” He’ll go, “I just thought you’d want to see it.” But it’s a dangerous spider. And he goes, “Yeah! You don’t want to be eaten by those.”
And the other one was, we went for a walk in the jungle — this jungle “thing,” for want of a better word. It was a rain forest, I guess. There was this beautiful little place we stayed at, and there was this little path you could walk up. And so, me being McKay-like in a way, I went up to the visitors service and I went, “Look, we’re going to go for a walk and I just want to know: Is there anything we need to be looking out for?” And they’re like, “Nah, nah. You’re perfectly safe. Perfectly safe. Stick to the path and you’re fine.”
And I’m like, “Stick to the path. Okay. Fine. Is there anything I shouldn’t touch?” They go, “Nah, nah. You’re totally fine. Totally fine.” And as I’m walking out, there’s this picture of a small child smiling at this giant boa constrictor that’s in front of him, that has just swallowed a pig. So there’s this massive lump that’s bigger than the child. And the woman goes, “Oh! Don’t touch anything that looks obviously dangerous! And I said stick to the path, right? The water’s fine, ’cause it’s too cold for the crocs most of the time.”
So I did nothing. I walked along the path elbows-in the entire time. And let Jane go first.
GW: Back to North America for a minute …
DH: Mmm. That’s where we should do a Stargate. In Australia. We need to do some location stuff. They got to go to Antarctica. I say let’s go somewhere warm.
GW: Not quite like the desert in “The Last Man,” but …
DH: We need a real desert. The effects department blowing stuff in your face is just not the same as the Sahara.
GW: What has become easier, after working on this show over the past few years? And what has become more difficult?
DH: Eating. Eating is much easier now than it was before. No, in a strange way, I think learning the lines has become easier.
I’ve never been good at learning lines. And I’ve never had that photographic memory. I mean, there are people who can look at a page and they have it memorized. I take forever to do it. I believe, if anything, it’s proved to me [the brain] is a muscle. The more you do, the better you get at it.
GW: You make it look very effortless.
DH: Well … watch a few takes. There’s a lot of agony. I think when I first came in, I felt you had to get everything right every time. And I think as you get further and further into a series, you begin to realize that it’s not just about getting through it. It’s worth taking the time to get things right. I think that definitely has become easier for me, in a strange way. I don’t get as frightened by nine or ten-page days as I used to.
But that’s not license for them to go write more. Please don’t go longer! Because they are tough days. But that’s definitely something that has been easier. I also think that once the character has dealt with a lot of these situations, you tend to get familiar with the sort of way that McKay is going to react to things. So you sort of know where you’re going to go on scenes before you’ve read them, in some cases.
GW: So as scary as that may be, it becomes a little natural?
DH: Yeah. I think that’s a scary thing. I think I’ve become so much … it’s beginning to become a very difficult thing to separate the two. There’s going to be some nasty separation anxiety when I finally do have to pull myself out, peel myself away from that.
GW: Tell us a little bit about Robert Picardo, and what the Woolsey character adds to the dynamic.
DH: He brings sexy back! That’s what he does. Picardo is … well, first off, Picardo is a fantastic actor. He’s got fantastic mannerisms, all these beautiful little things. And he does so much work. There’s so much stuff going on and everything — in every sentence. Obviously, he’s thought of all these little things. He’s just really fun to watch.
And what’s nice, from our perspective, is that he’s so “fish out of water.” I mean, he’s the last person who should basically be in charge of Atlantis. And so there’s a lot of fuel for us to be unhappy and to argue with his way of running the city. Especially after someone like Sam Carter who so obviously is suited to this stuff, to have Woolsey come in with his bureaucracy.
And paper! All of a sudden — five seasons, never saw paper on a desk. And all of the sudden, he’s got all these papers and files. We all get handled files. And that’s it! So, it’s just kind of fun. He’s come in and put his stamp on it. And it’s fun because you can really play that resentment. And we all resent him anyways. How could you not?
GW: Woolsey, just like McKay, started off as a guest star on SG-1, and an antagonist — someone that you don’t really like to like.
DH: You’re right. But that’s the beautiful thing about guest stars. The thing is, Stargate is not afraid to play with those unlikable characters. Especially when you deal with this kind of stuff, you have to deal with them. When it comes to the sciences, just because you’re a nice person doesn’t mean you’re a good scientist. Quite the opposite in many cases. Kavanaugh is a good example.
