Cliff Simon has had an incredible journey as the Goa’uld System Lord Baal. Introduced as one of many System Lords in the SG-1 Season Five two-parter, “Summit” and “Last Stand,” he stood out above the rest and returned the following season to repeatedly torture Jack O’Neill to death.
After six seasons and one DVD movie, it appears the journey may be over. But who knows what the future holds! Cliff talks with GateWorld about Baal’s journey, the quality of the Stargate: Continuum script, his future projects and charity work.
GateWorld’s interview with Cliff runs almost 28 minutes, and is available in video and audio formats. It is also transcribed below. Listen to the audio version online at your leisure, or download it to your MP3 player!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I’m David Read, once again here with my buddy, Cliff Simon. Cliff, a pleasure to be back with you, in California. Little chillier than usual though.
Cliff Simon: Oh yeah, much chillier, man, this is like freezing. I just took off my outs a few minutes ago and I should have kept them on because my little slip socks are freezing.
GW: Now how long have you been in this area, now?
CS: I’ve lived in Culver City for nearly ten years.
GW: Wow. And you got only your American citizenship just a few years ago, though.
CS: Yeah, 2005.
GW: And you were over here working [with a] green card, I guess?
CS: I was on a green card until 2005, yep.
GW: How are your CDs doing, like particularly, the American Affirmations one, where that is a very important part and also “Renewing Your Mind?” I’m sorry, the other title.
CS: “Stress, It’s All In The Mind.”
GW: That’s right.
CS: They are doing good. American affirmations is doing very well. Actually, they’re playing it on the Iraqi troop radio station every day.
CS: Yeah, we’ve had a really amazing feedback from the troops [regarding] how much they love it, and they’re trying to organize that I go on an ISO tour to Iraq, which I would love to do. Even locally, San Diego down to the naval stations.
It’s been received really well because the troops have felt, “At least somebody’s recognizing we’re doing our job. That’s what we do.” So we’re saying thanks to them because they’re just doing their job. They’re told what to do. The stress CD is not doing as well as I’d thought. It does well if I take CDs [with me] to a convention, myself, and speak to people about it.
Everybody wants the CD. They don’t just want to order it on-line. And also they want me to sign it, which I do at all the conventions. It’s doing well. I think now I might have given it the wrong kind of name because it should have been pushed more as a meditation CD and as a relaxation CD. A lot of people say, “Well, I don’t have stress. I don’t need it.”
GW: Yeah, you’ve learned to live with it.
CS: Yeah, and it’s more about deep breathing exercises for fitness and for health and to stay focused on things like that. So, it might have been the wrong name, but it’s doing OK. I mean, I’m not making a fortune of money out of it, but I didn’t do it for the money at all, I just did it as a project.
The people that have heard it and some teams of youngsters, like fencing teams, they love it. And they have found that it has helped them. So it’s all thru word of mouth. And people who listen to it and practice it every day will tell their friends and their friends will get it, which is the way that I prefer to do it.
I’m not a salesman. I don’t want to just sell CDs like a singer. People must know and be referred to get it, and that’s fine. So, it’s gradually getting better. It didn’t explode onto the scene.
GW: Well you know, a lot of the bigger things kind of just percolate and all of a sudden get bigger and bigger and it’s important that you talk about things that you are passionate about, you know? Centering your mind, centering your body, getting everything in sync.
Where did that stem from for you? Did you find yourself at a point in life where you were really stressed and say, “I have to change something that’s going on in my life.” How did that come about?
CS: Coming from my swimming days, I was always taught to be positive and focus on my sport and focus on what I’m doing. I was very stressed out, especially with competition. I was taught to a certain degree with martial arts, deep breathing exercises, chi exercises, but for competition I realized I have to focus that energy on what I thought at that time was negative energy and turn it into positive energy to give me strength in the water.
And I did that. I would sit there and I would visualize my competitions. I would visualize the actual race a thousand times before I actually swam it so when I came to swim the race, my mind already believed I was the winner.
GW: Because you’d already done it in your head.
