With more than a dozen Stargate appearances under his belt, he shows no signs of stopping yet! Following our interview, GateWorld learned that Davis would be making his first appearance on Stargate Atlantis in the series finale, “Enemy at the Gate.”
GateWorld finally got a chance to sit down with Colin at Gatecon 2008, where he spoke freely about his new film, Centigrade, his years on SG-1 and his struggle to become exactly who he wants to be — a man who lives moment for moment.
GateWorld’s video interview with Colin Cunningham runs approximately 22 minutes, and is also available in audio format. It is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m David Read here with Mr. Colin Cunningham. Finally, sir! We’ve been trying to get a hold of you for a long time.
Colin Cunningham: Yeah, no kidding, man. No kidding.
GW: [Laughter] So you’ve been busy lately.
CC: I have.
GW: What are some of the most recent projects, other than “Centigrade,” which I’ll get to.
CC: This past year really has been a bit of a whirlwind. Because, as much as I’ve been acting, which is my day job, I have. I’ve really, really began making a point of directing and producing more projects.
You can only stand on a piece of tape for so long, constantly waiting for the phone to ring, and I’ve really, really made a point this year — it’s like, “No, I’m going to start doing my own projects and I’m going to stop waiting around.” We actually won a Kick Start award which started “Centigrade” off. It has just been a whirlwind of festivals and awards and all that kind of stuff.
And right now that’s why I have the mustache. I don’t normally make this kind of fashion choice. [Laughter] This is for a thing I’m doing called Fireball which is kind of a Stephen King kind of thing. A guy — his DNA gets changed — he is impervious to fire and he can look at you and literally make you spontaneously combust. So I play a tabloid reporter that’s hounding and obsessed with his story, and I track him everywhere he goes.
CC: And last night I got lit on fire. It was awesome.
GW: Oh really?
CC: And it’s crazy because you literally think “What a job!” Literally, I went up in fire and had to spin around and fall out of a window. There’s just no greater job in the world; it’s just a lot of fun. So it’s been a busy year. It has been really, really cool.
GW: Wow. Where will this particular project be available?
CC: I think it is going to go to the SCI FI Channel, I believe.
GW: Like a movie of the week?
CC: Yeah, I try not to ask too many questions. I just go over there and learn your lines, do your thing.
GW: Do they hate it when actors ask questions? They just want you to do your part?
CC: When I’ll go into an audition I don’t want to know who is directing, who is producing, because if it’s somebody big, and then you get nervous, and if it’s somebody you have never heard of you may think, “Oh, maybe this isn’t such a big [deal]” … Every job is the same. You just show up and you just nail it, or try to nail it, and do the best you can.
GW: So usually the director is not in that room, the casting director is?
CC: Depends. More times than not they are. Sometimes it’ll literally be just the casting director, somebody such as yourself, and there’s a camera, and you read the scene. That’s a small percentage of times where you’ll get cast from tape. But mostly, yeah, there’s physical people in the room and that’s always best, to do it that way. They can tell you to bring it up, bring it down, take it wherever you’re going to take it.
GW: Sweet. Tell us about the genesis of Centigrade. This story, you know…
CC: Yeah, Centigrade, in a nutshell, is about a guy who lives in an old dilapidated, busted-up, trailer. It has no wheels on it, and it’s just laying dead in the weeds. He does a bad thing, and he wakes up in the morning and it’s rolling. It’s rolling down the highway. He’s being towed by a big, black pick-up truck. Basically the doors won’t open and the windows won’t break and he can’t get out. That’s essentially what it’s about; it’s about a man trapped. That’s basically it in a nutshell.
But the film — we got the Kick Start award through the Director’s Guild and it was a real opportunity for me as a director to do something a little bit different. The challenge was there’re maybe three or four lines of dialogue throughout the whole film and then it’s all, basically, visual imagery, and telling the story through images. So in a way it’s a sort of an homage, a tribute, to Stephen Spielberg’s “Duel.” I don’t know if you saw “Duel.” but it’s great — a great old lost Spielberg classic. It’s awesome. Dennis Weaver plays a guy just driving down the highway and he gets tormented by a diesel rig. It’s trying to kill him, and it’s just a fantastic project.
The film turned out really, really well. We’ve actually qualified for an Academy Award, which is hard to do, because you’ve got to get into an Academy-sanctioned festival and then once there, you have to win, which is not an easy thing to do. Basically that’s kind of it. So we’ve been traveling all over the world, and it’s opened up doors. We’re developing it into a feature, and just some good things are happening with it.
