Colson’s character sounded an interesting note in Season Eight’s “Covenant.” Should the truth, for truth’s sake, be known? Even if there was nothing you could do about it, and even if it would only add worry to your existence?
GateWorld discusses this very question in our interview with Shaughnessy. He talks about the experience of shooting on set, his hopes for returning to the franchise, as well as his current endeavors. We also discuss the phenomenon of the TV sitcom, The Nanny, in which he starred.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, this is David Read, and I’m talking with Charles Shaughnessy. Welcome! Thank you for being with us.
Charles Shaughnessy: Sure, thank you!
GW: I have to say, my mother about fell over backwards when she found out who I’d be talking with today. She has the opening theme to The Nanny memorized.
CS: Oh, that’s sweet. [Laughter] It’s catchy, it’s a catchy tune.
GW: It is a catchy tune. [Laughter]
CS: It’s a catchy tune, and it was a funny show. You know, I sometimes catch it again on reruns every now and again. I have to say, it was a funny show. We had some really good writers on that show. And it was never really appreciated at the time. But the fact that it’s lasted … we finished it ten years ago. And it’s still running, and still popular today.
So it shows the kind of quality in that show that was never really given any credit when it was on. It was always considered a sort of rather broad, silly sitcom. And I always thought at the time it’s smarter than that, and one day they’ll realize its smarter than that.
GW: I remember occasionally coming across a review for it, where they thought it was like too low brow, or just really goofy. But I would catch it when she would watch it and I would just laugh my ass off. It was really good!
CS: Right. It was, it was funny. It was as low brow as any classic comedy was. Fran [Drescher] really based a lot of it on … She watched Lucille Ball very carefully. There was a big sort of Lucy style to it. If you consider Lucy low brow then The Nanny was low brow. I think if you know your comedy, Lucille Ball was a genius. She was a master at it. You may as well call Molière and [Georges] Feydeau low brow.
GW: I completely agree. And you’re right, the show has withstood the test of time and that’s the real kicker right there.
I was really excited when I heard that you were going to play Alec Colson on SG-1. It was a particularly special character for the show. The Stargate team had always faced Earth-based threats from like the government, but no one from such a public figurehead, a speaker, a good guy who really just wanted the truth to get out. What attracted you to this character?
CS: I have to be honest, it was a part that came up and I went and read for it. It was a gig so I was delighted to get a job. But having said that, I’ve always been a fan of the sci-fi genre anyway, and SG-1 particularly.
I really liked the character, I thought the idea of this brilliant entrepreneur, a kind of Richard Branson crossed with Bill Gates, was a fascinating character to play. And have him stumble upon this huge conspiracy and want the truth to get out. And then be caught in the haunt of this moral dilemma … does the truth get out even if it costs you so much? [It] was just an interesting thing to do.
And then when I flew up to do it, I was just so entranced with the whole SG universe that they had up there. I love Vancouver, I love Canada, the cast couldn’t have been nicer. There was a real history and a sort of legacy that was so much in place. You really felt like you were part of a very special universe doing this show. The whole thing was a really wonderful experience. I was really hoping that it would continue, because he kind of ends up going off planet, sort of lurking there, ready to be called on when they need some genius engineer at any time.
But then, the circumstances changed and a lot of people left the show, just after my episode, so that story line got dropped. I was very disappointed it didn’t go on further, because I would really have loved to have been a part of that universe.
GW: I re-watched the episode [“Covenant”] last night, and I thought he’s probably on an off-world base, in a lab, working on his next thing, most likely.
CS: Right. And ready to be called on. You remember Thunderbirds — did you ever see <Thunderbirds Are Go? The puppet show. The Thunderbirds puppet show?
GW: I can’t say I did.
CS: Before your time. But he’s the scientist, he’s brains, working in the lab. And when the warriors all need some special gizmo to help them traverse the black hole. They go to the lab and he comes up with it. I thought that’s what I’d be. I’d be like the David McCallum character on NCIS. I thought that would be a great way to go forward. And I think that was kind of the plan, because when I was there they talked about getting a file open for the character. It was in the air that Alec Colson was going to become, not necessarily a very important character, but certainly a recurring character on their team. But it wasn’t to be.
GW: Well, the franchise is still going, and all the shows are in that same universe. So you never know, you never know, Charles.
