Stargate SG-1? Richard Dean Anderson has got far more important things to talk to Thomasina Gibson about, like fatherhood and saving the Earth for real...
Given that most of the cast and crew of the phenomenal Stargate SG-1 have at one time or another commented on the subtle nature of the sense of humor displayed by Richard Dean Anderson, please spare a thought for the poor writer sent to interview the man. Blessed with the ability to make anyone believe whatever he says -- at first -- you have to be very quick to catch the twinkle in his eye that lets you know he's leading you straight up the garden path.
"You know stuff that I say 'off the record' is really far more interesting.... I would imagine," offers the inimitable Mr. Anderson, all wide-eyed and with a little head shake that is very reminiscent of the ones made by his current alter ego, Colonel Jack O'Neill. Luckily, I'm learning to watch for the tell-tale crinkle that shows he's about to break into a grin any second. "No chance!" I reply. "We're going to print every word of wisdom you have to say about this show." "Oh dear," he sighs.
The fourth season of any successful production can be the time when lead actors begin to believe the hype cast around the show, which can in turn lead to a certain reticence to speak to the press, or indeed the fans who are responsible for their success. This is definitely not the case with anyone involved with Stargate SG-1, particularly the charming Mr. A. Dashing round fulfilling dual roles as executive producer and actor, he would have every excuse to seek some seclusion during a break in filming. Instead, Anderson modestly asks if I have time in my schedule to chat with him. As a result we're swinging round in chairs in the Control Center above the infamous Gate Room trying to jog his memory with regard to some of his most outstanding moments in Stargate SG-1 over the last year. "Now, see, I'm really bad at chronology," he explains. "You know -- the tracking of the show. We've got a franchise here that has a really good core of ideas from which we've created a story bible, but I have such a hard time following it. I couldn't tell you squat about what's happened in the past."
Given the twinkle in his eye, it's hard to decipher the truth in that statement. However, prompted to give up any detail about production, whether it be from an actor's perspective, a producer's stance or a personal point of view, Anderson shows just how exceptional he is by going for a more open approach. "There you go!" he nods, "The person. Now you're with me." At a time when most performers jealously guard their private lives and restrict original comments to a minimum, it's refreshing to hear Richard Dean Anderson promote a completely different tack. "Most elements in my life have changed dramatically since the birth of my daughter. She's taken all really serious focus and all my serious attention and my passion is now for fatherhood. I want to be the best dad in the world."
Anderson is so serious about the lovely young lady in his life that he's the first to admit that everything else "kind of slips by the wayside. I get a little distracted when I come here." He shrugs, "Much to my professional discredit." A tad concerned about this result, he says, "I've already apologized to Brad Wright [one of the creators of the show and fellow executive producer] and said, 'Forgive me -- I've got some really strong, paternal aspects of life that are pushing to the fore here.' But he told me -- 'Listen, I have a family of my own. I know exactly what you're going through. Don't worry about it.' Brad's feelings mirror those of the rest of my co-workers. It's obvious to everyone that I'm just head over heels, consumed by fatherhood and this wonderful daughter."
Grinning from ear to ear, Anderson goes on, "But, much as I was distracted before just by the elements of going from point A to point B in Real Life, now I have a beautiful point C to go to. I do take my job seriously -- obviously I'm not performing brain surgery here -- but it is a professional environment and I take pride in getting the work done as a producer and as a contributor on several creative levels, but I do find myself drifting off into this reverie. Like right now..." he confides, "....I'm in mid sentence but still thinking about the weekend I just spent with my daughter."
Agreeing with the suggestion that life with a toddler can make any other situation seem unimportant, Anderson says, "You know, if the truth be known, any job I've ever done has never been the end all. There's always been something else to distract me, but having Wylie has softened some of the edges that I used to bring to work. The nature of what goes on round here can be frustrating and it's possible to take some of those elements home. But now I find they don't go home with me because I know I have an angel waiting, and it's senseless to come in all keyed up or stressed. The minute I walk in the door she's usually just eating supper and I'll hear 'Daddy!' and it's like, 'All bets are off. Now is the moment.'" Pointing to his heart, Anderson maintains, "Within half an hour of being with her again, all of the angst and anxiety that may have built up here during the week just seems to dissipate and go away."