GW: So it is not a feature yet?
CC: No, not yet. [We] basically I started off making a short, but we’re developing it into a feature film, and we should have that done in the next six months.
CC: Yeah, pretty cool. It is. It’s pretty cool.
GW: Did you write it?
CC: I did. I wrote it, directed it, and acted in it. I didn’t want to act in it — that was the last thing I wanted to do. If anything, I really wanted to just focus on just directing. But my lead actor, the guy that I wanted, basically [was] blowing me off — he wasn’t answering his phone.
CC: So, I said, “Fine, alright, great, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” And you know what — it actually … I won’t say it worked out better, but it worked out quicker, because I didn’t need to spend a lot of time talking to the other actor. I knew exactly…
GW: You know what you want.
CC: Yeah, I knew what I needed.
GW: “I can’t find anyone who’s as good as me!” [Laughter]
CC: Well, it was quick. It was like “Put the camera here,” and I was able to just react and basically do it, do it quicker. But it’s hard to flip back and forth, to go from acting, and then “OK, great, now put the camera here,” then you’d act, and then, “Put the camera here,” It’s a weird kind of thing. You got to be really, really prepared. But it takes a lot out of you. It really does.
GW: Where did this story idea come from for you? What, were you in the shower and it was like, “You know, that soap bubble … I have an epiphany!”
CC: It was one of three scripts that I wrote, oh God, 15, 16, years ago.
CC: Yeah, literally it sat in a box for that long. So, if you have a good idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because you didn’t do it this year or ten years ago doesn’t mean that it won’t come around.
GW: Yeah, timing.
CC: Yeah, and it was basically through … well, I had these scripts sitting in a box, and one was two hit men show up for the same hit and they discover each other on alternate roof tops. [Laughter] It’s a short subject – what would happen if two guys, they need to barter early to who’s going to kill the guy to get the money.
“Well, I want it, you want it.” Basically play a game of charades — “Sounds like” — try to make … all that kind of stuff.
The other, of course, was “Centigrade” — the guy trapped in a trailer. The third one was a kid and a soccer ball kind of story, but a sweet kind of thing. Anyway, when the Kick Start came up, I thought, “Great, a good old thriller.” The nice thing about it is that it’s not a short trying to be a feature.
Sometimes people try to do more than what it is. But it’s exactly what it is. I’m just a big, huge fan of Rod Sterling and the Twilight Zone and I thought when the Kick Start stuff through the DGC — the Director’s Guild — came around, it was like, “Let’s do this.” So, that was basically it.
GW: What do you think the film’s message is? Is it about redemption, forgiveness, is it about vendettas?
CC: Yeah, there’s definitely a bit of judgment day, atonement. Because at the end of it, all of a sudden you become him. You’re essentially trapped with this guy. Hopefully, everybody maybe thinks twice a little about the decisions they make, and maybe a little bit of karma, and maybe who knows. At the end of the day there might be something waiting for you. I think the message is maybe to think twice no matter where or how you come from.
But I think the trick for me directorially was to create a guy who’s a bad guy.
GW: Really is a bad guy?
CC: Yeah, a bad guy that you just would not feel sorry for at all and take him through the process of basically being trapped like an animal and seeing if I can get the audience to actually have some compassion for him. Here’s a guy you’d never think twice of, just a real dirt bag, and yet because you’re trapped with him, you’ve got to go through everything that this guy goes through.
You actually end up, maybe … some people are like, “What? I didn’t feel sorry for him,” and other people are like, “God, I kind of felt sorry for him. You know, he’s such a pig, he’s just filth, he’s garbage,” and yet, at the end of the day, we’re all, you know … to be trapped and it brings up the humanity in all.
GW: Find your humanity. Exactly.
CC: Yeah, so it’s a trip. But he definitely gets his comeuppance, there’s no question about it, and sometimes it’s not a pretty sight. But that’s what it is.
GW: Sweet. You’re originally American?
CC: Yeah, what’s weird — I never even heard the term “American” until I came up to Vancouver.
GW: I know, well, it is North America, you know.
CC: Well, I’m from LA. If you’re from LA, Americans have big turquoise belt buckles and cowboy hats, you know.
GW: [Laughter] And spit tobacco.
