O'NEILL BEFORE ME
Isabelle Meunier talks to head honcho Richard Dean Anderson. Lordy, won't Marge Simpson's sisters be jealous?
Occasionally plucking sweets from a Styrofoam cup strategically placed on his chair, Richard Dean Anderson takes a break while the crew sets up for the next scene on Stargate SG-1... at least, the actor does, as the executive producer is seldom off duty. He may appear relaxed and his usual merry self on set to the casual observer, but Anderson is in fact much more serious than usual. "I'm not joking around a lot right now", he agrees, "because I have three scripts I'm sort of juggling with. So I'm having to focus more than I like to. But I'm not complaining," he smiles, "just acknowledging."
Given the scripts as the writers churn them out, he then goes over them for any necessary adjustments and in this instance, it seems he hasn't finished all his homework. "I haven't, much to my discredit, and part of the reason is that my two and a half year old baby girl is here... She's so smart and funny, she's gonna be a frighteningly brilliant woman." He beams, his voice softening at the mention of his offspring. As Anderson is likely to also be the protective type, boys should watch out in a few years time when eyeing his daughter. "Trust me on that one," he replies, "I'm a cliché father!"
He gives one of his trademark piercing glances, which you can often see in action when he's deep in thought. They look formidable, but when I point out he's doing it, Anderson initially seems shocked. "I know what happens there -- I go into focus mode!" he exclaims. "If there's a problem looming, it needs to be dealt with in a serious mode so I tend to block anything else out."
It's this kind of focus from all SG-1's producers that has ensured that the series' standards didn't lower over the seasons, and although benefiting from a good network support, Anderson consistently attributes its longevity to the quality work the whole crew delivers. "MGM has been behind the show from day one, pushed it and put money into it while Showtime has been very supportive in picking it up season after season, so we've had that cushion. But if the show sucked, we wouldn't be around. We've been able to quality control it a little bit. It's a well-oiled machine and any actor in my position as an executive producer would be an idiot not to throw credit where it's truly due. It's a cliché, but only truly stupid people say anything derogatory or take all the credit for any given creative entity and the fact of the matter is, the crew and their respective departments are what makes this show happen." At a sometime frightening speed, if the previous day's noon wrap is anything to go by. "It's rare and a pleasant surprise," he nods, "but I personally didn't go home until much later; I was editing and finishing other stuff."
But long working days are balanced by the thought that a short hiatus is just around the corner. "We blessedly had the foresight to schedule-in -- and this is being honest about the basic dynamics of working nine months out of the year -- a two, almost a three-week hiatus, or call it summer break, in the middle of July," he explains. "Everybody can just go off and do whatever they want; take another job if they wish to or, as most of us do, just take a vacation, get rested, reconnect with their family... then come back ready for the final stretch to the end of the season. That, to me, is clarity of thought and wisdom."
A few more episodes will be completed by the time they go on summer break, including the centenary episode for which the self-parody envelope is being well and truly pushed. "I hope we go far enough with it," explains Anderson. "I don't know if you've ever seen an episode of a series I helped produce called Legend. My performance there was almost a characterisation short of being a caricature, but it was the type of performance, production and tone of play that I loved doing, sort of 'over the top' stuff that I'm not known for doing. So I was kind of hoping that's what we'd do with 'Wormhole X-Treme', but I don't think we'll go quite that far, which is probably good because it lends a bit more credibility to the story. I think common sense is going to dictate that we do something that's credible yet light-hearted, sort of mocking ourselves a little bit which is always fun to do. I actually majored in self-mockery," he adds with a sly grin, "but I'm not very good at self-deprecation." Obviously.
Whether or not the show goes for a sixth series, Anderson is keen to put the record straight regarding rumours that he personally doesn't want to do another season and that, without Richard Dean Anderson, there's no more Stargate SG-1. "The bottom line is that ultimately, it's not up to me but MGM whom I've already told I'd be willing to do a sixth season," he unequivocally states. "I guess the impression is -- or is going to be -- that I control all aspects of whether the show gets made or not, which is unfortunate. That's what other people have said, but I've never said that! In fact, I've said the opposite; I've said that it's bullshit and the show could be made with another lead. I helped launch it and it could survive without me, but MGM has indicated to me that they would rather I'd be along and I said, 'Sure, I will.' There's certain criteria I've requested be met to make a sixth year more comfortable for me because being away from my daughter is hard, so all I ask for is sort of an easier schedule. So I don't know how this other stuff gets perpetuated and if the impression out there is that I'm playing hard to get, that's bullshit too!"
On a lighter note; since Marge's sisters have been going nutty over MacGyver for so long, when is he finally going to do a voice-over on The Simpsons? "Oh, anytime they ask!" he enthuses. "I actually went to one of their table readings last year, and what it did for me was rekindle the thought that you can really have a lot of fun doing what you're doing. To me, The Simpsons is the best show on television and being at that table, seeing these people I just adore doing all the voices... I just can't say enough about it!"
So Anderson would be over at The Simpsons like a shot, but meanwhile, what about the guest star appearances he's been in demand for in other series? Granted that he has a heavy schedule, but surely, during hiatus… "Work on hiatus?" he laughs. "What are you, nuts? Out of your mind?" Both. Still wouldn't he work on his hiatus for a Simpsons' voice-over? "For The Simpsons, yes," he grins, "Anything for The Simpsons, anytime!"