THE GATE THAT JACK BUILT
Former star, and executive producer of Stargate SG-1, Richard Dean Anderson was the face of SG-1 for eight seasons. Putting his heart and soul into bringing the irreverent Jack O'Neill to life, Anderson talks exclusively about his reaction to the show's cancellation and his hopes for its future.
Anderson saw it coming. In fact, he knew it was coming. The final, indisputable word from the SCI FI Channel, that they did not intend to pick up Stargate SG-1 for an 11th season; it was only a matter of time.
"Before I was told I think I sensed something in the air," recalls Anderson, who not only spent the better part of a decade starring in Stargate SG-1 as Jack O'Neill, but who spent much of his time on the series credited as an executive producer. "I [was up] in Vancouver visiting some friends and I got a feeling, possibly from the way some words were being phrased or approached, or maybe an allusion to the future being a little more ambiguous than set in stone. I'm trying to remember who may have snuck me the information. It was early on, I think a couple of days after Brad Wright and Rob Cooper and John Smith had been told, so I wasn't totally in the dark about it. But it wasn't my place to make any big announcement.
"It's almost like the script had been written. There had been a big celebration from MGM for the 200th episode, plus setting all these records for the longest-running this and the biggest that. It was huge. It was all very... grand, really. When things get that big or that overly celebrated you kind of wonder what the next step is going to be, or what the next line written in the script is going to be.
"My reaction?" Anderson continues. "I wasn't shocked and I wasn't so surprised or emotionally upset by anything. I mean, time does march on. We had 10 years, 10 seasons. That's an awful lot of product. I don't know what the ratings were doing at the time, but if they got any indication at all that they were dipping, I'm sure SCI FI jumped all over that, the sentiment being that it was time to let the franchise move on, or go away. So I think my first words were, 'Well, I guess that makes sense.' But it's too bad."
Though he's turned up occasionally on Stargate SG-1 the past couple of years, guest-starring in several episodes during seasons nine and 10, Anderson essentially left the Stargate SG-1 fold after year eight. He did so for personal reasons, in order to be with his young daughter, Wylie, and he makes no apologies for his decision. "Eight seasons for me was exactly right, given where I was in life and in my career. Primarily in life," Anderson explains. "It was good timing for me. It was time to leave. The downside was that I was having so much fun.
"The evolution of O'Neill was, I think, slow to come. He was pretty consistent over the years, but I was starting to take him bigger and, I don't want to say bizarre, but I was making some choices for the character that were maybe less than steeped in military tradition. But I had gotten the OK from the Air Force. General John Jumper said that I was doing a great job with my 'quirkiness,' that he had colonels under him that were far quirkier. He gave me a pat on the head, fed me a biscuit, and sent me on my way. I was having too much fun.
"I don't know if the cast and crew were getting tired of my indulgence. I'd never intentionally do anything to undermine the integrity of a scene, but they had been incredibly patient with me for eight years, and maybe it was a little much for some to handle, I don't know. But every time I'd go back I'd be told they really missed O'Neill. They don't miss me, they miss O'Neill! I'm kidding. I do miss being in that environment with those people, and it lent me a fair amount of stability in my life, but I'm a happy single dad building a house in California now, and that's what I'm doing."
Anderson returned to Vancouver in recent days to shoot episodes of both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. He appeared in two episodes of Stargate SG-1 - "200" and "The Shroud" - and three episodes of Stargate: Atlantis - The Return, Part 1 and 2 and also The Real World. It takes a little prodding to jog Anderson's memory of those five shows as he's notoriously (and admittedly) bad at recalling the finer details of individual episodes. "That's a problem they've had with me up here for 10 years!" Anderson jokes, happily laughing at himself. "I just don't chronicle those things in my brain, unlike Peter DeLuise or Martin Wood - those guys just have it all right there, available in their... what?... um... OK!... neurons, neutrinos... neurosis's...
"I haven't seen "200," but I saw it being pieced together. Martin Wood snuck me some snippets and I thought it was big and broad and self-deprecating. The fourth wall was gone, which can be fun. So I'd like to see the whole thing to see how it came together. Martin is one of my favorite people, let alone directors, so for his sake I hope it was wonderful. I don't have much recollection of The Real World. I had been out of circulation up here for a long time, and, just to complicate things more for me, when I came back, I came back on Stargate: Atlantis. I had no idea where I was, why I was there, what I was supposed to be doing. I think part of the problem was that the director was a new guy and he didn't have the slightest idea, either!
"On The Return Part 1 and 2, I was working with Robert Picardo [Richard Woolsey] - one of my favorite human beings on the face of the planet. Talk around the set and the offices was that if there was going to be another spin-off, it should be with Woolsey and O'Neill. We get along well and share an appreciation for things absurd. A mutual sense of humor and rhythm and timing and all that actory cool stuff, all that swell technical thingy stuff. However, I think we also embraced an overt appreciation for what the nature of the relationship between Woolsey and O'Neill could be, and therefore acknowledged a grand opportunity to launch our careers into something really sweet.
