Fruitful Journey

An Interview With Michael Kopsa

GateWorld talks with "General Kerrigan" actor Michael Kopsa.

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Duration: 0:20:06 | 18.5MB

The economic crisis of the past few years has made things interesting not only for Americans but for much of the developed world. Vancouver entertainers are no exception, and journeyman actor Michael Kopsa doesn’t mince words. GateWorld caught up with him at this year’s Creation Vancouver Stargate convention!

Kopsa tells us about his journey as an actor, his experiences as General Kerrigan in the Stargate SG-1 episodes “Prodigy” and “Proving Ground,” the fan convention phenomenon and some of his most recent projects!

This interview runs approximately 20 minutes and is available in audio. It’s also transcribed below!

GateWorld: For, I’m Darren Sumner. I’m here — pleasure — with Mr. Michael Kopsa.

Michael Kopsa: Thank you, very much.

GW: General Kerrigan on Stargate SG-1.

MK: That’s right. Happy to be here.

GW: We appreciate you taking some time with us. Before we talk about Stargate, just run us through the high points in your career and what led you up to your work on Stargate.

MK: Well, thanks. I’m a working professional here in Vancouver, so we’ve have had lots of chance[s] to do some really nice projects. I think folks would recognize me from Fantastic Four as the banker that Doctor Doom eventually does in, in the car park, a big hole in the socket. This is what my friends tell me — they recognize me from that. Also from “Watchmen.” I was proud to be part of the “Watchmen” project. Not as much screen time as I would have liked to have seen.

GW: Watchmen brought a lot of people to a lot of work.

MK: I’ll tell you. Recently, I worked on film with Jennifer Aniston, and Aaron Eckhardt and Martin Sheen was the co-star. It was at the time it was called “Traveling.” I think it is being released under a new name, which I haven’t seen yet.

Yeah, doing a lot of film and TV projects up here. I was recurring on a project up here called Falcon Beach. It was a made-in-Canada series. It did OK for a couple of seasons. Canada is a tough country to produce TV in. It is just not a big population base. So, we do a lot of American productions. Obviously Outer Limits, I am like a veteran of. I think four or five episodes of that.

Kopsa appears as General Kerrigan in “Proving Ground.”

Dead Zone was good for me, I ended up being a recurring character. Jake Truax, or “Treau,” depending on how you spell it. Actually, the writers didn’t know how to pronounce the character’s name. So, we were continually improvising with it. So, that was a great gig. Stargate, I enjoyed it. I just didn’t get enough air time on the show. But I had a great time on set. Peter Deluise was directing and he is fantastic.

GW: I imagine you have seen a lot of change in the Vancouver film industry over the last few years.

MK: Yeah, even in the last few years. Definitely. When I came out here in 1994, it was a hay day. X-Files of course was the big show among others.

GW: Were are you from originally?

MK: Toronto. I trained in New York [at the] Circle in the Square Theater School. The North Shore at Lions Gate Studios, Canal — Is it Steven J Canal? I never knew how exactly to pronounce it, and it is terrible since he kept on hiring lot of us — they were producing lots of different kinds of series. Boy it was the hay day. Everybody was working.

When 9/11 happened, there was a significant decrease in productions that were being shot here. At the same time that year, those that can remember back, there was a writers strike in LA. Also, SAG [Screen Actors Guild] was threatening to have a massive actors strike in support of the writers’ strike. The combination of 9/11, that writers strike, and the uncertainty with SAG, virtually cut our production in half.

Since then, like most industries in the world, whenever there is a shortage of work you can discipline the labor force. Meaning, you can offer them a lot less money and we will take it because that’s the only game in town. Since the year 2000, I would say, on the average day a working journeyman actor, like myself, we have clawed back around 75 percent. So, for us we have taken about a 75 percent cut in pay over the last [few years] and instead of it going up we’ve been continually going down. But having said that, Vancouver remains pretty strong. Lots of shows going on.

GW: You are back up to 70 percent?

MK: No, 75 down.

