GateWorld’s first interview with Gary Jones, Gate Technician Walter Harriman, has been a long time coming! We’re proud to bring our first piece with him in video form.
While at Gatecon 2008 we sat down the the 10-year veteran of Stargate to look back on the impact the show has made both to the industry, the fans and his own career. Gary, or “Jonesy” as his friends know him, remembers the late Don S. Davis, with whom he shared most of his scenes. He also reveals upcoming appearances in Season Five of Stargate Atlantis, and tells us about a manuscript he is hoping to publish into a book in the near future.
GateWorld’s video interview with Gary Jones runs almost 22 minutes, and is also available in audio format. The interview is also transcribed below.!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read, and I’m here at Gatecon 2008 with Mr. Gary Jones. Technician Walter Harriman, Harriman Davis, Walter Davis …
Gary Jones: Norman Davis …
GW: Norman Davis, that was the other one.
GJ: … Sergeant, Master Sergeant, Chief Master Sergeant. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. In fact, I got to the point where I finally got t-shirts made up.
GW: You did?
GJ: Yeah, you should check them out in the [dealer’s] room. I just had this flash. I thought, OK this is so much like the evolution of man. And I titled it, “The Evolution of Harri-man.” [Laughter] Right? So you’ll see it when you have a look at it. What it is, its like that classic illustration of the monkey, that turns into the man …
GW: Yes, it gets bigger and bigger … the silhouettes.
GJ: The silhouettes. Turns into homo sapien. Well, it starts off as the chimp. The monkey, just underneath it says,”the technician.” The next one says “Sergeant Davis.” And the next one says “Sergeant Norman Davis.” The next one says “Master Sergeant Norman Walter Davis.” And then the last one — and the four, of course, are man growing, walking upright — and the fifth one is a silhouette of me at the computer. And underneath that it says “Chief Master Sergeant Walter Harriman.”
GW: Walter Harriman. Which wasn’t confirmed until Atlantis. Interestingly enough, the episode “Home,” where you say your name over the comm.
GJ: Is that right?
GW: “This is Sergeant Walter Harriman.” Yeah, it was a dream sequence.
GJ: Oh, I’ve actually said my own name.
GW: Yes. That’s right.
GJ: I lose track of these things. All I remember is that in the episode “2010” Richard Dean Anderson named me Walter.
GW: That’s right, your first name. But the last name slid all over the place. My buddy Darren and I were thinking “We have to explain the last name. So for a guy, how do we do that,” you know?
GJ: Well, I actually have the explanation for Harriman.
GJ: A lot of people don’t know. It was the late great Don Davis. [He] was delivering a line, and it was written in the script as he referred to me as ‘airman.’ Because I’m an air force guy, right? And of course Don’s drawl, “Open the iris, airman.” [Gary drawls like Don, elongating the word airman.] And after the scene was over, it was like, “Did Don say airman? It’s weird, it sounded like Harriman.” And next thing I know …
GW: That’s where that came from?
GJ: That’s where it came from. Don Davis’ pronunciation of the word “airman” turns into Harriman. And I’m Walter Harriman. It was the most patchwork, piecemeal way of getting my name together. And of course in “2010” when Richard calls me Walter. Everyone goes, “his name is not Walter.” He goes, “Well, it is now.”
GW: You know you mentioned Radar. I wonder if he got that from M*A*S*H*? [Radar O’Reilly]
GJ: I have no idea. He didn’t reference that when he did it. He just said, “Oh, he kind of looks like a Walter.”
GW: You look like a Walter.
GJ: That’s what he said. They’re all scrambling around, changing the scripts. “Oh, I guess his name is Walter now.” And I’m just sort of the innocent … you know, like a drive-by naming. [Laughter] That’s what it was, I was the innocent victim of whatever.
GW: Torri Higginson, one of her last things that she did before she departed Atlantis, she named Chuck. Technician Chuck. She gave him a name. And it’s his real name too. But he looks like a Chuck.
