It’s a brand new year, and for Michael Shanks 2009 is a time of transition. Stargate fans will see him again in the role of Daniel Jackson later this year during an appearance on Stargate Universe, and he will reprise the role again for the upcoming third SG-1 film. But with time, all things change. And Shanks’ life is no exception.
GateWorld took time to sit down with the actor during Creation Entertainment’s Annual Vancouver Stargate Convention in April. In this interview, Michael discusses life away from Vancouver, his two-part Atlantis episodes (beware SPOILERS), the third SG-1 movie and his involvement in Stargate audio stories produced by Big Finish.
He also takes time to discuss his involvement with USA series Burn Notice, some other upcoming projects, what it’s like to play roles other than Daniel, and more!
Our interview with Michael runs more than 17 minutes, and is available in video and audio formats. It is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: Good to see you again, Michael!
Michael Shanks: You too!
GW: How is life in Casa de Shanks?
MS: [Laughter] “Casa de Shanks!” Empty right now in our usual house, but we’re down in Los Angeles. For all you burglars out there, our house is empty. But there is a house sitter there, and he’s armed! It’s good! It’s good! We’re just enjoying some sunshine in Los Angeles and doing the L.A. tap dance.
GW: Is it nice being down there as opposed to up here full time?
MS: Just the weather. There’s a lot of things we miss about Vancouver. I mean, it’s very much more peaceful, obviously, and quiet and less stress, living-wise.
We’re just enjoying the weather and the kids are getting to swim every day and things like that. That’s new, because we’ve had terrible winters in Vancouver. Anyone who’s been around Vancouver knows the weather is not exactly the selling point. So it’s nice to be in the sunshine for a change, for sure.
GW: Let’s talk about Atlantis a little bit briefly. The last time I talked to you was just prior to the airing of “First Contact” and “The Lost Tribe” here in the States. Were you happy with those episodes as they were finished? Was there anything you wanted to see in them that you didn’t?
MS: I only saw them on TV, so I only saw them the quick once. I was pretty happy with them. I was very happy with getting to see the pacing and the production value. Everything was great! The first part, especially, was quite big in terms of television. And of course, obviously, working with David Hewlett was a blast.
GW: As far as Daniel’s involvement, or your contribution to the episode, was there anything that you would have liked to have seen done different?
MS: No! I mean, I enjoyed the interplay. It’s one of those episodes that begs for another one. The key selling point for me was like, “Yeah, let’s do that again,” kind of thing. So I wanted to see a little bit more interaction if the show continued. But apparently it didn’t … we’ll get into that.
GW: We’ll get into that! Your relationship with the Asgard has always been very strong. Obviously you play Thor. What was it like going in there and bringing them back?
MS: It was funny, just because they were bad guys this time. So, from a “Michael” standpoint, being able to look at the Asgard who are fine, lovable and cute and then all of a sudden, you went, “You little bugger!” That was quite cute about it
An interesting storyline. I would have liked to have seen more of that fleshed out. What a great antagonist for the team. And interesting, and quite frankly … what’s the best way to put it? A very worthy opponent, for starters, obviously. And just a very palpable, believable twist.
You can really believe that this powerful race … they’re almost too good, our guys in our universe. And all of the sudden, there are these other guys — you go “Yeah, they’re trying to survive and they’re going to be looking out for themselves first.” So it’s almost more palpable than the Asgard we dealt with.
GW: With the success that Ark of Truth and Continuum had, we now know that there’s going to be a third SG-1 movie on the way. We know Brad [Wright] and Carl [Binder] are writing it, and that Martin [Wood]’s going to come back and direct it again. Have you heard anything as far as it? Been approached? As far as a time frame? It’s just been green-lit.
MS: [Laughter] You know, I should be asking you guys the questions. Because apparently you know more than I do. Because I didn’t know that!
I read it actually I think, on GateWorld, that the movie had been green-lit. Unless we’re living in the heads, or on the golf courses, with the producers, they don’t call us and say “Hey, guess what?” until it’s time for a contract.