CC: Yeah, you know, it’s like “He’s American, he’s American.” But so it’s weird, I never really heard the term “American” until I came up to Vancouver. “Oh, you’re American. You’re American. You’re American.” It’s like, yeah, yeah, I guess I am! Yeah, I’m an American.
GW: From the States.
CC: Well, it’s weird because it doesn’t work the other way. It’s not like, Canadians go down south and, “Oh, you’re Canadian. You’re Canadian. You’re Canadian.”
GW: They’re all Canadians here.
CC: Yeah, you’re living your life, you don’t really care, especially in LA.
GW: Yeah, it’s such a melting pot.
CC: Why would somebody live in Arizona or Utah? Where is that? [Laughter]
GW: I’m in Arizona. [Laughter]
CC: But you know what I’m saying. In LA — you’ve got the beach, you’ve got the snow, you’ve got the surf, I mean, you’ve the desert. It’s all there within a couple of hours.
CC: It’s hard to comprehend somebody living in Illinois. Where is it?
GW: I’m from Illinois originally … What’s up with that?
CC: From Illinois, living in Arizona. See, I did my research on you …
GW: What was the original decision that had you go to Vancouver? Was it a limited number of jobs in LA?
CC: Yeah, I was living — I should say not living, at all, in LA. I was surviving, trying to get through day-to-day. But I was literally living on Hollywood Boulevard and Western. There’s a pool hall there, and I was living above the pool hall and there was an ambulance out front every other night of the week, and I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” The acting, trying to act, just getting auditions, was impossible. So basically I said, “Screw this.” I’m going to go to film school and work behind the camera.
So I saw a little ad for the Vancouver Film School and I thought, “Great, it’s not even in the country. It’s not in LA or New York, and it’s only a three or four-month program. That’s where I’m going. I’m going to Vancouver.” So I thought “I’m going to go to Vancouver go to school, make my own movie, and put me in it.”
So that’s what I did. I came up to Vancouver and went to school, and started up my own production company and made a movie and put me in it. And I thought, you know, “Even if it takes me ten years, it’ll be one more movie that I’ll have, with me, than I would if I sat around Hollywood waiting for somebody – “Hey, look at me, here’s my headshot, here’s my headshot.”
So, that was that. But basically when I came up here I had no idea Vancouver had what it had. They were doing  Jump Street, and Wise Guy, and The Commish, and all these different shows, and Highlander. These were all shows that I assumed that were being shot in LA, but they were all shot up here, so by fluke — fate… But literally, I lived sitting in my Honda Civic for two weeks out at the park. Showered out of the drinking fountain for the first couple of weeks I was here in Vancouver.
GW: Oh, wow. Man, oh, man …
CC: Yeah, look at me now – I have a mustache. [Laughter] Don’t try that at home, kids.
GW: Is that good life lessons, you know where you don’t want to be now? And it’s something to work for …
CC: God, I just remember … Well, I’ll tell you a quick story.
I remember I was working on a show actually here in Vancouver, but I think I’d moved out of my place or had sublet it — I didn’t have a place to stay. So the production actually put me in a hotel. It was the Delta Suites hotel on over on Hastings Street, or near Hastings. I walk into this beautiful, gorgeous room, and it was like this Japanese Origami thing with rice paper. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I thought, “Wow, this is so gorgeous!” And I looked out the window and across the street …
And across the street is where I used to do telephone sales. I did telephone sales for two years, just a miserable job. It used to be at night, calling people after they got home from work. So it was around six or seven o’clock at night, I look across the street and there is a guy sitting in my desk on my phone, doodling.
“Hi, this is Your Name Here calling from ‘Money Suck.’ Have you got a moment? Let me tell you about the new promotion that we’re doing.” I just see this guy doing his script and I thought, “Here I am a hundred yards away, 50 yards away, and I’m a world away. Here, I’ve been invited to do this show and I’m working tomorrow and working with all these familiar faces, and I look across the street and there’s the guy that had my old job.
So it’s a trip, I never take it for granted, man. This time tomorrow, I could be back across the street again. You do what you do and you do it with a smile on your face, and that’s the end of that.
GW: Man, oh, man. So Major Davis, obviously we are at GateWorld.
CC: Major mustache.
GW: [Laughter] I remember in 2003 the, “Who’d you have to **** to get this job?” I’d love you to tell that story.
CC: Oh God!
GW: Please, that’s the genesis of Major Davis. So Season Two.
CC: Alright. Yes, was it Season Two.
