If you are an avid Stargate watcher you may think you haven’t seen this face since SG-1‘s “Prototype.” In fact, he has grazed your television screen quite recently!
GateWorld got the chance to catch up with Neil, talking about both his Stargate guest spots, his weird path into the acting world, and his writing career. He reveals his high praise for the Bridge Studios team, his charity of choice, and his eagerness to return in Stargate Universe.
GateWorld’s interview with Neil Jackson runs 26 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe now to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: You have a pretty interesting story. You kind of started off as a boxer, big into sports, and somehow that spinned into acting. Tell us about that.
Neil Jackson: Well I was in university in Cardiff, which is the capital of Wales, and I was studying sport. I was doing my masters in Sports Science. I was a boxer, so I was fighting for my country. I was working in clubs as a doorman.
None of it was really what I wanted to do. The boxing I loved but it had reached a point where I needed to make a decision whether I wanted to be punched in the head for the rest of my life. My coach was talking about turning pro. I’d already won the British title and defended it successfully.
They were talking about turning pro, and I was working the door, which was a seedy world to be working in. I just wasn’t particularly happy. I had six months left to go on my Masters degree. I thought to myself, “When was I happiest?”
From about the age of 14 to 18 I used to do school plays back where I grew up, and played the lead in several of them. People always said I should go into acting. I decided to go the other road and go the sports route.
So I decided I would try to get back into that. I didn’t know how to. I had just done five years of university study and didn’t have the time or the money to go into an acting school. So I decided to write a play that I would then put on in the West End in London, finance it myself, and very naively thought then, of course, agents would see it and fall in love with me and my career would take off from there.
Instead of writing a play I teamed up with a friend of mine from school who was an incredible musician. We wrote a musical together.
GW: OK I was going to ask, “Did you write the music?” So I guess not.
NJ: I wrote the lyrics and the melodies, and I play guitar, so I wrote a rudimentary music bit and he did all the arrangements and everything. But I wrote the book, and we entered it into a competition called the Woolly Mammoth competition which is for unsolicited musicals, new musical writers, and we came third which was startling.
And from that a producer heard it and wanted to do a prepared read-through. We did a read-through for him to see if his company wanted to produce it. He said it was out of their budget but had I ever acted before. I said, “Only as a kid but never studied.” He ran an acting course and offered to put me on the acting course for two years for free if I came and wrote for his company.
GW: Oh, wow. This is Michael Armstrong, right?
NJ: This is Michael Armstrong, yeah. For two years I wrote for his company. I wrote two plays for that company and also wrote a monthly newsletter that ended up becoming a national magazine on theater and film. Every Sunday for seven hours we studied acting in his class. After two years graduated and that was eight years ago now?
I did theater for the first year. I toyed around with various plays and then came into the West End with a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. And then after that did my first TV show which was Heartbeat back in Britain, which would’ve been around about 2002.
I actually wanted to become a Royal Marine. You go to Career Advice when you’re 17. It was mandatory. You sit down with this very stuffy-nosed woman. You say what you want to be in life and then she laughs at you and tells you what you should be.
I remember sitting there at 17 saying, “I want to be an actor” because I loved doing the school productions. I was in National Youth Theatre. And when her giggles subsided we looked at a more realistic career choice for me. My older brother is actually a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force.
GW: Oh wow! OK.
NJ: Yeah, he flies Tornadoes and is actually becoming an instructor on Tornadoes. Another friend of mine was in the Army, so I didn’t want to follow them. I decided to go Navy and decided to become a royal Marine, and went to Lympstone which is the British Royal Marine headquarters. [I] did a weekend course there. There’s a Potential Officers course to see who they want to select to become officers. They loved me but I was 17 and they only take people to officers who have a degree.
They suggested get a degree, which is when I went on to do sports, because it’s the easiest thing that came to me. I’d done sport my entire life.
GW: So this old career woman that told her the true odds — you should send her your résumé now.
NJ: Yeah! It was just one of those things. I had a passion for acting and I instantly saw in her face, and my family was very supportive, but I never knew any actors.
None of my family are in the arts. None of my friends were ever in the arts. It was an absolute dream to try to get into acting and try to see some sort of path in this industry. And I knew nobody that could guide me and tell me a way of doing it. It was very much a pipe dream.
