JACK OF ALL TRADES
Richard Dean Anderson steps into the world of reality to chat about his tour of duty in Stargate SG-1
One of the most difficult challenges a journalist can face is to get Richard Dean Anderson to sit down long enough to chat sensibly about Stargate SG-1. Packed off to Vancouver by the Ed and told to come back with some juicy goss from the Stargate set, I'm met by Mr. Anderson, who duly does his best to make sure I don't complete the task. "Have I told you about my new sleeping bag?" he asks, as if that had any relevance to the show. "It's kind of a mid-green colour -- I think they call it 'wheatgrass.' " An innocent response about the less than palatable qualities of the wheatgrass health drink somehow leads the actor onto the subject of enemas, bowels and a blow by blow, gloriously technicolor, detailed account of his youthful experience with a suppository, a nun and a bed pan. No further information about his confinement in St. Mary's Hospital, Minneapolis, having broken both his arms at the age of 17, will be published in this article despite Mr. Anderson's professional generosity. "I'm going to write about it in my memoirs," he states, "so you may as well have first crack at it." Having delivered every minutiae of the encounter, Anderson then has the cheek, if you'll pardon the expression, to protest that anyone who asks him to recount such a deeply personal story has to be sick.
Moving swiftly on, he's threatened on pain of exposure in the tabloids to offer some words of wisdom on the biggest change in Stargate SG-1's history, namely the departure of Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks). The request to hear these comments initially from Richard Dean Anderson and then from Jack O'Neill brings a hoot of derision from the man. "I can't talk in character. Have you got a script for me?" Reminded that he is a very accomplished actor and therefore should be able to improvise, Anderson solemnly swears, "No! No! I'm very strict about the words that are written for this show. I've even said several of them this year." Eventually, he relents enough to offer his opinion. "Daniel Jackson is dying -- he's going away, but you know what? It's our sixth season of Stargate SG-1 and as in all good things there's an evolution hopefully, creatively and personnel-wise and we've reached the point where something had to change. Something bigger had to happen -- at least from my perspective, knowing I will definitely be leaving the show after year six.
"To be quite honest, Michael leaving is a product of the respective parties making decisions based on what their projected needs are going to be in the long term. Michael indicated that he wanted to move on, which is quite a natural reaction after five long years of the rigours of this show. He is also an actor who's young and has a lot to do with his career. I think he knew that going in and what we've done is address thie issue. It is a massive, big, big change but I support his decision wholeheartedly."
Switching from his own view to that of Jack O'Neill, the actor admits, "O'Neill has looked to Daniel for the greatest camaraderie and certainly he and I have had a lot of fun with the banter for which we've become famous. As actors we do have fun in the little snippets of scenes that Michael and I have been able to play with. He's very quick and I enjoy that. But for O'Neill, it will have to be life as normal without him. Life goes on."
Asked if we might see O'Neill in tears as Daniel makes his final exit, Anderson shakes his head. "I don't think so! In fact, in the script we're shooting right now there's a reference where Carter brings up Daniel's departure and O'Neill is very pragmatic about it. That's not to say there won't be moments of reflection or of sentiment, but O'Neill is a soldier. He's been through this. He's been through this stuff with his kid, which is the most emotionally wrenching. With Daniel, it's a comrade in arms that's gone down." Touching briefly on the tragic events of September 11th in New York and Washington, Anderson suggests, "If you can remotely make a correlation with what's going on in the world now, I'm sure that the guys who are dealing with the aftermath of the devastation have all shed tears within their personal families and within their 'other' families -- their teams -- but they pick themselves up and get on with it. That is what O'Neill has to do."
As for getting on with it -- this man is famed for his notoriously short attention span -- what on Earth possessed him to sign up for another season of Stargate? "Excellent question!" he beams. "Next!" Looking around the trailer as if in search of an answer, he sighs. "I'm not quite sure. I talked to Brad Wright quite a bit about the future and how we should proceed with the franchise. The thought was that after the fifth year we could possibly have developed a feature film. Brad approached MGM about that but they dragged their heels and weren't real forthcoming because what they ultimately wanted was a sixth season of the TV series in order to raise as much capital as possible and then they would consider it." Now the actor hopes MGM will have, as he quotes, "The balls to give us the go-ahead to develop a franchise of features, which I'd be very interested in taking forward."