I know very little about it. I had heard first it was spring. And then it’s summer. And now it’s fall. And I’m going “What’s next?” Next year spring? Next year summer?
GW: Brad’s gone on record stating that the third film is going to be a lot more “Jack O’Neill” centric. And that Rick’s [Richard Dean Anderson] involvement in it will be a lot more than even what was in Continuum. Do you think bringing back the original core group for a much more classic SG-1 feel is the best way to go for a third film?
MS: I think so. We wrapped up our ongoing arc with Ark of Truth, and Continuum was very stand-alone. I think there’s still avenues you could go with the other group. But at the same time I think if you’re going to go around the horn and see what kind of ideas you’ve got, certainly an original team episode centered around Rick’s character, Jack, that certainly harkens back to the days of … And I think, to certainly do it while we’re not pushing around walkers. The sooner the better kind of thing! [Laughter]
I’m curious to obviously see what kind of story we’re going to come up with, but I obviously trust Brad and Carl to come up with something brilliant and see what falls off the truck. But I think it’s a great idea!
GW: When you take a look at the franchise from its early development which started — I think — back in 1996 through the last 13 years, is the Stargate franchise, or brand, in a stronger position now than it was when it first started?
MS: Oh, yeah! Obviously. The franchise itself … there was no franchise. We were just a fledgling show and we didn’t know what we wanted to be when we were starting out.
GW: A spin-off of a big blockbuster summer film …
MS: Which as you know has a great track record. [When you’re] spinning off of films, the success rate is very high …
Absolutely. There is a franchise now. There is a brand name. The fact that there’s so many incarnations of the same thing that are happening. Whether it be the failing video game or … [Laughter] I’m sorry! I had to flag that in there. The video game or the merchandising. The various shows and the movies and whatever. There is a real entity out there.
Obviously it still doesn’t rival something like Star Trek or Star Wars in terms of its size and scope. But the fact that it’s found its niche and it’s part of pop culture now. We never saw that coming! So it’s quite amazing to see the development of it. I’m very curious to see the new show, because I definitely believed that going darker and more serious with the tone was called for. It was necessary. To keep doing the same thing without taking a risk, I think, ran the risk of running it into the ground.
I think you have to try something. Of course, that’s risky itself as well. I’m curious to see it as much as anybody. We’ll just have to see what happens!
GW: You got the opportunity to reprise the role of Jackson for a couple of the audiobooks that were produced on CD for Big Finish Productions. How did that all come about?
MS: I kind of got called up out of the blue. They said some people in England were doing these audiobooks and “would I be willing to do it?” After I was done doing a convention or something like that there. And my first thought was, “Wow! Why didn’t somebody think of doing this before?”
GW: It’s a neat idea.
MS: Yeah! Especially with the show winding down at that particular point. And so much back-story that was still left unfulfilled. To actually take some of the actors and tell some original stories. Because it’s a way to keep it alive, and keep it real in the minds of the audience, was a great idea. That was my first reaction to it! “What a great idea. Why hasn’t somebody done this before? It’s ten years later!”
GW: Was it your first foray into voice work?
MS: I had done an audiobook before. This was a bit different. It was a bit more “acty” than the audiobook I did. I tried to keep the acting to a minimum but it just came out. I don’t know why! There was another actor involved in the process. It was a bit more radio play-ish at times.
GW: Between the two, you did one solo and then one with Claudia [Black].
MS: And that was odd, just because Claudia wasn’t there. I was doing the secondary voice on it. So that was a little bit odd. I’m obviously not a terribly experienced voice-alone actor. Claudia actually is. But the best part was knowing Claudia and knowing her rhythms, I was able to figure out where it was going to fit. I still haven’t heard it. But I heard it turned out well! They were good stories, though. I appreciated it.
