ALIVE AND KICKING...
We thought they were down and out. Stargate SG-1 is back for a seventh season, and Richard Dean Anderson told Steven Eramo about the next level of adventures for the SG-I team...
Most of us have at one time or another heard the expression, 'Nice guys finish last.' Fortunately, that's not always the case. It certainly hasn't been for Richard Dean Anderson. Since 1976, the actor has been climbing the ladder of success in the entertainment industry. He first made ladies' pulse rates jump with his portrayal of dashing young medic Dr Jeff Weber on the popular ABC daytime drama "General Hospital." After five years of dispensing a healthy dose of bedside manner, Anderson went on to star in two other TV series, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Emerald Point N.A.S." The actor then hit it big when he was cast as MacGyver, the man who could save the day using, among other things, a piece of string, a paperclip and a can of spray paint. The series ran from 1985 to 1992 and made him a familiar face around the world.
For the past six years, Anderson has been keeping the Earth safe from alien invasion as USAF Colonel Jack O'Neill on "Stargate SG-1." The show, which is a spin-off from the 1994 feature film of the same name, follows the adventures of O'Neill and the SG-1 team as they explore the galaxy via an ancient alien portal called the Stargate. Today (28th September 2002), filming is being completed on the sixth season's penultimate episode "Prophecy." It is early afternoon and Anderson is getting dressed in preparation to shoot his last scene. It's a very special one for him as it could be his last ever as O'Neill. At the time of this interview, it was not known if "Stargate SG-1" would be renewed for a seventh year. Even if it were, Anderson is unsure of what his role in it would be.
"I have some pressing issues on a personal level as well as career-wise that I have to deal with that will affect my future on 'Stargate'," explains the actor. "In fact, last night I jotted down some points in an effort to clear my head as far as what my objectives would be with regard to a career move. Because I tend to write honestly to myself, I concluded that the ideal situation for me would be to stay on this show for a seventh season, albeit in an abbreviated form. I'd rather do that than the alternative, which would be to say goodbye and look for something else down the road. Honestly, I'm not interested in doing that, and with good reason. In this cast and crew of 'Stargate' I've got a spectacular sense of community and virtually a family. There really is a warm feeling on our set. So it would be great to somehow work out an arrangement in which we do a seventh season.
"It's funny, my feelings today, in particular, are a little 'twisted'. No one really knows whether or not we should be saying good-bye for the last time and going through that emotion - maybe with some sense of closure - or to just give each other a big hug and say, 'See you next season'. In an odd way it might be better that there is a certain level of ambiguity involved here. As much as we all like, and to some degree love, each other and have enjoyed what's been a neat experience, there's still a pragmatic side to the whole thing. After all, life goes on, and rather than being saddened by the possibility of this coming to an end, we're kind of fine with just saying, 'Hey, see you later,' as opposed to goodbye forever. I mean, I don't think any of us really believe that it will be forever even if we do say good-bye. So that's where we stand at the moment."
As of December 2002, only half of "Stargate SG-1"'s sixth season stories have aired worldwide. The remaining episodes will be shown starting in the New Year. With this season potentially being the show's last, its producers and writers went to great lengths to make sure that it was a memorable one for both die-hard fans and the more casual viewer. Among its many adventures, the SG-1 team was captured by the Goa'uld, threatened by the all-powerful Anubis, and stalked by an invisible assassin. Anderson, for one, enjoyed the sixth season very much.
"I'm very happy with how this year went," says Anderson. "We dealt with the introduction of a new character [Jonas Quinn, played by Corin Nemec] as well as the loss of an old one [Daniel Jackson, played by Michael Shanks]. Everything just seemed to fit. It was a comfortable transition and, I felt, a credible one, too. I got to work with Michael Shanks a couple of times this season, even though he wasn't a regular 'employee.' We had the opportunity to do some fairly intense scenes where they threw our two characters together in a paper bag and shook them up," jokes the actor. "I really enjoy acting opposite Michael, partly because of his awareness of rhythms coupled with his propensity for speed and reaction. The relationship between Jack and Daniel has, I think, found a really nice levelling off place this season.