Regardless of anything that happens during or after the run of Stargate's next season, Anderson has one overriding priority to address. "The major focus of my life is my daughter, Wylie. She's three years old now and in the last year I've been away from her so much that it's very important that I re-establish a stronger bond with her, especially now when the groundwork of our relationship is being done. She truly is the light of my life and if any interesting projects come up I will have to work them around Wylie. If it's the Stargate movies, great, if there isn't anything for a while, even better. I'm actually putting some serious thought into the time management of my career and for the rest of my life. I can actually tell you that I'm informally retiring after Season Six. It's time to pursue the things that interest me and that is first and foremost Wylie, then the Rivers Project and the Sea Shepherd Society -- two non-commercial ventures I hope to become more involved with. It's the right time for me to do this. I've been working my ass off for years and now it's time to reap the benefits of the life I've been leading."
Deeply committed to raising awareness of the plight of some of the greatest rivers in the world and the people whose lives are sustained by those bodies of water, Anderson has contributed physically and professionally to a documentary series highlighting the rivers and some of the issues raised by their neglect or overuse by commercial companies. Describing one memorable incident, from a trip filled with extraordinary vignettes, Anderson says, "I was in the Upper Yangtze in Tibet earlier this year. We were in a class four section of the river [mega-difficult to negotiate, for those of us unfamiliar with river classifications] and I was second in command of the barge boat, which is a raft that carries all the dry bags and equipment. I was standing at the front of this raft when a diagonal [another rafting term] hit us and we flipped. I ended up underneath the raft for about 20 seconds, then scrambled to the surface -- to the upper side of the raft -- and for about the next mile we floated upside down. The bags were starting to snap off the boat, the local guide had gone into shock and we had to do the whole resuscitation bit." With typical O'Neill aplomb, Anderson quips, "It was an exciting day. Plus I was freezing -- that water was perilously cold." Fortunately for everyone involved, Anderson relates, "Finally we were rescued by the guys on the other boat and by all the kids from a nearby village. There was a tiny village further up the route and all these Tibetan kids came running up to help us right the boat and help us spread our stuff out and find the dislodged stuff from down-river."
Undaunted by that escapade, Anderson intends to revisit the Galapagos Islands in order to give support to some environmentalists there. "The Galapagos truly are the 'enchanted isles' and I've been invited by a couple of organizations to help participate in some of the projects designed to help prevent illegal fishing and hunting of endangered species." The prestigious Darwin Society and the Sea Shepherd Society both work to patrol the vast arena and boost the local effort to curtail the damaging activities. Anderson is fully committed to their cause. "See, this whole thing gets very political because it's mainly commercial operations that are behind the illegal trade. I don't want to name names, but..." he winks, "Japan and Norway are just two countries where demand for produce outstrips what they have down there. The Asian market for shark's fin soup is ridiculous, as is its demand for aphrodisia." Getting into his stride, Anderson states, "One of my more infamous opinions is that if you need to use some part of an animal as an aphrodisiac then I got one word for you kids: Viagra." Mindful that he's chatting to a journalist, he remarks, "Now, see, I'm getting myself into trouble because I'm making a comment on cultural practices in other parts of the world that I don't know enough about or that I don't entirely understand. But from an objective individual's point of view I think it's ludicrous to kill an entire animal for such an unimportant purpose." So saying, Anderson volunteers, "I will be a regular visitor to the Galapagos in the future and want to share with my daughter the beauty that is there and assist in preserving those treasures in what ways I can."
Coaxing him back from 'the enchanted islands' to his trailer in Vancouver, a further attempt is made to glean some fascinating tidbits about Stargate SG-1. "I have a hopeless memory -- can't you ask somebody else?" The glare he receives initiates a startled, "What? What can I tell you?" Prompted that he did enjoy the episode entitled "The Fifth Man," Anderson squints at the publicist, "Wasn't that all guns and shooting and stuff?" Mutters from the journalist about how pathetic it is that she has a life and can remember the episodes from 10 months previously whilst he can't remember the one he was shooting 10 minutes before elicits a deep groan from the beleaguered man. "I wish I had a life. I'm in here every day, 12 hours a day. It's all one big blur." As a punishment for wasting tape rabbiting about bedpans rather than dishing the dirt on SG-1, the actor is charged with revealing all about five shows for the future. "Shoes?" he asks, mocking my Scottish accent. "Did you say shoes? Do you mean shows as in episodes? Och aye! Ah kin do that! Grrreat! Whateverrrr!"
Retorts that he needs a slap across the cheek with a slimy symbiote raise no response at all. Mr. Anderson's mind has wandered and he has gone to play with one of his colleague's dogs. However, the punishment still stands. Look out for his in-depth report at a later date in the pages of "Cult Times."