HAIL TO THE MAN
Jack O'Neill's worst nightmare seems to have come true. As Commander in Chief of the SGC, he is now 'The Man'! It may not have been easy at first, but now, as Richard Dean Anderson confesses, he might actually be having fun...
It's amazing to think that the universe of Stargate SG-1 has been in the public consciousness now for almost a decade. In that time, children have become teenagers, and teenagers have grown into their adult years, all the while watching Colonel Jack O'Neill battle every sort of difficulty imaginable - and doing it all with a quick and often irreverent quip. It makes one wonder just how many young people have been encouraged to join the armed forces, and whether any of them have ever actually met a commanding officer quite like Jack O'Neill...
It's a thought not lost on Richard Dean Anderson, the star behind O'Neill's jaunty persona, who has had plenty of opportunity to interact with the real faces in uniform during his years on Stargate SG-1.
It's nice to have the real guys floating around here every once in a while," says the actor, during a break from filming season eight's massive two-parter Reckoning. "I remember a scene I shot with General Ryan which ended up being fairly humourous. I was portraying a Colonel in the Air Force with this kind of fumbling, bizarre behavior in front of the real Chief of Staff. Off camera I asked him if what I was doing was too over-the-top and too much, or was I properly portraying a Colonel - were there any other Colonels that behaved as my character did? And he stopped me mid-sentence and said, 'Yes, and worse. You're doing a good job, son,'" Anderson says, laughing as he recalls the conversation. "So I felt that was my licence to continue doing what I was doing - because to watch my antics in the show, as a Colonel and now as a General in the Air Force... well, the credibility might be a little iffy at times. But we got validation from General Ryan!"
Any lingering doubt in Anderson's mind as to whether or not the US Air Force was happy with his representation of their organization would have been quashed by the Special Air Force Association Salute, bestowed upon the actor in September. The award, which was last granted to actor James Stewart back in 1987, was a token of appreciation for Anderson's services in positively promoting the image of the Air Force. All this validation has come in handy now that O'Neill has been promoted to General. No stuffy, straight-laced military demeanor here, oh no. O'Neill is the same glib character that he always has been, and in fact, putting him in this new situation has only helped Anderson highlight that fact.
"I don't know if he initially felt he really belonged at this rank," Anderson says, thinking about those first few difficult episodes that formed something of an uncomfortable transitional period for O'Neill. "I go back to the old cliché again of a 'fish-out-of-water'. He didn't want to be 'The Man' - he actually utters those words. And now he is 'The Man'! But it's opened up a whole new area for the writers, a whole new approach to the adjustment that O'Neill has had to make to being in charge and making the larger decisions. I don't want to call it a totally fresh start, but [there's] certainly a new energy and new things to play with. The other side of it is that it does open up a whole new venue for irreverence! The fun factor has been escalated considerably for me, and so far we've got plenty of compliments - and no complaints from the Air Force about what I'm doing! The fun for me is in making it credible and yet true to O'Neill form."
Of course, O'Neill's promotion also means that he now has to be the one who stays behind and watches the SG teams go through the gate without him. For a character that is used to being at the height of the action, whatever planet it happens to be on, that's an even more difficult adjustment to make.
"We've just shot some scenes where the issue of O'Neill missing certain aspects of front line action comes up. My responses on camera are something like, 'God, I miss going off-world.' And I think he really does miss that aspect of it, because he's more of a hands-on, man-of-action character."
Anderson also admits that, like his character, he's missing filming some of the action that used to be so much a part of his life on Stargate SG-1.
"There's no end of fun for me, playing O'Neill on the front line, in the face of the bizarre," he says. "There was always that element of irreverence, and his fear. Any fear that O'Neill may have harbored in the face of these bizarre creatures would have been manifested in his sarcasm and his nervous humor when facing the bad guys. Not being an integral part of the front line business remains one of the things that I do miss, but in sacrificing that it's opened up a new avenue of exploration - basically it's just something new. It's something different, and after seven years, I'm ready for that kind of transition."
Though he hasn't been as up-front in terms of action since playing O'Neill as a General, Anderson reports that at times he's still had plenty of action-adventure to sink his teeth into. O'Neill gets down and dirty in his combat uniform once again in one of season eight's big two-parters, Reckoning.