GW: Season Two, a great episode.
CC: Yeah, season two they had this one-er. It was a one-er. And it was at the command center, whatever. I’m looking at the gate and they had, oh God, the whole cast there, and I was the last guy. It was a one-shot, so it went from Richard to Amanda, to Teal’c to Michael Shanks to General Hammond to Technician, and then it came to me. I mean everybody was there and it was a one-shot, so there were no cuts.
The camera just followed each person as they said their line and then they get to me, the last one, and I be like … “Cut!” I’d screw up my line. I couldn’t get my line. It was “Chevron Asgard six seven two dashes not engage,” or whatever the hell it was, and I just couldn’t get this freakin’ line. So, “Okay, go again.”
GW: Was this your first episode?
CC: No! It wasn’t my first episode.
GW: Oh, so this is not the “A Matter of Time?”
CC: It was like my second episode. Richard – blah, blah [mimics reading dialogue], Amanda — blah, blah, then they get to me, and I’m like … [Grunts.] Again!
GW: Oh, you just don’t remember it?
CC: Blank! I kept blanking the line. Anyway, so Peter DeLuise is directing, and we’d done maybe seven, eight, nine, of these [takes] — it’s like bad. It’s bad.
GW: Oh man …
CC: And Gary Jones is like [whispers] — he knows my line. I don’t know my line, but Gary is like “It’s the Asgard [inaudible] ” So we finally do it one more time, and we get to the end with me again [popping sound] and I totally freeze and I hear this disembodied voice, a thousand yards away, from the back of the studio saying “Who’d you have to **** to get this job?!” and I just died. I just thought, “Oh, my God!” You know … and it was Peter, doing it as a joke to break the tension.
GW: Oh, it was a joke!
CC: It was a joke!
GW: Oh, I thought he was pissed.
CC: No! [Laughter] No, it was a joke. It was a total joke. But it was awful. But I know Peter, and it helped, and we did it the next time.
GW: Oh, it loosened you up?
CC: Yeah, and we got it done, because he’s an actor. I mean, he’s worked forever. He’s a great actor himself. It was just, you know, “Let’s just call it as we see it, you can’t remember your line — you’re blanking out, so let’s just all have a laugh and we’ll try it one more time.” And it worked. It was fine.
GW: They brought you in for “A Matter of Time”, which was a great scifi episode. “Major Paul Davis from the Pentagon. Let us take General Hammond to Washington and we’ll be back in five minutes.” I know you’ve had this question asked of you so many times, “Did you have any idea the fan following of the show and what the response of this character would be?”
CC: I did, but, boy, was it underestimated. I just thought, “Oh, cool, a scifi show.” I don’t even know if it had been syndicated. All I knew was that they would bring people back. As an actor — awesome. You know, if they could bring you back that’s awesome. I just remember thinking, “Man, just do the best job you possibly can.” Go in there and nail it as best you can, and maybe they’ll bring you back. I had no idea that I’d be on the show five, six, seven years or whatever it was… and travel all over the world and meet all these people.
I had no clue, no clue. And just the community and … oh man, seriously, it’s been a life changing thing. I’ve really grown as a human being. You know, you meet the Make-A-Wish kids and all that kind of stuff. This isn’t just a “job” or a “show,” you know what I mean?
GW: It is a community.
CC: Yeah, it’s a real wonderful thing and I’ve been really blessed to be a part of it, I really have. In fact, it’s funny, I actually bumped into Richard Dean Anderson yesterday and Richard, God, I’ve not seen Richard in forever. And even on set, it’s not like we chatted all that much.
I just said “Hey, Richard, you know, this has been great, man, I don’t ever think I got a chance to say thanks. You know, because I’ve been all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, London, and France and blah, blah, blah, blah.” He was like, “It’s not like I had anything to do with it,” but of course he does.
Richard was doesn’t like you he could just snuff you right out. He’s the man, he signed the checks. It has. It’s been a real privilege.
GW: What episodes stand out to you over the course of these years? I mean that you did fewer unfortunately as the show went on. “Descent” was a great one. I loved that.
CC: I am not even sure which is what anymore. But I remember my first one, naturally. I remember that like the back of my hand. Of course, working with Don, who holds a real sacred spot in my heart because, you know, we went back before Stargate, so it was just great to be there and to work with him.
The first time I worked with Richard, I think, was “Foothold.” Hanging up there with MacGyver for twelve hours. It was like, “Don’t say anything, oh, that was stupid — you shouldn’t have said that.”