CS: Right, right. And people need to do that every day of their life, with whatever. As an actor you visualize yourself working, you go to an audition, you visualize yourself already having that job, or you want to be on a certain show. Visualize yourself on that show, everyday, everyday. Eventually it will come.
It’s just believing in yourself.
GW: And it’s also taking good care of yourself, too. I’m a runner. My record was three miles in thirty minutes, nonstop, until the other day when I decided to stretch before running, I went to four in one attempt only because I decided to stretch. There are certain things that, not everyone, especially me, just doesn’t think of doing that really increases your stamina and how far you can go.
CS: Oh, yeah, it’s preparing your body. You prepare your body and your mind. It’s like anything. You get in your car in the morning when its freezing cold you let it warm up a little bit. The engine’s got to warm up, the oil has got to lubricate and then it goes.
GW: You can’t necessarily cold start it.
CS: Yeah, I did yesterday. I cold-started and picked up a table and today my back is sore. [Laughter]
GW: Cause and effect. [Laughter]
CS: That’s what happens. I didn’t stretch or warm up.
GW: Stargate Continuum, obviously, came out late July. I didn’t want to really talk with you about it until we could really sit down and discuss it. We were really careful about not revealing too much about the spoilers and everything. I had me thinking there was going to be an intimate love scene between Baal and Qetesh. Intimate in one sense, stab right thru the …
CS: Very intimate.
GW: Yes. Tell us about what you thought of the script when you first read it. What potential you saw, how it was executed, what were your feelings about this?
CS: First of all, I thought it was a very well-written script. When I first sat down and read the script I liked it, except for the fact that I felt there was a huge gap in the script where nothing was happening.
GW: Yeah, we were following the team.
CS: Right, we were following them with what’s happened with them. And I felt that’s where it lost momentum for me. And then when I saw the movie I felt that’s where it lost momentum, once again. But I loved the script. And, obviously, in the end, I read I die and I die and I die, but right in the end, I love the fact that the human is now alive. The host body is alive.
And that for me was very interesting because this is a 2000 year old host. Maybe he was a really evil guy, we don’t know. But he has a lot of knowledge. And I think he has a lot of knowledge that the SG team would want to know.
So that leaves a story open. Anything can happen. But I was very happy that, yeah, maybe Baal is dead. We don’t even know. Maybe that was the real Baal. I think it was the real Baal. I think the host is actually more of an interesting character, now that he is human than Baal, and the way that people could relate to the host because he’s a human. It’d be interesting.
GW: Yeah, there have been only a handful of hosts who have returned from being enslaved by these parasites in their bodies. Some of them have more information than others, but they always have an interesting story to tell.
I remember back in the first season, there was a character by the name of Kendra, and she had gotten rid of her Goa’uld by going through a hammer device that had been invented by Thor, but she was just so traumatized that she never wanted to go back. So it seems to me that this would be a really fertile area to explore at some point in the future.
CS: Yeah, definitely, if there is another Stargate SG-1 movie, I think that’s an area that should be explored. I think it’s a very interesting area. Because basically, Baal, or now the host, is like Qetesh and Vala. Following the exact same lines. I think this guy has so much knowledge that he could really help them and work with them, work with the team, against some other big bad guys.
GW: Not laying aside the fact that this character has had an incredible journey already, and this is one of the things I always enjoy talking about you — you’re the longest lasting Goa’uld in terms of the number of seasons that he’s been through and now movies as well. Even if you never do go back to it, this has to have been a rewarding experience when you look at it as a whole.
CS: Yeah, it’s been amazing, I mean, the whole trip, the six or seven years that I worked with them, five seasons and the movie, I was very, very lucky and I have such a great character. I mean, I love my character. I love him.
I’ve been asked before, and maybe you’ve asked me who else would I want to play, and there’s actually no one else. I just found my character so interesting and every time he had dialogue it was interesting stuff, what was going on. I found even watching the movie, because I kind of removed myself and I really just watched the movie as a movie, and every time Baal was on screen, it was kind of interesting. It was like, what’s he going to do now?
When I watch any movie I like a character that I don’t know what he’s going to be doing next because that’s what makes it interesting, that’s what keeps me watching. And I found that with Baal. But, yeah, [I’m] very lucky to work for so long and I’m very sad it’s over. Hopefully it will lead to some other things. You know, we’ll see what happens.