"We're right in the middle of shooting that now - in fact I've got burn scars on my forearms from shooting my P-90," laughs Anderson. "There's a lot of Replicators [in this episode]. The Replicators have infiltrated the SGC, so there's an in-house fight that we're staging and shooting as we speak. There's a lot of blowing up and shooting of the little bugs - and the big bugs! Actually," the actor says mischievously, "it's Lego. Or Tonka toys!"
Stargate SG-1's eighth season has also seen the return of one of O'Neill's recurring sparring partners, in the form of ex-Air Force Officer and NID operative Harry Maybourne, played by Tom McBeath. Maybourne returns in It's Good To Be King, which sees the SGC discover that the rogue former officer is still living happily on the moon we last saw him on in season seven's Paradise Lost - as 'King Arkan'. No longer safe from the Goa'uld, however, Maybourne's peaceful moon is under threat of attack.
"I just adore Tom. First of all, he's just such a wonderful actor, and he is also very receptive to ideas. He doesn't quite have the playful nature that I have, but when he and I start working together, we loosen up very nicely. We've had fun over the years." Anderson also has high hopes that It's Good to be King won't be the last SG-1 sees of Harry Maybourne. "We didn't say goodbye formally on set when we wrapped the episode," he says, when asked whether we'll see the character again, "so I hope so."
As far as filming goes, once Reckoning is done with, Threads will be coming before the camera as the third part of the five-episode arc that wraps up the series to its finale. With the writers eager to deal with some of the loose ends still floating in the wake of SG-1's eight year run, Threads will see yet more new - or at least rare - experiences for O'Neill. This time it's in the guise of a firm love interest, as the General's personal life makes it to the screen as part of season eight's exploration into SG-1's private lives.
"We haven't really delved too deeply into O'Neill's personal life at all, unlike Carter, who seems to have a whole soap opera going on in her life," laughs Anderson. "I didn't ask for it - I was a little surprised. I got the rewrite this morning, and I haven't scrutinized it too closely to see what actually happens, but I do know there's a bed scene! It's been one of those elements that has been missing. We haven't harped on it as part of the on-camera behavior, and I really don't think we've had any kind of innuendo, but in part it might shed some light on the relatively solitary nature of the character. He's a lonely man, but he hides it well, put it that way."
All Good Things
With the conclusion of Stargate SG-1's eighth year rapidly approaching, fans' thoughts have already turned to whether the show will return for an astonishing ninth season, and if so, what form the cast will take. Most importantly, will Anderson return as O'Neill, or will the three-person SG-1 team continue on alone? Could the show even survive without Anderson? This, at the very least, is a matter that the actor is very clear on.
"First of all, I've always felt that the show could definitely go on without me," he says explicitly. "I don't know if MGM feels the same way, or the Sci-Fi Channel for that matter, and it would be presumptuous of me to say otherwise. But yes, for everyone's sake who wants to continue working, I hope it does go on. MGM hasn't formally approached me about [a ninth season], but I've been speaking pretty clearly in terms of not returning. I have a six year-old daughter, and I've got my priorities straight, maybe for the first time in my life," Anderson laughs. "I love the working conditions in Canada, and the people I work with. We're all very close - it's just time for me to be in California on a full-time basis. I just need to be there, to be accessible and available to [my daughter] whenever she needs me."
The actor also reveals that this stepping back from work doesn't just involve Stargate SG-1. After almost 10 years playing MacGyver followed virtually immediately by this eight year run as O'Neill, Anderson, the self-confessed workaholic, is actually considering taking a real break.
"There's no urgency on my part to seek other work. I have a friend who's writing a mid-season sitcom, and I've agreed to do a cameo role for him. But I won't be seeking anything actively right away. I've given myself a year to ease into the new rhythm of life that's before me. I'm building a house, and I want to be on hand for that. I've used the term 'retirement' in referencing what I'm going to do, but I've had to qualify that by saying, 'whatever retiring means to a workaholic'."
And as for his involvement with Stargate SG-1, season eight couldn't be a better way for O'Neill to serve out his swansong, if that indeed is what it turns out to be.
"We had a fairly long hiatus, and when I came back [I felt] that surge of glee that had hitherto been a little foreign to me over those months. The great part is that my work environment has been my social environment as well - which is a sad commentary on my social life, truly! I couldn't have been happier to come back, in great part if not singularly, because of the people that I work with. It affords me a creative outlet for my energy, and I couldn't create a better environment for my level of energy and madness! People are so patient with me, and so accepting of my eccentricities and behavior. I make no excuses for it, in part because I can't. It's what I am!"