Cult Times. January, 2004
By Thomasina Gibson
Richard Dean Anderson's life is a happy one:
plenty of time to spend with his daughter and to go skiing, and employed by a show he loves.
If only he could remember anything about - what's it called? Stargate SG-1...
It may be winter outside, but in Richard Dean Anderson's heart it may as well be spring. He's buoyed up and full of enthusiasm for this time of the year, as it means he can indulge in one of his favourite pastimes - skiing. Asked what besides his lovely daughter is filling his days now that "Stargate SG-1" is on hiatus till a new - can you believe it? - eighth season commences, Anderson casually mentions, "I'm going to Alaska to do some heliskiing. Then in January I'm going to Alberta and British Columbia for another skiing event to support the Bobby Kennedy Charity. Then, if I'm very lucky, I'm also going to try to sneak in another heliski trip up in BC before I return to work."
Now, this reporter supports the very lovely Mr Anderson in almost all of his less conventional adventures. However, it has to be said that if the good Lord had meant us to fly up to the top of a mountain and then toss ourselves down the sides of it strapped to planks of wood or titanium or whatever said appendages are made from, then we'd all be doing it. Anderson shrugs such comments aside. "Oh, don't you play that card on me," he scoffs, "The good Lord didn't make us with clothes, did he? And people do that almost every day... put on clothes, I mean." A suggestion that not all of us are blessed with a body beautiful and that most wear clothes to protect innocent bystanders from an eyeful of something unpleasant gives him a moment's pause. "Yeah! Well... " he goes on, hurriedly changing the subject, "Season Eight! Oh, how do I feel about our year eight? I feel fine about it." In fact, Anderson is delighted that generous financial support from The Sci-Fi Channel has allowed the "Stargate" team to saddle up for yet another year. "I truly am delighted The Sci-Fi Channel and MGM wish to continue with what I believe is a terrific franchise.
"See, the way year seven went for me was it accommodated the situation I wanted to be in with my daughter. At the end of Season Six she had just turned four and it was the start of what is an important stage of development in her life and I wanted to be present and available for her. After Season Six had wrapped, I talked to Brad Wright [co-creator] and Robert Cooper [executive producer] and it was apparent that we hadn't really had any closure to the series. We just kind of left it hanging around there. So I made mention of that and I said, 'You know, it's still just a matter of time for me. If Wylie's needs and my desire to be with her can be accommodated, I'd be happy to do it.'
"Luckily, I am blessed with a tremendously supportive team of friends and colleagues who worked their asses off to make sure I had the time I needed to be with my little girl." Incredibly, this meant shooting segments of two or three episodes of the show in the same time it usually took to shoot just one. "My abbreviated schedule meant I was able to be with her every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and every fourth week I had off completely, so it worked very well. The cycle did get a little crazy," laughs the actor, "but all in all it worked well. Even if I couldn't remember which episode I was on from one day to the next." Sadly, this has always been the case with Mr Anderson, but more of that later.
"This year, when it became evident that "Stargate" continued to grow in popularity, I told MGM and The Sci-Fi Channel that my situation was still the same. That I needed lots of time off to be with my daughter and that I would be interested in returning if things worked out for all concerned. As it's transpired, I'm going to have even more time off next year, but Jack will remain an integral part of the show." Woo hoo! Another year of the irreverent O'Neill.
Before then, though, we can tune in to Sky 1 to see some brilliant episodes, airing even before our cousins in the US get to see them. Unfortunately, trying to encourage Richard Dean Anderson's memory to recall any personal favourites is as likely as getting Anubis to rejoice that he could almost have been Human once. A simple question such as, 'What did you enjoy most when shooting The Lost City?' is met with a trademark O'Neill blank look. "Was I in that?" asks Anderson. "Ivon Bartok [Anderson and fellow executive producer Michael Greenburg's much put-upon assistant] says I wasn't," he announces triumphantly. "No wonder I can't remember anything about it. Ivon says I wasn't in the one that they taped last or that they filmed last." Tsk! Even allowing for a hectic schedule it's a pity such an intelligent and engaging person has this one fatal flaw. The actor is gently reminded that the one that they filmed last was Resurrection, the one that Michael Shanks wrote and Amanda Tapping directed. The one that will air last is The Lost City. "I knew that!" he insists. "I was in The Lost City?" He was! Cult Times was on set as he filmed it and a dashed fine job he made of it, delivering a truly touching and impressive performance. We think the man is just too modest to shout about his own skill.
In an attempt to jump-start his sieve-like brain, Anderson gets online to director Martin Wood, his 'go-to' in cases of extreme memory failure. Without wishing to give out massive spoilers or reveal any private correspondence, suffice to say that Wood's attempt to jog Anderson's memory is likely to enhance rather than spoil anyone's enjoyment of the show. A brief excerpt from Wood's prompt includes, 'Lost City was the two-parter we did with the ice caves. Remember having to wear the orange "hazmat" suits sitting in the cool chair with the breast implant hand rests for two days? Remember you guys heading out through the gate with a couple of grips and some craft service?'
With cues like that, how could the actor not recall what promises to be one of the best "Stargate" episodes ever shot? The man explains how. "This is literally what I need to remember what the hell I did. I need people like Martin and Ivon and Michael Greenburg to help me out." In an attempt to charm the writer of this piece, he tries a bit of flattery: "And you are so kind to me in print because I don't mind being perceived as what I am, which is a bit of a Space cadet in relation to all this stuff. It's all on-the-moment fun time for me. Hence my not being able to retain anything about anything. But you were there! You'll help me out, right?" Sigh...