GJ: I know.
GW: So that was perfect.
GJ: He’s a great guy too.
GW: He is. We interviewed him, you guys are like passing notes, technician notes. Walking down the studio from each other, “How’s it going over there?”
GJ: I know. I was on Atlantis the other day…
GW: “How’s the gate room doing?”
GJ: I was on Atlantis the other day, and he walked by me at the breakfast truck ….
GW: You were on Atlantis the other day?
GJ: Yes, I did an episode of Atlantis.
GW: Oh, all right.
GJ: So that will be upcoming. And then I’m on the final episode.
GW: OK. They just shot — they’re working on “Identity” right now.
GJ: That’s not the one I’m on. I was on the previous one.
GW: Can you tell us the episode name?
GJ: No — I can’t remember it. It will be like the second to …
GJ: You know what? It actually might be “Identity.”
GJ: I think it might be.
GW: OK. Because they were shooting that two days ago. Sweet! So you’ll be back.
GJ: If they were shooting that two days ago, then that’s the one I was on.
GW: OK. Very cool.
GW: Don [Davis] recently passed away. A month before his final movie came out, Continuum.
GJ: I know. I was like, “Oh, my God.” I know, I got a call from Peter DeLuise. And he goes, “Oh, I’ve got some sad news.” You know, you hear that news, and I was just like, “Oh, my God. Oh my God.” He had a clean bill of health.
GW: I know. That’s the strange thing. 66?
GJ: Yeah. And a clean bill of health. My God. I worked with that guy for like seven years. Yes, because Rick became the general in year eight. So I worked with Don from like day one. Seven years. And I remember when he met me — when I met him, I introduced myself. And he goes, “I’m Don S. Davis” — I forget how much he weighed, he was like 235 pounds, or something. He goes, “I’m 235 pounds of rompin’ stompin’ Missouri bullshit!” [Gary drawls like Don.]
GW: That’s how he introduced himself?
GJ: That’s how he introduced himself to me. “235 pounds of rompin’ stompin’ Missouri bullshit.” [Gary drawls again.] And I was like, “Who is this guy?” [Laughter]
GW: And you spent just about as much time with him as all of SG-1 did.
GJ: Yeah! We always used to say — even Don … Its so funny — as much as Don worked, when we wrapped each episode, he’d go, “When are you working?” He didn’t know.
GW: When are you working?
GJ: Yes. When are you working. Because he’d go, “Are you in the next episode?” Because he knew more than likely if I was working, he was working. Because he didn’t know.
GW: You lived in his domain, you know? The control room.
GJ: I totally lived in his domain. And I had no idea. I was on a day-to-day, episode-to-episode — I had no idea. I could have been in like every episode or none. I used to get the call from my agent saying, “The next episode is from here to here, are you available?” “Yes! Yes, I am.”
GJ: Is Don working? Is Don working? If I’m working, Don’s working. If Don’s working, I’m working. If I’m working, Don’s working. We were always like that. The actors are … they’re still an insecure bunch. You’re on a show, and suddenly it becomes about, “How long is the show going to last? What am I going to do after that?”
GW: And soon as it’s done, you’re back to the bread line practically. Until the next one comes along, you know? The life of an actor.
GJ: Yeah, yeah.
GJ: You’re here at Gatecon, once again, pleasing audiences the world over. What is about these fans that you enjoy coming back to year after year?
GJ: It’s like a cultural phenomenon. If you haven’t been to a con, you can’t understand it. It’s like a big love-in. There’s a common bond. They all love the show. And then all the actors have a blast, they really have a good time.
I’ve gotten to know so many other actors through doing conventions because my part on Stargate was limited, in a way, just to the control room. There’s lots of people who played aliens, and Wraiths, and this and that, that they would go to other planets and see, and I didn’t even know who these people are.
And then I end up at a convention, and so-and-so would go, “Who’s this guy?” Oh, he played this king, or he played this alien, or whatever. So it’s pretty cool, I get to actually meet other actors. I don’t know, it’s really fun. This Gatecon in particular, I find, there’s just a great energy. People are having a good time. I mean the city is beautiful, Vancouver is beautiful.
