SG-1 Explorer Unit Team Briefing. March 20, 2003
By Kate Ritter
“The poor other actors! They’ve been so patient with me!” Richard Dean Anderson declares with a huge grin. “I wasn’t working on Monday, and apparently the day’s shoot had gone very smoothly, and then I show up on Tuesday and all hell broke loose. It was manic behavior!” From the twinkle in his eye, it’s clear that he loves every minute of his opportunities to “misbehave.” Looking tanned and rested and smashing in Jack O’Neill’s dress blue uniform, Richard settles himself on a park bench and eyes a precariously long list of potential interview questions. “Fire away!” he smiles.
It’s a chilly day in mid July in Vancouver, and Richard is taking a break between scenes on the set of “Smoke and Mirrors.” The production has just returned from a three week hiatus in the middle of its sixth season, a season that was never intended to be. “We weren’t supposed to do season six,” he explains. “It was two, and then four, and then five, and that was going to be it.” However, Stargate SG-1 was still a strong success after five years on the air, and when talk turned to continuing for another year, Richard faced some soul searching. “When the first talks about doing a sixth season had come around, and when they approached me on it, I said the money’s great. I don’t need money. What I need is time. I need time to be with my daughter. That’s the only thing that’s really suffering in my life, is time for my relationship with my daughter.” The wheels were set in motion when MGM and the Sci Fi channel struck an agreement, and the series moved from its home on Showtime. “So, everybody wanted it. Sci Fi stepped up, and they wanted a sixth year, plus the package. So what we agreed upon was that my presence on camera, within any given episode, was going to be pared down a little bit, which meant that, schedule-wise, I was going to hopefully, ideally, have Fridays off, and in a really ideal scenario, I would have Monday off as well. John Smith is behind the orchestrating of all this, and what Brad and John and everybody has been able to do is to kind of juxtapose, or overlap, the shooting of some other episodes.” Early fears and rumors that O’Neill would appear in only a fraction of the episodes were unfounded. “I don’t know how those things start,” he replies. He may miss only one or two episodes by season’s end. Everyone knew from the beginning that it would be necessary to schedule around his return to Chile for a special environmental project, and so the episode “Nightwalkers” was written with that in mind. He concludes, “I am extremely realistic, and to some degree pragmatic, about the realities of the franchise. All we’re trying to do this year is to be present and integral to any given story, and yet accommodate what my need was going into year six. That’s all.”
A careful juggling act has made the shooting schedule possible, yet Richard retains his responsibilities as an executive producer. His input comes largely from the day to day on-set workings of the show, and he is rarely involved in the pre-production decisions that drive the series. “Brad is really open to ideas, and that’s one of the things I really praise him on, is that he’ll listen to anything. It’s been very democratic in the actual workings of the production. But, the bottom line is the best idea wins. And Brad always has the best ideas, is what it comes down to!” he laughs. “He and Robert work very well together in disseminating any input, so any pre-production, storylines, and arcs, and all that stuff, that’s all Brad and Robert and the boys. My input is basically notes on scripts, and that’s as much as I really want to do. Sometimes we’ll run into a little bit of a problem on the set, or I’ll see something that doesn’t really jive, or doesn’t work, either dialogue or story or whatever.” He refers to a scene shot the previous day in which O’Neill’s duplicate leaves a building after committing an assassination. Had he been in the pre-production meetings the week before, he might have shot that scene differently. “Things like having been a sniper, but walking out of the building with a big black case and black gloves on, if I were at a concept meeting I would say, ‘Excuse me, but at some point during the editing of this I’m going to have to lose the gloves to walk out with any credibility.’ So it’s little things like that. Prior to us getting there, I’ve given my notes for dialogue, or things that really jump out at me, but those guys, I can’t keep up with them. They know what they’re doing. They know the stories.” He adds his input in the post-production stages as well, frequently spending his lunch break or his afternoons in his trailer making editing notes on footage that was shot earlier. He welcomes the team atmosphere and the security of being surrounded by professionals. “I’ve been quoted before as saying that it’s a well oiled machine. It really is. It’s very familial. There’s very little controversy germinated anywhere, so it’s like an ideal place to work. The scripts are great, the crew, everyone knows what they’re doing, and is flexible enough to cover any ball that gets dropped.”
In addition to the move from Showtime to Sci Fi, season six also saw a major change in the cast, with the loss of Daniel Jackson and the arrival of Jonas Quinn to the SGC. Although the decision of Michael Shanks to leave the series has been the subject of controversy on the internet, Richard has chosen to stay out of the debate. “I haven’t reacted to it, and I haven’t responded to it. To what end? I refuse to get into a battle in the press or on the internet about any of it,” he remarks. “Not only that,” he adds with a smile, “just keep in mind, none of this is life threatening. Life is pretty damn good for everybody.” He stresses that there was no bitterness or animosity, nothing nasty going on behind the scenes, and ironically much of the controversy was playing itself out after Michael had returned to a warm welcome as a guest in several episodes. “He had come back and we had done "Abyss" together, and had a wonderful time. I had a wonderful time working with him. Over the years we had found a nice rhythm of working together, and I think a lot of our stuff was really fun to watch. Certainly it was fun for me because Michael’s a wonderful actor.”