GW: One of the classic problems with the Goa’uld is that they are the ultimate bad guy, but if you’re not careful, they can be very flat because ultimate evil, and evil for the sake of evil is not interesting.
CS: Right, exactly.
GW: And that was one of the reasons, obviously, surely, why they said, “We saw him in ‘Summit’ and ‘Last Stand.’ He’s interesting, let’s bring him back.” There was a spark in his eye there. I know you told me once about playing off of Anna Louise Plowman as Osiris. “Hmm, let’s dress her down with my eyes.”
CS: Exactly. They definitely saw that there was more to this guy than the typical Goa’uld, I think. And that’s how I play it.
GW: And someone obviously picked that up, because Baal eventually became the Goa’uld who thought outside the box. In Continuum, that’s one of the things that I would have been really interested to see. It seems like, had not Qetesh not intervened with all the other System Lords and stopped him from touching down on Earth and saying, “Hello, what can we do for humanity?” He might have succeeded.
CS: Yeah. “I think it would have been great if that did happen because, the only time we saw Baal on Earth was in “Ex Deus Machina” where he had these suits on and he just looked like a normal, everyday business guy. And I think it would have been great to get him back on to earth dressed like that and not looking like a Goa’uld. You never know. It can happen again.
GW: You never know.
CS: It could happen again, yeah.
TameFarrar: He has the greatest fashion sense.
CS: It’s alien suits, man, [I] love them [Laughter]. Which they didn’t give to me. I asked them, and they didn’t give it to me. I’m like, “Who else is going to wear these suits? They are made for me.”
GW: They fit you. Some of them are being auctioned off on line right now. Maybe you’re going to have to go and place your bid.
CS: I’m sure, I’m going to have to go and put up my bet. [Laughter]
GW: For Continuum, was the shooting more straining? Was it tighter than the TV show? Was it a little bit looser? Were there more opportunities for you to perfect and tweak? How was it compared to the series?
CS: Because the show was bigger and sets were bigger, it took a long time to shoot. Because Brad [Wright] was on set every day, he wanted it a certain way. So when you’ve got the producer sitting on set, and the writer sitting on set, they want it a certain way. Whereas in the episodes it was more about, “Let’s get these scenes shot. Let’s get it done. We’ve got to get it out.”
So they paid a lot more attention, so it took a lot longer to do. But as far as pressure, no. There wasn’t more pressure on me. I put pressure on myself to do as good as I can when I’m filming, so I kind of felt the same. But there was a lot more opportunities for me to do what I wanted to do. Because it took more time so we did more takes, so it gave me more opportunity to, “OK, I’m going to try it this way. I’m going to try it that way.”
GW: But Brad let you. I mean, he let you act.
CS: Oh yeah, Brad was amazing, because he never once came to me and said, “Cliff, don’t do that, do this.” Never once, and for me, that’s a professional. He let me do my job and I let him do his job. And I think that makes a great producer.
GW: Well, I remember you said at Gatecon, I’d love for you to tell this story again. Because, I got a kick out of it. The “Cliff, I want you to scream” story. You specifically said, you try not to say no to a director. But you know this character, you know Baal, you were willing to stand up for him and fight for him when someone tells you to do something specific. Tell us about that.
CS: Yeah, a lot of times on screen, sometimes you as the actor will do something that doesn’t work. For you, it feels like it works, but for the cameras it doesn’t work. So the director will come and say, “Look, that doesn’t work, try it this way.” Then you’ll try it that way. But Peter DeLuise came up to me in one episode.
GW: Who is an actor, by the way, as well as a director.
CS: Who is an actor, but I think he was bringing … You see, he started acting for me, and he knows that. If he ever saw the interview. That’s the problem you get with a director who’s been an actor or who is an actor. He’ll start acting for you, instead of directing. And a director must never tell an actor how to act. We’ve all got our own jobs.
Peter came in and started telling me how to act. OK, so there was explosions going off in the mothership, in the throne room. And Peter said, “OK, Cliff, when the explosions go I want you to scream.”
