News and Interviews
Shanks for the Memories - Dreamwatch #88
Interview Courtesy of Michael-Shanks.com
Shanks for the Memories
By: Thomasina Gibson
Publication: Dreamwatch #88
Date: November, 2001.
It's been five long years, but now the man behind Daniel Jackson has embarked on a journey where the Stargate is not required. In a Dreamwatch exclusive MICHAEL SHANKS explains to Thomasina Gibson why he's quitting Stargate SG-1.
"To be honest with you it's one of those things where I don't know what I'm going to be doing," says Michael Shanks as he leaves Stargate SG-1, the show that's brought him to prominence. "It's not like I'm in the kind of situation where I can say I'm quitting Stargate SG-1 to go do this, or I'm leaving to kick-start my film career. It's more a case of having embarked on a course of action so that I can explore the possibilities that are out there."
Now whilst it might seem to those of us who have followed Dr Daniel Jackson's every move for the past five years that the cunning linguist and archaeologist has had more than enough opportunities to investigate anything in any universe, the actor has a different view. "Actually, I thought that what I was doing on the show was becoming seemingly more confined. And having broached the subject with the powers that control these things, it became clear that the character wasn't important enough to the overall process to warrant an upgrade."
Emphatically supporting the creators of the show, and those he worked with in Vancouver, Shanks insists, "Our discussions really weren't this simple, but in the end it came down to a case of 'Look, the bottom line is - it's not our call. There are other issues to be taken into consideration including the proposed Stargate SG-1 movie and now is not the time to rock the boat.'"
Taking the responsibility for his departure firmly on his own shoulders, Shanks declares: "I think my naivety on the whole issue when I first started on the show was that I'd watched the original Stargate movie and saw where Daniel Jackson went in that. Then, when I was offered the character, especially after reading the pilot where Daniel has a heavy part, I assumed that it was going to be more a type of 'buddy' show. I knew the other characters would be involved as well, but I though that the Daniel/Jack relationship would be the central focus. That's why I signed on to do it. Plus I liked the character and only saw his development based on the original blueprint. I couldn't and still don't see it from any other point of view."
Shanks thinks that the very warm relationship between himself and his co-starts, particularly Richard Dean Anderson, kept his expectations alive for most of his time on Stargate SG-1. "I think with the chemistry between Rick and I, the chemistry between the two characters did become an important part of the show. I'm happy to say that that warmth still exists today between Rick and myself and the other members of the team on and off screen. But after the third season, the show started to go in a different direction. It veered off on a path that I initiated in that I wanted some resolution to the Daniel/Sha're arc and wanted to bring out the darker side of the character I played. By the start of the fourth season, things seemed to be going in a direction that I wasn't comfortable with."
Asked to explain in more detail, Shanks offers, "I went to the producers and said, 'I'm worried. I'm concerned about the ramifications of the end of the love interest story and with the introduction of the Earth conspiracy stuff with Maybourne and the NID.'" Speaking of the whole wheels-within-wheels plot, Shanks says, "It wasn't that I felt they weren't interesting storylines. Those were very good episodes. The problem for me was that oftentimes because it's a show about a military man in a military base surrounded by the inner workings of the military, Daniel, as a civilian, was not included in the loop of those things. It's logical he wouldn't be included and I guess what I'm saying is I wanted a stronger effort made to include the character within those things. I could see how difficult it was becoming to create a valid role for Daniel and that ultimately became a needle in my side. The character wasn't involved in those things when the episodes came up."
Although Shanks made the decision to pack up and leave rather than see the character's potential whittled down, he admits to doing so with a very heavy heart. "I'll tell you something, and that is the current situation is very strange for me. It would be one thing if Stargate was finished and there were no more episodes but we - Richard, Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, the writers, the crew, all of us - started something and built it into something special. I don't think too many of the actors (with the exception of Rick, who is also executive producer) were so involved in the reverence towards the building of the franchise as I was in terms of watching its development; of being really proud of it when it hit and being really disappointed when it missed. It's actually a tremendous brain fart for me to consider that the show is carrying on and I'm not part of it."
Leaving a [Worm]hole
That said, Brad Wright, co-creator, executive producer and writer of the show, has repeatedly reassured every fan out there that, "The door has been left wide open for Daniel to return in the future." In fact, the smart money is on Daniel making a re-appearance of some sort by episode six of the sixth season.
Shanks is grateful for the opportunity, but is fairly pragmatic about the possibility. Having seen fan campaigns for the return of characters on other shows and experienced what fan opinions can sway on Stargate SG-1 (the Skaara character was slipped back into the show because the producers saw the reaction from fans online), Shanks is also realistic with regards to the likelihood of his own return. "The problem is that by the time episode six hits the screens they are half way through shooting the season .It's not like a network show where they make a few episodes then watch to see how the ratings go. It would be midway through the actual episodes aired before MGM were even aware of the volume of fan opinion."
Assurances that not even a television company could under-estimate the power of online fandom when it comes to the popularity of the show, and Daniel Jackson in particular, makes Shanks smile. "Well, it would be nice to think that I could still be there from time to time - but I won't be holding my breath just yet."
In trepidation about what happens next, Shanks shrugs, "When you think of it, I'm leaving my family. I'm 30 years old and have been part of Stargate for a sixth of my life. And it really is that long because I spent almost all my waking hours with the guys on that set. We're on our natural 'downtime' at the moment, so it still really hasn't sunk in yet that when they resume filming in February I won't be there. I know that unless I am totally immersed in another project by then I will be experiencing a very heavy heart about having made this decision." Before things can get too maudlin Shanks grins, "Of course, I am stubborn and resolute enough to know that I've made the right decision at this particular time."
With Daniel about to meet his maker (get the tissues out for the episode entitled Meridian) Michael Shanks confesses there are many, many things that will tug at his heart strings. "I'm going to miss the input into the creative process. Stargate is one of those rare shows where individual actors, like me, are allowed to be a bit more involved in the creative process that they normally would or should be. That's because the people that make it, the executive producers, are open to new ideas and as long as they are good ideas, they are very open-minded about discussions and decisions. That doesn't exist on a lot of other shows."
The main thing Shanks says he's going to miss is the daily interaction with his friends. "I'm gonna miss the guys. I'm gonna miss Christopher Judge banging on my trailer door and just barging in and shooting the crap about the evening before. I'm going to miss the actual getting up and going to work. There's something about working with those people very closely - that particular group of actors and craftsmen - that makes it the ultimate comfort zone. You are in the hands of people you trust, you are working with people where to a certain extent you know what they are likely to do but who can surprise you all the same. That certainly is a world away from setting foot on some new set and trying to find and fit into the dynamic you know is there."
Shanks may get that opportunity to step onto a new set much sooner than anticipated. He's about to boldly go where no man has gone before - straight to an audition for the new Star Trek: Nemesis movie. "I'm due to leave in about 20 minutes so this had been great for calming my nerves." Laughing that he doesn't seem to be able to get away from anything with the word 'Star' in front of it, the actor acknowledges, "I guess Stargate has done a lot of good things for me in terms of getting me through a few doors which might not have opened for me."
All set and ready to try out pastures new, Shanks concludes, "I just want to say a big heartfelt thank you to all my colleagues and friends and the fans that have supported me and Stargate SG-1 over the past five years. It remains the best show I have ever worked on. I look forward to what the future brings for all of us."