After the uncertainties of the series' future at the end of Season Six, Richard Dean Anderson is back as Colonel Jack O'Neill...
A carload of 20-year-olds stops opposite a row of trailers parked alongside one of the roads leading into the Greater Vancouver Regional Development area. The driver asks a man directing traffic if there's a TV show being shot at the GVRD today. He nods and says, "Yes." The young man then discovers that the series is, in fact, Stargate SG-1.
"Is Richard Dean Anderson here?" asks the driver.
"Yes, he's around somewhere," answers the man.
"Wow, cool," says the young man. The car pulls away, its occupants suitably impressed that the show's leading man is in the immediate area.
Since 1976, Richard Dean Anderson has gained a large and loyal fan following thanks to his work on such series as General Hospital, MacGyver, Legend and, currently, Stargate SG-1.
It was almost seven years ago that the actor stepped through the Stargate for the first time during the filming of the show's two-hour premiere Children of the Gods. Back then, MGM had given the series a 44-episode commitment. It was anyone's guess, though, what would happen after that.
By the end of its sixth year, Stargate SG-1 was more popular than ever. Even so, there was no guarantee that it would be renewed for a seventh season. There was also a question of whether or not Anderson would be returning and, if so, how involved his character of Colonel Jack O'Neill would be in the ongoing adventures of the SG-1 team. At the eleventh hour, The Sci-Fi Channel announced that the show would be back for another year, and Anderson as well. On this May afternoon, the actor is in his trailer dealing with other business while waiting to be called to a nearby field for his next scene. He could not be more pleased with how filming is going this year.
"Things are great," he says. "I have an abbreviated [shooting] schedule this year that allows me to travel on Thursday nights or early Friday mornings to be with my daughter Wylie for the weekends. On Mondays, I bring her to school, go to the airport and fly back up here to Vancouver to be at work in the afternoon. That cycle can get a bit crazy at times," smiles Anderson. "I'm lucky, though, insofar as I get every fourth week off. Naturally, this all helped when making my decision to do a seventh season of the series.
"I remember thinking at the end of the sixth year, 'This has been a really nice run.' Brad Wright [Stargate co-creator and former executive producer] and I talked a few times and reflected on the fact that if we all walked away right now we'd be proud of what we had done. However, after we wrapped production last season I spoke on the phone with Brad and told him, 'You know what, it doesn't feel over. On a creative level it doesn't feel like there has been closure'. After our conversation, my representatives met with the people at MGM and explained that my coming back for another year of Stargate was dependent on my schedule. It was never about money but rather having more time to spend with my little girl. She had just turned four and it was the start of what is an important stage of development in a child's life. I wanted to be present and available for her.
"MGM asked me to put together what I felt I needed schedule-wise. In doing so I had make sure to accommodate Wylie's mother's needs. Everything then had to fit into something that would work for Stargate. Happily, it did. I've been really impressed with what [executive producers] Robert Cooper, Michael Greenburg and [co-executive producer] John Smith have done to make it as easy as possible for me to do my job. The one slightly frustrating aspect of it has been on the creative side. Since my time is limited I don't really have intricate story lines. However, later this season there are plans for some episodes that are strong for Jack. As such, we're saving up some of my workdays for these stories."
After a year's absence as a series regular, Michael Shanks returns to Stargate SG-1 as Dr Daniel Jackson in the seventh season opener Fallen. In the following episode, Homecoming, Daniel rejoins the SG-1 team, while Jonas Quinn goes back home to Kelowna after helping save his planet and its people from being enslaved by the System Lord Anubis. While Anderson was sorry to see Corin Nemec leave, he was happy to welcome Shanks back to the fold.
"Without dredging it all up again, there had been some controversy about Jonas taking Daniel's place on the team," notes the actor. "To be honest, I didn't pay attention to any of the negative stuff. It didn't affect me at all. The bottom line is, I thoroughly enjoy working with Michael Shanks. He understands, accepts and has the acting chops to be able to do a kind of dance with my character. After he left I kind of missed that.
