He needs a bit of help to get his memory going, but if there's one thing Richard Dean Anderson knows by now, it's how to play former Colonel now General Jack O'Neill. We dropped by to check out his new office
Richard Dean Anderson is in fine fettle when we stop by the Stargate SG-1 studios at the start of the show's staggering eighth season. You'd think after seven years of wandering round the universe saving good guys, smashing bad guys and generally getting in touch with his inner Gate, the intrepid team leader would hang up his zat gun for good. Not one bit of it. Anderson is absolutely delighted to be back as Jack O'Neill and happy to share his reasons for returning to the fold. But first there is the obligatory teasing that has to ensue.
Talk to any fan, any journalist, any guest cast member visiting the set of Stargate SG-1 and you will most certainly receive a similar sentiment from them all, ie 'It's like being part of a family'. No BS, no PR speak, just the straightforward truth. However, just like any family, 'here be jokers'. No prizes for guessing who the leader of the pack is in this case. The morning of our visit, Anderson is wandering around laughing, joking and hamming things up with the cast, crew and visitors.
Now, you'd think after seven years of interviewing Richard Dean Anderson, any writer with a modicum of sense would have worked out a way to get the actor's mind on the job in hand and avoid the ramblings that threaten to sabotage any coherent comment he might have on Stargate SG-1. Sadly, this writer is still working on the formula. Having pinned the elusive Mr Anderson down to one spot - mind you, he did have a show to make, fun to have and a radio interview to fit in - we then spend precious moments messing about deciding where to sit. "I'm trying to make you as comfortable as possible so that this interview will go smoothly," he explains. Fat chance of that. Several chairs placed in various positions later, he sprawls on one, looks at me accusingly and demands, "Stop wasting time. Let's go!" Undaunted by the venomous glare I dart in his direction, Anderson leans forward and purrs, "Hello Thomasina, it's good to see you again," whereupon the proposed chat about Stargate's highly anticipated eighth season goes awry.
It starts like this: "Isn't this lovely?" quotes he.
"It is," says me.
"That was a good interview. Thank you." He bows. Having discovered it's best to play along, I respond, "No! Thank YOU. I really enjoyed it."
"So we're done?" He makes to get out of the chair and move away again, but my journalistic foot goes down. "No you don't. Cult Times really wants to know why you're here."
Anderson stares as though confronted by an impertinent System Lord, as if it was unreasonable to ask why the man who once felt it might be an idea to call it a day after seven successful years on the top-ranking Sci-Fi show changed his mind. As if it was madness to enquire why he'd given up a cushy number as part-time meal monitor at his daughter's school to return to a minimum 12 hours a day performing in front of a camera. Pure Jack O'Neill, he repeats, "Why am I here?" Anderson ponders for a moment, looking up and around at the walls of the soundstage. Told that getting a response out of him is like getting blood out of a stone, he lights up: "My blood type is B negative, which someone once told me is rare... " I'm astounded at his left-field comment. He's astounded to hear I'm B negative too.
"Are you really?"
"Yep! B negative, subtype d U, so if you need any blood I'm your woman."
"Are you kidding?" he gasps, amazed.
"The hospitals would be drooling for your blood. It's close to being the second rarest blood type in the world. There's B negative and then there's RH negative which is the rarest, so our blood is really useful. Does that answer your question? What do you mean, why am I here? Oh! Do you mean why am I here for Season Eight?"
Bingo! "Truthfully, I missed coming to work. This last hiatus was five months or so, which is longer than usual, and at the end of it I was looking forward to returning to work. It's a sad indication of my private life but I was starting to miss the warm, social interaction that is part and parcel of being on this set. After seven years we are all aware of and, to a certain extent, accommodate each other's little idiosyncrasies, if you will, and we genuinely get along. It really is a joy to be here."
Settling down further, Anderson smiles, "I'm also here because after several conversations with Brad Wright we felt that we needed a smooth transition out of Stargate SG-1's tremendous season finale Lost City into the premiere episode of Stargate Atlantis, Rising. In the meantime, MGM and The Sci-Fi Channel had managed to come up with a package that meant we could continue SG-1. So my decision to stay for another year is based on the fact that I feel my presence, to some degree, is helping take Stargate SG-1 further and bring Stargate Atlantis forward."