GW: You are up to 25 percent?

MK: Yeah, basically, on an average day. That’s been a bit hard. But it’s everywhere. I have friends that work in LA and same thing. In fact, there’s less work. So, we’re still lucky here. Like so many of my fellow actors on the panel today, we do a lot of voice-over, cartoons, we do everything. You have to, to make a living. We’ve been fortunate.

GW: Your character on Stargate, General Kerrigan was introduced in the fourth season episode “Prodigy.”

MK: There you go. I knew it was the fourth season, I have to say I was cheating today. I was looking up my IMDB resume, going “OK, what episode was that?” It was fourth season for sure. That was great and my scene primarily with Amanda Tapping, who is got to be the sweetest.

GW: Did you enjoy working with her?

MK: Oh, she’s fantastic. She is Canadian, and I don’t think it’s because she is Canadian but maybe it helps. She would welcome every actor on set warmly. There was never a sense of “I am the big star here and you are just a fill-in for the day.” There was never a sense of that, and both on set and in the make-up and hair room. You know, it was very positive. And, to this day, she’ll remember me. If not by name, then by “we did that, General Kerrigan, right?”

GW: He was a significant character even though you didn’t do a whole lot of episodes or have a lot of screen time. General Kerrigan is a significant character in Stargate history because of this connection with Samantha Carter’s back-story at the Air Force Academy and that he eventually gets brought into the inside. Then during your next appearance in “Proving Ground” in Season Five, now he knows about the Stargate program.

MK: Well there you go.

GW: He has finally gotten the secret told.

MK: I admire your research.

GW: Well, it’s necessary as a fan of the show. That was an interesting switch for the character and it happened completely off screen. There was never a point that General Kerrigan was sat down and briefed on screen.

MK: Really, it got down to me for one good scene. I bet you know this: the name of the actress who played the cadet?

GW: The character’s name is Jennifer Hailey.

MK: Do you know the actress’s name?

GW: If I sat here for a few minutes …

Though they’ve known each other mere minutes, Kopsa must establish a convincing deep-seated relationship with Samantha Carter.

MK: You know what, I bet you could. It was her first appearance on the show, as far as I know.

GW: “Prodigy,” yeah.

MK: Yeah, terrific. That young bunch of folks, the young cadets. You know what, I’ve never seen the episode. It is hard to get those episodes. So, I guess, I’ll have to go and rent season four, like everybody else and start watching it. How did I do?

GW: I think it was a great show.

MK: Fake, that puts you on the spot.

GW: I asked for the interview because I am a fan. And Kerrigan is such an interesting guy. With Samantha Carter’s back-story, she goes to the Air Force Academy and your character introduces her to Cadet Hailey.

MK: There was a sense of history and Amanda was great with that.

GW: She was your pupil. She was your protégé who has gone on to bigger and better things.

MK: So I am her mentor. So immediately there is a connection. As so typical in TV land, we’d never met before that episode. We had no chance to rehearse. So [you] just basically on the spot invent whatever you can. We were both cognizant that there was, as you say, this back-story and what are we going to do?

GW: There needs to be some sort of —

MK: Absolutely. The occasional look. As you know, it all gets said in a look of an eye. It was a lot of fun. I wish it had gone on.

GW: One of my favorite things about that episode that I love is Kerrigan very obviously knows that Sam has become involved in something very big and very top secret and sort of teases her a bit: “Unless you want to tell me what it is that you are doing.”

MK: You have me at a disadvantage. As I said, I haven’t seen the episode. I remember how we shot the scene. Very quickly, as usual.

GW: Your casting originally, that just the typical agent, submission, go in?

MK: Yep.

GW: Does anything stand out in your mind about how that came about?

MK: No, you know, that’s easy for me, the high status authoritarian figures. It’s just the way I look and my voice. Nothing could be farther from the truth, in reality. I am not that guy at all. Well, maybe I might be if I were in a position of authority. No, they had that decision made pretty early and there was no call back. I think they cast right off. But, they are very smart like that. Their casting has been great. I remember seeing Jacob Horn, who’s a good friend.