"The only thing that might be missing for fans this year is some sort of closure for Sam Carter [Amanda Tapping] and O'Neill. I read an article in USA Today recently about "Friends" and it being the programme's last season. In the piece they discussed the worse case scenarios for the characters along with the pros and cons of different endings. Perhaps we should have done that with our show as well. We could have gone on the Internet and asked the fans how they wanted things to end. Of course, over the years we've received all sorts of suggestions on just how O'Neill and Carter should consummate their friendship/attraction. Apparently, a lot of people out there want to see the two of them 'get it on', which in my opinion is too obvious a solution to their relationship. I'm sorry, but I think they should keep it just the way it is and leave people to continue wondering where it might one day go."
Was the actor pleased with how the relationship developed between his character and the newest member of SG-1, Jonas Quinn? "I thought it unfolded nicely," he says. "Certainly, the seed was sown for conflict and distrust between the two of them. However, throughout the season, Jonas proved himself to O'Neill, who also had some revelations about Jonas's relative innocence in regard to Daniel's death. Oddly enough, we're shooting a scene today that I think further proves that O'Neill has come to accept Jonas. My character actually says something complimentary to him such as, 'Get well soon, we need you out there.' That's O'Neill's mid-western way of saying 'You're OK, kid'."
One of the many aspects of O'Neill's personality that has helped endear him to the show's fans is his sense of humour. Since the very first "Stargate SG-1" episode "Children of the Gods," the character has become known for blurting out a wisecrack or two, particularly when the situation is most desperate. Things are no different in the sixth season.
"Somebody recently asked me about O'Neill's sense of humour," notes Anderson. "Believe it or not, it was the first time I had really been pointedly asked about it. The thing is I don't think O'Neill has a clue that he might be perceived as being funny or having a sense of humour. He might try to be a little sly or sardonic but he's not aware of the comic manipulations that are involved in his manner. O'Neill can be a little dense. Sometimes he doesn't quite get it," chuckles the actor. "You've seen him listening to Carter as she rattles off her techno-stuff. His big response after she's gone through a page-and-a-half of non-stop dialogue is, 'I'm sorry, what were you saying?' And that's just one example of his occasional 'thickness'.
"I think a lot of what the fans call 'Jack-isms' stem out of my love of the absurd and the incongruity of speech patterns and/or tenses. I'm a huge fan of British humour, from Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers to Monty Python and right through to people today like Eddie Izzard. I especially like Monty Python and their non-secular style of humour. Stuff like that is what sometimes goes through my mind during our first rehearsal in the morning. That's when I tend to play around and try different things because I don't come to work very well prepared in what you might call the 'classic sense'. I know what's supposed to happen in a scene but that initial rehearsal is my time to bounce ideas off the rest of the cast. If I can bring a bit of levity to a scene that's great, but only if it makes sense. It's not all me, though. Some of those Jack-isms that my character comes out with are already there in the script. For those I have to thank people such as Brad Wright and Robert Cooper [executive producers/writers] and Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie [writer/producers]."
Although "Prophecy" was the last episode shot for "Stargate SG-1"'s sixth season, it will be the second-to-last one to air. The actual season finale is, in fact, the episode "Full Circle," in which SG-1 returns to Abydos, which they first visited in the "Stargate" film and then again in the series pilot "Children of the Gods." This time around, O'Neill and company must defend the Abydonians from an attack by Anubis, who returns to the planet in search of the fabled Eye of Ra. Veteran "Stargate SG-1" director Martin Wood was in charge of helping bring this episode to life.
"Martin did a wonderful job with 'Full Circle'," enthuses Anderson. "It was a big production and we wanted to make sure that it was in the hands of somebody who's used to doing our show. I really enjoy working with him and Peter DeLuise [writer/producer], who also directs several of our episodes each year. Along with being great Human Beings they're also very talented and innovative people. Quite often there are certain rhythms or techniques that a director can become identified with and fall back on. Neither of them falls back on the same stuff. Both Martin and Peter aren't afraid of exploring new ways of doing things and I truly appreciate as well as admire that.