GW: Oh, it’s gorgeous.
GJ: So everybody takes on this collective, kind of like, it’s a big love-in, you know.
GW: People are on vacation. Some of them went whale watching the other day. And then they get to do Stargate on the weekend.
GJ: I know. I did a convention in North Carolina, where basically people go, “So what do you think of North Carolina?” And I go, “Well, the hotel lobby is lovely.” I flew in, I was there, and then I flew out. So I didn’t get to — unlike these people who fly to Vancouver and just book off like a couple of weeks or week on vacation, they’re walling around, they’re going to Stanley Park, they’re biking, they’re blah, blah, blah. They’re going to all this stuff. So everybody is like in a really good mood.
GW: And they get to spend an hour with Gary “frickin” Jones.
GJ: Gary “frickin” Jones.
GW: Gary “frickin” Jones.
GJ: Don’t rename me. Don’t give me another name. Because I couldn’t handle that.
GW: Sorry. Sorry. “Fricking” Davis. “Frigging” Harriman Davis Walter Dude. [Laughter]
GJ: [Laughter] Chimp. Technician.
GW: Are those shirts for sale?
GJ: They are.
GW: Oh, I’m going to get one.
GJ: They are for sale.
GW: Mom, I know I wasn’t going to spend too much money, but I’ve got to do it.
GW: What is this phenomenon?
GW: Yes. I’m not going to tape it, so can you tell us?
GJ: It’s actually Starhole SG-1.5.
GW: Perdon. [Laughter]
GJ: It is the brainchild of myself and Dean Haglund [from The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen]. Because we’ve done Star Trek shows together. Way, way back, when we were improvising in Vancouver, we did a show together, where I played Captain Kirk, and he plays Spock.
GW: That’s where your Kirk impression comes from!
GJ: Yes. [as Kirk] That’s right. So I played Kirk and he played Spock. So we said, “Let’s just do them again” — because the thing about conventions is, they’re always looking for something different. The fans, they want to be entertained. I found that every time I’ve gone out there, to chat with the crowd — I don’t think they’re interested in my acting technique and blah, blah. They just want to hear the good stories and the fun. They want to laugh.
So, Dean and I said, “Why don’t we just create like a little show, and because our background is in improv, just do a really loosely structured show that we would fill in the blanks with the improv.” So, in other words we came out, and we do a really super low-tech version of Stargate. I still play Walter in my flight suit, Dean plays Amanda Tapping because he’s got the blonde hair and the sport bra. [Laughter]
And this is the best part — we get the audience members to play everybody else. We get people out of the crowd and we tell them what to do. So somebody is O’Neill, somebody is Daniel Jackson. And then they all get killed off. They all get killed off on the mission, right? [Laughter]
Only Sam Carter comes back, and says, “Walter, you have to come back on the planet with me and save the … So, we go through the Stargate together, and there’s a possible romantic thing. But you know, it’s with Dean, so it doesn’t go too far. [Laughter]
It’s pretty funny though. The crowds go mad. So we’ve sold like a huge amount of tickets for this thing. People are coming out tonight. It’s going to be so much fun.
GJ: Yeah. Yeah, it will be great. And there’ll be DVDs after, so you’ll eventually get a copy of the DVD and be able to see the show and talk about it.
GW: But because of its framework nature, it’s a little different every time.
GJ: Oh, absolutely. Because, first of all, we don’t know what kind of people that we’re going to get from the crowd. And plus we ask them to fill in the blanks — like, “What’s happening on the planet? What’s the problem on the planet?” So whatever we get from the crowd, that’s what we improvise around. So, the loose structure of the show stays the same, but like you said, the content changes a little bit each time. It’s total fun.