GW: They must know pretty much everyone in town.

MK: Oh, I think so. They’ve seen everybody. What, with how many series now? Spin-offs?

GW: They are on the third series.

MK: And of course, Paul McGillion is a good buddy of mine and it was great to see him get that role. And, he deserves it and he did a great job. It was fascinating to see the fan base that he had to bring him back.

GW: Were you surprised when they called you back for another episode the next year?

MK: Honest to God, was it a year later?

GW: A little less than a year.

MK: No, I was happy of course. We are always happy to work and that’s a great series. And that scene it was with Richard Dean [Anderson] and Don Davis. Don Davis is, have you had a chance to interview Don Davis?

GW: Yes, I have interviewed him.

MK: Isn’t he a sweetheart?

GW: Tremendous, tremendous.

MK: What a humble man. (deep voice) He’ll start telling you about that time. He is from the south. Is it Texas? Atlanta?

GW: Missouri or Texas.

MK: Something like that. You know it was one of those days where he couldn’t remember those lines. It’s kind of like a brush fire. He couldn’t remember his lines. Then it came around on me, and I went, “I can’t remember my lines either.” Richard, I think, lost a couple of his.

Carter and Kerrigan deal with the latest problem child at the Air Force Academy, Cadet Hailey.

You know, it just happens, it’s one of those things. For me that was a memorable day. Don was just really trying hard. The guys are great at techno babble. Teryl Rothery has got to be the best in the world at that kind of stuff, and Amanda of course. You just come in and have to start blabbing line after line and they do it every day. And they are really good at it. Don, not so good. I was terrible that day, too, and I think I only had three or four lines. I think it was at a radar screen, if I am not mistaken, that whole scene.

GW: Was there ever a sense after you came back and did a second episode as the character and there was a little bit of evolution for the character — you have learned the secret of the Stargate program — that you might come back again and be a little more recurring?

MK: Well, thank you. You know, I am just not sure what the — in terms of the process that they decide to reinstate a character — and how far that character’s arc is going to go. Certainly it was a good time and I think the work was strong. I certainly didn’t hear any complaints. Exactly how decisions , at what level they’re made and why a certain character appears a lot. Or it was just been a preference and might have been something to do with Richard — if he felt comfortable. When you are working with an ensemble like that, it is people you enjoy and people you like. If there was a connection, great, and if not that might be part of the reason.

GW: Had you auditioned for another role in Stargate prior to that?

MK: I did. Early on, I think in Season Two, I was a newscaster.

GW: That’s right. You were the newscaster in “There But for the Grace of God” in Season One, which was the all-time most fantastic episode of Season One.

MK: You are kidding me.

GW: I know this.

MK: How do you know that?

GW: You’re the alternate reality newscaster, who reports the end of the world when the Goa’uld spaceship comes. Until you said that I had forgotten. I apologize.

MK: You stun me, I’m amazed. I bow down.

GW: I will study IMDB and have a better mastery of your career.

MK: No, please. You are doing terrific.

GW: In the future it’s Stargate Universe is a very different show, different setting. It’s sci-fi. Everybody can play a different character, be under make-up. Would you be interested?

MK: Sure. Love to. As a journeyman actor in Vancouver, I am always up for working. Again, I know the season just got cast. The main cast has just been cast recently. A couple of people we know. Best of luck to those folks and I hope it runs forever. Yeah, looking forward to having a shot.

Stargate employed just about every actor in Vancouver I think at one time or another. We are all going to wait for our turn. We are competing as always. Of course, now I am ten years older. It gets a little harder. Competition has dwindled but those that remain are fantastic.

The guys I am auditioning with are Garry Chalk and Jerry Wasserman and Andrew Airlie. These are A-list Vancouver actors. You have probably talked with a number of them before. As you get older there is a little less work, obviously for the older guys, and the competition is fierce. Those guys have survived and are terrific actors. It’s a young man’s game, I think, or young woman’s game, most with Stargate. Don’t you think?

