It wouldn't be Stargate SG-1 without Richard Dean Anderson. The actor is back for the show's eighth season and, while his character may be getting promoted, Anderson assures Steven Eramo that it will still pretty much be the same old Jack O'Neill up there on the screen.
In his role as Colonel Jack O'Neill on Stargate SG-1, Richard Dean Anderson has made countless trips through the Stargate in order to explore distant alien worlds. Away from the set, he's just as keen an adventurer, and while his travels may be more terrestrial in nature, they are just as exciting - not to mention exhausting.
"I'm so jet-lagged right now," confesses the actor. "I was in Micronesia, specifically Truk Lagoon, on a 10-day diving trip. I got home the day before yesterday at 5:00 in the morning. That afternoon, I picked up my daughter Wylie from school and the two of us spent some time together. As always, that's an absolute joy and a real shot of energy. Since then, I've flown back up here [to Vancouver] and it's all starting to catch up with me now. It'll take a couple of days before I'm back to my old self," he smiles.
The actor may be tired but you'd never know it by watching him on the Stargate set. This afternoon, he's talking and joking with the rest of the show's cast as they sit around the conference table in the SGC briefing room set, waiting to film a scene for the episode Covenant. Anderson is clearly happy to be back at work and is in his element.
"Our last hiatus was longer than usual, five months or so, and at the end of it I was looking forward to returning to work," he says. "I was excited about this [eighth] season, in part, because there's such a wonderful sense of community in our workplace.
"Also, just as a side note, Michael Shanks and I helped launch the Stargate Atlantis franchise by making a brief appearance in their pilot episode [Rising - see box below]. That was a blast to do.
"Mostly, though, I was starting to miss the social interaction that is both friendly and warm on this set. After seven years we know what we're doing. Our relationships are firmly established as characters as well as Human Beings and we all genuinely get along. What was nice, too, was that everyone else seemed just as pleased as I was to be here."
Stargate's eighth year finds General George Hammond (Don S Davis) having been reassigned to Washington, DC and put in charge of Earth security. Taking his place as commander of the SGC is the newly promoted General Jack O'Neill. "While my basic approach to playing O'Neill is certainly the same, I am having to make a few adjustments in order to properly and respectfully portray a one-star brigadier general," notes Anderson. "Oddly enough, and this is going to sound wicked artsy-fartsy and I don't mean it to, but this [promotion] has actually opened a new avenue of exploration for me as an actor.
"It's been a bit of a dance because I have to maintain the credibility of my character. That said, it's been fun. The cliché is that O'Neill is a fish out of water. If you stop and really think about it, he has no business being a general. He's far too irreverent and impulsive. However, I think the psychology at play here is that if O'Neill is placed in a position of greater authority then he's bound to straighten up a bit. Well, yes and no," chuckles the actor. "Let's just say that he's your ordinary Human Being who happens to now be a general in the US Air Force and is getting a kick out of it. For example, he might be talking to the President, and if Teal'c happens to walk into his office O'Neill will cover the receiver with his hand and say, 'It's the president. He's actually on the phone.' Trust me, Jack is having a ball with this and so am I."
An early Season Eight Stargate episode that the actor especially liked working on is Zero Hour. "This story shows audiences what my character is now being exposed to in his new position," he explains. "We find out that he happens to be quite good at what he does as a general. In Zero Hour, O'Neill is under the scrutiny of the Secret Service, CIA, or some other US government organization just before a presidential visit to the SGC. There's a crisis on the base and Jack has to deal with it. His negotiating tactics are no different in that he still gets up in your face to a certain degree. He also tries to be a little tricky. Of course, in the end O'Neill outsmarts the bad guy and makes the right decision. So in a quiet way he knows what he's doing, even though all outward signs would indicate otherwise," chuckles Anderson.
Although they may not always see eye to eye, O'Neill has since Day One had the utmost respect for his SG-1 teammates and vice versa. They've come to rely on one another in a pinch and that bond isn't about to change, despite the fact that Anderson's character has advanced in rank.