GW: Last month [March] marked what we can assume will be your final appearance on Burn Notice. [Laughter]
[David Read] I did not know that!
MS: “What makes you assume that? The fact he’s lying in a pool of his own blood?”
GW: I heard him talking about that with Amanda. I thought, “Maybe I should keep my mouth shut. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to hear that, Mike!”
MS: [Laughter] Yeah!
GW: Aside from the flashback possibility…
MS: Yeah, of course…
GW: Were you happy with Victor’s overall character arc over the course of the episodes you did?
MS: I talked about it … I did an audio commentary for the [season] finale for the DVD release with Matt Nix and Bruce Campbell. I really enjoy their company. I’ve become somewhat friends with Matt. He’s smart and funny and professional and very talented as the head of that show. We talked about it at the time we shot it, and we talked about it at the finale, too. When we taped the finale commentary.
And it was very true. He said “You have no idea how many people have been sort of saying ‘Why did you kill off Victor? Why did you kill off Victor?” And he said “But you know what?” And we talked about it before. Having an episode like that for the finale … having a story like that … is worth ten or twenty of the little bits you get when you’re sort of a recurring character.
Victor could just constantly reappear, it would get somewhat annoying after awhile. Victor popping in would be a little bit redundant and repetitive if he kept sort of doing what he was doing. Bothering Michael or whatever.
But to get an episode where you can really dig into it that way and get that back-story and get that stuff…that’s worth ten or fifteen of those. It’s a nice way to go out. I like the character, and I really enjoyed the company of the people on the show. I would have loved to have been in it more, but to go out that way — with that kind of flash and pop –was a nice way to go out. And it was nice that we’ll continue to have an ongoing relationship beyond the show. I had a great time on that show.
GW: With less of your time devoted to specifically Stargate projects, you’re auditioning for a lot more roles in a lot of different areas. Do you find yourself gravitating toward any different types of roles? [Ones] that you haven’t had a chance to do because of …
MS: You know, everything has its merits. I remember stuff like … we’re just finishing pilot season. Stuff like V would come down the pipeline. I was a little bit like, “I don’t know, man.” It’s too much too soon. If given choices, you certainly want to shy away from stuff that you feel is familiar to you and err more towards things that you haven’t done and you want to experience.
And, yeah…the pilot that I’m shooting right now is a show called The Eastmans for CBS. And it’s very subtle. Very sort of contemporary. It’s about the inner relationships between a family of doctors. And it’s much more character drama than it is … You won’t see too many squibs going off on that one, or car chases. Or spaceship chases.
So it’s a lot different. And it’s refreshing in a way. You’re working with some really good actors where you can really see the craft of that character drama coming out. And the real subtlety of the acting going on. So it’s a very different venue. I wouldn’t say I’m drawn to it. I’m just fascinated and happy to be a part of it at this particular juncture.
GW: You’ve got a couple of projects that are coming out here in the next couple of months. There’s Desperate Escape and then there’s Living Out Loud, which I actually think premieres in the States next month [May]. Can you talk a little bit about your roles?
MS: Living Out Loud is with myself and Gail O’Grady. We shot it in Vancouver. We actually shot a year ago. It was supposed to be for Mother’s Day. Yeah … Something screwed up, so they didn’t release it that Mother’s Day. They held onto it and it’s being released this Mother’s Day.
I saw a copy of it. It’s very good. Gail is wonderful in it. It’s a slice of life story about a family and the mother finds out that she’s got breast cancer, and all of the trials and tribulations that go on within the family.
Like I said, after doing so much stuff that’s based in borrowed concepts, and saving the world and saving the universe, and “trying to save your butt from the villains” kind of thing, to do just a sort of simple slice of life family story with kids and home and mortgage is a nice departure. And it’s a good movie. It’s not a thriller and it’s not a creature feature. It’s a slice of life family movie and I really enjoyed doing it as well as really enjoyed watching it. It’s got a nice heart to it.
GW: And what about Desperate Escape?