So I think that it was very easily beaten out of me. It wasn’t much of a struggle. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m delusional.” And it wasn’t until six years later when I almost completed my Masters I thought, “I’ll give it a stab.” And came at it from a very bizarre angle. But I wouldn’t change anything now.
GW: Is it harder to get into the industry in Great Britain than it is in LA?
NJ: I imagine it’s about the same. There are massively less jobs, and vastly less opportunities, but comparatively there are vastly less people trying for it. It’s a far more poroquial industry over there. There’s not much money. There’s not much funding. There’s not much opportunity. There’s not much work, but then there’s a smaller group of people who are actually scrubbling for it.
So it becomes more of a cottage village industry. You get to know everybody very quickly. And if you happen to get in and are lucky enough to get jobs and successful then you can keep working very successfully. Because once you get within the inner core you stay there. A lot like LA. Once you get in with the casting directors and in with the employed sector it seems to perpetuate.
GW: You’re much better off. Now your big break was Alexander. Tell us about that!
NJ: Yeah! I met Lucinda Syson, the casting director back in Britain. I read for Hephaestion, which was Jared Leto’s part. She showed the tape to Oliver Stone, and two weeks later I got a phone call saying that Oliver wanted to meet me to read for the part.
Two days before I had been out drinking with a couple of friends and a young man in a pub was very, very rude to a girl that I was with, which lead to an altercation. And I had a black eye and three stitches in my eyebrow.
So I got this call from my agent. I hadn’t told him I got the black eye. I was just hoping nothing would come in. I heal fairly quickly. I was hoping by two weeks the black eye will be gone and the stitches will be out.
GW: Oh, but Murphy’s Law!
NJ: Yeah, exactly! I got this call to days later saying Oliver Stone’s in town for one day, wants to meet me the following day. I was like, “Is there any way you can make it another time? [Laughter] I’ve kind of got a big black eye right now.”
My agent very appropriately said, “Well, that’s your problem. You have to go and deal with it.” [Laughter] So I turned up for this audition very sheepish. I was actually doing a TV show at the time called Red Cap, ironically playing a boxer.
When I went to the read-through for that they were very pleased I had the black eye because at least I looked authentic. I turned up to meet Oliver Stone. He never mentioned the eye at all, and to this day I think the reason I got Alexander was because of the black eye.
Because a few of the comments that he made was that he wanted people who looked warrior-like. People who looked like they could take a beating and would get involved. The way that he shot it and the way that we did boot camp, he made sure we all got down and dirty.
There [were] 12 of us who were in the main core of actors. he cast guys who were very rough and ready. Some guys from the streets of Dublin, and us guys from London. We were all very happy to mix it up. So I think that the black eye ended up helping me get the role, ironically. So I guess I should find that guy in that bar and in some way thank him for getting this stage of my career kick-started.
GW: Well as Oliver Stone, I’m trying to cast someone macho for this part. This guy walks in with a black eye. I must say to myself, “Man, he’s serious.”
NJ: Yeah! “He’s not messing around!”
GW: No he’s not!
NJ: The year later we had the premiere, and the production company actually was going to fly the guys over from Britain, and Colin Farrell very generously paid for first class flights and two nights in a hotel. The eight of us who were the support cast from over and Dublin and London.
So we all flew over, which was ridiculously generous of him and got to see the premiere. I haven’t actually haven’t seen Colin since. I need to thank him, because I extended it by three days. So I was going to stay five days. Met a manager who had been stalking me for the last three years.
I was originally one of the guys they wanted to play Nightcrawler in X-Men 2. They flew me over to Vancouver to play that role and then actually decided that I was too leading man, and they wanted to go slightly a different look. They wanted to go with somebody who was a little more awkward and gangly looking, which at the time I didn’t want to hear.
This manager heard about it and was stalking me. So I ended up seeing her within the five days. She persuaded me to stay for another five. I got an agent while I was out here. She persuaded me to stay for another five. After that total of 20 days in LA I was sold, and I came back April 1st, April Fools Day, the following year.
GW: Wow. So Colin kind of got you a door in there inadvertently.
NJ: Yeah! I’ve had a very bizarre route, from a stuffy-nose woman who told me not to get into acting, who gave me life skills, to a guy who put me on his course because he liked my writing, to a guy who gave me a black eye, who inadvertently got me a role in an Oliver Stone movie — Colin Farrell buying me a plane ticket which ended up getting me an agent.
GW: Hey, if God exists he’s got a sense of humor. [Laughter]
NJ: Yeah, exactly! So yes, it’s been a bizarre route. But as I said I would not change a single moment of it.