"Robert and I have mutual friends in the outside world and we had an instantaneous friendship. So those [episodes] were fun, really fun, plus I got to work with [director] Brad Turner who, over the 10 years I've known him, has become a dear friend, and his career has just exploded. He's with "24" now, and he's one of the main guys there. Brad has a great sense of humor. He lets me misbehave and then cut back. He's the kind of director I like to work with best.
"Andy Mikita, who directed The Shroud and is another one of my favorite human beings, a confidante and friend. He had me walking around Daniel [Michael Shanks], who was all frosty white," Anderson continues. "As I'm walking around in this semi-interrogational mode, I remember my speeches getting bigger and bigger and, I don't know, quite probably over-the-top. Andy apparently trusted me enough - or didn't trust me enough - to not say anything, so I started cutting it back and cutting it back. Of course, we printed everything and some days later he came up to me and said, 'You know, you'd think after all these years I would have learned to trust you. You're so right. You were so right on.' And he apologized."
It's possible that Anderson's performance in The Shroud could mark the last time he'll ever play O'Neill, as he's not contracted to appear in additional shows and with production of season 10 nearing its end it could be too late to squeeze him into the last episode, which was in production at the time of this interview early in October.
On the other hand, Stargate SG-1 has burned off more lives that the average cat, and more than a few people involved with the show are certain that it will return in some form. Rumors suggest that MGM have already approved two movies based on Stargate SG-1, with a targeted release date for Fall 2007.
"That's what I get from sources as well, that there are many options," muses Anderson, who has publicly stated his willingness to play O'Neill again if the opportunity arises. "First of all, it's such a strong franchise. I'd be more surprised if it doesn't find another venue within which to thrive, than I ever was that it was canceled. The two-hour movies are a possibility. They do keep talking about a feature. I don't know how realistic that is, but there's always a chance. I think Brad and Robert are poised and ready to do whatever becomes available to them. And I think there was great wisdom in doing the spin-off, in that it will give the Stargate SG-1 people a chance to show up until it's decided what happens next with Stargate SG-1."
The alternate incarnations of Richard Dean Anderson
It's common knowledge that Richard Dean Anderson likes to laugh and gets a kick out of making others laugh. And so it made sense that if he was going to do some quick work outside of Stargate SG-1 guest shots, he'd pop up in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bangalore, a classic episode of one of his favorite shows, The Simpsons, and reprise another beloved character, namely Angus MacGyver, in a well-received television commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl in February 2006.
The Simpsons episode was written by Dan Castellaneta and his wife, Deb Lacusta. Castellaneta, who voices Homer Simpson, hit it off with Anderson while guest-starring in the Stargate SG-1 episode Citizen Joe, and invited Anderson to voice himself on The Simpsons. In the episode, angry MacGyver fans, Patty and Selma, kidnap Anderson during a Stargate SG-1 convention. "I had more fun than is allowed! In great part because I would just sit back and watch the regular people do what they do so well," Anderson recalls of partaking in The Simpsons recording sessions.
"I was just in awe of what kind of talent they have, what kind of rapport they've developed over the years. It's so professional. It's so creative. I was reenergized about the TV business because if you can have that much fun doing what you do for a living, that's the idea. That's coming home. Those folks are just spectacular. It was a little weird, but pleasantly so, to see how they depicted Richard Dean Anderson. My mom didn't like it. She said, 'I thought they were mean to you.' I said, 'Mom, that's the idea. That's satire. I'm honored.' She didn't quite understand."
As for the MacGyver commercial, Anderson explains that he'd been approached oftentimes over the years to reprise his adventurer character, but had resisted the urge to do so until someone came along with a good idea for such a spot. Finally, MasterCard presented him with their notion for the latest "Priceless" commercial. "I thought the concept was really funny," Anderson says. "They had the right attitude. They were willing to have it be tongue-in-cheek, and a good laugh at MacGyver's expense. I was on board with that. I'm older and slower and, hopefully, wiser, and it all tied in perfectly for me, to be going to the store to buy the stuff that I need to save the day.
"The shooting of it was interesting because my back and my knees are pretty well shot, but I got on that zip line and I was allowed to come flying down that thing. I didn't do the landing. It seemed really high, but it wasn't really anything spectacular, other than the tuck and roll. I remember that we were shooting my getting up from the ground and as I rolled and got about halfway up I started laughing hysterically because I knew my body wasn't going to get me the rest of the way up. I just fell backwards and said, 'All right, stunt guy!' But it was a ball. It was flattering, let's put it that way."