At the same time, Richard has enjoyed exploring the new dynamic with Jonas Quinn. Although O’Neill harbored some resentment over the loss of Daniel, it was in the episode “Redemption,” as he was confronted by Jonas in the hallway and turned to enter the elevator, that he was faced with the realization that Jonas was the best person to fill the position on SG-1. His initial resistance was simply in keeping with the character, Richard points out. “O’Neill is always testing. He’s always skeptical of everything. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon that way. But I think before he got in the elevator he knew. That was my take. I knew that might come up. Where did the decision get made? Even though he puts up a little bit of a front when he walks in and talks to Hammond, he knows. He knows. He’s put it all together by then. It’s not so much a matter of elimination, but a matter of a little bit of a revelation on O’Neill’s part that I’ve got my little connection to Daniel, and I’ve got a little bit of a grudge to grind there, but if I’m really objective and I’m a real true military man, I’m going to get the best man for the job. And that’s what he ends up doing.
“The fact that he wasn’t accepted right away is just a testament, I think, to my paying attention to what the character is. He’s a loyal guy, O’Neill. And he felt in the beginning that this kid was responsible for the loss of one of his friends. But making his peace with that, in a very practical, pragmatic way, O’Neill had to come to some closure about it, or at least an acceptance of what had happened as being the truth. I think he would have gone with the Russian if he was really going to harbor all that stuff. I think that whatever happened in that elevator ride, O’Neill took a breath, centered himself, and said ‘Yeah, I believe the kid, and I accept what has happened. And it’s time to move on.’ He’s accepted him, of course. We’ve had our moment with it, but there’s a job to be done. And with that in mind, O’Neill gets on with the job.”
Although O’Neill reached a point of acceptance and respect, true friendship is something that comes more gradually to him. Even with Carter and Daniel, there was resistance at first to welcoming them onto the team. “To gather somebody new into the family is tough enough, but to embrace him warmly is even tougher. He’s most comfortable with Teal’c, to be honest. He’s got a kind of camaraderie, there’s a bond there, an odd relationship, to say the least. As much as he has his moments of adoration for Carter, he’s still aware of the propriety involved in keeping feelings at bay. There’ve been slight hints and acknowledgements to that end, but they’re keeping it professional for now. But he likes hanging with Teal’c. I think he sees Teal’c as maybe his social protégé to some degree. He’s not a real social animal, but he’s certainly more social than Teal’c. It’s an odd couple.”
As two military men, O’Neill and Teal’c have an innate understanding of each other, but it is the social interactions that are fun to play. Much of O’Neill’s humor comes from Richard himself, and he grins at his reputation for unrestrained ad libs. “Brad makes the joke that he was so appreciative last year of the actors because they actually said a few of his words. I’m terrible,” he admits with delight. “I think it’s just knowing the voice of O’Neill, and trying to punch him up a little bit, to make sure that the sardonic witticisms and certainly the sarcasm are kept alive at all times. It’s integral to what I wanted O’Neill to be, going in, as a military guy. Irreverent.” He’s proud of the acknowledgement that he received from General Ryan, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, during his visit to the set. “He patted me on the back and just said, ‘You’re doing a fine job, son. Yes, we have some like you, and there are some worse, son.’”
Irreverence is something he looks for in the roles he watches as well as in those he plays. A long time devotee of the likes of Benny Hill and Monty Python, Richard affirms his passion for “The Simpsons.” “It is the best show on television, that’s all there is to it, hands down!” he claims with a huge grin. “I live for it. I have a satellite dish and I can watch at least two different episodes a night, and of course the new ones on Sundays. I’m obsessive about it. But, that’s just me,” he adds with a giggle. It’s a passion he shares with writer Joe Mallozzi, whose office is decorated in Simpsons character figures. “He’s an aficionado. He puts me to shame! He’s got every episode on tape. When I need my fix, I just go to him and say, ‘Let me play with one of your toys.’”
For years the Simpsons admiration has been mutual, as Richard has been the object of obsession from sisters Patty and Selma. A few years ago, they each had the opportunity to meet their respective idols when Richard attended a table reading for the series. His eyes light up and instantly he is transformed from actor to fan as he recalls the visit. “I made a donation to a cause, I think it was a police and firemen’s fund or something. Mike Scully had presented a table reading as one of the items, and I snatched that sucker up right away, because that’s like my little boy’s dream come true, to be around those people and the voices. And I swear, the experience of that table reading at “The Simpsons” was extremely enlightening. It was so encouraging because there was nothing but fun in the air, fun and laughter. And of course I was just enamored. I mean, I was really star struck, because it was Dan, and Yardley, all my heroes. A couple of the cast members came over, because they knew there’s the whole connection with Patty and stuff. And I was introduced in the room, and I got kind of a nice applause for it all, and a cute little wink from the room.” Although it seems he would be a natural for a “Simpsons” guest role, he revels in his status as fan, and has never felt the need to pursue it. “I told my agent, we don’t have to go knocking on their doors. If they come up with an idea, sure, great, I would do it in a second. But I don’t need to do it. The homage has been paid. I’ve been duly praised and ridiculed by the characters. That’s a dream come true to me.”