GW: Now you first got into Stargate by playing the role of Khalek, Anubis’s son. Did you audition for this or did they offer this part to you?
NJ: No, I did audition for it. I’d only been over in the states for three months. My agent, when I first came here, was only putting me up for features. We were going for features and doing really well.
TV in Britain isn’t great. I know I’m going to get cursed for this. We have the occasional good TV shows. Life on Mars, The Office. That type of stuff comes out as breakouts, but TV and general isn’t great. You don’t aspire to be a TV actor in Britain. And I didn’t know too many American shows.
GW: Stargate is huge in Britain!
NJ: Stargate is huge in Britain, you’re right, but again you don’t aspire to be a TV actor in Britain because that’s all made in America. So when I came over here TV wasn’t something I was looking for. And over three months I was watching TV and loving the quality of TV we have over here, and knew of Stargate, and I actually asked if I could start going out for TV auditions as opposed to just features.
Three days later the Stargate audition came in and I auditioned for it once, and got a call the day after to fly out to Vancouver the day after that. They cast me. So I was incredibly lucky to get involved.
GW: So not a whole lot of prep in terms of portraying Anubis’s son? They didn’t have time to send you any tapes?
NJ: No, what they did do, I flew over and I had 24 hours before I actually had to be on set. I arrived in Vancouver, they did all the costume checks and makeup checks they normally do, and then gave me a homework pile of five VCR tapes. Who Anubis was and the guy that portrayed him.
And of course I ended up working with David [Palffy] on Blade. He ended up playing my character’s henchmen so that was kind of funny. My dad ended up working for me. [Laughter]
I ended up watching these five tapes. The thing I loved about Stargate, and I actually said this to Robert Cooper when I worked on the last one. It’s so good, which is why obviously everyone’s anticipating Stargate Universe.
I’d watched the first tape, and thankfully I had other tapes to go on to, but after the first tape I wanted to put the next tape in, and I wanted to put the next tape in, and after the five tapes they gave me, I ended up asking for the two tapes that would round out that storyline I was watching just to watch because I was hooked on the story. So yeah I was very pleased to work on it.
GW: That’s great. So it wasn’t just a part for you. It was like,”I’m getting into this thing.”
NJ: I’d seen a couple of episodes when I was back in Britain, but never got into it. Yeah, I really like it. I think it’s a great show. I was disappointed to hear that SG-1 got cancelled, and now Atlantis has got cancelled and hopefully it’ll springboard the success for Universe, which has got an amazing cast at the moment. They’ve really done well.
GW: Yeah, they’ve got a lot of great people. Robert Carlyle’s big in Britain, right?
NJ: Robert Carlyle. I’ve respected that guy for years. There was a show called Cracker which was on. A little bit like In Treatment that they have right now, which is about a psychiatrist that psychoanalyzes criminals and finds a way to get them to confess. Kind of like “The Closer” meets In Treatment.
And he did an episode which was so creepy way to play, just a hooligan. And I was a fan of him from then. Of course he went on to do Trainspotting. The guy’s incredible. I know he’s going to do wonders with that show.
GW: I haven’t seen a lot of the stuff that he’s done, unfortunately. And I kind of want to keep it that way because I want to keep him all to myself in Universe because everyone’s just talking about him and I don’t want there to be any false expectations, because he’s being built up in my mind.
NJ: Some people get built up and they’re being set up for a fall. They can’t quite live up to the hype. He’s brilliant. He’s one of those actors that I just think has gone from strength to strength over the years, and he’s really carefully chosen good projects to work on, which is a real testimony to the Stargate universe and to Robert Cooper, that he’s chosen his first TV series that he wants to work on is this one. I think it’s very smart. I can’t wait to see it.
GW: In “Prototype” you spent a lot of time working with Robert Picardo. What did you think of the guest stars that you worked with? What did you think of that script? How it turned out, how it was executed.
NJ: I thought it turned out brilliant. I was actually surprised they gave it to me because when they sent the breakdown out they said “Star names only.” That was all they were going for.
I remember reading the script and thinking, “You know they can get a lot of good people to go for this role.” It’s pretty much centered around Khalek. They were also talking about the potential of bringing him back. At one point they were talking about bringing him back for the Stargate movies that they did after SG-1 finished. It was a fascinating part.