CS: You never know.
GW: I always thought of him as Tony Stark from “Iron Man.”
CS: Exactly, yeah.
GW: Billionaire guy, he can put anything together. But he’s transformed, where Tony Stark was this weapons maker and manufacturer and then his experience changes. Colson was always a guy who just wanted to get to the truth. You feel a real sympathy for him because, yes, he is a threat to the program, but it’s all coming from the right place. So that’s the real conundrum.
CS: Right. Yeah, it was a very interesting episode.
GW: And then he loses his best friend, so he really has to ask himself in hindsight, was this all really worth it?
CS: Right, is it worth it. This is the great thing about sci-fi, why I love it as a genre. It’s such a pure storytelling genre. You can tell stories about the human condition, which any story worth its while since the time the world began has been about. Because you’re in science fiction, you can bend the rules to suit your storytelling. You’re not hidebound by the fact that people can only drive 60 miles per hour, or can only be in one place at the same time. Because it’s science fiction, you can bend those rules to serve your storytelling. To serve the stories about moral dilemmas, personal decisions, and human frailty.
And that’s kind of what this is, this was a classic human frailty story and moral dilemma story. But it was able to be couched around this amazing universe where intergalactic flight and trans-dimensional travel is possible.
GW: [Laughter] Yes, exactly.
CS: Which is great. It’s like animation. Say when you’re telling a story in animation, “Oh, you want the monster to eat the city? Okay, we’ll have the monster eat the city.” Because it’s animation you can do that. You can’t do that if you’re doing an episode of Brothers and Sisters. [Laughter] You can’t suddenly have Calista Flockhart eat the house. But with sci-fi and animation you can. You can change the rules to serve your storytelling which is just fantastic.
GW: The brilliant thing is, it almost always means something. You don’t take it at face value.
CS: No, it’s always the human condition. It’s like The Twilight Zone, there’s great human story, like a real philosophical, timeless dilemma that’s thrown up as the background to all the special effects.
Yes. I was looking back on this episode. “What did I really learn from this show?” I always like to think about what got under my skin and is kind of sticking with me. I thought it was really interesting that no matter how right you are, and no matter how much you think that the world has to know, in whatever context you want to push it, it’s not always the best thing for the society, or for your best friend, who ends up hanging himself in the bathroom because of it.
CS: Right, exactly, exactly. And it’s so timely. We’re so obsessed with openness and needing to know what our leaders are doing and what everyone’s doing, and we see the results of not knowing. You have this financial meltdown because things are done behind closed doors. So on the one hand, openness and transparency is important. But there are going to be times when someone is going to say, “Trust me, you really don’t want to know this.” At what point do we then say, “All right, I’ll trust you, I’m better living my life ignorant of this.”
That’s always going to be relevant. It’s always going to be a question. Am I better off knowing the truth or am I better off being in some kind of protected innocence in ignorance?
GW: Yeah, it’s like Colson was saying in the fighter. It’s the old ‘if-you-had-cancer’ argument. What about you, personally? Would you want to know about the Stargate program, or would you just want to …
CS: I would personally would want to know only because I think it’s the coolest thing. [Laughter] It wouldn’t be on any kind of great moral, like, ‘we demand the truth.’ It would just be, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, that is the coolest thing.’
But on a moral issue, would I want to know something that was profoundly disturbing, just in order to know the truth? No, probably not, because I’m very aware that we do not know the truth. There are so many things that we are not privy to, some of which is known by other people, and some which is just not known period.
There is so much mystery out there. We don’t know the half of how things work. So I don’t there’s any great moral imperative to know one hundred percent of the puzzle. We’re only going to ever know three percent of the puzzle. As long as I can live my life and it’s not compromising my ability to function or my fellow man’s ability to function in an ethical way, then sometimes I think we are better off not knowing everything. I don’t think it’s necessarily benefits us.
GW: Right. If there were aliens up there, who could blow up the planet a hundred times over again, and there was literally nothing that we could do about it with our current state of technology, what would it serve to be worried about it?
CS: Right, exactly. I think that’s true. And we do. We have a background radiation of anxiety in just being humans on this planet. Every morning you wake up there a bazillion things to be anxious about. And we’ve learned to cope with those anxieties. We’ve learned to be in a certain amount of denial or sublimate them or whatever … medicate ourselves.