So I think what’s neat about the Woolsey character is that he’s not another obnoxious scientist. He’s a bureaucrat. And that’s the stuff that is just painful to deal with. It’s kind of hard to be a hero when you’re constantly checking the manual — which is funny, because that’s in a way what McKay was doing at the beginning, anyways. He was very academic in his understanding of what was going on as opposed to … his hands-on approach hadn’t quite kicked in yet.
It’s also really nice to have someone who’s sort of the same out-there character. We get to sort of butt heads, but at the same time we’re both still in our own little worlds, which is kind of fun. Because it’s true. Both Woolsey and McKay are so in their own little worlds. It’s kind of fun to see them in scenes together because everything is misconstrued.
GW: Do they clash a lot?
DH: We haven’t actually clashed a lot. But anything I say to him I say with utter disrespect. It just tends to be a bit of that kind of stuff, which is sort of fun. But anything I can twist to make it sound like “You’re an idiot” -– which is generally what I do with McKay anyways — every question, every comment, anything that happens is generally someone else’s [fault].
One of the things that we were talking about was that often when I have a line that says, “Oh, I thought this was going to happen sooner” or “I didn’t think that was going to happen and I was wrong” … I change it to “we.” “We” had no idea that was going to happen.”
GW: How does Rodney take Carter‘s departure? Does he take it hard?
DH: Well, it’s open-ended enough that it didn’t feel … to be honest, McKay doesn’t know that she’s gone for any length of time, anyways. I think, both for logistical reasons and for story reasons, there’s a very big open window there — which I’m very much hoping (and assuming) that we’ll be seeing her again very soon. I hope. I really do. Because I think it would be a huge, huge loss, frankly. I love that dynamic.
And in a selfish way, I love having Amanda around. We had so much fun last year, and I hope it’s not going to be just one season.
We’ve got [Michael] Shanks coming in for an episode. And it just makes sense. I don’t want us to be completely distanced from SG-1. The whole point is that this is all part of the same universe. There has to be that crossover stuff and that back and forth.
Selfishly, as an actor, Amanda’s just fantastic to work with. I love that dynamic that McKay and Carter have. If we hadn’t gotten along the first time, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be like Kavanaugh. I’d have long hair, probably living in my parents’ basement.
GW: Rodney is kind of the Anti-Carter. He’s Bizarro Carter.
DH: It’s true. And she’s also this strangely idyllic version of what he sees for himself, in a way. What he sees for himself in a girlfriend, and also what he wishes he was. He still has such a hard time marrying the fact that she’s brilliant and beautiful and brave all together. Because he doesn’t have those. He’s never all three at the same time — or very rarely!
GW: We’re hearing hints that there is a love triangle that kind of grew out of Season Four.
DH: I heard about that.
GW: What about poor Katie Brown?
DH: Well, Katie dumped me pretty good. That’s the basic idea. Again, with McKay, he’s absolutely, basically “special needs” in a relationship. He has no sense of how to maintain or create a relationship. He’s so used to everyone hating him so much that God help you if you actually like him — because I think that’s a sign of weakness, as far as he’s concerned.
But what’s happened, with the introduction of the Keller character, there’s definitely been a sort of interesting shift there. Because this is someone who he hasn’t built up into a mythical figure like Carter, or Katie. This is, I guess, the first female friend that McKay would ever have had. And it sort of snuck up on him, which I think is a different thing for McKay to deal with.
GW: And I think it’s funny. None of the writers were really expecting it either. It just kind of grew naturally out of …
DH: I think so, yeah. And I think Jewel might kind of have the same sense of humor, too. So I think there’s a tendency to play in scenes that way. That also helps with that kind of stuff as well.
Again, we have so many actors here who do these neat little things, neat little ways of acting in these scenes. She’s one of those great people who does stuff and you find yourself going, “What the hell are you … well, that’s neat!” These cute little, quirky sort of things that she does. That’s really fun. So yes, a love triangle could be rather amusing, too.
GW: You were a big fan of Jewel from Firefly.
DH: Oh, God, yeah.
GW: After working with her for a year, what are your impressions of her?
DH: So disappointed. All of my … I had really built her up in my mind. And then you meet her and it’s such a grave disappointment.
I’m a huge Firefly fan. I loved that show. I mean, thank God it isn’t still going, because then we wouldn’t have Jewel. Every once in awhile, you’ll catch her looking off into the distance and saying, “Ahh … Firefly.” Just to tease the hell out of us.
GW: Call her “Kaylee” sometimes.
DH: Yeah, that’s it. It’s hard enough for us not to call each other by our own names! I mean, Joe keeps coming into scenes where he goes, “Rachel? Ah, damn!” And then we blame Rachel because we say she’s not acting Teyla enough. Otherwise, we would have called her Teyla.