GW: There will always be roles.

MK: Yeah, they tend to be smaller roles, they are supporting roles. Which is fine.

GW: The generals.

MK: Yeah, the generals. The authority figure.

GW: The military base

MK: Right or the town elders. I’m not sure the premise of Universe. Is it different?

GW: It is mainly based on a ship with some planetary explorations.

MK: OK. Contact with alien life forms?

GW: Not as much.

MK: Well there you go. Anything else?

GW: Last but not least, this is your first fan convention. Have you had a good time? What has been your experience with these Stargate fans?

MK: You know what, I have had a blast. Heather and I came together.

GW: Heather Doerkson?

MK: Yeah, Heather Doerkson. We were both like, “What are we going to do?” We’re not obviously, Amanda or Dave Nykl or Teryl [Rothery] who have done these before and have really high profiles. We are the rank and file. We are proud of what we do but we’re not big names by any means. So, what are we going to do? What are we going to say? Are people going to want to say hello?

And the fans were terrific. We did the question and answer. We ran out of time. We couldn’t answer everybody’s questions. Very entertaining. The fans seem to be so receptive. I think they are just happy to be in Vancouver and away from home. It’s a great opportunity for them to get out and have a little mini-vacation.

GW: It is a time to celebrate Stargate. Celebrate what we love that brings us all together.

MK: Its amazing.

GW: Connects us to you, as a working actor.

MK: As a working actor. Well, we had a chance afterwards at the photo signing to meet folks from all across the world. The gal that was sitting next to me facilitating from Australia and had flown in from Brisbane for the event. The first woman that came up for an autograph was from Italy.

A number of folks from the UK, from Germany. It is just, from all across the world. Just so happy to be welcoming us and, “Thank you for being here.” “No, no! No, thank you for being here.” It just makes you realize that what we do in the course of a career — it’s a career. It’s a job. You go into it, and then you start to realize what kind of impact it can have and not to underestimate that. That shows like Stargate mean something to people. That they really enjoy them.

They’re not crazy. It’s a show. It’s a show they enjoy and they enjoy getting out and going to these conventions. And, I am having a blast. I really didn’t have any expectations. I do a lot of cartoons and voiceover and anime. I have been pretty fortunate with the some of the pre-lay series as well. I’ve never gone to those conventions, but after having gone to this one, I am thinking, “you know what?” Kirby [Morrow] does a ton of those anime conventions. Folks like Scotty McNeil and David Kay and other local Vancouver actors. They just have a blast.

Some of them are in Hawaii. Sounds like fun to me! So, I’ll sign up next time.

GW: Are there any other projects that you have coming out where we can look for you?

MK: I am doing a stage play called 36 Views. I start rehearsals on April 15th and we open May 1st. Of course if anybody’s here in Vancouver at that time please come. Voice work continues, that’s always pretty steady. The movie with Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhardt, the new title of which I do not know, but it’s opening soon.

As does Dear Mr. Gacy, a made for TV movie about John Wayne Gacy. A young man, in high school entering college had the idea to interview a number serial killers by posing as the kind of victim that these killers would be attracted to and then starting relationships with them long distance. Then interview a number of them, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gacy, and I forget the fellow in California.

You know, these are seriously twisted individuals. He was a psychology major who got into their minds. Published a book, it became an instant bestseller. He got his law degree and two years later killed himself in his own garage. The movie is based on that book and about this kid that basically starts to get involved with John Wayne Gacy — one of the most frightening killers in American history.

That’s upcoming. It should be interesting, if not a little dark. Impact, a mini-series that we shot last year, has been shown in Germany to great response and I think Sci Fi Chanel is planning to run it, if not ABC. That was a mini-series in search of a network. Look for it sometime in 2009.

GW: Great

MK: I am proud of that. That was a nice role.

GW: Keeping busy for sure.

MK: For sure.

Interview by Darren Sumner. Transcript by Avi Zisook.

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