Beware of SPOILERS for the first two hours of Stargate Universe
David Blue, a huge television and movie buff, counts SG-1 and Atlantis among the shows he has completely watched. The actor never imagined that he would be joining the cast of one of his favorite TV franchises.
Now immersed in Stargate on a daily basis, Blue sat down with GateWorld to talk about Eli Wallace in “Air” parts 1 and 2. Blue talks about the sci-fi shows he grew up with, makes comparisons between himself and Wallace, and talks about approaching the universe from an “everyman” perspective.
This interview runs almost 30 minutes and is available in audio. It’s also transcribed below!
GateWorld: I saw the pilot — I saw the first two hours. What do you think?
David Blue: I love it. From the beginning when we were auditioning for the role[s] and screen-testing for it I really loved the script for the first three hours. I can’t wait to see the one after the first three hours, and I’m sure it’ll be just as good just because I’ve lived with “Air,” Parts 1, 2 and 3 since the day that I was up for the role.
We all knew it was brilliant. We all knew it had so much potential and it’s nice to see it come to fruition. I’m excited.
GW: You’ve been a Stargate fan since before you ever got involved with this, so this is a Stargate fan talking to a Stargate fan here. When did you first find out about the show? Did you see the movie in 1994?
DB: Oh of course! Absolutely of course. You know, I always clarify, and it’s not because I have anything wrong with being labeled a fan, but I just don’t want to offend any of the fans. I’ve seen it all and I love it but I’m nowhere near as obsessively awesomely loyal as most of the fans are. I always have to bow down and give respect where respect is do to the “true” fans. But I do looove the show.
I watched the original movie. SG-1 premiered on Showtime at the time and I didn’t think that I had it. Once it moved [to SCI-FI] I started watching it and caught up on the originals. It became one of those shows that when I came home from school and I was working late on my homework or came home from work it would always be on. So I would always watch the repeats and, in doing so, ended up catching up on all of SG-1.
And then with Atlantis, because I had seen all of SG-1, I wanted to see the premiere. So of course I taped — VHS taped — the premiere of Atlantis. [Laughter] Because I didn’t have a DVR at the time. It was way before my expense account could allow that.
[I] just really loved the characters and wanted to see where they were going. It ended up taking me on through. Roommates would usually come home and it’d be, like, one in the morning. I’d be sitting with a glass of wine. “What are you doing?”
I’m like, “Well I have to catch up on Atlantis.” Because I had two episodes that I hadn’t watched yet because I’d been busy bartending at the time.
So it became this thing. It was always my late-night routine, catching up when I could. And then oddly my life seems to circle it, having worked with Claudia Black on Moonlight and became friends with her.
Having seen people who were involved in the show in other things … Chris Judge came to eat at a restaurant that I was working at waiting tables in LA. Like three years ago or something. I just remember thinking, “Oh, God, it’s Teal’c! He’s huge!”
GW: Did you let him know that you recognized him?
DB: Oh, God, no. He’s too intimidating. I’ve met him now since and now I know how nice and cool he is. But at the time he was sitting at dinner with one other person privately. I’m very anti-bothering-people who you respect when they’re out to eat. It’s one thing when they’re at a premiere. I don’t like bothering people when they’re eating with their family or having a drink. I feel that’s intrusive. And plus he’s gigantic! He has muscles that I’m pretty sure my body has not evolved to have.
But no, I’ve always really enjoyed it. So much so that when I was in New York shooting Ugly Betty the audition came up for it and there were “spec sides” at the time. They weren’t from the actual script. They were written because they wanted to put the feelers out. It was a scene with Carter, I believe. Eli and Carter.
I sat down with a friend of mine. I was like, “Can you read this with me?” And he’s like, “Wait, who am I?” And I explained everything. And he’s like, “Wow, did you see that in the breakdown?” I’m like, “No, I just know that.”
GW: Very cool. You and I talked about Battlestar at Comic-Con, as one of the shows that you and I both like. But what are some of the other sci-fi shows you’ve gotten into over the years. You say that you’ve watched a lot. What stick out in your mind?
