TV Zone Stargate SG-1 Special. August, 2001
By Steven Eramo
Life is good for Stargate SG-1's leading man.
It was in 1976 that a young actor named Richard Dean Anderson made his début as Dr. Jeff Webber on the ABC daytime Soap Opera General Hospital. His good looks, charisma and, most of all, talent soon made him a favourite with the show's fans. The actor went on to achieve worldwide fame as MacGyver, a former Special Forces agent who used his brains and not a gun to beat the bad guys. These days, Anderson, who looks as handsome as ever, is still fighting the bad guys but on an intergalactic scale. He currently stars as Colonel Jack O'Neill on the hit sci-fi cable/syndicated tv series Stargate SG-1 and could not be happier.
"This [job] is kind of a piece of cake for me because I like this guy so much," smiles Anderson. "There are similarities between us in personality and attitude that I'm actually allowed to bring out in O'Neill. If I did that in real life I'd probably be slapped in the face and accused of having an attitude problem. So O'Neill is a blast to play, he really is. There is a sense of humour and an underlying degree of sarcasm as well as relative cynicism involved in my performance, and that, to me, is fun. He can also be irreverent at times, which I enjoy, too. I get to laugh at some of the things I do in character because they're genuinely amusing to me. Ultimately, I guess the sound-bite is that if this ever stops being fun then it's time to pack it in, and so far it's still fun.
"As for the development of my character, it continues on an even track. I mean, he hasn't had a sex change yet, but then we haven't used the Stargate to visit Denmark. Who knows, maybe that'll be in Season Six", he laughs. "No, I'm kidding! Seriously, I'm very comfortable with where O'Neill is at the moment. I don't think there has been any great wave of revelation in terms of his story arc. Instead, we've seen a sort of gentle embellishment of what's already been revealed about O'Neill over the past four seasons. Year Six, if there is one, would be the time to really start taking some chances and futzing around with story arcs and character swings. After that, we'd be looking at either a transition from tv into feature films or the end of the SG-1 saga. It depends on what MGM [the show's production company] decides to do. So for now it's status quo for Jack."
According to Anderson, there is one particular aspect of O'Neill's life that he would like the show's writers to explore further if the opportunity arises. "There was an episode in our third season [A Hundred Days] in which we gave every indication that O'Neill had fathered a child," says the actor. "Earlier this year, I asked Brad Wright [series co-creator and executive producer] if he'd ever consider doing a story in which O'Neill goes back to that planet and discovers he's got a child. If we did, I'd like it to be a daughter, only because he's already had a son. I'd love to see a relationship like that unfold in front of the cameras."
"I know this type of storyline might not necessarily belong in a Sci-Fi oriented show, but I'm sure we could come up with an adventure to justify it. One of the many positive things that has been said about Stargate is that it's based around the characters, all of whom are unique and constantly interact with each other. So to touch upon a new relationship such as the one I'm suggesting isn't out of the question. We'll have to wait and see, though."
In its four years on the air, Stargate SG-1 has grown as a series both visually and in its storytelling. Unlike some tv shows, it has not had to weather any major cast changes. However, at the end of its third season, co-creator and executive producer Jonathan Glassner left to pursue other creative opportunities. Although he was missed, the show, as they say "must go on". Stargate SG-1's fourth season turned out to be one of its most popular in the eyes of the series' cast and crew as well as its fans. To Anderson, this was no accident.
"If I have one talent it's always being able to surround myself with people that are far smarter and more talented than I am," he notes. "I made sure that was the case when I went into this project. Brad Wright is really my 'father figure' around here. I don't know how he does it. This guy is one of the brightest, most prolific writers I have ever met, at least in this genre. He also has a great sense of humour and we click on that level, so I feel even more comfortable when I'm working with him. It's the same with Robert Cooper [executive producer]. With Jonathan Glassner leaving it created a bit of a hole, but Robert jumped in and filled it beautifully. So last year's transition was a very smooth one.
"When it comes to Season Five, which we're almost half-way through filming, things are looking just as good if not better than last year," continues Anderson. "John Smith is probably one of the best producers I've had the pleasure of working with. He also has the dubious title of the man you love to hate if you're a worker around here because he's the scheduler and the budget-man, too. Fortunately, John is brilliant at what he does. That means that the machinery of making this show is so well oiled that it almost runs itself.