He brought the same sort of irreverent humor to Legend, still his favorite role to date. “Legend was my time to shine,” he smiles. “It’s been my little baby. Now mind you, I’m very well aware of the fact that a lot of that behavior was just overacting, basically. It was just over the top! That’s part of why I’m sort of disappointed that it’s not around, and that it didn’t continue, because I was just getting into a stride. I was nearing camp behavior, and the fun factor was just at an extremely high ebb. I was having fun, and I was improvising a lot of stuff, and the character was getting big and really mischievous, more so than what was on the page. It was such a free environment when we were doing Legend. And De Lancie really kind of picked up on that. John is very - and I want this to sound complimentary because I adore John - but he’s a structured, studied actor. And I’m not. I bounce off the chandeliers and the walls, and come up with something eventually. I start big and try to pare it down, and John builds. So when he saw my antics, we really developed a wonderful rapport. It was really starting to have a nice flavor to it. And then it got canceled,” he adds with regret. However, recently there have been rumors that Legend may be ripe for resurrection. “It’s up in the air right now, but it’s alive, or it’s been given some kind of a breath. We’ve made contact with Piller and Dial [the executive producers] and I believe they’re trying to mold some kind of a project that might resurrect him for a movie or something like that.” Would that bring him out of the self imposed retirement he has been looking forward to? “Oh, that would, in a second!” he announces without hesitation. In the meantime, some of his favorite aspects of the character have lived on in O’Neill. “To some degree I bring that element to O’Neill, although I have to be a little more structured. A lot more structured, let’s put it that way! I have to be more restrained in doing something like this because I have to lend some credibility to the character, and it’s not meant to be over the top. Although I approach it, occasionally,” he smiles. “Especially during rehearsals!”
Richard’s flare for the ad lib, and the improvisational wit and sarcasm he brings to O’Neill are favorites among the fans, yet he has created a character of depth who has had the opportunity to portray a full range of emotions and experiences. Asked if he feels he has a particular strength or weakness as an actor, he answers thoughtfully. “I’ve never dissected it, but my strength as an actor, and it might be the only one, is that I listen. Because I listen to what’s being said in a scene, I’m able to react to, and respond to whatever has been said, as opposed to waiting for someone to stop talking and then it’s my turn, which takes it out of the realm of being organic. Growing up, a lot of my schooling was based on improv, and one of the things that you learn in improvising, is that you have to listen to what’s being said. You have to hear so you can spark the idea, or continue the idea, or go someplace else with it off that idea. Given written dialogue, you can anticipate that to a certain degree, but until I’m on set, and we’re playing with a scene, and I see what’s around me, the conditions of the environment, and the tone of the scene, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to say. I know what I should be saying, what has been written, and what is intended, so I try to kind of just mold it. But it’s not like I’m off doing Robin Williams stuff. This is within the confines of the realm of credibility, of being credible dialogue that somebody might say.”
It is most likely this gift for responding and reacting that has given such a natural, effortless quality to his characters over the years, an ability to “become” a character, rather than to “act” as one. Yet many of his roles have demanded moments of powerful drama, scenes calling for subtle and compelling emotion. The final scene in the prison cell in “Abyss,” for example, or the touching moment when Teal’c refused to leave his side in “Message in a Bottle,” or O’Neill’s desperate attempt to reach out to Dr. Fraiser through the disease that was controlling him in “The Broca Divide.” The suggestion that this talent for subtle and powerful drama is also seen by fans as a strength for which he is admired brings a reaction of surprise. “No, I would never ever have even guessed that. Because I have no confidence with that at all. Wow, I would never have suspected that at all,” he answers with genuine humility.
Even within a heavily dramatic episode such as “Abyss,” it is the lighter character interactions on which he focuses. “What’s interesting about those scenes is that they do deal with kind of a serious matter, but there’s a lightness, at least initially. And part of that’s born of the acting exchange relationship with Michael, because I know he’s there, and he also has the rhythms, and he knows mine, and he’s as patient as he can be with those things. But he also feeds into it, or feeds along with it. So even though there’s some serious emotional stuff going on there, there’s still a build, a rhythm that is light and, sometimes, comedic.” Yet he’s no more comfortable with pure comedy than with heavy drama. “And I’m not comfortable doing comedy at all,” he hastens to add. “I’ve been offered ideas and sitcom-y sort of scenarios, and I just have not even an inkling of confidence going into that realm of comedy. My fun comes out of the real life exchanges,” he clarifies, then adds with a grin, “that maybe three people see.”
He doesn’t closely follow reviews or feedback, mostly due to a function of time, but viewer reactions do reach him, and he enjoys hearing the observations of fans. “People in the past have made mention of the fact that ‘I noticed that one moment when you…’ and ‘that little thing you did that was…’ you know, things that may seem really anachronistic or really kind of peripheral or tangential. People that pick up on those little things, anyone that might notice something like that, that makes me happy. It’s not like I’m trying to send signals or do trick things or anything like that. It’s behavioral stuff that people pick up on, and I know that I’m following through as an actor.”