DB: I’m a huge fan of stories, as a writer, as an actor, as a very curious person. So I end up seeing almost every show or movie anyway at some point. I don’t know how I find the time.
So there’s not a lot of shows in general that I haven’t watched at least a few episodes of, if not the whole thing. Now if we’re talking favorites, nowadays I’m very much into Fringe, into Lost. I want to watch Supernatural but it keeps conflicting with things on my DVR. I loved Battlestar. I watched one season of Torchwood and really enjoyed it.
Star Trek Next Generation was a huge forming show with my childhood. It’s hard for me because I just love to watch so much. I’ve seen a lot of Doctor Who, the recent ones, when they’ve been on but not enough to really catch up. [Laughter]
Full circle, working with Peter DeLuise. One of my first crushes was one of his castmates on seaQuest.
GW: Ah, seaQuest DSV!
DB: It was the first picture I’d ever put up inside of my locker.
GW: So how much are you like Eli?
DB: More than I’d like to admit. There’s a lot of differences between the two of us, for sure. Everyone likes to tease me because they know it gets under my skin here on set. Just an hour ago, somebody was like, “We trust you to do this because you are Eli.”
It’s unfortunate that Eli’s a huge fan of TV and movies because I think that’s a huge similarity between us. I try to find humor in situations. I’m a little bit less confident in my humor than Eli is. He knows something is funny so he’ll just say it out loud, whereas I tend to, only if I’m comfortable with the people, say it.
I’m a little bit more socially adept than he is. I can speak to people better and form relationships a lot different than he can. There’s a lot of great things to draw from, from myself, but it’s different enough where I do like that I can go home and feel like I’m in my own skin and not in Eli’s.
You tend to take parts of your roles home with you, which is why it’s always good when you’re playing a fun role. On Ugly Betty Cliff was so positive that I felt that influence in my life. I was always more upbeat in my everyday life. I find that the more that I’m shooting SGU the more I say witty remarks here and there and make random movie quotes.
GW: Leonard Nimoy always talked about playing Spock. He was so emotionless. He’s a method actor so trying to get out of that was very difficult for him. So starting and ending your job in a place that isn’t too far removed from you has got to be helpful.
DB: I’ve studied method, Meisner, viewpoints and all that. I wouldn’t say that I’m “a method actor.” But I just think that parts of it bleed over. I think I remember Lucy Lawless saying this in an interview about Xena. It’s this odd thing that carries over. Eli tends to have a little bit of problems with confidence in his own abilities, and unfortunately I feel that that sometimes plunge over into my life, too. Which is why I wish we could hurry up and air!
It’s bound to happen when you live inside the character for more hours than you are awake in a day then it tends to affect your life. But Eli’s a very curious person and that’s who I’ve been, too. I find it interesting so I’ve studied books on quantum physics. I’ve studied anything I can get my hands on. I love knowledge. We have that in common, whereas his is a little bit more focused on to the technology, mathematics, computers, astrophysics side of things. Mine’s kind of “world.”
GW: The breakdown describes him as a slacker. Is that true or is that outdated?
DB: The way he was described to me at the beginning, and the way that I kind of latch on and agree with it — this is the way that I took it, and no one’s corrected me, so I’m going to pretend like this is true. He’s a slacker in that he’s afraid of failure. He’s a slacker in that he has a lot of ability — he has a lot of potential — but at the end of the day somebody else can do it and if they screw up they’ll get blamed.
It’s the same thing with MIT. Eli went to school and dropped out, and I don’t think it was because he had bad grades, or that he was anti-social for that matter. I think he just lost interest. He wasn’t challenged. He started not wanting to be tested and find out that he wasn’t able to, which is why this situation’s even better with what happens on the Destiny because he can’t back off anymore. If he decides he doesn’t feel like committing to something then people, including himself, won’t be alive anymore. It’s a nice confrontation to be part of this character.
Anybody who drops out of school and chooses to live at home with their mother and play video games and hang out with friends and eat can be described as a slacker these days, but I think it’s just non-motivation, if that’s a word.
GW: That’s one of the questions I was going to ask you. The pilot doesn’t necessarily explain why he left MIT. You just said he dropped out. I was wondering if it had to do with expenses. His mother is struggling with medical bills, and I was wondering if he dropped out to help her.