I mean, the time we did it in Atlanta, we were just basically standing there. It was just like telling joke after joke after joke. The crowd was just so into it. When we started the show, and I just sat down in my chair, and I just started going, ‘Chevron one encoded, chevron two …” they just went nuts. They just went nuts. Because I forget about this, I truly do, I forget about this.
GW: You made an icon.
GJ: They’re like, “We’re in the room with the guy who’s doing …” And the reaction was, “Aw, this is pretty cool.” You’ve got to admit, it was pretty cool.
GW: It is cool.
GJ: Yeah, it’s great for me, yeah.
GW: In “Lost City,” there was a scene that Rob Cooper wrote, where Walter was sitting with Emmett Bregman, the documentarian. And Walter is explaining his job. And it’s kind of, like …
GJ: Oh, that’s in “Heroes”.
GW: “Heroes.” What did I say, “Lost City?”
GJ: “Lost City,” yes.
GW: What is it with me? I know this stuff! “Heroes.” He was explaining his job, “Open the iris, close the iris.”
GW: Do you ever feel sympathy for this character? Like, man, he needs a girl.
GJ: Oh, I laughed so hard when I read that script. I just killed myself laughing. I was like, “Finally, this is now the writers completely having fun with my character.” Because he says, he goes … he settles in, and he’s like, “OK, so tell me what you do.”
GW: I thought it was going to like reveal like some secret thing that he did, like much more complicated, you know?
GJ: Exactly. When I read the script, I saw that he was really talking to the other characters about what goes on.
GW: It’s very important to him.
GJ: It’s really important. So then he goes to me, “Well, what do you do?” And I go, “Well, I open the iris, I close the iris.” And he goes, “And what else?” “That’s pretty much my job.” [Laughter]
You’ve got to know, to deliver lines like that, it’s just gold. It’s just the best kind of … And Andy Mikita, the guy who directed “Heroes,” my buddy. Andy, was like … I could see Andy behind Saul Rubinek, and he was like doubled over, he was doing one of those.
GW: Laughing, trying not to distract you.
GJ: Yes, and when I finished the scene, he was like, “Cut!” So they’re all laughing. And it’s just playing it so deadly straight. Plus, the other element, if you go back and watch that episode, you’ll notice that when I’m talking to him, I’m glancing at the camera. And that was an element I didn’t realize until I started filming — that wasn’t on the page.
GW: It makes it perfectly real. The camera’s actually there this time.
GJ: But that wasn’t on the page. On the page it was just the words. Suddenly, it’s, like, the video camera, and I’m kind of like this, “Is this OK? Should I look into the camera?” And Andy was laughing at that. Walter, who basically opens the gate and kind of runs the joint, is now nervous. Oh, my god, it was so much fun to do that scene. Because the writers were like, “Oh, let’s just goof around.”
GW: Do you miss coming in week after week? Do you miss SG-1 being around?
GJ: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I didn’t come in week after week, that was the thing. Out of 200 or so episodes, I did, like, 102 episodes. I did half the episodes. So, I wasn’t in every week, but I was in enough that it was like, “This is a great gig.” So, I miss working. I got to experience working on a show where you’re completely comfy with the crew, completely comfy with the directors.
Because really Stargate, they brought up — Andy used to be the production manager, Martin Wood was an [Assistant Director], and now even Will Waring, you’ll see his name [as a director]. Will was a camera operator. And they loved him so much and he was so good at his job. Of course the next time he negotiates his contract, it’s like, “Well, I’d like to direct an episode.” Because, you know, he’s been around it enough.
So of course, Will directs an episode. And then they’re like, “Oh, that was great.” So then he gets more. So now Will’s in the mix, you know what I mean? It feeds up.
GW: It’s a school.
GJ: It’s a total school. And one thing I learned about — and I would tell other actors in town too, you know — “If you come into Stargate and you do a good job and they like you, guaranteed they’ll bring you back. Because there are so many story lines, so many histories and cultures and this and that.