And I looked at him and I’m like, “You want me to scream?” He said, “Yeah, just react to the explosion and I want you to scream, like, ‘Aaah!'”
I’m like, Peter, no, Baal doesn’t scream.
GW: There’s no way.
CS: This guy has killed millions. He’s been in wars, galactic wars. He doesn’t scream when an explosion goes off. Come on. And he’s like, “You’re not going to scream?”
I said, “No! I’m not going to scream!” [Laughter] It was amazing. And we had a little break and one of the cameramen came up to me, I don’t remember who it was, and said, “You’re not going to scream are you?”
GW: So he agreed too!
CS: So I said, “No.” He said, “Good.” [Laughter] It was amazing, yeah it was. And it was really funny. Peter didn’t mind. He let me do my own thing.
GW: He’s a good guy.
CS: Yeah, it’s just really funny that he asked me to do that. It was really funny. I had some situations in South Africa on the show I was on, where they asked me to do certain things, and I said “No, I’m not going to do that,” with my character.
GW: Well, it helps when you have clout.
CS: Well yeah, because an actor knows his character. No one else knows the character. The character’s mind, what’s going on in his mind, like the actor because you’re the character.
When someone comes and tells you to do something, even the writers, and they say, “Look, you should do this” and you say “No, that’s not the character.” Yes, in the first few episodes, for sure. It was the first season, I might have listened to what Peter was saying.
GW: Right. But you’re still trying to multi-character, too, at that point.
CS: Yeah, but this stage, I’d been in the show three or four years, I know Baal is not going to scream at an explosion.
GW: Well it’s all in the eyes. We’ve seen him give the eyes to O’Neill. When he’s pissed, it’s in here, you know? And it’s not just the glowing, it’s the … “I’m going to take care of you!”
You were working with Richard Dean Anderson a couple of scenes in the movie. What was it like being back with Rick again? Most Baal fans say Abyss is their favourite episode. It was such a great character piece. There was such torment in it.
CS: Yeah. You know, my one regret in the whole show is I never got to work with Richard more often. We just never worked enough together, and I really think that Baal and Richard were the most interesting. When we were together, the relationship and the kind of joking we had between us was one of the most interesting things in the show.
We just never really got it together and then he ended the series. But it was great for him to be back in the movie. I mean, that first scene which we shot with the killing of Baal and I saw him, it was really cool. Because, I missed that interaction with him.
When he looks at Baal, he looks at him with like “You’re such an idiot.” And I love that. I love it. Because that’s the kind of eventually what became Baal’s sense of humor as well, because that’s how he looks at people. So we had such a good interaction between the two of us. In the movie, there also wasn’t enough. There should have been more. There really wasn’t enough. He wasn’t in the movie enough.
GW: Yeah. I was lucky enough to be in the theatre with the cast and crew when they were screening it. I remember I hadn’t seen the photos that had apparently been released that showed Baal murdering Jack, and when that happens, because we think that this whole thing is about Baal meeting his end, then all of a sudden we see O’Neill going bye-bye.
CS: Yeah, yeah, that was a shock.
GW: And then, it’s like, “I’ve got you again,” from “Abyss.” “Here’s my last love song to you and then he pounds him with the stake.
CS: Yeah, I love that scene. I love it. When I saw that in the script I thought, “That is great. That is going to work so well.” And it did. It was really good.
GW: Was there anything in the script, any scenes in the script that didn’t get shot that you were looking forward to? Is there everything?
CS: No. Everything I did was in and they didn’t edit anything out, which is great. Yep.
GW: So still a highlight for you is that close up scene between you and Claudia [Black]?
CS: Yeah, I love that kind of work. Even though there was, for me, minimal dialogue in it, it was just great. I loved it.
GW: Yeah. Dialogue isn’t everything, is it?
CS: Yeah, it was intense, and obviously, Claudia is just so good. She’s captivating, so, it was great. Yeah, it’s still my favorite scene.
GW: We’ve never talked about your charities. Specifically, your bully breed efforts. I’d love for you to talk about that.