DB: Absolutely. And not even just financially. Also because of care. When you have a single mother who you’ve kind of relied on for a while — not to say he’s a mommy’s boy, which I really don’t think he is. But I think he feels a certain amount of responsibility. Whether or not they always get along.
I think that it came time to take care of that and also she was working hard and he could save her some money. Even more than that, he can kill two birds with one stone. He can sit around and do the things he wants to do without any pressure to live up to anyone’s expectations. At the same time he can also watch the house. [Laughter] He can guard the bed as long as possible.
GW: If these are part of future plot points to be revealed later on in the show, stop me. But do we discover what she has? What it is that is her illness?
DB: Yes. You will find that out later on.
GW: And do we find out where his dad is in all of this?
DB: We may find that out this season. And if we don’t find out this season hopefully it’ll delve a little further next season. The wonderful, huge, vast minds of Brad and Robert I dare not try to categorize. [Laughter] We just got a script yesterday. To me, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, they’re like crack. As soon as I get a script I can’t wait. We’re shooting a scene. I want to find five minutes to go and start reading it.
I look forward to, in all of our cases, finding out more about Eli’s past and friendships that he had. We do touch on it in some of the first few episodes, which is great. Even with the other characters. Scott’s motivation — what forced him to join the military. Greer, same exact thing. How he became the person he is. What exactly made Rush Rush instead of Daniel Jackson. Why did Rush not become Daniel Jackson?
GW: You know, I’ve got to tell you, when I first heard of this character — namely yours — I pictured Rodney McKay in my head.
DB: I’m not going to hold that against you. [Laughter]
GW: Have you found yourself carrying a large portion of the techno-babble this year? Is there not as much techno-babble as there was on other shows? Is it more evenly dispersed? Have you lost your voice yet like David Hewlett did? [Laughter]
DB: Actually I have a couple of times but not for that reason. First of all, let me say that I agree with you. The first time I read the breakdown that’s my first thought as well. But, I think, in some things that have happened recently as well as in the past, that’s the danger of a breakdown. Because it’s not always written by the producers or the writers. Sometimes not even by the casting people. That’s just what was guided to bring people in and have them know who to call in. And once you’re there you find out it’s a lot more than that. And they nudge you in the right way.
I found that a lot of stuff in the original breakdown has fallen to the back. Other, more important things have come forward. Loving David Hewlett and loving Michael Shanks, there was a really important part of me to make sure that nobody thought that I was either Daniel Jackson or McKay. No one wants to see the same character. Nobody wants Rush to be Baltar.
No one wants Scott to be [John Sheppard]. They’re different people in the world, even if they’re the same rank, even if they’re the same side of things. So it was very important to me to make it different from those characters, and even more so to make it different from any character I’d played before, like Logan on Moonlight, who just happened to be a hacker as well. I think that’s what makes Eli interesting is he’s his own person.
Now, the techno-babble, I do have to bow my hat because yes, I would say most of the technobabble is shared — especially in the beginning — between Robert Carlyle, myself, maybe Peter Kelamis who plays Brody, Patrick Gilmore who plays Volker. Screw that. Even Jen Spence who plays Parks.
We tend to pass it around a lot. But I don’t know how I have lucked out but somehow, a good portion of the season, I don’t know if they’re torturing him or what, but Robert Carlyle ends up having to say the worst stuff.
I get to say little things here and there about buttons and equations and consoles and he’s saying things like “orbital insertion trajectory” and I don’t even understand how he does it sometimes.
GW: With the Scottish accent!
DB: Yeah, exactly! I think maybe that helps because he can say it quickly in the accent and then no one will know he didn’t actually say the line. There’s definitely a good amount but I think it helps being the nerd that I am having studied some of these things. A lot of times what I’m saying actually makes sense to me. Easier to learn the line when it makes sense to you.
GW: I’ll be perfectly honest to you. I was waiting to see who I was going to endear myself to in terms of the cast first. Who I was going to root with before the end of the first two hours. And it was Eli. Largely it was the kino, because he’s looking at me. He’s sharing sarcastic asides with me. It’s what’s so brilliant about the kino. It’s a doorway into that ship that is a doorway into my lifting room.
