Exploring new worlds and changing nappies is all in a day's work for this actor
Richard Dean Anderson is one happy man. He has shed his Stargate SG-1 military fatigues, changed into his street clothes and is looking forward to going home and spending the rest of the day with his longtime companion Apryl and their little girl Wylie. The adventures he has had as Colonel Jack O'Neill on Stargate SG-1 and as the action man MacGyver cannot compare to those as a father. They are the more challenging and, by far, the most rewarding.
"You look at things a heck of a lot differently when you become a dad," notes Anderson with a smile. "My priorities before I met Apryl and before we had Wylie were fairly unclear to me. Not that I was without direction in my late forties, but I certainly had garnered a perspective where I could look back and say, 'Well, I've done a lot of things but I've done them alone. Maybe it's time I make a transition.'
"When Wylie came along the reality of that just slapped me right up the side of the head. It made things a lot clearer. If it's not being too blunt, I finally realized that, although I enjoy acting, it's just a business. As much as I love working and the social atmosphere that a job like this gives me, my greatest audience and my greatest focus and love is this child. She's bringing things out in me that have either been dormant or never been seeded and/or watered and allowed to flower. For those of you with children you know there is nothing like the sound of your little one chasing after you saying, 'Daddy, daddy!' "
Does Anderson feel that becoming a father has at all influenced his portrayal of Jack O'Neill on Stargate SG-l? "Possibly not, although I don't know that I'm objective enough to really know if it has," he says. "What I can tell you is that the people I'm working with now and those I've worked with in the past say that I have a gentler, softer twinkle in my eyes when I come to work. Trust me, that's just the result of me getting up early," jokes Anderson.
"It's made me happier, I'll say that. I think of how lucky I am that, before coming to work, I have the joy of my little girl hugging me and giving me a big kiss as I leave the house. That certainly sets the tone for the day and, hence, affects my energy level in a positive way. So I feel a lot better about things in general and that helps me in my performance. I don't think, though, that I've tapped into my father/child feelings when it comes to my character on the show.
"To be honest, Jack O'Neill lost his son, Charlie, and we've dealt with the emotional purging he endured during Stargate's first year. He still has those memories and every once in a while we'll allude to them. However, the nature of the character is such that the writers and I have allowed him to be pragmatic enough in his mode of behaviour to get on with his life. It's also allowed us on a story level to move on. So I think I'm primed and ready on an emotional scale to explore a relationship between Jack O'Neill and kids or anyone else for that matter whenever the opportunity arises."
The colonel had the chance to express his feelings for both children and adults in the show's third season. In Learning Curve he becomes extremely protective of a young girl, Merrin (Brittney Irvin), who he feels is being exploited along with the rest of the children of her race. In a later story, A Hundred Days, O'Neill is stranded on a planet and falls in love with one of its inhabitants, played by Michelle Greene.
"Unfortunately, with A Hundred Days we didn't have enough time to tell the entire story in the way I think it should have been told," explains the actor. "Some of the emotional beats between my character and Michelle's are missing. Because he believes he's been abandoned, O'Neill's accepted the fact that this is his new home and he's ready to 'give' of himself and commit to a relationship with this woman. However, we never really get to see this 'giving over' process. That's what I felt the episode was lacking. Emotionally, it just fell a little short, but that's the inherent problem in episodic TV. You only have 42 minutes and 30 seconds to tell your story. If you go over that time something is going to be cut out. That's that. Overall, A Hundred Days was a fascinating concept and I loved Jack having to face that dilemma. Michelle was great to work with, too."
While on the subject of his character's love life, the actor says Stargate SG-1 fans will not be seeing any wild passionate exchanges between O'Neill and Major Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) in the near future. "They've calmed down a bit since the pilot," jokes Anderson. "Some people really want them to get together on a sexual level and start 'fooling around.' We've tested the waters a little bit with this conceptually but so far we haven't really gone there.
"Part of what we're doing with the characters, albeit in a Science Fiction venue, is being considerate of the US armed forces, particularly the Air Force. They've laid down rules on how men and women should treat each other in the workplace, especially when it comes to things of a sexual nature. So we've decided to keep the flirtation quiet and the innuendo respectful, or as respectful as possible."