CS: Yeah, Karma Rescue is the organization in LA that specializes in Pit Bulls, Pit Bull rescue. If any other dogs are brought to them, they will obviously take them in if they can. I think at the moment, they have something like 60 animals, and they can only take so many.
It costs thirty thousand dollars a month to keep all these animals around every day, and that’s all donations only. So I work with them. I’m really a spokesperson for them when it comes to doing any kind of television shots or any kind of public voiceover stuff or anything like that. So, I haven’t been with them on any rescues and I still want to go. They know I want to go. They are very dangerous.
What happens is, if police go and raid a dog fighting unit or whatever. They go to somebody’s house and arrest the people, and there’s dogs there and they’re Pit Bulls, they will straight away call Karma Rescue and just give them the address. So when the guys from Karma Rescue arrive there’s no one in the house but the dogs.
Now the problem is that there’s neighbors, and generally the neighbors know each other and in the areas that they go into, like in downtown LA and East LA, it’s very dangerous because you are an outsider when you go in there. So immediately, they are kind of like, “What are you doing in the street?” And that guy who has just been arrested is probably his friend.
So, when they go in to take the dogs, they’ve had a lot of flack sometimes coming from the neighbours coming outside and getting pretty aggressive with them. And the police don’t want to be involved in that. It’s totally up to the rescue organization to take them.
At the moment they have five puppies, beautiful little blue pits, which are just beautiful. If I didn’t have my dog, I’d be fostering. And one day when I don’t have Harley anymore with me, I will foster dogs. And I won’t keep one on a permanent basis. I’d rather take one for a few weeks and let it have fun and get used to being with a human and then give him back and take another one, and do that kind of thing.
They work on donations. Obviously, I’ve got a link on my website. People can just link straight through to them and donate whatever they want, even if they have blankets, or anything like that, that they don’t want it anymore. Instead of throwing it in the street, put it in a box and send it to them. Everything, they use. Yeah, that’s about it. There’s a lot of organizations like that in LA. Dog fighting is huge here, unfortunately.
GW: It’s all underground. It’s all illegal.
CS: Yeah, it’s all illegal, and the whole thing with Michael Vick, thank God, brought it all to a head and made people aware of it again, that this is going on. And Pit Bulls are the greatest dogs on Earth. They really are the sweetest dogs. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes, dogs that have been wanting to rip people’s arms off when they have approached them, three months later, they are the best pet.
GW: So this rescue specifically deprograms them?
CS: Yeah, what they do is they give him to a guy called Brandon. He’s a dog whisperer, the same as Caesar Shavez. They used to work together. And what Brandon will do [is] keep them at his compound with a whole pack of dogs.
GW: Yeah, and the dogs work together.
CS: And the dogs actually get that dog right, more so than a person. And then they start getting fostered out and at the end of the day, a good ninety percent of them are all ready to go to homes, and be with kids, and everything. Sure, you’ve always got to watch a dog like that.
GW: Oh, of course, if they have history, you know?
CS: If you’ve rescued a dog like that, and it’s like any dog, you don’t let a little kid run up and put his face in the dog’s face and grab, because any dog, if he feels threatened, is going to snap.
And, unfortunately, it’s one of those things when a Pit Bull does it, they are very, very powerful, and they’ll kill you. As opposed to a little poodle doing it, you’ll get a bite. But a Pit Bull will kill you. He can bite your arm off if he wants. But that’s with any animal. You’ve got to be aware of it. But they are America’s sweetheart dog. The Pit Bull is an American dog.
GW: Yeah, I completely agree.
CS: They all have a turn. Rottweiler’s, German Shepherds, they’ve all been through this. Now it’s the Pitt Bulls. We just got to get people out of this and stop the dog fighting.
GW: So, how do fans get involved in that?
CS: If they are in the LA area, go on the website, go to Karma rescue. They are always looking for volunteers to help with the rescue days. They have rescue days down the road at these big pet stores.
They need people to come in there and walk the dogs all day because the dog will never sit in his cage for longer than twenty minutes. He’s constantly walked and then put back in the cage. You work them like a rotation. They are always looking for volunteers to go in there, start working with the dogs, feed them, give them water, sit there and play with them.