Beyond the realm of acting, Richard has many other passions that consume his time. An ardent environmentalist, he has lent his name and support to a number of environmental causes and organizations over the years. His recent association with what has been named “The River Project” began in 2000 with his introduction to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., founder of the River Keeper Alliance, during a celebrity ski event in Vail. He laughs, recalling their competitive nature on the slopes. “There’s something about the Kennedy and the Anderson clans, they seem to be fairly competitive. So when Bobby and I were pitted up against one another, I knew it was imperative that one of us win that particular race. And I have to say, the Andersons came out on top in that one,” he finishes proudly. “I beat him one year, and had to beat him the next year, and it’s just an ongoing thing. I tried to get him to come heli-skiing with us up in Banff, but he begged off for some reason. I don’t know what that is!” he laughs.
However, it was Kennedy’s passion for the environment that made the biggest impression on him. “My introduction to the River Keeper Alliance was through the Marjo Gortner event that was held in Vail. I was introduced to Bobby and Mary Kennedy, and the Alliance. And I was so impressed with the basic structure, and the basic idea and concept, the tenets of the River Keeper Alliance, that I really listened closely to what Mr. Kennedy had to say. And I was of course very impressed with his presentation and charisma and passion about what he was talking about, that being the rivers and the bays and the great waterways that they’ve been trying to protect over the years. So I sort of jumped on board more than anything. It’s not that I’m out there always actively seeking a cause to hang onto or to involve myself with, but this one really stood out. For one thing I’m from Minnesota, so I have a great bond and a great connection to water, it being the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” and I’ve always been attracted to great bodies of water, like the oceans. So it was a natural for me. That, and I got along with Bobby famously. We’ve become brethren over the past few years.
“At that particular event, one of the auction items was a trip down this river up in the Headwall Canyon [British Columbia]. It was billed as a first descent, which intrigued me, meaning that parenthetically no one else had ever come down it. Eric Hertz, who owns and runs Earth River Expeditions had offered this trip up, and he’s friends with Bobby as well, so it all just kind of meshed. I got the trip, and went up there, and just fell in love with rafting and waterways. National Geographic Explorer came along, and did a piece for us highlighting the Klahoose Nation’s plight to save their lands and protect their land rights from the foresting industry. It’s been an ongoing fight for some years now, and Kathy Francis, a former chief now of the Klahoose Nation, was our host.”
Months later, when the National Geographic feature was completed for broadcast, Bobby and Eric and Richard were reunited in Vancouver for a special screening. The piece highlighted the magnificent beauty of an untouched wilderness, and addressed the efforts of the Klahoose First Nation to preserve the region, but Eric, especially, felt that it didn’t have the urgency and impact that it could have had in addressing the environmental issues. In an attempt to maintain balance, the piece took a softer approach. “They weren’t really hardnosed about it, they weren’t hammering home the points. It was more of a gentle historical overview of what had transpired, and some reflection on the damages that had been done and how the rights of the First Nations were being compromised to some degree,” Richard explains. As Eric expressed his feelings that the issues needed a stronger approach, Richard continues, “I had to chime in, very unlike me to be defensive about such things, but I said ‘You have to be realistic when you’re dealing with the media, with any outlet at all. If you’re making a documentary on your own, then, the sky’s the limit.’ And off that he said, ‘Would you be interested in being involved in a documentary film group that would help chronicle the great rivers of the world?’ eight of which happen to be on his calendar of trips for Earth River. And of course he rattled on for about 20 minutes, and my smile got increasingly large, and it just sounded and felt right. It felt like something that I really wanted to at least examine and explore.” Richard adds his admiration and respect for Eric’s passion and devotion. “He’s an eco-activist, and I adore him. He’s really a doer, an idea man and a doer, and his involvement in things of ecology and conservation is endless.”
Thus the River Project was born, a documentary film group dedicated to chronicling the great rivers of the world. Richard’s participation has been somewhat peripheral while Stargate has been in production, but he has been able to participate in several rafting trips to date. “I’ve been able to go on three trips, other than that one, so four all together, Chile twice, Tibet, and Headwall. And then a couple more are planned. To date, what we’ve been able to do is accumulate a grand library of footage of the rivers. We’re highlighting an issue down on the Rio Futaleufu [in Chile] that deals with hydroelectric, and big business, and basically greed that’s going to jeopardize the Futaleufu Valley, which incorporates about a hundred mile stretch of land. The Yangtze is more of a cultural piece when it comes to fruition, highlighting Tibetan Buddhism and how it relates to the water, and an examination of the people, and the trek that we actually took. So that’s where we stand right now. My involvement has been limited to whenever I can wedge in a trip.” He is very grateful to the producers of Stargate who have managed to accommodate his schedule. “John Smith has been just tirelessly scheduling me out of scripts and manipulating things so I can go off and do these things.” Although the itinerary is still evolving, there are several more trips tentatively planned. “We have to go back to the Yangtze and do the Great Bend, which I’m looking forward to. We may have to go back to the Upper Yangtze, if we didn’t get enough on the two loops of the river we made the first time. There’s the Colca in Peru.” Eventually these excursions will become a video documentary, but that is still in the future. “It’s an ongoing project. It’s one of those situations where no one has yet had the time to sit down and actually edit the pieces together, although Martin Wood and I are looking at the footage that we’ve got. We’ve got 75 hours of Yangtze stuff alone, let alone what we’ve got from Chile, and we’ve had two runs of the rivers down there. So it might take some time for us to start cutting it together in a viable, saleable form.”