"The dynamic between O'Neill and SG-1 has stayed the same because they know each other so well and are a tight-knit group," says the actor. "The one big change is that my character no longer gets to go on all the off-world trips, and he resents that because he's more a man of action than a man of paperwork and administrative duties. Other than that, Daniel still loves to bust Jack's chops, and O'Neill continues to turn to Sam for answers to technical questions, etc. Yes, there's an acknowledgement that my character is the man 'in charge' but things with him and SG-1 are status quo. I'm pleased about that and I know the fans will be as well."
As with Stargate SG-1's seventh season, Anderson is once again working a reduced schedule this year. When filming wraps today (Thursday) he'll fly back down to California to spend the weekend with his young daughter. "Wylie and I have reached a whole new level of bonding," says the proud father. "Our relationship is just blossoming, as is she as an individual. She's exploding with personality and is genuinely funny, intelligent and just beautiful. I know, I'm probably coming off like a total sap but, hey, you know what, she's my girl and she's the best. Wylie is graduating from kindergarten this June and I'm pumped up with pride for that event. She's getting ready for the summer and we'll be spending plenty of time together."
Growing up, Anderson dreamt of pursuing a career in professional hockey, "but by the time I was 16 I'd had two broken arms and that pretty much put a damper on that," laughs the actor. He fought forest fires one summer in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and from that experience thought he might want to become a forest ranger. Eventually, however, Anderson discovered his true passion lay in acting. He got his first big break playing hunky Dr Jeff Webber on the daytime Soap Opera General Hospital. Anderson went on to achieve worldwide recognition thanks to his starring role in MacGyver. After a short but creatively fulfilling stint playing Ernest Pratt, aka Nicodemus Legend, on the quirky TV Western Legend, he stepped into the military boots of Jack O'Neill and Stargate. With this possibly being the final year of the series, what does the actor next see in store for himself?
"I've yet to sit down and seriously reflect on the future," he muses. I do know that I need to take some time off for personal reasons. Naturally, the great concern of agents or anyone trying to help mould your career is that if you take too much time off then you'll be forgotten by the industry. However, my agent is more a close friend than she is an agent and understands where my priorities are at.
"To be honest I am a bit concerned about not working for a while because work is essentially my social life. That's a sad commentary on my social life but a great commentary on what it's like here at Stargate. I'm very lucky, though, in that I've reached a point where I can decide what I want to do next. I'm happy with where my life is at the moment, you know? Once Stargate ends, if that means taking a step back for one or two years to serve pizza at my daughter's school and be on the board of directors for a couple of conservation companies then that's OK with me. We'll see what happens after that."
Back in March, Anderson spent the day on a mountain top with Stargate Atlantis star Joe Flanigan (Major John Sheppard) where they shot the opening teaser for the show's pilot episode. "That was neat," he enthuses. "Any time I can get a free ride in a helicopter and be involved in filming chase scenes of all things then sign me up.
"The whole day was spent up on the Pemberton Glacier and it was idyllic. Martin Wood [director] is a bit of a trekker and our steadicam operator, Nathaniel Massey, is a mountaineer. I've also done my fair share of rambling around in the mountains, so we were all in seventh heaven. The nature of the shooting and the scenes themselves where we're being chased by super soldiers was exciting. For all intents and purposes there was no reason for me to be up there for more than two or three hours. It could have been anyone in that helicopter, especially when it came to the long shots. However, Martin knows how much I like flying, so I got to stick around the entire time. At one point I thought, "I get paid to do this." To this day I don't quite understand that," jokes Anderson. "Someone is definitely smiling down on me."
On TV, just as in real life, things change. Last year on Stargate, its cast and crew said farewell to Teryl Rothery when her character of Dr Janet Fraiser was killed off. This season, a change in the show's storyline meant that Don S Davis (General Hammond) would not be returning as a series regular. Anderson is the first to admit that things aren't quite the same without them.
"They're both a joy to work with," he says. "The only thing I've ever asked as an executive producer and an actor is that you come to the set with a sense of humour and a lightness and help bring a high fun factor to the job. Don and Teryl fit right in. I mean, we're all like family here, so it's like not having your father and sister around you every day. Don and Teryl were both so good in their respective roles and are genuinely wonderful people. They're missed, they really are."