That was the first time I’d ever done any work with CG. With me actually doing stuff with it. There had been CG in the background that I didn’t have to act off. But stuff where bullets are deflecting off my character. It was so much fun to watch that afterwards and see the way that they created this character within the computer generated stuff. It was a hell of a lot of fun to work with.
I remember having great conversations. We were staying in the same hotel, me and Robert. We’d go for breakfast every day in this little crepe place that was just opposite the hotel. We had common friends that we knew from the industry. He’s a fantastic guy. I was very happy to see that he was in the episode that I was in on Atlantis when I played the Wraith. We got to catch up there.
GW: That’s right. He became series regular.
NJ: Yeah. We got to catch up and see how things were. He was also very generous. I run a charity back home for spinal injuries and both him and all the Stargate people have been so generous with signing stuff and giving me things to send back to the charity. I actually made over a thousand pounds for the charity just for the Stargate stuff that’s been sent.
GW: Oh wow. What is it again? Is that your specific charity?
NJ: It’s called TrustPA. A friend of mine, when I was in university with, ended up getting a C1-C2 fracture, the same as Christopher Reeve, and he died six months later from a heart attack. And his family, with a couple of close friends, we all set up this charity to raise awareness of spinal injuries and also to put back into spinal research. We have auctions three times a year and events that we all go to.
GW: Do you have a Web site?
NJ: There is a Web site. It’s TrustPA.com. Ioan Gruffudd is one of the other patrons. He was Mr. Fantastic from The Fantastic Four — the stretchy guy. So we were able to get some good stuff to send off to make money. But Stargate has been incredibly generous. So I’ve always thanked them very much for that.
GW: That’s great. We’ll definitely link to that on the Web site. So how did it come about for Atlantis? Now were you asked to do that part for Atlantis, the Wraith, or did you go out for that?
NJ: Robert wrote the script and knew he was directing it and he called me. He actually called and said, “Ideal, we’d love you to do it. I know you’ve been really busy.” I’d just done Bond and Push was coming out. Things were moving for me, but he said “I’d love you to do it.”
I was incredibly flattered that he thought of me. Read the script, and it was so much fun to do. I’ve never done full prosthetic work. I’ve done small prosthetic work. So I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.” I flew up there for the two weeks to shoot it.
It was the most fun that I’ve ever had. I can honestly say that. We did a full body prosthetic thing. So it took eight hours to prepare this body prosthetic. And then every day it was five hours in makeup to put on all the work that they did.
So I got to know the makeup guys really, really well. But it was so much fun working on it. Because all of the work had been done in the script and the way he directs and in the prosthetics, for me it was basically walking in a mask and grunting. I got to have a lot of fun with it.
GW: Yeah, you didn’t have any dialogue and yet you can still mop up the floor. [Laughter]
NJ: It was great. To be in Vegas.
GW: Oh so you did shoot in Vegas!
NJ: Yeah, we did shoot in Vegas.
GW: How many days were you there?
NJ: We were in the Hard Rock Café. We shot for four days in Vegas. The bit when my character jumps off the roof was the top of the Hard Rock Café.
GW: Did you get to do that?
NJ: I didn’t get to do that. I had an amazing stunt guy who did that for me.
GW: Nine stories.
NJ: Yeah, he was incredible. My girlfriend’s a stuntwoman. So I’m always in awe of these people They have a completely different relationship to pain than every other human being. And also a relationship to fear.
He’s standing on top of this 60-foot drop to a small airbag that looks like a postage stamp from up there. And there’s no hesitation, 3-2-1, and he just jumps off and leaps in the air. “Cool, want to go again?” Whereas my innards would be outside just looking over that thing.
GW: Oh, so you wouldn’t have done it!
NJ: Oh, no way. God, no way! No. I’ll happily run down the halls of a hotel, but jumping 60 foot off a roof, yeah, I’ll leave that to a professional. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.
GW: That’s great. Man, oh man. That was a good show. Second to last episode of the series. Rob was really going out on a limb in terms of what Stargate really was. A lot of people say, “It’s not Stargate really at all, we aren’t at the base,” or anything like that. It just has a bunch of characters and is outside the bubble of the Stargate entity. But it was so well written and so well executed, I think it blew everyone away.
NJ: Yeah! Just the scale of it as well. I remember giggling with Robert. He put in the script, you know the opening bit. Out in the desert it says Sheppard’s driving along and in his car he’s got Johnny Cash playing.