It's definitely onwards and upwards for the members of SG-1 in more ways than one.
"I've been promoted," beams Anderson, "Look at my stars shining all a-glow. All blending into my outfit here." The wee soul points to the twinkly bits on his blue jumpsuit. It seems the powers that be have decided to give Colonel O'Neill the credit he deserves and made him a one star Brigadier General. "It was kind of a natural progression. General Hammond has been placed in charge of all things pertaining to Stargates and has a swanky new office in the Pentagon, so it seemed obvious to put O'Neill in charge of the facility here at Stargate Command."
Not that there's going to be that much of a difference in the man's attitude toward the job. "My basic approach will be to, essentially, play O'Neill the same way I always have, although I will have to make a few adjustments in order to give the role of general the respect it deserves. Actually, O'Neill's promotion has opened up a new avenue of exploration in that I have to maintain the credibility of my character that I've developed over the past seven years whilst responding to this new situation as the main man behind a desk rather than in the field. It will take some balancing but I hope I give the role the proper gravitas. The cliché is that O'Neill is like a fish out of water. I mean, c'mon. I played the colonel with a sense of irreverence and now I'm a general with the same sensibilities. For instance, his desk is a mess, with all sorts of top secret things lying all over the place. He gets bored easily and his mind drifts off when he has to sit and do mundane paperwork. He calls General Hammond just for a chat. Yet O'Neill is getting a real kick out of the job and surprisingly, as the season progresses, we'll see he turns out to be rather good as a general."
Hammond and O'Neill are not the only people to be given a step up the ladder at the beginning of Stargate SG-1's Season Eight. Cult Times has heard the general has promoted one of his own. "Listen to you being so coy!" laughs Anderson. "Yeah, my first official act is to... hang on... I can't be giving stuff away. When is this going to go out?" Assured we will wait until the season airs on Sky 1, he relents. "One of the new things that O'Neill is responsible for is promoting Dr Carter [Amanda Tapping] - I mean Major Carter - no, she is a doctor but a military person too... Yeah... " What was he saying about his mind drifting off?
One thing firmly fixed in Anderson's mind is the fact that SG-1 will remain as close-knit as always. "In essence, even with these changes in place, SG-1 won't change," he insists. "Through their many adventures, they've come to rely on each other and that bond isn't about to change. It has stayed and will remain the same because they know each other so well and care for each other. The one big change is that my character no longer gets to go on all the off-world trips - a slight bone of contention between him and the military powers that be - but other than that, things are more or less the same. Sam is still the geek he'll consult when he needs technical expertise. He'll still spar with Daniel [Michael Shanks], and totally supports Teal'c's [Christopher Judge] move off-base and into the real world. Of course, there's the acknowledgement that my character is the man in charge, but things with him and with SG-1 will remain the same." Thank goodness for that.
As this is just the first week back on Stargate, we have to ask what the very adventurous Mr Anderson has been doing to keep body and soul refreshed during the long break away. "My father was a teacher when I was growing up and I have finally come to appreciate the institution that is school and - we alluded to it earlier on - I go take the tickets and semi-entertain the children at my daughter's school during lunch break. They speak to me in French and I let them through. I love it.
"Then I did the usual skiing thing, this time in Banff. There is a charity event run by the River Keepers Alliance, which happens every year to raise money and raise awareness for the plight of our rivers across the world and I won. I got another plaque. I've won it lots of times and have about five Raymond Weil watches. They used to give those out but now you get this very fine piece of glass... but I don't do it for the watch or the glass. I do it for the honour and for the fact that I might be, in some small way, contributing to raising the awareness factor. I was supposed to be going heli-skiing but am now going to the other extreme by doing a dive in the South Pacific later on this year."
Any further conversation is thwarted when sharp-eyed Mr A remarks that my tape recorder has stopped working. "I'm refusing to talk to you any more unless every word is being recorded." Laughing at my incredulous expression, he grins, "I'm offering words of great import here." As if! He concludes with the most important words for any Stargate viewer: "There are lots of reasons for watching this year. It is going to be one heck of a ride." Yippee!