Meanwhile, whenever possible, Richard continues his public support of organizations like Robert Kennedy’s River Keeper Alliance. “Primarily it’s just to be as public as I can be about its existence, and be as mouthy as I can about the need for such an organization,” he describes. “But the most recent occurrence for me is that Captain Paul Watson from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in being on the Board of Directors of Sea Shepherd. I was a little taken aback, just because I don’t fancy myself any kind of administrator, but I couldn’t have been more complimented or honored than to be asked by Captain Watson to do this. I was at my first board meeting about three weeks ago or so, and I was impressed, absolutely and massively.” Before joining the Board of Directors, Richard had been supportive of Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd for a few years, and he admires the commitment of the organization. “Paul helped start Greenpeace, and he had a falling out. One of his comments to me was, ‘Greenpeace exists to perpetuate itself.’ They’re not very active. Paul is hands-on. I mean, he’s confrontational, he’s a self proclaimed pirate. He’s rammed ships, they’ve scuttled whaling boats, they’ve cut lines, and chased down illegal boats. It’s an ongoing battle. Their website would be more informative, but it loomed as one of those plights that I respect and am in awe of, because he’s out there, and these are real life confrontations.”
One of those real life confrontations coming up is a campaign to Antarctica. “The Japanese whaling fleet is going to be going down there. There’s going to be an attempted confrontation of some kind, to help abort the Japanese whaling nation to hunt whales, which is against global law. The International Whaling Federation set down certain global laws for the global protection of whales.” In spite of this, certain nations have maintained a whaling industry. Richard won’t be participating in the trek to Antarctica, although it is something he would love to do, not only for the environmental impact, but because he has always been drawn to the icy continent. “That’s one of my dream places to go. I’m so attracted, so drawn to Antarctica for some reason. And I have no real viable logical reason for it, except that I’m from Minnesota, have thick blood and I love snow and ice and cold. I guess that would kind of fit the bill down there,” he laughs. For now he offers his support when he can, and looks ahead to the day when Stargate ends and he can take a more active role in organizations like Captain Watson’s. “His plight, his aim, his goals all fit with things that I admire and respect, and so to be asked to be a part of the organization was really kind of a massive honor. I’m stuck, in a pleasant way, in Vancouver, doing Stargate, and haven’t been able to be too hands-on. But that day will come.”
Richard’s travels and experiences with organizations such as Earth River have had a powerful impact on him even beyond the environmental issues. His travels to Tibet, in particular, opened new doors and new insights that he still isn’t quite able to put into words. “I had never had any burning desire to go to Asian countries at all. It’s not that I had a grand aversion to them, it just wasn’t a big draw on me emotionally. My sense of adventure was kind of directed north and south. But when this trip with Earth River came up, I started doing some examination, some preparation, and some research. Robert Thurman, I watched some of his examinations and reflections and lectures, and Joseph Campbell, and I started reading some things about Tibet, and in particular, Buddhism. I couldn’t, with any clear conscience or any great articulation, tell you what Buddhism is, or what it’s supposed to be. But during my exposure to the arena of Tibet, the 500-mile stretch of the Upper Yangtze, this trip during which we visited several Buddhist monasteries, I watched, somewhat objectively, my own transformation and acceptance.
“First of all, getting to where we were was potentially life altering to begin with, because it’s a very rough trip. I mean, you’re dealing with some elements that are potentially life threatening, altitude sickness and exposure, things like that. But it wasn’t until I got on the river and we actually started visiting the monasteries, that I started to sense a different air, a different aura about things in general, about the experience, certainly about the land, and most definitely about the people that I was meeting. And the monks themselves were at the heart of this quiet revelation. I don’t know what words to use to describe it except to say that when asked if it was everything I expected it to be, my answer is, no. I mean, as a Westerner, I had nothing to compare it to. I had no concept of expectation.
“The word “spirituality” comes to mind. There’s a gentleness and an awareness and an acceptance of everything, as the interconnectedness, the common tenet of Buddhism, that I became aware of, or at least cognizant of. My understanding of it is going to be personal, and so I have to start there and continue the examination. I don’t know that I’m going to become a Buddhist, but it’s more or less a matter of education in general. My initiation into the Tibetan world and the Tibetan monastic life was quite impressive. I mean, it’s a rugged, rugged part of the world. We were at 15,000 feet continually as we flowed down the river, so there’s that element of it, too, that affects you, just physiologically. Your head is light. I mean, the altitude sickness makes you throw up and get headaches, and makes you feel like crap, basically. But once you get over that, or acclimate to that element of it, you’re still lacking oxygen, and you’re closer to heaven, however you want to phrase it, and whichever way you want to go with it. So it had its effect on me. And I don’t articulate it very well because I’m still examining it. I’m still kind of putting myself under my own scrutiny.”