"Corin's rhythm is slower and much more thought out, not that Michael's isn't, it's just that Daniel tends to snap to it a little quicker than Jonas. Because of this, the interaction between my character and Jonas was limited because O'Neill always wanted to get on with things. Corin did a great job in what was a difficult situation. It was a thankless task for him to try to plug a hole and I hope he didn't try to bear that burden personally. Creatively, I think our writers handled Jonas's departure and Daniel's return quite well."
Most people are familiar with the saying 'The show must go on'. This is, however, not always possible. Earlier this year, Anderson's father Stuart passed away from complications due to acute leukemia. The producers of Stargate SG-1 made sure that the actor could be with his father during his final days. "My dad had been given about three months to live," he explains. "This was late last year and the projection was pretty close. Because we were told this early enough, my father and I were able to spend time together.
"During those few months, one of my duties was to make sure that my daughter/his granddaughter experienced the joy of Stuart Anderson. So on the weekends I'd take Wylie down to San Diego and we would go to the University Club to watch my dad, who was a jazz bassist. He performed three nights a week and on weekends with a piano player, which was a combo. Once a month he added a saxophone, guitar and drums to make a bigger combo. Wylie, independent of knowing that my father played that particular type of music, loved jazz. The first time she and I walked into the club, her jaw dropped when she saw him onstage. On each subsequent visit, Wylie was equally as attentive and intrigued by it all. There's a magnetism about music and certainly about her Papa Stuart making the music she so loves. That was the real payoff to the relationship between my dad and my little girl.
"Just before he died I got a call from his doctor saying dad had just three days to live. The people at Stargate said, 'Go'. I got home and over the next two-and-a-half days my brother Jeff and I served as our dad's primary caregivers with the hospice as support. My three brothers and I were there at the time of his passing and it was the most profound moment I've ever experienced. I'm very grateful that the relationship between my dad and I was so clean that we didn't need to fix anything. So there was no panic at all towards the end. Suffice to say, I truly miss him."
Even before new episodes of Stargate SG-1 began airing in the States, there was already talk of an eighth season. Would Anderson be willing to walk another year in O'Neill's boots? "I don't know," says the actor. "Once again, when the time comes I'll have to make some decisions about that. With MacGyver and now Stargate, I'm on the verge of doing two seven-year episodic TV projects that have been extremely successful and fulfilling. If I weren't having fun I wouldn't be here. So we'll just have to wait and see what the future holds."
An '80s Kind of Guy
Next to Colonel O'Neill, Anderson is probably best known around the world as the ever-resourceful MacGyver. "When we did the pilot for MacGyver it was an action/adventure story about a slightly shaggy looking guy with long hair and a science background," says Anderson. "Its success as a series was, I think, in part due to the fact that the concept was new to TV. MacGyver was a reluctant hero who never carried a weapon. Instead, he used his brains and whatever was on hand in order to get out of a jam. The show was perfectly timed. It debuted in the mid-80s, which marked a swing in TV entertainment. We were able to find an audience and ride the crest of that swing on ABC. So that was cool. Sometimes we'd have to come up with solutions to MacGyver's dilemmas as we were filming the episode. I love that kind of creative scrambling. It was an honour and a joy to work with Dana Elcar as well as people like Bruce McGill, Teri Hatcher and Dick Butkis [ex-football player-turned-actor], who was a hero of mine. Like Stargate, the MacGyver set was one big family and I really enjoyed that."
Since his first day on Stargate SG-1, Richard Dean Anderson has worked not only as an actor but also as one of the show's executive producers. "Because I'm so involved in the filming of the series I'm not a key part of the pre-production process," he says. "I do, however, seem to be fairly comfortable with editing or polishing scripts, although I don't write them. So I work with [friend and business partner] Michael Greenburg in basically an editorial capacity.
"Of course, on any given day it's safe to say I'm a liaison between the acting contingent and the production team, which is a good thing and sometimes not so good a thing. I have to be responsible to production. After all, the series has to be made. However, I also want to make sure that the actors are fine with the script, costumes, makeup and anything else that affects their performance. So there's a whole balancing act that I do, but it's not very difficult. It's just that you're dealing with different contingents.
"In post-production, Michael and I will sit in on the editing and make our suggestions. Once that's done, we try to help with whatever else it takes to get the finished product done."