"The gentleman we've been working with on "Prophecy" is Will Waring. He's been our camera operator for the past four years. This is Will's second outing as a director [his first was the fifth season episode "Meridian"] and he's doing a fine job. Not only is he a super smart guy who figures things out on his own, but he's also willing to listen to others who've been at this for a while. Will heeds better ideas and I respect that more than you'll ever know. I just may end up telling him that today. 'The best idea wins' - that's always been my company motto and life's credo. Any time you get a director who comes in with an open mind and listens to the troops, you've got the makings of a creative environment, and I'm a big fan of that."
Having spent most of the past 17 years living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia, the prospect of leaving is proving to be rather a daunting one for Anderson. According to the actor, his experience north of the border has been an eye-opener for him in more ways than one. "Work has been such a big part of my real life, at least in terms of my career, that it's been tough for me to separate the two," he muses. "I come to the set and that's my social life, or at least it has been. I'm now on the verge of having to take a big and very conscious step and really alter the course of who I am in relationship to the world. If there's not a season seven of 'Stargate,' I'm not going to go out and look for work. I've said this before, I'm going to take a year off and let the reins go for a while.
"Looking back at my time in Vancouver, the first thing I've learnt is that I adore Canada. I'm a real Canadaphile, or whatever you want to call it. I love the people, the culture, the nationalism, and the natural resources that afford me the opportunity to pursue the things I love to do, such as mountaineering and skiing. I've also made some very dear friends during my time here. So apparently I was right in my first assessment about Canada, which I made when I was 17 years old. I came here on a bicycle trip and sensed there was something very special about this country and its people. That's definitely been reaffirmed.
"Most importantly, though, since the birth of my daughter Wylie I discovered that I had the capabilities of being a grown-up man as opposed to an overgrown boy. She was born in Vancouver and from that moment on it's been a very accelerated personal evolution for me as far as reassessing my priorities. And my priorities now are life and Wylie. The two are inseparable. I don't even know what else to reflect on now because everything else seems to pale in comparison."
The actor's eyes light up when the topic of conversation turns to his little girl. "She's perfect," says the proud father. "Wylie is a healthy, beautiful, flowering four-year-old and the absolute pride and joy of my life. I taught her how to swim this past summer, and now she's virtually like a little fish," jokes Anderson. "I'm convinced she'll be a pearl diver when she grows up."
A month-and-a-half after "Stargate SG-1" wrapped production of its sixth season, the Sci-Fi Channel announced that the series was renewed for another year. Returning with Anderson are Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge (Teal'c), Don S Davis (General Hammond), and Michael Shanks, who will be reprising his role of Dr Daniel Jackson. Corin Nemec will also be back as Jonas Quinn, but as a recurring castmember. Although filming of the seventh season won't begin until February 2003, does Anderson have any ideas on what direction he'd like the series to go in?
"I haven't really given it much thought," says the actor. "Because I'm so trusting of the producers and writers to guide the series through character and story development I've grown a bit lazy when it comes to putting in my two cents, much to my discredit. In some ways, though, that's OK. These guys are so good at what they do that it makes sense for me to leave them alone so that they can get on with it. I've received so many compliments about the sixth year. The Sci-Fi Channel really lucked out and got qualitatively a wonderful season's worth of work. Hopefully, we'll be able to give them that again and more in Year Seven."
Should "Stargate SG-1" ever be renewed for an eighth season, Anderson already has an idea on how his character could in some small way still be a part of the action. "Here, let me show you," he says. The actor lies down on the floor of his trailer and faces the TV. He rests his feet on the wall on either side of the TV and sets the phone down next to him.
"All you'd see on TV would be O'Neill's boots and maybe the back of his head as he lies on the floor probably watching some sports show on TV. When the phone rings he'd answer it and say, 'Go to P3X525 and save the universe, OK? Thanks, bye.' That's what's known as 'calling it in'. So you'd never see Jack's face, you'd just hear his voice. The producers could send me a tape, I'd record my lines, and then send the tape back to them," he laughs. "Hey, it worked for 'Charlie's Angels.' So you never know what might happen, especially in this wacky world of Sci-Fi."