For several days on the set, he has been wearing an elasticized bracelet on his right wrist, a string of small brown beads with tiny Chinese characters engraved on them. He indicates now the memento that returned with him from Tibet. “They’re just some prayer beads,” he explains. “I got several strands that I picked up along the way in different parts along the trek. The people are so open, so trusting, there’s just a prevailing peace about them. They’re adorned with stones and corals and objects of the country, of the landscape. I’m not a jewelry wearer, but these are prayer beads, just cheap things that I got somewhere along the road. I have some necklaces, and dzi beads [pronounced “dzah”], and I had some gifts presented to me in monasteries. So I just put these on, and I brought some home for my daughter Wylie.” He wears the bracelet in a show of support for Tibet. Until now, Jack O’Neill has made a point of tucking them up inside his sleeve when he’s on camera. “I can make it disappear, it comes off easily, but it will have to come off eventually. If they ever catch me saluting like that, I’m dead,” he laughs. However, in episodes since, the Tibetan prayer beads have made a more prominent onscreen appearance.
Stargate is a veritable treasure trove of hidden details like that, from strategically placed props to cameos by Peter DeLuise. Another personal nod could be seen in the episode “Cold Lazarus.” As the duplicate O’Neill sat in the locker room, he examined a cigar box full of photographs including one of a young Richard Dean Anderson with a woman. “That’s my real mom and me,” Richard confirms. He is intrigued by the details that fans notice. “You guys notice those things, huh?” he asks, again enjoying the audience’s ability to pick up on peripheral moments. “Well, I love that stuff too,” he smiles.
Even as far back as MacGyver, small personal statements had a way of creeping into his characters on screen. For a few weeks in early 1991, MacGyver had worn an MIA bracelet. Thinking back, he recalls, “I was asked, and for two years, I think, I was the spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Association. They presented me with a couple of pins, and honored me with that, and I did some public service announcements for them. I think that might have been one of the MIA bracelets, all of it being in symbolic support of the efforts of the Vietnam veterans, and things like that. The things I like to support, I like to make a commitment to.”
Sometimes those commitments are even more personal. Toward the end of season five, in the episode “Revelations,” for example, Jack O’Neill was seen wearing a yellowish braided bracelet on his right wrist. “Oh, that!” he recalls. “That was a woven piece of twine, basically, that my daughter won at a carnival. I took her to a little kid carnival, and there was a little game that she pitched something, or fished something out of a pond. And she picked this. She knows, or thinks that she knows that my favorite color is yellow or orange, so she got this gold thing for me. And I take it whenever I go on any one of my trips. In fact, Steve, who’s our [Earth River’s] videographer, has a six year old daughter, and Steve and I are quite bonded chums. He flew out from New York, as we were going over to China, he landed in Vancouver, and we met there. I had put on Wylie’s bracelet. Wylie had said, ‘Here, Daddy, take this to China and wear this,’ and so I put it on. And I see Steve at the airport, and he’s wearing something equally as youthful looking, and his daughter had done the same thing for him, had given him something to take to China. ‘Think of me, Daddy,’ that sort of thing. When I came back I just kept it on. I used to wear it around my ankle just as one of those quick little memory pops of my daughter, not that I need them, because she’s a constant thought.”
Indeed she is, and Richard’s whole face lights up when he speaks of his daughter, Wylie Quinn Annarose, who would be turning four years old in a matter of weeks. He has told the story before of how he had found her name in a storybook, but he hasn’t been able to locate the story again. “I wish I could find it!” he says. “I’ve got five great big fairy tale books. I remember when her mom was pregnant, I would read from Vancouver and she’d put the phone on her belly. And as I’d be reading her stories in utero, the name just came out of one of the stories. I’ve got to search it out, because the subsequent research on the name just came up with Eleanor Wylie, the English poet, and Wylie Post, of course.” He adds with a wink that clearly indicates he has anticipated the other association of the name, “And lest we say, Wile E. Coyote was never a part of it. I knew that would be one of the dilemmas of running with that name.” It was the sound that intrigued him. “At first I wanted a name that started with “Z”, and Zoë is a good name, but that’s my dog’s name, and that wasn’t going to fly politically with the family. So Wylie came out of it. But the minute I said it, I knew it had to be on the list for consideration, and it obviously made the cut. And it works… Wylie Quinn,” he tries the name on for size. The name Quinn was chosen in a similar way. “I like letters Z’s and Q’s in a name. It just kind of felt like it went, and it’s also a Q.” Then, by way of demonstration, he tries out a thick southern accent. “Wylie Q, you come on over here and tell your daddy a story!” he calls, and then smiles, “It just sounded nice.”
He flies home to Los Angeles to spend each weekend with “Wylie Q,” but just two days ago he returned from a fabulous three week hiatus of father-daughter bonding. His deep tan makes it clear that he didn’t spend most of that time indoors. “I’m always outside,” he answers. “I don’t like being indoors. Plus, part of my heritage, my genetic makeup, is part Mohawk Indian. My mother’s got a little bit in her somewhere, so I have the skin quality that just soaks it up. I can’t remember once ever greasing up and lying out in the sun. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. When I go to the beach, I take Wylie down to the ocean, and I’ve introduced her to tide pools and riptides, and the force of the ocean and things like that, and we explore and romp. I soak up sun, but it’s a result of just not paying attention to having been outside for so long.”
