More than a decade after they filmed their final scenes on Stargate SG-1, actors Michael Shanks and Lexa Doig are still a big draw at fan conventions — and fixtures on the Canadian film and television scene. Michael played Daniel Jackson for over a decade, putting in appearances in both spin-off series; Lexa joined SG-1 in its final two years to fill the role of the S.G.C.’s chief medical officer, Carolyn Lam.
In real life, they are married with three kids.
We caught up with Michael and Lexa during their appearance at Gatecon: The Invasion, the big Stargate convention held in Vancouver, B.C. in September. In our chat they reminisce about those last two years of the show, working together on set, and where their characters ended up going.
We also get both of them to talk about their recent work, including the miniseries Unspeakable — now airing on CBC in Canada and starting on SundanceTV in the United States this April.
GateWorld’s conversation with Michael and Lexa runs about 17 minutes in length. The video version has some bonus content (and you really need to watch these two banter), but you can also get an audio-only version for your listening pleasure! Just click the play button above or subscribe to “GateWorld Interviews” wherever you get your podcasts.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net I’m Darren Sumner, and I’m here back again with Lexa Doig and Michael Shanks! I usually introduce you the other way around, but …
Michael Shanks: No, no … that’s a good idea.
GW: … Lexa is looking better today.
MS: Yeah. Trust me.
Lexa Doig: Thanks! I have the benefit of spackle, whereas he generally tends to stay away from makeup — [Laughter] when he’s not in drag.
LD: I know, that’s crazy-pants!
GW: It’s insane that it’s been that long.
MS: Was it ten years ago? Holy moley!
LD: It must have been, yeah. Sammy was just ickle.
GW: Well, life keeps rolling. How have you been?
MS: Great! Great. Fantastic.
LD: Still here.
GW: I am super excited to have the chance to talk to both of you at the same time. I know a little bit of the sci-fi nerd history from long ago, but if it’s OK I would love to hear the story of your meeting. There was a little show that we used to watch called Andromeda …
LD: Yes — of which I played Andromeda. And he was hired to work on the first season. It was the first season, wasn’t it?
LD: And it was pretty early — no, it was late. Late in the first season.
GW: It was late Season One: “Star-crossed.”
LD: “Star-crossed.” He came to work on the show and it was … yay! We were star-crossed.
JOINING THE STARGATE FAMILY
GW: Because I’ve talked to Michael many times over the years but you not as much, I’d love to talk about Carolyn Lam for a few minutes.
GW: Her entrance into the show, Season Nine [and] Season Ten — her role felt to me initially [like] she was a utility player. The medical doctor needs to do a lot of the plot advancement. But then as we got on into Season Ten we got into her family. We got into her background and started to flesh her a bit. Talk if you would about that process over the course of those two years.
LD: It’s funny because I remember when I got the sides for the character, when I got the breakdown, I read them and I looked at Michael and I said — because this was when Beau … what was Beau’s character’s name?
MS: General Landry?
LD: Thank you! When General Landry was coming onto the show we knew Beau was already playing him, I think at that point, wasn’t he?
LD: And I sort of said, “They have a history.” And Michael’s like, “No, I don’t think so.” And I said, “I think she’s his daughter.” He’s like, “Nah, I think you’re crazy.”
And then when I went to the audition I was talking to Rob Cooper and I’m like, “Is she his daughter?” And he’s like, “Oh, yeah! She’s totally his daughter.” So I was like, “Yes! I’m so smart.”
And I was kind of excited to see this relationship between the two of them develop. But, you know, within the context of SG-1 there’s like galactic annihilation and alien invasion. There’s kind of bigger themes than how Daddy and his daughter are getting along.
GW: There a giant plague …
LD: Right! There’s the Ori. There all kinds of …
MS: You know, minor …
LD: Kind of big stuff! I’m just saying. So you know I didn’t have any expectation that they would spend a lot of time on this relationship between Landry and Lam. But it was nice to see the little bits that they did. It was really kind of enjoyable.
And it was tough stepping into that role in particular, in terms of within SG-1 the show. That was Teryl’s turf. And you can’t replace Teryl Rothery. She’s just …
GW: There was no replacement doctor. They tried! They tried multiple people through Season Eight until they finally figured out Lam.