GW: Be with them.
CS: Be with them, yeah. People come up and ask you about the animals, and that’s what I do. On the weekends when I am around, I’ll go to the dog adoptions and spend the whole day and walk them. It’s a lot of fun. And it’s very rewarding and it’s very sad, but it’s very rewarding. The hardest thing is at the end of the day, putting the dogs back in their cage and they’re going to go back to the rescue center, you know.
GW: What got you interested in Pitt Bulls to begin with? Did you see something when you came over here or did you grow up with them?
CS: You know, I didn’t grow up with Pitt Bulls at all, but I’ve got Bull Terriers and it’s the same kind of dog, the Spice Mackenzie dog. I had two and now I’ve got one. When I came here and I saw the whole thing with dog fighting going on, and then I got to know Pitt Bulls and I met so many of them.
I fell in love with the kind of dog they are. I just love that kind of dog. They are strong, they are powerful, they are intelligent, and they are very good with kids if they grow up with a kid and they are beautiful animals. Highly intelligent animals and, what I like about them is they are a one man dog.
My dog follows me around the house. And I have a friend who has a Blue Pitt Bull that’s ten years old and where ever he goes, that dog is sitting. He just wants to be with him the whole time.
GW: Could Harley care less for Collette [Cliff’s wife]?
CS: No, he does. [Laughter] Both Collette and I are both the dominant. We are kind of equal in his eyes. It’s quite amazing, yeah, quite amazing.
GW: Yeah both alphas? Yeah, because one master, one pack leader. That’s cool.
CS: Probably because we don’t have kids. It’s just the two of us, and he’s our kid. So, he looks up to the both of us equally. But no, I love Pitt bulls. I love that breed of dog.
GW: Are you actively auditioning anywhere right now? Where should we be keeping an eye out for you?
CS: No. No auditions at all. I’m working on my own projects. I’m producing a western. We have the pilot already. It’s going to be called Dust and we’ve just got a guy on board now. We’ve signed a letter of intent with him. He’s going to be building the Web site and game.
What we are going to do is we are packaging the whole thing together, and we are going to try to sell it. We have the pilot. It’s great. My character’s name is Hoyt Robot. It’s all in steam punk fashion which is like the Wild, Wild, West.
I’m actually robotic inside, but it’s a western. So it’s kind of Goth horror western. It’s going to be a sci-fi show. It’s brilliant. It really is brilliant. I can’t wait to get it off the ground. I’m really excited about it. So my character is a real bad guy, but he’s the good guy. It’s basically a group of lawmen who are taken and turned into these robots for the land owners, for the wealthy land owners.
GW: So he was originally human?
CS: He was originally human, yeah. And they capture these guys, but he’s the only one who escapes with his brain. The other guys have already been through the whole process. So he starts hunting down the other robots who are trying to take over the towns, and all the.. It’s a very interesting story.
He has a son who has never seen him and he gets to meet his son in the end of the pilot. So that we’re going to shoot hopefully, January, February, we’re going to start shooting that. There’s going to be a lot of CGI, a lot of special effects, and it’s quite an exciting little project.
GW: Do you have any networks biting?
CS: Not yet, no. Not yet. And I have a very good friend of mine, Marco Beltrami, who did the composer for “3:10 to Yuma.” He’s given us a letter of intent. He’s going to do the music. And I was really happy to have him onboard because his music is amazing.
GW: When you have the right talent, it’s hard to lose.
CS: Yeah, because he knows westerns. He did the music for “Terminator.” We want a mixture of that. We want “Terminator” meets “3:10 to Yuma.” And it’s going to be great.
The other project, I have the life rights to a black athlete, a swimmer, and I’m busy writing the treatment for that. And that will go into development as soon as the treatment’s done. I can’t say any more about that, though. Hopefully, next year , we will get that into development. I want Will Smith to play the lead. It’s going to be a big movie.
GW: Well, we sure hope that Baal’s journey isn’t over, but it sounds like you’re doing very well and keeping very active and doing exactly what you want to be doing.
CS: Yep, I’m trying.
GW: No greater reward.
CS: Yeah, exactly. Exactly man, it’s great.