But there’s a constant anxiety that we could get sick today, that a loved one could get run over in the street, or a war could break out, or a bomb could go off. There’s just a bazillion of them. So we’ve learned to cope with them. I don’t think there’s any reason to say, “Oh, but I need to have as much anxiety piled on me as is the truth.”
GW: What good what that do? Exactly.
So, you’re aware of Stargate Universe, we recently talked with Janina Gavankar [Sgt. Dusty Mehra from “Whispers”], who said that she talked with you and you guys were talking about the possibility of coming back at some point in this new show.
CS: Yes, that’s so funny, that’s right. I bumped into her at an event, and we got to talking. She had just done an episode of it, so we were talking, and I said, “Well, if they’re ever looking for an off-world scientist, there’s Alec Colson, the genius engineer. They can always call him up. He’ll come back to do battle.
GW: That’s exactly right.
CS: Yeah, you never know, you never can tell.
GW: You spent a lot of time with Amanda Tapping, how was she as an actress and a human being?
CS: She’s: a) adorable, just adorable, and b) what surprised me was that she’s a stand-up comic. Her upbringing, her background is stand-up comedy. Improv comedy. She comes from an improv comedy group and sort of found herself as this iconic science fiction heroine in this terrific show.
But she’s hysterically funny and she comes from a Canadian … like a Groundling, a comedy improv group, she’s hysterical. She couldn’t have been sweeter and nicer to work with. A terrific actress. The whole thing was just really one of those fortunate experiences you have as an actor. You never know what you’re going to get into when you go off to do a show somewhere. Sometimes it’s just like you have to get through it and do the job. And sometimes they just turn out to be a delight, and this was one, from every aspect, turned out to be delightful.
GW: That’s great. It’s just magic, right? Well, the show lasts for twelve years in three different forms. They’ve got to be doing something right. [Laughter]
CS: Yes, exactly. A lot of it was this amazing fan base that just devoured every morsel of it.
GW: Oh, yes. And from Season Eight, “Covenant” is certainly one of my favorite episodes. It did something different but it was close to home, it was on Earth. It’s not off in the galaxy worrying about some alien race whose about to be blown away by another other alien race. It was even more about us, so it was really good.
So what are you currently working on that we should keep a look-out for?
CS: Right now I just did the last couple of episodes of Mad Men, a season of Mad Men, which is a very successful AMC show. It’s about advertising on Madison Avenue in the 1960’s. And it just finished its second season. My character, his company merged with the main company, so there’s always a possibility that he might pop up again, which would be great.
I also just did sometime ago, I did a play at the Pasadena Playhouse, which was great to get back on stage. I did a voice for an animation movie that’s coming out around the holiday time with Dustin Hoffman called “The Tale of Despereaux, which is a cute kid’s movie. Kind of like “Ratatouille,” that sort of thing, animation movie.
What else? I’m doing on a job on Friday, I’m doing a couple of days on a movie. I’m keeping busy, no regular gig as they say, not a series as such. But it’s pilot season right now, so you never know.
There’s a very interesting pilot doing the rounds, which I’m going to try and get myself in on. It’s kind of a TV version of “Galaxy Quest.”
GW: Oh, really!
CS: It’s called, “To Boldly Go,” and it’s hysterically funny. It’s a farce. It’s very, very funny. It’s a starship crew, it’s basically a comedy, and it’s very funny. And it takes a lot of archetypal characters from those sorts of shows. It’s really like if you took “Galaxy Quest” and mixed it with — what is that – [I>It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] — one of those quirky comedies they have now, and put it on TV as a series. That’s what you’d get. I’m just trying to get myself in front of them for that.
Otherwise, just bits and pieces, just whatever comes along.
GW: Well, best of luck, Charles. You sure sound like you’re staying busy.
CS: Yeah, trying to keep busy. Doing some other stuff with my brother. We’ve got a couple of internet ventures that we’re into. There’s so much moving onto the Internet now. Like a lot of actors, we’re kind of producing our own material and investigating ways of being our own studios and networks.
So that’s something else that’s keeping us busy. So yeah, keeping busy, keeping afloat, keeping healthy, enjoying life and that’s kind of it, really.