LD: Yeah. I wanted to make a character that was very different. One of the things I loved about Teryl’s performance is she’s such a warm — incredibly intelligent, incredibly competent, but you’ve also got this wonderful warmth that was underneath all of that, and this wonderful sort of care for the people she’s looking after.
I don’t know that Lam was quite like that. I think Lam was a little bit more sort of intellectual about it. It was more almost the academic interest of working on the base. So she was a little socially inept, I think. I wanted to kind of make her that way. I don’t know if it worked.
MS: Oh, no — it worked.
LD: You’re … such a dick. Such a dick. Sorry.
MS: That was the Kobayashi Maru test right there! Say “No, it didn’t work” [and] she’s a lousy actress; say “It did work” and you’re a shitty person!
LD: There’s a fine line …
LD: There’s a fine line. You can say, “You know, it worked, but I still got your natural warmth, honey! Because you’re just such a nice …” Try harder!
MS: Could you bring those sides a little closer to the camera so I can read my lines? OK, go ahead … “You are such a naturally warm person that your natural warmness shone through!”
LD: Oh, God. Commit. Commit.
MS: “You are a great actor …”
GW: Wonderfully done — Take 2!
GW: Season 11 of the show almost happened. There were attempts. There were negotiations for the show to continue on in some way, shape, or form.
LD: Was there really?
MS: Yeah. I didn’t know about it until I read it on GateWorld.
LD: [Laughter] They never got to the point where they were negotiating with the actors!
MS: Well I think it was one of those things that our producers sort of kept those cards close. Because what’s the point of revealing it until it’s the truth. [If] it doesn’t come to pass, you don’t want to talk about it. You don’t even want to tell the fans until way later, because otherwise they’re going to be angry.
GW: Well where would you have liked to see Carolyn Lam go if we had had another year with this character?
LD: I think I would have liked to see her take up a hobby. Like … table dancing. Or — I don’t know, ultra-marathoning? You just cut to her throughout like five episodes and all she’s doing is running.
MS: You’re really making Season 11 sound like a loss for a lot of people!
LD: She’s kind of a little bit of an incidental character! I’m actually more curious to see what the rest of SG-1 proper got up to. Because you guys were a fun group to watch. Particularly you and Claud.
LD: Claudia? Black?
MS: No, I was just going, “Was that a compliment?” That was really weird. I didn’t know how to take that. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
GW: She’s being nice! She’s not worrying about cue cards.
MS: I know! [Laughter] I know.
LD: This is why I’m not nice.
ON THE SET
GW: Eight seasons of the television show, Michael, and suddenly Lexa is there on set with you.
MS: Well, you know what, as I said when we were doing Season Nine with Claud there — when Claud and I first worked together [“Prometheus Unbound”] we had obviously a lot of fun. With Claud there and with Ben, who is a lot of fun, and then with Amanda and Chris and all of a sudden Lexa being there — as we said it wasn’t a cast, it was like a Friday night over at our house kind of thing.
It just felt right for her to be there, and at that particular point in our lives as well it was — as we’ve pointed out before, it was some of the few times that we actually got to be able to sit around and talk about grown-up stuff, as opposed to deal with our children at home. Because they were young at that point.
LD: Yeah, first season that was before …
MS: That was before he was born, yeah. But between Tat and Mia we had a lot of “all about them” time. But all of a sudden we’re just us! We’re back to being … and it’s so rare that that happens. Even sometimes when we’re sitting in the car alone together, we go, “Oh, my God — we’re out of the house! And we’re together!”
LD: There’s no children! What?!
MS: We still do that! It was nice to be back in the professional world, and also dealing with each other as grown-ups and as people again. But it was just part of a really fun cast. She was a natural fit.
LD: It was comfortable for me because even behind the camera I knew so many people socially through Michael anyway. And, weirdly enough, because when I started to work on Stargate Andromeda had wrapped and a lot of our crew wound up on Stargate, on SG-1. So it was hilarious.