Of course not everyone is delighted with the new, mellow Richard Dean Anderson. "I've lived a very rapid, kind of sordid life for most of my life and some of my colleagues miss that." Laughing at the mock shocked reaction he gets from this revelation, Anderson innocently expounds, "Oh yes, I was very randy, rakish, roguish.... but I no longer do that. In fact, some of my more reprobate cohorts here tell me that apparently I had a reputation that preceded me and though none of that behavior is even a part of my thought processes any more, they are all saying, 'Damn! I wish I knew you when... blah, blah, blah... We need you out there.'"
Suggestions that he won't be able to rein his daughter in when she gets to an age where she can be rebellious stops him in his tracks. "Why not?" A gentle reminder that what was sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose brings a smile. "Well, actually her mum has already said that she's going to tell our daughter with pride about her father's reputation because essentially what it is is that I'm a survivor. I survived those... errors... those changing cultural things that most of us who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies were blessed to endure. I hope my history gives her the confidence to survive whatever comes to her future."
One thing Wylie's doting dad will do to preserve that future is sound off at every opportunity about the individual's responsibility to preserve the Earth for following generations. A man keen on environmental issues since his boyhood days in Minnesota, Anderson has recently undertaken a pioneering journey down the Filer River in Central British Columbia in order to highlight the North American First Nations' right to protect their land from the logging industry. The trip received much critical acclaim when it featured on the National Geographic Channel in October. "The whole thing came about because I was at a charity auction last winter that was benefiting the Waterkeeper Alliance, and one of the auction items at this fundraiser was a rafting trip. It was pretty special, not least because there was a cause involved, which is to help the First Nations find some kind of solution to the logging problem. There were about 20 of us altogether and we were a pretty heady group, consisting of Kathy Francis, chief of the Klahoose First Nation, Robert Kennedy Jr, whose late father is considered to be one of the founders of the modern conservation movement, members of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Waterkeepers Alliance. We embarked on a rafting adventure that was fascinating in itself but which brought to the surface many, many emotional elements for all of us. Aside from being privy to some of the most pristine and elegantly beautiful natural terrain, there was a lot of really poignant discussion about the issues at hand. What the trip has done for me is re-introduce the need for personal education on what issues are around and what people like me can do to promote awareness. I came back from that trip a very emotional person. Everything had so surfaced. It got right under my skin -- the elements of appreciation for the important things on this planet and this added re-awareness of what I have to do. Right now, because of my prominence in Stargate SG-1 and other projects I've been involved with, I'm in a position to have some public forum, I can be real mouthy about that kind of stuff and think of it as a privilege to do so. I don't mean to undermine my involvement or my love for what I'm doing at work, but the environmental issues that I hold dear to my heart are far more important than making little TV movies. Because if we don't take care of what we have, there isn't going to be anyone around to watch shows."
Fortunately, although its roots are firmly steeped within the realms of science fiction, Anderson believes there is a symbiotic relationship between Stargate SG-1 and the real-life issues at hand. "It does occur to me that within our shows there will often be a reference to the kind of technology that could help our environment, so there are small threads of connections there. It's all coming together."
With less than a week to go before the wrap of season four, Anderson has a few threads of his own to pull together before the long winter break. "It's a little bit crazy here," he grins, "I'm editing two shows, editing a script and shooting the current episode so I'm not quite sure what the hell is going on. It's all getting criss-crossed here but we're winding down for the season and we're hustling instead of pacing ourselves trying to get it all done, so it's getting a bit hectic." SG-1's group leader also suggests, "We're so tired and beat up with the year's experiences and efforts that we're all of us starting to get a little dopey." Surely not! However, the actor admits that earlier that day "during one of my rants where I was making too much noise and misbehaving and all," some inappropriate and definitely unscripted dialogue came pouring out of his mouth which stunned himself and brought the house down. "We could do nothing for laughing but I have no idea where this stuff came from." Fear of being banned from set means Mr. Anderson's exact soliloquy will have to remain a mystery. However, a pitiful threat to print it because I'm fed up of writing about how nice they all are at the SG-1 base is met with a snort of derision from Anderson the unflappable. "Well good!" he shouts, "I don't care! We're making fans everywhere. We're expanding our audience. I'll keep my eye open for anything else likely to destroy our reputation."
Before he gets too carried away, Anderson is persuaded to talk about less contentious matters, ie what he plans to do with his time in the next few months. "Definitely no work," is his immediate reply. "I'm going to do a lot of skiing. A buddy wants me to go to the Galapagos Islands on a scuba-diving trip but I haven't been diving for 15 years, so I'd have to re-educate myself that way. But definitely skiing. I'm a mountain sort of guy." Considering his affection for one Cheyenne Mountain, no one could argue with that.