I mean, again, we go back to “Trio.” I’m in a box with two icons of science fiction. And as a nerd, I always feel a little bit like I snuck in somehow and got a behind-the-scenes pass. And I drill her about Firefly all the time.
GW: Atlantis is entering a phase in its life where a lot of shows get cut. What do you think the show has to do to stay above that bar?
DH: I think we’ve just got to keep it interesting. Keep mixing it up. I think a lot of it is just making sure that we are seeing the characters through.
There’s always going to be space stuff. There’s always going to be futuristic stories and time travel and all that kind of jazz. But if people aren’t connecting with the characters, then you know … If there aren’t a lot of people who want to be McKay or want to avoid him, or just love/hate him, then there is no show there.
I get that sense. You know, I go on GateWorld and stuff. I like to go into the forums every so often to get a sense of [that]. I never actually really say anything. Because God knows what would happen if I got stuck on there!
GW: You’d never come out!
DH: “You are so not McKay! You would never have said that!”
But, that’s the thing. As long as those characters are well served, I think we’re in good shape. But you never know. It’s such a different market than it was 13, 14 — what was it? — 12 years ago. SG-1 started 12 years ago. It’s a whole different world now. So, who knows? I do hope it continues.
GW: With the production schedule as tight as it is, especially for you with all the exposition, [it] doesn’t permit a lot of personal time. And now you are starting your own family. How do you feel about that? Do you find yourself thinking — your mind wandering — thinking about your son? “Man, I wish I was home right now.”
DH: You can’t help that. Definitely. You don’t see Baz in the morning and you miss him at night. So you definitely do that kind of stuff. But you know what? The reality of it is that without this — I mean, sure, I’d love the time with Baz — but Baz would also not be eating.
I think having a job that you like doing and going home — you are there on the weekends. If you’re having to do this, this is a good way to be. I’d rather see my dad three days a week or two days a week and have him happy, than have him around all the time and have him miserable. That’s the way I convince myself. But also, we try to drag him by whenever we can.
GW: What do you see yourself doing next? You’ve been working on Star-crossed with SCI FI.
DH: Yeah, we’re working on Star-crossed. We’re developing that. I wrote a pilot for them, I guess this last season. And the decision there is that they have this whole new sort of Web launch that they are doing. And they wanted to do it for that. So we’re just sort of morphing it from its original TV style to something that will work better on the Web. And it’s just bloody time-consuming.
It’s so funny, because I’m used to things like “A Dog’s Breakfast,” where just being able to sort of knock it off and go in and shoot. I love that rebel without a crew sort of [thing]. That get in there, down and dirty, and just do it. That’s the stuff I love doing.
So I’m definitely learning a lot by doing this sort of development stuff with SCI FI. And they’ve got some really good ideas … which is sort of irritating! Because you want to go, “Stupid network notes!” But the reality is, they’re really good. You go, “Oh, that is good. Let’s go try that.” So you go off and try that and come back. There’s a lot of back and forth on stuff.
But they’re really behind it and they really like it. They get the humor. So I’m really, really hoping that’s something that’s going to be off the page soon.
GW: Is there a time table for that yet?
DH: There isn’t, no. They’ve been really cool about it. They’ve said, “Look, we’re just going to keep hammering away at this with you until we get the scripts we want,” and that kind of stuff. We haven’t even gotten to the script stage at this point.
So as a result, in the meantime, I’ve been working on a bunch of other stuff. There are a couple things, actually, that I do want to do. Things I’d like to knock off and see how they fly. And the Web allows you to do that. Where you just couldn’t do it before.
GW: What do you think about Star-crossed going on the Web instead of television? It’s not exactly what you had in mind.
DH: No. You can’t help … there is a certain sense of letdown. The reality of it is, there’s still a bit of a stigma attached to the whole Web site stuff — like it’s not good enough to go to television, so it goes to the web.
And I think I have to sort of kick myself in the butt about that. Because the reality is that things are changing. This is the change everyone’s been talking about for years and years and years. So you’ve got to get over yourself and start realizing that this is the way that pilots are going to be done in the future. They’re going to put them on the Web, and if they fly on the Web, then they may move to film, or to television. Or they may have a market for themselves on the Web.
You know, there’s no difference between watching something on TV or watching stuff on the Web anymore. The quality is just as good. Sanctuary proved that. They have HD-quality television on the Internet. That’s it! That’s the Grail right there. How is that any different? The quality is better on their downloads than it will be when they air it on SCI FI.