Usually you walk onto a new set — especially in Vancouver — and you hope to know two, three people, kind of is how it works. It was like Old Home Week. It was like running into people that you worked with for three years, and working with them again. So it was really very comfortable. A lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.
DANIEL GOES DARK
GW: Daniel’s arc at the end of the show, toward the end of the series and into The Ark of Truth, was front and center. It was fascinating the dimensions that he played out at the end of the show. I haven’t got to talk to you for a few years, so I’m going to ask you about stuff you shot 12 years ago.
MS: That’s what we’re here for! [Laughter] Challenge our memory. OK, hit me!
GW: How about Prior Daniel? Prior Daniel in “The Shroud” — the way we heard it talked about was an experiment to do a “darker” Daniel. Was it ever a possibility that Daniel might actually go full Prior and have to be brought back? As opposed to — “The Shroud” was Daniel was sort of playing an act for Adria.
MS: Yeah. I think in Rob’s inception of that idea part of it was to accommodate [the fact that] I had a couple episodes off that year. This was in Season Ten. It was trying to justify that, story-wise. He had mapped out a larger arc for it. So I think the intention was that Prior Daniel was going to be — there was going to be a lot more uncertainty as to whether he was going Dark Side or not. More like four or five episodes was the intention to sort of expand that.
I think at the end of the day they didn’t have the time, story-wise, to devote to it. So it became obviously compacted into one over-arcing episode, with Rick [Richard Dean Anderson] coming in. And of course with that happening the different dynamic takes place with Prior Daniel than with anybody else, possibly.
So I think there was an intention to go darker with that story, and to really sort of hint to the audience that possibly he’s gone. And he’s working for them now. But of course as it was left in the one episode, it dipped down and you never really totally got the sense that he was there.
Because the other thing too, that I had said, was that “I’m. not. going. to. start. talking. like. one. of. the. Priors. of. the. Ori …” He’s going to be Daniel. He just happens to look like this. Which also makes it a little bit, maybe possibly more questioning whether or not — when you see Daniel going “It’s me!” in this thing, you go, “Wait a minute … but if he is dark then that’s a really creepy Daniel.”
That’s how it ended up. But I think there was an intention to expand it a little bit more. But we didn’t have the time or space to do it.
GW: It inserts a mystery into “The Shroud”: Is Daniel fooling Adria, or is Daniel now trying to fool us?
MS: Exactly, yeah. Yeah. For sure. And then you have Rick going, “Come on!” Just being Rick, basically.
GW: Well your work since the show — I love to just take a minute. I know you are working on Unspeakable. Can you tell us about that project first?
MS: Unspeakable is a show written and produced by our friend Rob Cooper, who we all know very well. He contacted me earlier this year …
LD: Like in February  … it was early.
MS: Yeah, early February. And [he asked] if I wanted to do this, and would I read it and take a look at which part I wanted to do. And then I met up with him for coffee and we just talked about it a bit. And he wanted me to play this one character. I wasn’t sure who he wanted me to focus on. And he surprised me with this one character. And I went, “Oh, OK! Looks great.”
For Rob it’s a labor of love, because it’s about the tainted blood scandal that affected most of the western countries in the early 80s, pertaining to Hep-C and HIV, that ran rampant through transfused blood.
LD: And mostly how it directly affected hemophiliacs, because they rely on blood products to live.
MS: Yeah, and Rob being a hemophiliac had contracted Hep-C from cryo, which was the infusion of the clotting factors in his blood. That’s how Rob lived his life. So when I met him at the beginning of Stargate it was one of those things he didn’t like to talk about that was in his family. Because there was a large stigma that existed with contracting disease through it.
Doing the show now, and sort of seeing into it, meeting his parents — I’d met his mom before, briefly. But it was just sitting down and having him explain it [that] made me understand Rob a lot more. Made me understand his demeanor a lot more, his whole presentation of life. And doing this show with him was just so personal to him. It was great to be a part of. And it made me understand him.