"Creatively, Brad and Robert, with the help of writers [and supervising producers] Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, executive producer Michael Greenburg and writer/director Peter DeLuise, are continuing to keep this series as alive and fresh as humanly possible. The most important thing to us is that we carry on making our stories unique, articulate, smart, insightful and, at times, funny. This year we've been able to do just that. I'm not going to kid you and say things are rosy all the time because there are ebbs and flows qualitatively. That's true of any tv series, though. However, the majority of our stories are well-written and well-produced, which is something to be proud of."
A Good Story
Anderson will admit that he sometimes has difficulty remembering story titles and plots. However, when it comes to episodic highlights so far from this season there are a few that stick out in his mind. "I'm in the process of editing a story right now called Beast of Burden, in which our heroes try to help the Unas. It's a poignant tale that has some profundities in the storytelling," he says. "I've also watched a little bit of Enemies and I'm extremely impressed with it. I have to tell you that James Tichenor is one of the most brilliant visual effects guys I've ever met. That was a huge episode and the entire cast and crew worked together to really do it justice. The Tomb, which is the story we're shooting now, has some of the most amazingly detailed sets. Richard Hudolin [production designer] is another genius we have on our team. He's an artist and he has artists working for him as well, so all we've got to do is light one of their sets and it looks exactly like what it's supposed to be."
Nowadays, it is not unusual for an actor or actress to direct an episode of their series. On Stargate SG-1 Michael Shanks went behind the cameras to direct the Season Four episode Double Jeopardy. Would Anderson ever consider following in Shanks's footsteps?
"Yes, but I don't know why I would want to," muses the actor. "As one of the executive producers on the show I'm around for everything but the pre-production process. I get to edit episodes, give my opinion on scripts, and I'm on the front lines when we're filming. Let's put it this way, I know I could handle it [directing]. After all, I've been working in this industry for over 20 years, so I've learnt a thing or two," he smiles. However, given all the other creative hats I already wear on the show, directing really isn't the end all and be all for me, at least right now. There's also this tiny little priority named Wylie [Anderson's daughter], that has taken the directing idea out of the realm of immediate possibilities. I'd much rather spend that time with her, you know?"
Although he enjoys acting, it is obvious that Anderson loves his job as a parent. "Being a dad is, without a doubt, the most important thing in my life. It's also the most fun and certainly the most work," chuckles the actor. "The trade off or pay off is so wonderful because my child, as every parent should say, is the most unique and special one in the world. Wylie is, by far, one of my greatest sources of joy."
What would the actor say if his daughter came to him and told him she wanted to be an actress? "Well, if she said it right now I'd be very impressed with her articulation as she's only three years old," jokes Anderson. "Honestly, I don't know what I'd say. I've already noticed that she's performance-oriented or has leanings towards dramatic representation of events. She's quite expressive with her body when she hears music. It's fascinating to watch but it's also sown a seed of concern within me about where she may ultimately be headed.
"I was a pre-teenager when I went to my dad and asked him what he wanted me to be when I grew up. He said, 'Whatever makes you happy'. That very same moment is looming over me now that I'm a dad. I'll guide and protect Wylie the best I can and do anything for her, not the least of which is to help her make her own decisions and not force her into anything. I just hope I can be as objective and forthcoming as possible with options when the time comes."
During Stargate SG-1's hiatus last summer, Anderson participated in a white-water rafting expedition in Headwall Canyon in British Columbia. A camera team accompanied the group and filmed their trek for an episode of National Geographic Explorer. The actor's river journey eventually led to him becoming part of a documentary film group that is working to chronicle the great rivers of the world.
"We've already been to Chile this year and we're going to Tibet in July," says Anderson. "Then we'll be visiting Northern Quebec, Alaska, Africa, China and Peru. Besides looking at the various pristine waterways, we'll also be examining the cultures of the people that live on these rivers. Ultimately, we want to show the public what's at risk if such areas are developed without first looking at any and all alternatives.
"I'm also trying to generate greater public awareness for what's happening in the Galapagas Islands. I've only been down there twice and both times I've returned home emotionally charged. It is a truly magical place and I was deeply touched by everything I saw and experienced there. The problems they're having right now involve illegal fishing. It's a massive issue and I'd like to do what I can to help resolve it."
Although he celebrated his 51st birthday in January, Anderson shows no signs of slowing down. Looking back at his personal and professional lives he is pleased with what he sees. "It's certainly been as full a life as I could have ever hoped for," he says. "I've traveled, lived through the Sixties and Seventies, and been educated both formally and informally through my experiences around the world and in college. To top it off, I have Wylie and her mom, Apryl, both of whom make my life complete.
"I'm one heck of a lucky guy."
Eramo, Steven. "Lucky Star." TV Zone Stargate SG-1 Special #42. August, 2001: p.8-13.