DB: Exactly. Not even just with the kino but with the camera itself. As much flack as people might’ve given before they ever see the show about the shooting style. I think if nothing else it allows the audience to actually be there with us. Instead of just feeling like they’re watching a prepackaged sitcom they’re actually in the room with us, peering around the corner, listening to someone talk about the gate. Or especially in the case of the kino, asking a question of somebody.
GW: They’re acknowledging us!
DB: Yeah! It’s great. As an actor it’s a great device because it allows me to break that fourth wall and really connect with the audience. Brad and Robert said from the beginning that Eli and Chloe, specifically, touch the hearts of the audience and help represent them. Especially Eli. I feel like the kino definitely is a device that allows that to happen. Not like a leash, but almost lets me show you the window into the ship. I think it’s a great device. I hope we keep up for a while.
GW: Has it been irritating interacting with a softball that isn’t there?
DB: Uh, No. [Laughter] I find it awesome. I love doing it. I’m such an OCD technical person. As you’ll know when you really pay attention to the show and realize that the buttons I’m hitting stay the buttons I’m hitting for that at every point in the show. If I’m hitting something for communications, that is my communications button from episode one until episode 20.
I love those vis-effects. I love interacting with green screens. I always am terrified, as I said before I ever watched the trailer at Comic-Con, we imagined what this holo-screen in front of us was going to look like. And once I saw it I’m like, “Holy crap, that’s a million times better than I thought it was going to be!” I would have acted better if I’d realized how awesome it was. I feel like it overshadowed me, it was so good!
I love it. I really do enjoy it. It’s nice to create things. Like when you’re looking at a blank square of air and you have to imagine a galaxy zooming in and out. That’s so much fun. That’s a sandbox to me.
GW: And it’s a testament to the visual effects team. I didn’t know that that was an effect. I thought that that was done practically.
DB: Oh good Lord, that would’ve been great.
GW: That’s mind-blowing to me that’s mind blowing to met that that was a vis-effect.
DB: You ain’t seen nothing yet. Oh, man, some of the stuff that they have planned.
GW: Don’t tell me!
DB: No, no no. Trust me. I’m paranoid to the point of being boring of not revealing things.
GW: I hate spoilers. How do you feel about spoilers as a fan of shows?
DB: I despise them. I despise them. If you pay attention on my twitter, I try to re-tweet almost anything anyone says. I just talk about life in general, but when it’s involved with the show I’ll re-tweet anybody’s review or anybody’s opinion good or bad.
But the truth is if they reveal any kind of spoiler — and I’m not talking about a specific about who lives or who dies, but if they say “I love this scene” and when you say that line I’m not gong to re-tweet it — I’m not going to call attention to it. Because in my opinion you just ruined the meaning of the line because now they’re expecting it.
I’ve had so many things ruined for me. I love my brothers, but first time watching Planet of the Apes. Never seen it before. My brother walks in, the first 10 minutes of the movie, and says, “Hey is this–” My dad goes, “Shh! He’s never seen it.” My brother goes, “No no no, I just was going to ask if this was the one with the statue of liberty.”
And ever since then people seem to go out of their way to ruin things. I’m that person who, when you start talking about a movie I want to see, will put my fingers in my ears and leave the room. So I don’t want people doing that for my shows.
GW: Dumbledore … People are so cruel.
DB: I understand some people, especially with shows nowadays when you get so invested, love to seek out information. That’s fine. I don’t understand it. I just feel like you’re ruining it for yourself. I feel like there’s something to be said for shock value.
If I had my way, I or no one would have ever seen it until we air. But that’s unrealistic in the way the climate of the industry works. But I just feel like the fans should see it with fresh eyes. I mean, watch it 20 times after you see it for the first time, please. Keep going back and watch it over and over and over.
GW: Oh, I’m having to. There’s so much subtly in there that I missed.
DB: Yeah, you’re telling me.
GW: Which is a testament to what they’re doing now. I mean a lot of the other Stargates come before you could watch it a couple of times and get everything. But man, it’s like you have to rake it every time you go back over it because there’s so much there. It’s absurd.
