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Richard Dean Anderson, star of the sci-fi series Stargate SG-1, charts his own course in life.

Richard Dean Anderson

Inside the dark interior of the old Zephyr Mercury building on Boundary Road, actor Richard Dean Anderson, director Peter DeLuise and the exhausted crew of the Burnaby-based series Stargate SG-1 have to film just one line of dialogue -- "Don't worry, it's in a safe place" -- and they will have wrapped the show's 100th episode.

But that line is proving tough for the other actor in the scene, guest star Willie Garson. Garson, decked out in an electric pink suit and dark pink tie in his role as an alien who doesn't know he's an alien, keeps breaking up as he makes eye contact with Anderson, who is also having a hard time keeping a straight face.

The harder they try, the more they laugh.

On the fifth take, Garson, known to viewers of Sex and the City as Sanford, Carrie's (Sarah Jessica Parker) gay best friend and confidant in all matters sexual, can't even make it past, "Don't worry," before cracking up.

The 100th episode, titled "Wormhole X-treme," was written by the show's Canadian head writers and co-executive-producers Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, and is about an alien, played by Garson, who pitches a movie studio a script that reads suspiciously like the Stargate scenario.

Anderson's character is called in to interrogate Garson and find the answer to those hoary questions -- how much does he know, and when did he know it?

After a week of filming in Vancouver -- after the day's shoot, Garson will head back to Los Angeles and New York to resume duties on Sex and the City, which begins its fourth season on Bravo! late next week -- Garson and the others have to finish this one line, and they're home free.

Anderson remains deadpan throughout Garson's line-reading, except for a deliberate, near-imperceptible tic at the most inopportune moment -- a subtly arched eyebrow, for example, when Garson begins with, "Don't," a tiny smirk on the word "it's" -- and Garson is doubled with laughter.

DeLuise takes this all in from the video monitor, suffering in silence, as the crew dissolves in hysterics. Take after take begins with the requisite silence, only to dissolve into hysterics when Garson can't make it through.

"Okay, okay," DeLuise says. He suggests Anderson leave his spot altogether, while the camera focuses on Garson's face. Anderson sits behind the camera operator, the back of his head in Garson's line of vision, and this time Garson almost makes it through before spotting Anderson's hair, which seems to be bobbing up and down, as though Anderson is laughing.

DeLuise finds it hard to suppress a smile himself. He looks toward Anderson, who vanishes from sight. This time, Garson nails his line on the first try.

"You did it!" DeLuise cries, and the crew applauds.

No. 100 is in the can.

It's late Monday afternoon, and the crew emerges blinking from the dark, concrete bunker into sunshine. There's little time to take a breather. Crew call Tuesday morning, for Stargate's 101st episode, was 7 a.m., at the Port Mann power station. Today is the second day of filming of what will be a seven-day shoot.

The 100th anniversary show came and went quickly, with time out for a slice of birthday cake.

As a youngster, Richard Dean Anderson, the Minnesota-born onetime star of MacGyver, harboured ambitions of becoming a professional hockey player -- until he broke both arms in separate on-ice collisions. He has a reputation for being a bit of a clown and standup comedian on the set, but in private he is pensive about his future and philosophical about the strange journey of a TV show few believed could last.

Stargate is made by MGM Television for the pay-cable channel Showtime, and has been running in syndication across North America for the last three years (it airs Saturdays on BCTV and CHEK-TV, and Sunday mornings on KSTW-Tacoma; the show's first-season episodes were released in a DVD boxed set only last month).

Anderson is a private person, but during an interview alone in his trailer after filming has wrapped on Stargate's 100th episode, he is surprisingly candid about who he is and where he will go from here.

"I've been extremely lucky," Anderson says. "I'm not so ignorant as to overlook the fact that having done MacGyver I'd be in a position to help perpetuate another series, but we have been lucky, I in particular. The show itself has been a pleasant experience. It has lit something in me, got the spark going again. I've met some great people and had some great experience with the genre. Just in the last five years, a lot has happened. But it has also allowed me to anticipate the future, which I've never really done before with any great seriousness.

"I've always lived on the fly. Now, because I have some perspective of what might be down the road, I know I will consider taking myself out of the commercial loop, if only for a while."

Anderson has little ambition for a feature-film career. Celebrity worship is not for him. He has embraced environmentalism and counts Sea Shepherd Society president Paul Watson among his real-life heroes. "As much of a pirate as Paul is in some of the ways he goes about accomplishing his aims I still hold him in great esteem."