Actually, Wood's suggestions do affect a wee bit of stimulation, because Anderson does start to recall a fair bit. "I remember Jessica Stein [Dr Elizabeth Weir], who was very nice and smart and snappy and I really enjoyed working with her. I remember William Devane [President Henry Hayes], who was wonderful as the President of the United States, and Ronny Cox, who was equally great as Vice-President Kinsey."
Some moments not likely to ever be forgotten occurred when General John Jumper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the USAF, played himself in the episode. "General Jumper was an absolute joy to work with," declares Mr A. "He exhibited great poise and dignity, yet fully joined in the fun that's involved in making 'Stargate SG-1'." Anderson also reveals that the cast and producers joined the General and his wife for dinner one evening. "Both General Jumper and his wife were warm and friendly, gracious and articulate. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. We were honoured to have them come visit and him take part in our show."
Sadly, things get a little hazy after these revelations and Anderson is not so fluent when it comes to offering up information regarding other episodes of Season Seven. "What's the weather like over there?" queries Anderson in a vain attempt to avoid episode-related questions. "It's warm here today." There follows lots of whinging unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman over trying to remember "stuff" before he pathetically wails, "I can't. It's really sick and sad but I can't." Taking pity on the poor soul, we relent and suggest there must be something that stuck in his mind about Fragile Balance, the episode with the lad who played a younger version of O'Neill. Surprisingly, the actor admits, "I didn't think it was very good." Pondering for a bit, he eventually suggests, "I dunno, there was something about the impersonation factor. It's not that Michael Welch wasn't a good actor. Far from it, he was fantastic and fitted into our group remarkably well. Conceptually it was okay but maybe we were missing some technology to really make it believable. I'm just not sure why it didn't work for me. Maybe I'm being too pragmatic about it. You understand I'm not a fan of Science Fiction. I don't get this stuff. Please don't think any less of me." As if.
Travelling back to the very beginning of last year, Anderson applauds the return of Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson. The triumphant return of Mr Shanks warmed the heart of more than just fans of the show. Anderson was pleased as punch to have his old mucker back. "It's been great to have Daniel return to the fold. I thoroughly enjoy working with Michael. He understands and accepts my little idiosyncrasies, if you will. We have a great rapport and there's a tangible simpatico in the way we interact and the way we perform. I kind of missed that rhythm after he left."
Ironically, many of those fans who bemoaned the fact that Corin Nemec (Jonas Quinn) had joined the flock as a replacement to Daniel Jackson got riled at the way the character departed, and made their ire known through websites, letters to editors and various other means. Anderson is as practical as usual as regards the feedback. "I never paid any attention to the negative stuff that heralded Corin's arrival or departure. It didn't affect me at all. It has been mentioned that the vibe between the Jonas character and my character was different. That's as it should be. As actors we all approach our work differently. Corin's rhythm is slower and could appear more considered than Michael's, so naturally the energy between us was not the same. Corin did a great job in what was a difficult situation. On a creative level, I think our writers served both characters well and did a good job of handling both Jonas's departure and Daniel's return."
Before returning to talk of Season Eight and the changes that may occur regarding the illustrious SG-1, Anderson confesses that he has taken up a new and very important role. "I've been spending so much time over at my daughter's school. I've been serving hot meals at lunch-time. I can't begin to tell you how much I love doing it." Bubbling over with the kind of enthusiasm usually displayed by Amanda Tapping or Teryl Rothery [Dr Fraiser], the proud dad explains, "I'm in there so much I had to go into the Head of the primary school at one point and alert them to the fact that I wasn't some kind of stalker. Of course, they all know me and there are all sorts of checks in place to safeguard kids, but I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn't some kind of a pervert because I was spending so much time there. The Head had actually remarked, 'You know, I see Richard around the campus an awful lot,' and some kind soul had said, 'Well, he's very helpful. He volunteers in the classroom and helps solicit funds and serves lunches.' The headmaster just kind of applauds my involvement."
Clearly besotted with his new position, Anderson brims, "It's like no one could understand why especially a father could spend so much time in a kindergarten, but you have to know I am having so much fun. You know, I help in the classroom listening to reading, or I read to the class myself. Then, when I'm serving lunches, I'm designated - actually, I've appointed myself - the maitre'd. I take the tickets from the kids who have hot lunch tickets and they come through in a line all quiet, and because French is the second language they are learning in kindergarten I've got them all saying at least one French word before they can move on. Even if it's 'Bonjour' or, if they're having Mexican food, perhaps 'fromage'. I'm like the Pied Piper there now." Teased that kids might gravitate toward him because of his child-like aura, Anderson grins, "So I've been told."
Miss Anderson's dad thinks that to be able to share in this incredibly important facet of his child's educational and social journey is truly a blessing, a gift that will continue even after school has broken up for the holidays. "We had a tremendous Thanksgiving surrounded by friends and family, and then, later this year, Wylie and I are going [you've guessed it] skiing in Colorado." Says Anderson, "It's a joy to me that my daughter throws herself into the same activities I do with an equal amount of enthusiasm. Sometimes even more. When I asked what she'd like to do with the holiday time after Christmas, she immediately asked to go skiing. How wonderful is that?" This non-skier might consider it corruption of a minor, but only in jest.
In the meantime, the good folk at "Stargate" productions will be putting their skates on to get the next - and we're not even going to suggest last - season of "Stargate SG-1" underway. His involvement may be limited this time, but Jack O'Neill will most certainly be back. We can't wait.
Gibson, Thomasina. "Dean There, Done That." Cult Times #100. January, 2004: p. 14-18.