As Dr. Daniel Jackson on the long-running hit science fiction series Stargate SG-1, Michael Shanks built a legacy of battling alien threats. SG-1 ended its run at 10 seasons, leaving fans and creators alike pining for more Stargate. A new DVD, The Ark of Truth, provides closure on the final storyline, while a second DVD out this fall revisits the Stargate saga. Shanks discussed the possibility of additional Stargate projects and his long association with the show during an interview with Mania.com.
Mania.com: How did this project, The Ark of Truth, begin?
Michael Shanks: Well, for years we’d been talking about doing a DVD feature or a theatrical release feature of some kind when the series concluded. That was the logical time for such a project. What had happened in previous incarnations is just [laughs] the series wouldn’t die! You had a case like the episode which finished our seventh season, called “Lost City,” which was supposed to be this jumping off point for the spin-off show [Stargate: Atlantis]. It would be a two-hour movie—either a theatrical release or a DVD—to finish off SG-1. What ended up happening, of course, was that the Sci-Fi Channel wanted the show back, and so the idea of a larger budgeted version on the big screen or the DVD market never came to fruition. The show’s success sort of got in the way of it. But it’s always been talked about, especially by Brad Wright, our executive producer and show runner. He’s always dreamed of finishing SG-1 the way the franchise began: with a theatrical film. At this particular point, MGM wasn’t willing to commit the money to a theatrical release, but was willing to do a couple of DVD movies, and when the show was cancelled, they wanted to seek other avenues as a way of keeping the characters and the storyline alive. This was the logical place for that.
Mania: So you have Ark of Truth and then Continuum in the fall. Do you think there will be more SG-1 movies after that?
MS: I know that another script has been written by Brad Wright. The last time I saw him was at the screening of this one, Ark of Truth. We had discussed some locations, but in terms of details about when, where, how, and contracts and whatnot, that hasn’t been gone about. But the belief and desire is definitely there by many people. I believe that we’ll go on and do more. I don’t think that this was, you know, an empty promise from MGM when they said they wanted to do these movies. I don’t think it will be like Farscape, where they gave the fans closure with the miniseries and then closed the book on it. There’s a lot of stories left to tell in the Stargate universe. If we can get all the pieces together at the right time, I think it’s a pretty good idea to do one of these a year or something like that. I believe there’ll be at least one more, if not more than that in the future.
Mania: What kind of expectations did you have when all this started? Did you have any idea that Stargate would go on and be the success that it has become?
MS: Well, that was a lifetime ago, right? A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge. At that time, I was twenty-six: I was two years out of theater school and looking for a job of any kind that didn’t involve waiting tables or asking if you wanted fries with that. I was couch surfing in Toronto, and this was a job that I thought would give me some great experience in the industry—good technical experience. But you know, TV series based on feature films didn’t have a terribly successful track record at the time. I think M*A*S*H was the only one that had stood its ground. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still in its infancy at that point. So I didn’t really have high hopes for the possibilities of this thing. Even the initial promise, which was a two-year guarantee—44 episodes—sounded like a bit of a falsity. I said, "Oh they’ll cancel us. There’s got to be something in there that’ll let them pull the plug on us at some point." So I was just hoping to have a couple of years of employment, at best, and get some experience and move on. I certainly didn’t foresee everything that’s gone on since then. It’s been quite a ride.
Mania: Was there ever a sense of it being a two-edged sword—a good character with a lot of interesting stuff to do, but also running the risk of being too closely identified with him and not being able to stretch out into other roles?
MS: It’s been a blessing because I’ve gained a tremendous amount of insight not only into the creative process, but also the business side of things, how a studio works, and how writers work. I’ve gotten to write. I’ve gotten to direct. I’ve gotten to do all these different things as a part of a show that’s lasted for such a long period of time. If I was on eleven separate shows that only ran a year or less… yes, I’d have a multitude of experiences, but would I fully comprehend different jobs and the idea of the process of film and television making the way I do now? I don’t think so.
That’s the business standpoint. From a character standpoint… I’ve gotten to evolve the character. I’ve gotten to play different facets of the character. On a science fiction show, you get to do really out-of-this-world kind of things. Jackson’s gone crazy. He’s had his body taken over. All these different things that really challenge you, as an actor, to use your imagination. So it’s never been static the way it could have been with other avenues. And I’ve had a lot of chances to play different characters within the show itself, so I’ve never felt that that’s lacked too much.
Sure, obviously, in terms of diversity of roles, I would have liked to have had a little more, but at the same time, would I trade it? I don’t think so. The financial security it brought me, the friendships it garnered, and as I said, learning the business and technical aspects of it—making television and dealing with studios and all those different things—I never would have had those with a multitude of different jobs. I’m very blessed in that way. If I were asked when I first signed on, I probably would have chosen diversity, because that was the young idealistic person that I was. Having had the experience, A) I choose not to have any regrets, but B) at this point, I genuinely think it was the better of the two options.
Mania: How about being able to work in your hometown of Vancouver?
MS: Yeah, that’s a bonus, isn’t it? (Laughs.) That’s the one I like to keep to myself because it’s absolutely true. Now that I’m spending a lot more time in Los Angeles, and seeing how the game works down there… not that I didn’t realize it before, but it hits home how much you miss your hometown and how easy it was just to go to work every day and be around my family on the weekend. It was certainly the best of both worlds in that sense.
Mania: It’s such a beautiful city.
MS: Oh yeah. Even if you’re not from here and your family doesn’t live here, just being able to come up and shoot… I think Christopher Judge can probably speak to that in terms of being able to live and raise a family here as opposed to someplace like Los Angeles. It speaks well for Vancouver.
Mania: Daniel Jackson certainly went through a lot of changes over the course of the show. How much of a challenge was it to find new things to do with him while still retaining the core of the character?
MS: It was rarely spoken of. I mean, I would never walk into the writers’ offices and ask for a story or find out what direction my character was going in. I would sort of sit patiently and wait to see what was brought forward, and then base my reaction on that. To a large degree, I had no issues at all with it. It was constantly evolving, and it was up to me to create the character’s baggage if you will. To build that character from the ground up and not take any of the experiences he’s had on the show for granted. Those experiences are going to do things to him, and you start to figure out how they affect him psychologically. The writers really got that, and there was rarely any disagreement. The only disagreement I had was when I left the show. and that was because I thought the character was becoming stagnant. He wasn’t being allowed to evolve and it was frustrating to be sort of pigeon-holed in a role that wasn’t changing to circumstance. At that time, I think it was a good decision to make: I don’t think I was going to get that creative satisfaction at that particular point.
Then, when I came back to it, I was told that Richard [Dean Anderson]’s character was going to be taking some time off. The gaps needed to be filled, and there was going to be a lot more room for the other characters to grow. That was an opportunity to achieve the objectives that I wanted, and I was very happy to be back on the show and very happy with the way the character has evolved since.
Mania: You say “evolved.” When you left the show, that wasn’t just figurative. Daniel Jackson literally evolved!
MS: Oh yeah, there’s certainly been a lot of changes: his “death” being one of them, and the lessons learned along the way as well. I’ve always wanted to make sure that those lessons and experiences have been included in terms of what he knows and understands in subsequent episodes.
Mania: Any new projects on the horizon besides Stargate?
MS: Christopher Judge and I are doing a project called Rage of Angels that MGM has just finished negotiating the film rights for. The next thing on the table is worrying about a time schedule to film it. Christopher will be playing Gabriel and I’ll be playing Lucifer. It should be along soon.