You know, Alex Zahara has done, like, seven roles. A lot of it in prosthetics. But they just keep bringing him back. They go, “Oh, play this female waitress. Play this, play this, play that.” And he just comes in and does it. He hit the jackpot, you know what I mean? As an actor, he got to do a different million things. And so if they like you, they bring you back. Because you make their job easier. They go, “Well, OK, well I know he can do that.”
GW: Why break what we know works?
GJ: Why break what we know works? So that is fantastic. To have a creative crew that responds that way to the acting talent is awesome.
GW: Completely. So what are you currently working on? Any movies on the horizon that we need to keep an eye out for?
GJ: Like I said, I just did an episode of Atlantis and I’m in the very last episode.
GJ: No. Are they going to Vegas?
GW: They’re going to Vegas!
GJ: [Sighs] No, I’m not going to Vegas. [Laughter]
GJ: That would have been great! I got married in Vegas, so.
GJ: Yes, sweet. The “Graceland Chapel of Love.” My wife given away by a rather large Elvis. [Laughter]
GW: [Doing an impression of Elvis Presley] Ah, thank you very much.
GJ: It was great. [Doing his impression of Elvis Presley] “Thank you, thank you, see ‘ya later.” So, no, I’m not going to Vegas. But, you know, great to be on the show, right?
And, what else am I doing? Then I’m working on a show, it’s a pilot for FOX, and it’s a comedy. It’s a one-hour comedy called, “Mistresses.” I don’t know if it’s a soap opera send up kind of thing. But one of the main characters is a soap opera star and I’m one of the producers on that show. Like the show within the show.
GW: Oh, it’s like that British, “Extras.”
GJ: Yes, it’s like “Extras,” but this show was actually based on another British show I read. So anyway, I’m doing that. And I’ve got a pitch for a show idea in with The Movie Channel up here [in Canada], that they kind of like, so they’re looking at. And then I’m writing a book.
GW: That’s right! Tell us about the book.
GJ: I told you about that, didn’t I?
GW: But not them [GateWorld audience] [Laughter]. I have to remember that, this is information they don’t know.
GJ: I ‘m writing a book. I decided to write a book. It’s my take on life, and the stuff that has happened to me. I was encouraged to do that by my wife. She likes my writing and I make her laugh. So I just finally said, “OK, you know what, I’m going to sit down and do this.” So I’ve been doing it. I’ve just been plugging away at doing that.
GW: Anyone who’s watched you at these conventions knows that you’re a great storyteller, you know. So solidify some of this.
GJ: Right, well, that’s the thing. The challenge for me in that respect, is to take that storytelling technique, or whatever I create on stage, and see if I can actually create it on the page and see how it goes.
And so far, my wife, she reads and reads and reads, and she’s a pretty good editor. So she’s been reading my stuff. And she’s going, “Oh yeah, this is really funny.” So at this point it’s literally a matter of volume. It’s just quantity now. It’s like getting enough stuff that I can put into a manuscript and send off.
The kind of writers that I like are David Sedaris who — I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of his stuff — it’s very funny. And he just basically writes about his life. But it’s hilarious. He just has an interesting take on things, and he just writes that take on things. So, I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll give that a go.” And there’s another guy, a travel writer named Bill Bryson.
GW: He’s my favorite writer.
GJ: Right, so, it’s à la “Bill Bryson.”
GJ: I’m in a situation, “Well that was weird.” This is my take on an odd little moment. So that’s what I like. Because all the time, whenever I experience these things, I go home and tell my wife, and I tell my friends, “Oh, you won’t believe what happened.” And then it’s out there. So why not put it on the page?
GW: Well, perfect. If you’re blog’s any indication, it’s going to be hilarious. Are you writing it with anyone or just writing it yourself?
GJ: No, just me.
GW: OK. Sweet. All right, Gary.
GJ: I have a writing partner who I’ve written shows with and trying to come up with show ideas, and I told him I was writing it, and he got all excited. Because he was like, “Oh yeah, absolutely you should be doing that.”
GW: Good luck with that. That’s going to be great.