When you think of important Stargate characters that have been around since the very beginning, only a select few can qualify. These are characters that appeared not just in the early years of Stargate SG-1, but also in the major theatrical feature film that preceded it.
Two actors hold the distinction of playing those characters in both the film and series, one of which is Alexis Cruz. The actor originated the role of the Abydonian Skaara in the 1994 film, and reprised it five times during SG-1‘s first six years.
GateWorld’s Chad Colvin sat down with Alexis twice over the past few months, at both the Vancouver and Chicago stops for Creation Entertainment’s Official Stargate Convention tour. During the interview, Alexis discusses his entry into show business, how he came into the role of Skaara for the film, the change that took place in the character when SG-1 began, and much more.
Our video interview with Alexis runs approximately 16 minutes, and is also available in audio format. It is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Chad Colvin, and I have the pleasure today of speaking with Mr. Alexis Cruz. Alexis, thank you for being with us.
Alexis Cruz: My pleasure, My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
GW: We know your work on Stargate, and you were obviously an established actor prior to the movie. Could you tell us about some of your previous work prior to the original film?
AC: Oh, prior to the original film? Let’s see. I started off on The Cosby Show. That was my very first big gig. I was a guest star on The Cosby Show with Tony Orlando. That was a special episode there. And then I moved on to Sesame Street, and I did that for about two years. I was one of the older kids teaching the younger kids.
GW: How old were you?
AC: I was about fifteen at the time, and I did that for two years. And then I was really, really blessed having worked with Anthony Quinn in “The Old Man and the Sea,” when I was 15 also [a 1990 TV-movie based on the work by Ernest Hemingway]. And that was just an amazing experience.
GW: He is a legendary actor.
AC: Absolutely. Absolutely. And to be able to learn so much from him before he passed, it was just a fantastic experience. I was really blessed.
GW: You have the distinction of being one of only two actors, along with Erick Avari [“Kasuf”], who were featured in both the original film and then also in those same roles on SG-1. How did your casting for the role of “Skaara” come about?
AC: It was, actually, pretty funny because at the time, I had been accustomed to working fairly regularly as a young actor. And at that time, I hadn’t worked in about a year. Up at that point. And I was getting very desperate. I was going nuts and I didn’t know what to do. Nowadays, it’s a little different. We’re used to the ups and downs. But at the time, we weren’t.
So I was desperate. I was taking anything I could get. And my agent calls me up and he says “Well, I’ve got this one part, this audition for a sci-fi movie. It’s a low budget sci-fi movie. You would only have three lines and they’re not in English. I really don’t think it’s worth it.” My agent thought very highly of me, and really wanted the best for me. “It’s really not worth your talent” and “blah, blah, blah, I don’t think you should do it.” And I said “I want to do it. I have to do it. I’m not doing anything else.” There are no small actors …
GW: You have to make a living.
AC: Absolutely. So I decided to go in anyway. What the heck? I really had nothing to lose. So I think that always ends up freeing you up a little bit creatively. And the whole scene was, really, a mime scene. A lot of physical work. So I just decided to take that route rather than concentrate on “It’s only three lines, let me say these three lines.” I tried to work on all of the action, and all of the moment, and all of the life in between those lines.
So I did that. And it worked out great. The director Roland, [Emmerich] and the writer Dean, [Devlin] loved it. I had no idea who they were at the time. This was all like “Yeah, whatever, independent sci-fi movie,” right? They fly me out to California for my screen test afterwards, and I’m like, this is kind of odd for a low budget picture. I finally get the part and they say “Come down to the studio and I want to show you around the production office.”
They start showing me around the production office and I start seeing the art department and all the different designs. The stuff they’re working on. Of course, not having seen the movie, it was a spectacle. So I’m seeing all of this for the first time, and Dean Devlin is going “Oh, we have action figures for you!” [Laughter]
GW: [Laughter] That’s a surprise!
AC: Yeah! “Are you kidding me? What? What kind of movie is this?” And slowly, it starts unfolding that this is just such a huge picture. And as we kind of developed our relationship, and as the work progressed, my role just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Which was their intention to begin with. They just weren’t telling anybody. They wanted to find the right kid for it. And it just … it’s taken off from there.
GW: Were there moments during the location shooting where you just looked at the size and the scope of what Dean and Roland were trying to accomplish, and just went “Wow?”
AC: Absolutely! All the time. We shot in Yuma, Arizona, i the desert out there. Some of the same dunes where they shot some of the Tattooine scenes in “Star Wars.” So that in and of itself was like … “You’re in the presence of history,” right?