And it’s a great story, that’s still going on. And that’s the most important thing: the repercussions and the lack of closure on that subject in England, in the U.S., in Canada —
LD: France …
MS: Well France actually kind of kept their nose out of it a little bit. They managed to —
LD: Right. So did Scotland. Because they closed off the —
MS: Yeah. They managed to say, “Hey, we’re not going to buy blood from the U.S.” — which had a lot of tainted factor in it. And given how they collect their blood.
So anyway, to make a long story short, it was great to be a part of this. It’s an 8-episode miniseries for the CBC and Sundance Channel. And we’re still doing post and all that. I’m doing ADR next week.
LD: When is your ADR? Mine’s on Wednesday.
MS: Yeah, Wednesday. And it’ll air I think starting in January, I believe. I’ll be doing press for it in November. I think it’s going to be a quite interesting story, and a story that needs to be told. And it’s, like I said, near and dear to Rob’s heart.
GW: Terrific. Lexa, I know you’re in Unspeakable as well. But in the intervening years since Stargate we’ve enjoyed watching you on Continuum — a great show, great performance.
LD: Oh, yeah — I had a lot of fun.
GW: And then recently Arrow, and this incredible character of Talia al Ghul.
LD: She’s fun. She’s a lot of fun. Although, not going to lie — I thought I had aged out of stretch leather! But thankfully that’s what stunt doubles are for. And particularly very good ones.
But, yeah, Arrow is a lot of fun. And it’s hilarious because one of the directors of photography on Arrow was the director of photography on Andromeda — [Gordon] Verheul. So it’s kind of like, again, walking into a set that you immediately feel comfortable on.
And Stephen [Amell] is great, and a real joy to work with. And most of my stuff is with Stephen. So it was a lot of fun to do Arrow.
THE HEART OF STARGATE
GW: What do you think Stargate needs to make a return? What’s the heart of Stargate, that future Stargate should be a part of?
LD: … I’m going to let —
MS: It needs a Stargate, Darren. It needs a Stargate.
LD: Oh … my … God …
GW: Good answer!
MS: Thank you. Thank you very much. It needs a Stargate.
LD: That’s the device … that’ll “dial home” … device …
MS: [Gesturing to backdrop] It’s back there …
LD: … I married this. I spawned offspring with this …
MS: Eaaarth! Dial home …
LD: Oh, my God!
MS: It needs … quippy repartee! Banter!
David Read (peanut gallery): It needs Daniel Jackson!
MS: It needs Daniel Jackson!
I think the heart of it, I believe, has always been in the characters and the character interactions. I think that, especially if you are doing other incarnations of the show, I think that the mythology needs to deepen a little bit. And I think that the repartee between the characters needs to be fun. And family. And whatever.
And I think that’s the key to it.
MS: … Nice.
LD: Well, no — I was just thinking as you were saying it was that one of the things I loved about Stargate was that … and listen, I loved Universe and I loved that darker aspect of it. But the thing about SG-1 that was nice was that, not that it wasn’t deep. You can still find this fine line that allows you to be deep, and be honest and dive into characters, without it going Game of Thrones. (And I love Game of Thrones. I love Westworld. I love some of those darker, more twisted shows.)
But you can still do very entertaining, incredibly intelligent television. And Stargate — SG-1 in particular — was a really great vehicle for that, that is also not going to depress you by the end of it. [Laughter] That is not going to make you want to just go, “Alright! That’s it, I’m tapping out. I want off this planet.”
So when you were saying about it being family friendly, I agree.
MS: Well I think that the key thing that I think I’ve found … one of the reasons that Star Trek was successful, and Stargate (not that they are the same franchise) — but one of the things I always found interesting about watching future incarnations is that there was a pursuit of something bigger for humanity. Something out there — just like we are in life. We’re looking for something bigger. We’re looking for answers out there.
And that’s the key about Stargate and Star Trek, that they both bring to the table. They’re just regular people like you and me, that are relatable to the audience, that are looking for that thing that we’re all looking for in our lives. And people can relate to that. Especially if those people care about one another in their pursuit of this goal. With peril happening around them.
And I think that’s what makes a successful Stargate. So that would be the formula I would look to, for sure.
GW: Enjoy your convention. Thanks, guys, so much!
LD: Thank you very much!
GW: Good to see you.
MS: You too.