DB: Although I do have to say, what you’re saying about the original ones … Working with this crew and this cast, it is kind of fun to go back and watch the originals. Because I keep getting little golden nuggets.
Like Ivon Bartok, he’s our special features producer and he’s on set all the time. Please feel free to tease him how I was sitting at home last week rewatching the Stargate SG-1 DVDs and came upon him with his two lines in “Prodigy.”
GW: Yes! “Excuse me, ma’am, did you mean 10 dimensions?”
DB: Well first of all I half expected Eli to be sitting in that classroom. I was like, “I don’t remember shooting this, but I think I’m there.” But yeah, it was great to see that. Even to go back to the first season and see Andy Mikita “first [assistant director].” And to think he directed our pilot. And John Lenic. It’s kind of cool to go back and mine those nuggets.
GW: You know, the thing that really surprised me about the end of this first two hour is Eli is the first to volunteer to go to this barren desert plane that he’s seen on the remote in the gate room. He’s looking at this screen and he’s says, “I’ll go! I’ll go!” That is so not the slacker that he was at the beginning.
DB: This goes a little bit deeper into the character development that I mined myself — not to use [“mine”] again. As I said, he’s a slacker because of this fear, because of this expectation that he’s not going to succeed in life. And I feel like the truth is the reason he’s been good at what he’s done, the reason that he plays this video game at the beginning of the show is because even though he doesn’t want to fail, he has a desire to be the best at things. He wants to be the best. He wants to be acknowledged for being the best but it’s that fear of “What will happen if he’s not?” That keeps him from doing it.
So if you really boil that down that’s like a curiosity. And then once you’re thrust into a situation like this. Once you’re here, you don’t’ have a choice anymore. You can’t just go “Oh, I want my ball back. I want to go home.” Once you’re actually there, why would you let these opportunities and these experiences pass you by?
When you see a gate for the first time, are you telling me you wouldn’t, as a fan or as Eli, go up and touch it and want to see it work? It’s so easy to go, “OK, that looks expensive, I’m going to go away. Somebody else turn it on.” But if it’s something that you always dreamed existed and always wanted to exist, but never dared hope it would, when you see it in front of you you’re going to want to be a part of it as much a possible. To say you were there.
GW: Like he says in the first hour, “this is everything I’ve dreamed of, Ma. Don’t feel bad. I’m doing this for me as much as I’m doing this for you.
DB: Exactly. I have many friends who like many different kinds of things. But I have many good friends who are huge Stargate fans. And One of the first questions my friend Brian came up to me and said, “David, what colors are the chevrons on your show?”
It just hit me. I’m like, “Oh, God, dude. I’m playing you! I’m playing you who, literally, when they go to a planet for the first time, wouldn’t go, ‘OK, so cool. We’re on another planet. What’s our mission?'”
You go and you sit there and you go, “Oh my God. This is a different planet. I wonder if anyone’s ever been here before. This is sand from another planet. Look at this rock! Is it even a rock?”
Everything becomes so fascinating and so, not innocent, but curious. I love that about Eli.
GW: How was it filming in White Sands, New Mexico?
DB: Oh, it was great. The military was really welcoming and cool to shoot there. It was a lot of fun. It definitely helps, I think, the sets included here when you can have an immersive environment as an actor it just makes your job a little bit easier to drop into those roles. So when you’re actually surrounded by white sands. I don’t know how to describe to you. It’s miserably hot. And sand’s blowing in your face, and you’re getting, actually, sunburned. It’s a little bit easier to drop into those roles.
But for me it was more fun. I rode in a helicopter, and I never in a million years thought I’d have that experience. I got to climb on dunes. That’s cool. I was pretending I was Muad’Dib from Dune. Like you wouldn’t believe. [Laughter] No one got that reference. No one. I was walking around the dunes going, “Muad’Dib. Muad’Dib! Muad’Dib!!” And no one had any clue.
GW: One of the things I’m looking forward to about the show — it’s hinted at in the first two hours with Dr. Lee in one scene, is the Quantum Leap angle. Quantum Leap was one of my favorite shows, and this body swapping really looks like it’s going to work in this show.