But they had built the entire city where we lived to scale. It was this huge, massive complex. And you could walk down its streets, and it was just magnificent. I’d never seen anything like it. I think very few people have. Then we moved to the other location where they had the pyramid, and that was also massive. And built to scale, except for the very top. But the rest of it, it was just huge. So it was boggling. And we just had that every single day. Constantly. These revelations of just how magnificent this film was.
GW: Are there any parts of your own personality that you brought to the character?
AC: Oh, yeah! Absolutely. I’ve always enjoyed playing hero roles. I think most actors will always say the bad guys are more fun. And I don’t dispute that. It is, in terms of letting your hair down. But there is something to be said about playing the hero roles, and playing them well. Because it’s hard to do that. Without making it seem hokey or cheesy. You have to do it in such a way that it’s going to attract your audience, that they are going to think you are cool. The girls are going to want you and the guys are cheering for you at the same time. It’s a very hard combination to do.
So for me, that’s a huge challenge that I enjoy doing, and it does bring out a lot of my own personality in doing it. Especially at that time, and at that age, where I was very naïve and impressionable. And I knew that. And I used it.
GW: How did you change your approach to the character once you discovered that the Skaara that would be featured on SG-1 would be, for most of your time on it, a different character almost? Because of him being a host [to Klorel].
AC: Well, first, once we moved on to SG-1, it had already been some time since the film.
GW: About three years.
AC: Uh-huh. So not only had I grown up, but I realized, you know, that the character would have to as well. He would have to mature. I had a lot of questions about that to begin with. In terms of what the direction was for Skaara. I really had wanted to … I wanted to go in a darker direction. Heroes are great at the end of the tunnel, after they have been challenged. And this was a very different kind of challenge. This was a very internalized one, rather than an externalized one of rebellion.
I had always had it in my mind that the journey that Skaara had gone through in terms from coming up and being a little shepherd boy to confronting and ultimately destroying his god — that is profound, in and of itself, thematically. So I kind of was pushing with that. And then when they gave me Klorel, I had no idea what to expect. Usually, I would go up there and I would get the script the day before I flew up to Vancouver to shoot the series, or as soon as I landed. So I had no idea this was coming.
So I open it up and I look at it. And I was horrified. Because my character was in such a different direction. This is not where I wanted it to go. But of course, that made it more interesting. I hadn’t quite realized that at the time. But as you discover as you work through it, you go “This isn’t so bad. OK.” So, once we got into Klorel, it became a challenge to also make him as different from Skaara as possible, and still as enjoyable as well. Because the tone of the series was very different than the tone of the film.
GW: As someone who spent screen time with both Kurt Russell and Richard Dean Anderson, let’s put the question to rest now. Who is the better O’Neill?
AC: Oh … they’re different. One is the original “O’Neil” and the other one … made it. The other one took it and made it his own. To say that Kurt was the better O’Neil… I don’t know. Richard has put his stamp on it. O’Neill now, eleven, twelve years later, Richard is O’Neill. So it’s hard to say. And they’re both such different kinds of actors. Kurt is so intense, and that is what Kurt does. He’s intense. In comparison to Richard, who brings so much sardonic humor to it. That it’s interesting to watch and it’s fun to watch. It’s just two completely different styles. And I like having the option.
GW: Fans were saddened earlier this summer to hear over this summer to hear of Don Davis’ passing. Over the last decade, you got to spend a little bit of time with him, both on-screen and off. Do you have a favorite memory of him?
AC: Yeah, Don and I talked a lot about acting in general. Because Don was an acting teacher. He taught acting, and I’ve done my fair share as well of that. Not as much as him, and not to his degree of expertise, which is what was so exciting about talking to him. Him and I, that was our common ground.
And we had really long — not just a passing chit-chat — where we would sit down at a bar and have intense actor to actor conversations about the craft. And all of the different techniques and knowledges that go into it. And it was a pretty unique relationship that I had with him, in particular, on that point, on that ground. And I’m going to miss that.
GW: Your final episode of SG-1 was Season Six’s “Full Circle,” and that’s [when] Skaara and the remaining Abydosians ascend at the end. Was that title especially relevant for you? Was it a full circle moment for you in your career? Knowing that, for the most part, the character had come to a conclusion?
AC: It was. It was. I think having lived with the character for so long, and then seeing and being a part of the phenomenon of the fandom, and how it reaches people, there’s always a part of you that wants it to continue. There’s always unfinished business with the character when you’ve lived with it for so long and know it so well. So there’s a little bit of that.