One aspect of Anderson's personality that he and the show's writers and producers have delighted in incorporating into his character is the actor's sense of humour. No matter how dire the situation, Jack O'Neill will more than likely come out with a witty remark to lighten things up and make the audience smile.
Alright on the Night
"Of course, viewers don't see half of what we do in front of the cameras, and thankfully so. Sometimes I think our rehearsals are what we should be taping," laughs the actor. "To some degree, I'd say Michael Shanks (Dr. Daniel Jackson) and I probably have the most fun in banter scenes. I think this is built partially out of a mutual respect of the theatre of the absurd and the fact that we have a ball working together. Michael's also a very fine actor and one of the most tolerant people when it comes to my wacky behaviour. All the characters are starting to have more fun, though, and that's good to see."
No one is immune to O'Neill's amusing quips, not even his commanding officer General George Hammond (Don S. Davis). Although the colonel has the utmost respect for the general, he sees nothing wrong with the occasional bit of levity or irreverence and neither does the real-life armed forces.
"We keep in close touch with the Air Force and I've asked their liaisons about my portrayal of the character," says Anderson. "They love what I'm doing with O'Neill and that includes his relationship with Hammond. The irreverence is OK, which I am happy about because it makes playing him that much more fun. Don Davis and I have discussed the bond between our two characters and we see it as sort of a father/son thing. Hammond knows O'Neill is a live wire and not quite by the book but he's fine with that because he also knows he's the best person for the job.
Odd Duck O'Neill
"A group from the Air Force recently came up to see us and visit the set. We'd actually written a scene into an episode for General Michael Ryan, one of the real-life Joint Chiefs of Staff. Unfortunately, he had to cancel at the last minute, which meant we never got to do the scene. In it, Jack is, not so much irreverent, but curious about their current mission. As he leaves, General Ryan turns to Hammond and says, 'You've got your hands full with that one, don't you?' Hammond acknowledges Jack is an odd duck but also someone he wants on his team. That would have been a great scene for the fans to see because it neatly illustrates the relationship between the two characters."
As most regular viewers of Stargate SG-1 know, Jack O'Neill's humour can at times be very subtle. Are you familiar with the old adage, 'A picture can say a thousand words?' Well, the colonel can put a heck of a lot of meaning into one word, but it depends on how closely you are listening as to whether or not you catch his drift. "It would be great if the writers could get everything into a script but it's impossible," says the actor. "I'll often think of things I want to do or say on the day of filming, but most of these little nuances are meant to grab the ears of those who are really listening. If you catch one of these 'Jackisms' that's great, just as long as it doesn't get in the way of telling the story.
"An ongoing battle I've had from day one working in the TV industry, and certainly from my days on MacGyver, is this idea of the dumbing things down for the viewer. If only I'd been in the position to say, 'You're fired,' the first time I heard someone say that. How dare anyone even consider taking an intelligent idea and tearing away the wit in order to make it easier for people to understand? That's an insult to me as an actor and a producer and certainly to the audience.
"Stargate is an intelligent show and there are many, many elements to it that are beyond my comprehension, but Brad Wright and everyone else involved in making the series know what they're doing. They're not afraid of presenting a concept and giving people a chance to figure it out. What we end up doing, first off, is garnering attention. If someone doesn't get it the first time they're going to ask questions. I think that's great," enthuses Anderson. "If an idea is so intellectual that it initiates a dialogue between people what's wrong with that? Let's get everyone talking and asking questions. OK, I'll get off my soapbox now," chuckles Anderson.
As of July, filming on Stargate SG-l's fourth season was already more than halfway completed. MGM and Showtime have given the show the green light for a fifth year, which means Anderson's adventures through the Stargate will continue for quite a while. Despite the daily grind and hectic schedule, the actor remains as committed as ever to the programme and his character of Jack O'Neill.
"There's only one fear I have about a long-running series and it's what happened on MacGyver," says Anderson. "After seven years and 139 episodes people were tired, and I was the head of the pack. It's not that anyone was starting to lose interest, it's just we were all mentally and physically exhausted. So it was time to move on. I've always said, and this is my own cliché, 'We're only limited by our imaginations and if those dry up we may as well move on anyway'. However, I'm pretty sure we have a few more ideas up our sleeves to keep Stargate going for sometime yet."