MS: Desperate Escape falls into the latter category of, you know, loud “DUN-DUN-DUH” music. You know, it’s a Lifetime thriller movie …
GW: So you’re the bad guy?
MS: I’m not saying who I am!
GW: Men are always evil in Lifetime movies.
MS: That’s what I’m saying. If you’re a guy in a Lifetime movie, you’ve got two choices: you’re either not really that important or you’re the bad guy. So, I’ll let you decide what it’s going to be.
GW: This is becoming almost a bi-annual question as far as you and I are concerned, but do we have any more movement on Rage of Angels?
MS: I’m not even talking about Rage of Angels anymore. It’s one of those things where everything I’ve been told, and everything I’ve said, has fallen by the wayside, not been true, or been true but never come to pass.
GW: Is it dead?
MS: No, it’s not dead. It’s not dead. Just in terms of timelines, the last thing I was told, when we talked before, was I thought it was going to be this summer, and there’s no way in heck that that is happening. I prefer to just take the avenue of “hey, when it happens, then I’ll talk about it.”
GW: That very special producer that you guys found, is that person still interested?
MS: As far as I know. But I haven’t talked to Chris [Judge] in a couple months specifically about that subject. I kind of put in on the side burner. I don’t really know what’s going on with it. He would be the one to certainly know more about it. The show runner that was in it, last I heard he was still a part of it. But that changes monthly as well. Who knows?
We’re hopeful, but at the same time you have to be realistic and you have to move forward with what’s in front of you and pragmatic and real. It will hopefully come to pass, but when it does, then we’ll have a conversation about it.
GW: You have to feed the babies.
GW: When we talked last time, we talked a little about Maggie Rose, and you working on that project on Don [Davis]’s behalf and in his memory.
GW: Has anything come to pass on it?
MS: No. I’ve been so busy down in Los Angeles with what’s going on right now that it will literally be in the next couple of weeks that I’m going to be getting into conversations about that. So hopefully! That’s going to be a long process and I have to find the right people.
Looking for financing for an independent film in right now’s economy is just not the best time. I’m not saying there’s not the right person out there, but there’s certainly a lot more leg work that will go into finding the people that will invest in a project that’s small and contemporary and doesn’t hold a lot of “flash pop” value. Do you know what I mean?
GW: I’m sure you’d say that Daniel is a big part of making you a success over the years…
MS: I’m a success? Nobody told me!
GW: As you proceed in your career, you have goals. Even though we love having you back and even though I’m sure you love coming back, is [Daniel] ultimately a help or a hindrance after time?
MS: Oh, there’s no hindrance at all. I think the thing with the venue that we were on, and certainly no offense to the fans who adore this show … we were a small success by television standards. And so, it’s not a hindrance. It’s a wonderful thing to come back to. It’s nice to have a job to come back to, quite frankly.
Most of the time when I’m going out, and I’m seeing this in L.A. a lot, nobody knows who the heck I am. They either know way too well who I am, which is really strange when you go through a bunch of rooms where they go “Who the heck is that?” and then you walk into one room and they go “HI!” And you go, “Wow! They really know!” And they know everything about the show and all this other stuff. And I’ve met a few producers who fall into that category.
But in terms of it being a hindrance, not at all. I think it’s more of a hindrance in my own mind, in terms of lazy actor habits that I fall into.
Not so much what people know or assume. I mean, certainly you could argue that “the things he does on television are close to who Daniel was.” Those are the things you get offered as an actor that you take to pay the bills because they’ve seen you on this show.
Are you going to get typecast? Yeah. But it’s not like I played … I wasn’t Mark Hamill in “Star Wars.” Like I said, it’s a small thing. Most people don’t really know who I am. And when I walk into a room, it’s starting all over again. It’s certainly not [a hindrance]. It’s been a help for a lot of years, and I’ve enjoyed it.
GW: It’s certainly the reason you’re here [at the convention].
Interview and transcript by Chad Colvin