So how did he and Wylie spend three weeks in the Los Angeles sunshine? “I taught her how to swim!” he announces proudly. “It was imperative. My dad taught me how to swim by throwing me in. Before I could walk, he threw me in a pool. And he said, ‘You had the right idea, flailing your arms and legs like that, but you sank like a stone. But I was proud of you none the same.’ I had the notion, I had the impulse, so that was the process of learning how to swim before I could walk. Wylie’s, obviously, walking quite well, but she was three and a half when I introduced her to it. Actually, before that, when she was living up here, I had taken her to a swimming class and introduced her to water, and she took to it immediately. Then she moved back down to California with her mom, and I couldn’t stay on it. But now it’s become imperative, and I have a pool in my yard so I was taking her in the pool. But I wanted her to learn technique, to go through the whole process.” He laughs at his confession that he is a better athlete than instructor. “I remember trying to teach someone how to ski, and essentially what came out of my mouth was, ‘You just… SKI!’ That was my answer to it. I can do, but I can’t necessarily teach. I found I was a little better at teaching swimming than I was teaching skiing, but I did hire a teacher for her. So she and her little friend, her best friend, have a private swimming lesson once a week, and then I embellished it all the time that I was down there. We were in the pool like five hours a day, in various increments, but she just wouldn’t come out of the water. She’s like a little dolphin. And she is just absolutely intrigued by the ocean and its energy, as am I. So I’ve introduced her to that. We spent a lot of time exploring the tide pools and some of the mountainous areas around where I live.”
A love of the ocean is not the only thing that Wylie has in common with her daddy. He remembers the previous hiatus a few months earlier. “Over the big hiatus in the winter, I took her to Vail, the first daddy-daughter vacation. We spent five days in Vail and I put her in a ski school there, because if she’s going to take to skiing, I didn’t want to force my absolute obsession with skiing on her. If she’s going to take to it, I wanted it to happen in a controlled learning environment. I put her in ski school in the morning, the first day, and then I went skiing a couple of hours. And I called in on the cell phone, and they were on a break. I talked to the ski instructor, and she said, ‘You understand that you have a little speed demon on your hands?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I suspected as much. And as much as I love the fact that she’s daddy’s little girl, make sure you teach her how to stop, because I don’t want her to have daddy’s medical records.’ So I got her in a little private the next morning, and they put the wedge together and they taught her how to stop, and by the end of the third day of her lesson, she was just taken with it. She’s getting it. She still likes to go fast but I’m going to ease her into those elements. I don’t want her to get as hurt as I’ve gotten. I like her bravado, and I like her relative audacity or bravery or whatever it is, but I don’t want her to be hurt. That would kill me.”
The shorter summer break didn’t lend itself as readily to traveling. “There was one trip that I wanted to take with her to Minnesota, up to the lakes and the cabins, but I kind of begged off that because it was a little bit too much traveling. It was around the Fourth of July, and it was going to be too nuts. So I made sure that we had the quality time that is important. And that’s what we did. When we’re together, we kind of feed off each other. She knows that with Dad she’s going to get a good romp, and there’s going to be a lot of activity, but we balance it all. We do stay active a lot of the time, but almost in equal parts we read. She can virtually read now. We’re sounding out the words. She’s very familiar with the alphabet, knows numbers and letters and certain words. I was able to do that in taking baths. I’d have those little rubber letters, and I’d put the alphabet in triplicate on these things, so her bathtub just looks like this mass of alphabet soup. She kind of has grown up from the start with an awareness of words and letters, so she’s advancing quite nicely. She loves when I read, because I’ll put on characters. I’ll assume the characters if anything’s in quotes, and that allows me to misbehave a little bit with voices. If I do it in real life without text in front of me, she says, ‘Daddy, don’t do that. Talk like Daddy.’” He imitates a child’s gentle reproach, then smiles contritely. “She kind of puts me in my place. She’ll sit on my lap, and she’ll bring me a stack of books, and say, ‘Let’s read these now.’ And I say… fine! I love it. I so celebrate that aspect of it.”
He continues, clearly enjoying the topic. “I took her to Lion King, the musical, which she had seen once before, so I kind of put her in a position of telling me what’s going to happen next, that kind of thing. It was really wonderful. Of course our cooking is kind of relegated to taking the instant chocolate chip cookie dough and putting it on a sheet and burning it. So, she’ll have to learn that elsewhere, I think,” he laughs. “I just spend as much time with her as possible. We read incessantly, we write, we have our little art days, and crafts. The last day I was there she had a swimming lesson later on in the morning, and so her friend came over. I got the finger paints out, and two big slabs of paper and we made a mess. We made “art”! These two little four year olds basically just made a complete mess of themselves with some resultant works of art. So it was a lot of that kind of stuff, just being together. And I had my dog, Zoë. I got her back from my brother for the three weeks. Because I commute every weekend, she’s been living with my brother in San Diego, very happily so, but any time she sees me, she shakes out of her skin. I mean, she’s definitely my dog. So I had her for three weeks, and Wylie loves Zoë, so there’s that connection and bond. It was… glorious!” he finishes contentedly.