But there was the full circle closure. The fandom and the phenomenon was there, and we can now move on from that. And my career could move on a bit, too, in other ways, as well.
GW: It has been fourteen years since the original movie. Stargate is now a hugely successful science fiction franchise. How does it feel knowing that you were there at the beginning and helped to lay that foundation?
AC: It is phenomenal to have been a part of this. I think it’s every actors’ dream to be a part of something this big. And I think like a lot of those dreams, you really never expect it to actually happen. It’s just something in the back of your mind like “Oh, I want to be an actor! I wanna be a star!”
GW: It’s lightning in a bottle.
AC: It really is lightning in a bottle. That’s exactly what it is. How does anybody that ever had anything to do with “Star Wars” feel about it? Or Star Trek? It’s a phenomenon. And you often wonder, “My God, why me? How did this happen?” But thank God that it did.
And it’s really seen me through a lot of dark times. As most actors, in our careers, we have ups and we have downs. And especially in the particular low points that I have had, Stargate and everything associated with it, has been a good pick-up between how the audience responds and the fact of knowing that you were a part of this phenomenon.
If everything were to end tomorrow, and I couldn’t go on with my career … it was a huge milestone that I will always, always be proud of.
GW: At con appearances, you’ve been performing pieces of a one-man play. It’s an act that’s full of humor and shock value. But it’s also an act that becomes very poignant for its tribute to the unknown number of foreigners who lost their lives in the World Trade Center tragedy. How did your involvement come about? What got that started?
AC: Well, all the pieces were written by Rick Nahera, who is a brilliant comedic writer [and a] friend of mine. Him another friend of mine, Jacob Vargas, who you might know from tons of movies … the “Friday” [movies] and a bunch of other stuff. I could go down the list. Jacob Vargas, he’s amazing. Both [are] really good friends of mine. And they came to me with this show. Because they had partnered up and were doing “Latino Logs” that Rick had wrote, at the Improv in Los Angeles.
And they came up and said “Alexis, why don’t you come up and do some of these pieces?” “I don’t do comedy. I’ve never done comedy before. Much less at the Improv of all places. A little back-alley theater is one thing — I’ll give it a shot — but the Improv? That’s like serious business.” And he goes “No, it’s all good. We’ll show you how.”
Sure enough, they both took me under their wing and taught me the ins-and-outs of comedy and how to work the comedy in front of people. And I stayed with them, the troupe kind of kept building off of there, and then we started touring the show. Rick had done the show before by himself as a one-man show. But now he was directing and producing it so he wanted it to be an ensemble where each person plays different roles. So we toured it around, and it was a huge success. And that’s how I got involved with it. My first comedic debut was at the Improv in Los Angeles. So I’m pretty proud of [it].
GW: It’s an amazing piece to watch in person.
GW: Thank you. Thank you. That particular piece about the World Trade Center happened the week of. We had a show that weekend to do, coming up. And Rick came to us that Saturday, because we perform on Sundays. And he came to us on Saturday to unveil this piece. And we were all just blown away by it. As everyone else is, when they watch it. It’s so poignant. It’s masterful, and it’s genius. And that’s the [kind of] writing that he does.
GW: Now, are you still currently on Shark on CBS?
AC: I’m not on Shark anymore.
GW: Okay, you’re not anymore. But as an actor, when you were on [Shark], how different was that working environment compared to what you experienced with the film and SG-1?
AC: Completely different. It was a different experience because the themes and the tone of Shark were completely different. It was real, contemporary, CBS mainstream rather than SCI FI and Showtime. [Shark] also revolved around James Woods, who in and of itself, is such a cosmic personality. He’s so much bigger than life, and everything that you would expect him to be, in every positive sense. He’s just one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever met in my life. And very, very generous as an actor.
So, that was kind of interesting. And again, another lucky break. Boom! I go to another show that is hugely popular that is mainstream. I get to take another role and put my stamp on it. And I think that’s something that’s happening every couple years. My dream is to become the Harrison Ford of television. How about that? [Laughter]
GW: A last question for you … any additional roles on your plate?
AC: I do, actually. It looks like I’m going to be doing a part the a new Sam Raimi film called Drag Me to Hell.
GW: Any idea…
AC: I can’t tell you anything more about it because there’s all lot of “shhhh” about it. And honestly, I wish I knew more about it, because I don’t. [Laughter] “OK, we want you to do this part!”
GW: [Laughter] The actor is the last to know!
AC: “What part?” “You’ll see! Just grow out your hair and beard!” That’s why I’m all scruffy here, because I’m preparing for that.
Official Alexis Cruz fan site