DB: Oh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trying to get them to have somebody say “Oh, boy,” when they body swap. Yeah, I love it. I absolutely love it. I was a huge Quantum Leap fan. I was sick and I was in the hospital during the series finale of it. I made my mother tape it and put it on VHS.
GW: Oh, man that finale. What an ending.
DB: Oh yeah. Although in Florida it got interrupted by a news reporter. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” Last ten minutes of a favorite show on TV. That was one of my favorite shows ever!
GW: Screw them. Jeez.
DB: I love that show.
GW: And you love your cast mates! I’ve seen pictures. You guys go on retreats all the time.
DB: Yeah! We get along great. Whether it be rock band when we’re just being silly or we went and saw one of our cast mates, Haig [Sutherland, SGU‘s “Riley”] in Richard II. We’re a very supportive cast, and even more than that we’ve become a very close family checking in. “Are you OK? Do you want to go have dinner? Do you want to go see a movie?”
On set we’re constantly being silly, joking around. Brian had an audition for a movie today. I was like, “Do you need a reader?” We’re there for each other. And that makes the show — think that shows us our chemistry and how close we are.
GW: You look at all these genre shows, like Lost. We’re already placing bets as to who’s going to be the obligatory death in Season One. I hope that SGU manages to break the mold and continue to perform well. Because it’s a great pilot that’s been set up.
DB: Yeah, me too. And hey, you think you’re the only one doing that. Every time we read a script I think that’s half the reason we read it as quickly as we do. We want to make sure we’re still alive. We were like, “Are you going to be in LA in November?” You’re like, “I hope not!”
GW: The fact of the matter is death equals jeopardy on these kinds of shows. And every once in a while someone must die. That’s how you don’t start [an episode] and say, “Oh, they’re going to make it this time. Oh, Sheppard’s gong to make it out. Oh, Ronon’s going to make it out.”
DB: Especially with an ensemble cast, but even more so it’s real life. A friend of mine’s father just died. It got me thinking about my family and how horrible that would be. That’s what life is, and that’s how life should be when you watch it on screen if you really want to connect to it.
GW: You have just a few episodes left to film. You guys wrap in October. You’ve experienced most of this first season. What reasons do fans have to tune in past the pilot?
DB: I know this is going to sound like I’m involved with the shows. “They have a gun to my head and they’re telling me to say this.” This really gets better. It starts off great and it only gets better. I really feel like the show is very interesting and great and draws you in from the beginning. Around episode eight, nine, it becomes amazing.
It’s so good to begin with. I’m not saying we start off bad and get better. It literally picks up and gets to be something that you don’t want to wait a week to watch again. I know from experience from reading the last few scripts, I was literally reading them on my computer and I was angry that there weren’t more pages to the scripts.
GW: What was your favorite script this year?
DB: That’s hard, for different reasons. I do have to say that I’m angry that I have to wait until March to read any more scripts because I want to know what the hell happens. I loved “Time.” I loved “Human.”
Honestly, each one had their own thing, whether it be a touching moment, or an interesting moment, or an action moment. They all drew me in for different reasons.
GW: Well dude this is quite a journey, and as a Stargate fan on this show, did you ever think you’d be doing this?
DB: No. But it’s kind of weird. Call it kismet. Call it coincidence. Call it whatever you want in your life. I keep having these weird experiences. I remember watching something of SG-1 on a repeat and going, “I wonder if I’m ever going to work with these people.” And the next I get a call about SGU.
I keep having these weird things happen. I’ll find somebody that I really want to work with and next thing I know I’m working with them. It’s kind of cool.
In a way as much as I love the show, and as much as the scripts are great, and as much as it’s just good work and a good show and good people, the truth is in a way I feel my life has been pushing me towards this point. I’m ecstatic to see the audience reaction.
I find it hard to believe, and I hate to say this because I don’t want to jinx it, but I find it hard to believe that anybody who actually watches the show isn’t gong to like it, whether they were a Stargate fan before who I think will love it, or who has never seen it before who I think will get sucked into the world. And to be a part of that is better than I could hope for at this point in my career.
David Blue on Twitter
Interview by David Read