Now back on the set with barely three months to go before the sixth season of Stargate wraps, he is considering what lies beyond the stargate here on Earth. Eventually the series will end, and although he hesitates to use the word “retirement,” he plans to set aside at least a year in which to enjoy life out of the spotlight. “I’m a relatively private guy on the outside,” he admits. “I come here, and it’s all consuming, and I’m as available as I can be to do my job and to be a part of this family. But the minute I walk away, get in the car and go home, I’m pretty quiet, not a real social animal necessarily.” He tends to shy away from public appearances or conventions. “I’m not very good at self promotion. I tend to be a little reticent to do that,” he confesses. That’s not to say that he refuses to entertain offers, but it’s a matter of weighing priorities. “I think it’s the product of my reticence. I get invitations to go do things but I sort of pick and choose. The notion of my flying off to do any kind of publicity isn’t real attractive to me. My priority is my kid.”
One thing he’s definitely looking forward to is the upcoming ski season. The injury and subsequent surgery to his knee a few months earlier are now behind him. “It got a lot better real quickly. Then during the hiatus I got off my physical therapy and I was swimming more than anything. I rode the bike a couple of times, but I think I’ll be all right. I’m looking forward to the first snowfall.” He still intends to ski? “Oh, God yes!” he exclaims without hesitation. “I stopped playing hockey a few years ago. That was born of just the overt ricketiness of my body in general, but certainly my knees were not conducive to ice. I’m a much better skier than I am a skater, so I have greater confidence in that, and I also get a greater joy out of skiing the wilderness. So, yeah, I have to ski. It’s imperative! I went helicopter skiing this last year in Banff. That opened up a whole new venue for me. That’s open, that’s deep and steep!” Come winter, he insists, “I’ll be primed,” and indeed the months of physical therapy paid off. In January, 2003, he returned to the Celebrity Sports Invitational at Squaw Creek. Once again, he faced Bobby Kennedy on the slopes, and once again the Anderson clan came out on top, by a full 1.74 seconds.
As for work, he hasn’t ruled out possibilities. He frequently gets offers, and again, it is a case of picking and choosing. Some months earlier, for example, he had been approached by MinutePass, to be a spokesman for their prepaid phone card. At first he hesitated, but the company pursued, convinced that he embodied the image that they wanted to project. Before accepting the job, Richard admits he did do his homework. “I did my research to make sure they weren’t cutting down any rain forests, or damming up any rivers, or polluting anything, and they were a clean company. So, I said fine, let’s give it a shot.” In the end, he made two commercials which have been running on television since the fall of 2001. Are there likely to be more in the future? He doesn’t know, but he has nothing but praise for the people he worked with. “They were a great group of people. It was a spectacular experience. It was fun!”
Looking toward the future, Richard is still trying to adjust to the idea of taking time off after so many years of steady work. “I’m kind of floating with this new idea of relative unemployment, or self imposed unemployment. I kind of like the idea, but I also know myself well enough to know that I’ve thrived on kind of a workaholic’s adrenaline most of my career. But it’s time to kind of relax and ease into some other aspects of life, or to live life in general, and not make it all about the work. So, we’ll see what comes along. I have a lot of things to do in the year that I’ve designated to take off. My agent knows me well enough to know what’s important to me, what my priorities are. At this particular moment in my life, I really do have to consider very clearly what’s important, and it’s my daughter. I really have to make sure things go right. I want to be a great father. I am already, but I want to make sure that that’s clear to her, that her dad is always there for her. I had lunch with my agent two weeks ago, and she said, ‘If something does come up, would you consider it?’ And I said, ‘I trust you, let me know if it’s worth reading and examining.’ The idea of doing another series doesn’t appeal to me. It’s just too much of a grind. There’s too much time consumed in doing it. There’s nine months out of any given year in all the series that I’ve been on. It just takes up that precious time. And logistically, I have to be in California. If I’m going to work, I need to be close to Wylie.”
The road ahead, it seems, hinges on the future of Stargate. Although season six was meant to be the final one, the new episodes debuted to higher than expected ratings on the Sci Fi channel, and already in mid summer there has been talk of building on that success with a seventh season before moving toward a feature film. At this point, in July, Richard has not yet been approached about continuing as Jack O’Neill for one more year, but when asked if he would consider returning for another season, he answers thoughtfully. “My impulse and my instincts tell me to take a year off, and make sure that my daughter knows that I’m a solid force in her life and can be counted on. The potential loss that my daughter will have by not having a strong constant father figure available to her, I think would do more damage than is worth a seventh year to me. Sitting here in this beautiful park with you, I couldn’t fathom, I couldn’t design in my head a scenario that would have me doing a seventh year. Now, maybe there are greater minds than I, who might be able to do that,” he smiles, keeping his options open.
It seems that those greater minds were indeed at work. As the summer progressed, the Sci Fi channel moved to extend its highest rated show. Last fall, when Richard was approached with an offer, negotiations successfully constructed that scenario he had such difficulty envisioning. An abbreviated schedule that will allow him to spend more time with his daughter, made it possible for him to return to the series he has enjoyed so much. On November 7th, the Sci Fi channel proudly announced that Richard Dean Anderson would once again be leading the SG-1 team for another year of adventures through the stargate, and in February, production began on season seven. For now, the road ahead leads back to Vancouver. Good news for Stargate fans everywhere, it appears that the long awaited retirement/unemployment/time off will be put on hold just a bit longer.
Article and photo © Kathleen Ritter 2003
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visit the Official International Stargate SG-1 Fan Club
Ritter, Kate. "The Road Ahead." SG-1 Explorer Unit Team Briefing #6. March 20, 2003.