Anderson is active in the Water Keeper Alliance, an environmental agency dedicated to the protection and preservation of the world's waterways.

This summer, he will explore a remote river valley in western China. Last summer, he led a documentary film-making expedition to Chile and the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, and has since become active in the Darwin Society, dedicated to the preservation of the Galapagos' ecosystem, which is threatened by poaching and overfishing.

MacGyver is popular in Ecuador, where it is only now airing on local TV, and while Anderson is uncomfortable in the celebrity spotlight he recognized that he could use his MacGyver profile to help him spread the message of marine conservation.

"I've never been too enamoured with that element of my job -- the celebrity aspect -- but it occurred to me, while I was a little thick-headed about it in the beginning, that I might be in a position to use those elements of celebrity in a good way. I've loaned my name to things and helped out as I can, but now I think I'm in a position where I can really do something.

"I've been told that I'm perceived as a person who's travelled a lot and done extensive exploring around the world, but I am just now, at age 51, learning how to travel with my eyes open. I had travelled a lot but my greatest regret is that I did not pay attention as keenly as I could have to the worlds, the cultures, the people as I was travelling.

"My recollections of the places are less than they would have been if I had paid closer attention. Tom Wolfe is one of my favourite writers, and one of my favourite lines of his is that sometimes you have to go a long way out of the way to come back a short distance correctly. I seem to have reached that point now where I'm willing to start my travels again, but at a slower pace and maybe with a greater purpose."

Stargate is guaranteed to remain in production until the end of the season. A sixth season is up in the air, pending a decision from MGM and Showtime. A sixth season will be the show's last; either way, the end is near.

He is most devoted to his daughter, three-year-old Wylie Quinn Annarose, but if there is another indulgence, it's The Simpsons.

"It's an indulgence, not just on a material level." He pauses, then adds with a trace of irony: "Psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, The Simpsons are everything."

What about how other people perceive him? "I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to even guess."

Character is the trait he admires most in people.

"I hesitate to use the word. There's a quality, a prevailing quality that shines through in a person, either subliminal or overt, that makes you comfortable with a person, makes you want to trust them. There's an honesty in the eyes. We look for that in all human beings, basically.

"My best friends have great senses of humour, and are also the ones who are most honest with me, and the most tolerant. So many of my friends have had to develop a certain acceptance of behaviour on my part that was not so much erratic as elusive.

"I'm talking about my later years, because as a 17-year-old I was riding a bicycle to Alaska and hopping freights and doing things like that. In the years when I actually had to think about being a responsible citizen, the people who have become my friends or are friendly within my world have had to nurture some element in their own personality that accepts that I disappear.

"One minute I'm there, physically, spiritually and emotionally. But I disappear. I go places. Physically. Because I like to explore remote corners of the world."

Jan Newman, a veteran makeup artist who has been with Stargate throughout its existence, commiserates briefly with co-executive-producer John Smith, a veteran producer from the days of the CBC's halcyon series The Beachcombers, and then shares her own insights into what makes Stargate work behind the scenes.

"There has been hardly any turnover [in the crew]. Most of the people you see here today were here at the beginning. That should tell you something."

Upstairs in their corner offices at Burnaby's Bridge Studios, higher up the food chain, Gemini- and CableACE-nominated writers Robert Cooper and Brad Wright sing a similar tune. In a medium noted chiefly for what it does badly, Stargate has turned out rather well.

"There is a certain stigma that surrounds syndicated, science-fiction, cable genre shows," Cooper says. "There is a certain kind of fan that likes science fiction and watches this kind of show, that we certainly cater to. But I find that among my own personal acquaintances, people who don't necessarily watch that kind of show, because they know I work on this show, they'll watch it. They're surprised at how good it is. They will not necessarily sit down to watch an episode of a syndicated genre show, but when they see this, they say, 'Wow, this show is pretty good.' "

In another corner of the room, Wright hunts through a pile of videotapes and discarded notes for a tape of the episode's dailys. The outtakes for "Wormhole X-treme" have been so outrageous and over-the-top that he is considering using some of them in Wormhole's final cut. He thinks he can get away with it, he says, because the episode is already a show-within-a-show, and using real outtakes would be a nod to Stargate's loyal fans, as well as bringing the story full circle.

The larger picture looks just as complete.

"I promised a bunch of people, when we started this, that I would make sure we got to a hundred episodes and that we would be healthy when we got there," Wright says. "Well, we're here."

Strachan, Alex. "Actor Follows His Own Star." The Vancouver Sun. June 20, 2001.