In the script, “Driving along. It’s dusty. He’s moody. He looks like he’s hung over, with Johnny Cash (hopefully) playing on the radio.” And he put in so many calls to get that. He pretty much got whatever he wanted for that episode.
And that final explosion? I remember we were all on set and we were behind these barriers with the fire safety guys. That was huge. We were maybe 80 to a hundred feet back from the explosion and all of us took a step back with the heat of the blast. It was a massive explosion that they did. So much explosive material was crammed into that small little trailer. And it turned out really, really well.
GW: Wow, that’s excellent. So Stargate Universe. If they offer you a guest spot of that are you on board?
NJ: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve said this to Robert. I knew from talking to him there wasn’t a part that would suit me for the regular cast for Universe, and he kind of apologized for that. He said that anything that comes up we’d love to get you in. I’d love to do it as well. More than any other show or film I’ve ever worked on, they have a real family feel to them.
My girlfriend’s sister, her best friend in Australia is a huge Stargate fan. Five years ago she said she put on this little dream board, and she said it’s her dream to be on the set of Stargate Atlantis one day.
When we found out that I was going to be on Stargate Atlantis she flew herself over. She actually sold her car. Can you believe this? She sold her car to buy a flight to come over to Vancouver to be able to be there on the set. And the thing that was the most lovely, she was only there for three days.
I took her on set, I introduced her to Robert, I introduced her to all the cast. She got a photograph and everything else like that. Now they could’ve just done that, but the moment they found out where she’d come from and everything else, next thing I know she’s sitting behind video village with Robert Cooper with the headphones on watching the takes and talking to him about the script.
She’s got a script in her hand and she’s reading through the takes that’s going. She got tours around the place. They were just so welcoming and so friendly. They were all saying goodbye and giving signed DVDs for her and things like that.
It was just so amazing to watch how welcoming they were to a friend of a friend of mine when I’m only a guest star on the episode. Everyone was just so friendly.
GW: So you would’ve been willing to put your movie career on hold if you could’ve gotten a chance to be a regular on Universe.
NJ: I would’ve loved to have done a regular on Universe. The fact that Robert Carlyle … Robert Cooper was very, very secretive. I mean, I remember kind of grilling him a little bit trying to find out a little more just to see if there was any avenue that there might be something for me to play on it. He ended up saying “I’m afraid, unfortunately at the moment, out of the regulars that we’ve got there’s nothing you’d be perfect for.”
But I would’ve loved to have played a role on that. I’m sure something’ll come up. My girlfriend actually just did a day on Universe. She just went in two days ago —
GW: — as a stunt woman?
NJ: As a stuntwoman. She went up and did a big stunt for one of the leads that they have. She’s been very tight lipped of the nature of it. Just the stories she’s told, Robert reiterated, “Please give Neil my best, and something will be coming up soon.”
I’d love to. I just love those guys. They’ve been so welcoming and so friendly to me. That was my first job when I came to LA and I’d gladly work with them again and again.
GW: That’s awesome, dude. So what’s next for you? You’re in LA right now, I presume auditioning. You’ve just gotten off of Quantum of Solace.
NJ: Yeah, I’m auditioning. I’ve got a film called Table for Three coming out with Brandon Routh, Superman himself, which is a comedy. I don’t think they have a distribution yet. It’s being done by StarMedia. So that should be coming out middle of this year.
And I’m writing a lot. I’ve had two films that I’ve written have been made. Getting distribution on the second one which is a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, set in the world of Portuguese soccer.
It’s a really fun movie. The idea being the Montagues and the Capulets, the two feuding families, are actually feuding soccer teams. And you have the daughter of one side being just Juliet, and the lead strike on one side being the Romeo, and the metaphor of football — soccer being the fights. So the three fights are actually soccer games
It’s actually getting really good praise on the festival circuit. I’m hoping to sell that and get distribution. I’ve got two features in development at the moment that I’ve written, so yeah, that stuff’s moving.
GW: So balancing your time between writing and acting?
NJ: Yeah. It’s a perfect balance for an actor because we get a lot of “lay time” in between auditioning, and actually when you’re on set. There’ll be a lot of time you’ll sit in a trailer for four hours while they’re setting up a shot. It’s perfect, just to have a laptop and tap away. And I love them both equally. The fact that I’m able to orchestrate both sides of the career with ever increasing success, I’m very, very blessed. I touch wood as I speak to you.