GW: [Laughter] You were nervous.
CC: Oh, totally. Terrified. But I think now I look at it as an overall. I don’t look at singular episodes anymore, as opposed to …
GW: “Descent” was the sinking mother ship.
CC: Ah, OK. I just remember Don, I remember Amanda, I remember watching Michael Shanks and just thinking, “God, this guy’s a great actor.” Little moments like that and just how cool it was. I didn’t do Atlantis. I’m not sure of the community there, but I believe that SG-1 was different, it really was. The early years, the first four or five seasons were magic. They really were. And anybody that was on it was really lucky to be there.
GW: How’d you meet Don?
CC: I met Don … I think the first show that we worked on 14 years ago, 15 years ago, was either Fire on the Mountain or some other movie of the week. They were really spitting out movies of the week. And Don took me under his wing, he really did. He kind of showed me the ropes. I was a bit green in Vancouver. It was great, he kind of looked out for me. It was great.
I was always proud to show up on a show, and then see Don there, because it was like, “I’m still here.” Then he’d go, “Good to see you again, kid.” It was great, because it is a fickle business. You never know if you’re ever going to work again, so it’s always … Don was one of the first, if not the first, actor that I ever worked [with] in Vancouver. It was kind of this little marker, you know? It was good to always show up and see him on a set. “Hey, Don I’m still here.” He was cool. He was good’
GW: And you still are.
CC: Yes. I’m still here.
GW: His passing was such shock to all of us. It was completely unexpected.
CC: Yeah, no, totally. It’s funny because there’s different imagery or icons, I suppose, of a show. You know, you got Teal’c and Amanda, and Richard, of course, but to me it was always Don. Anytime I saw a Stargate SG-1 poster, it was like, there was Don’s chrome dome, you know. Don Davis was Major [General] Hammond, man. It was like everything revolved around Hammond and [his death] was a real drag.
GW: He was the lighthouse keeper.
GW: And the father figure. When they got into trouble, that was always the guy that would bail them out or would keep the light on until they were able to make it back.
CC: It is so weird to think of it in the past tense. Don, just [when] you watch his stuff, he has such presence, such presence. You got to up your game when you’re just standing next to the man. The man didn’t even have to say anything, just stand there, but once he opened his voice of his, it was just awesome. It’s a real shame.
GW: What are some of the charities that you support? Where your fans can reach out and help?
CC: Well, it’s funny! When I first started doing Stargate, it was like, “I have to get serious about a charity because it is a good thing,” but everybody else has got such great charities I’d just be supporting those. JR has got his thing.
GW: Cystic fibrosis.
CC: Yeah, so I will always definitely … Even Dan Payne has got something going on over the weekend, so I lent as much time and effort to that as I could. Putting stuff up things for auction and stuff — I was actually working that day. But I like the animal causes, because these guys have got all the kids and the “this” and the “that”. So I think I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for that, because my fan club once adopted a wolf for me for a year.
GW: That’s right, I remember that.
CC: It was the coolest damn thing and I literally got to go out and meet the wolf and be part of the pack. We all walked around for the day. So that kind of stuff I think it pretty, pretty sweet.
GW: Where do you see your career going next? “Centigrade” has been pretty well received.
CC: Yeah, well, we will find out, well, we get to submit for an Academy Award in October, so that’d be interesting. We got bragging rights until October anyway. The odds are still whatever … you’ve just got to walk the path and smile.
But I don’t know! I think that’s one of the reasons why I got into this business. Yeah, I have no idea what the hell’s going to happen next. That’s part of the fun. I think if I had to show up to a 9 to 5 job everyday, I’d go nuts. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I love insecurity. I don’t want security. It’s death, for me anyway. Not for anybody who has a job.
I mean, my job, I get to show up and everyday I do it’s completely different people, completely different locations, completely different page, dialogue. And even after you’re say the dialogue thirty times in a row, it’s thirty different ways of saying it.
I’m addicted to a life of no ordinary moments. I tell you it’s weird, though, because you become a bit of a junkie for it, because when you actually have a moment to sit and stay with things as they are, you don’t have to stimulize [sic], then sometimes you go a bit nutty.
GW: Well, as long as you’re happy doing what you are doing, that’s the important thing.
CC: Yeah, yeah. If you can get paid doing the thing you love, then you’ll never work another day in your life.
GW: That’s exactly right.