MEET THE UNIVERSAL GOOD GUY
Richard Dean Anderson, the irreverent Colonel Jack O'Neill in the TV series Stargate SG-1, has silenced those critics who thought his fame would die with the demise of "Mac" MacGyver.
Richard Dean Anderson, former star of MacGyver and lantern-jawed he-man of Stargate SG-1, is lying flat on his back, blocking a cramped corridor at Burnaby's Bridge Studios, tossing a rubber ball the length of the hallway while two black Labradors race pell-mell to retrieve the toy.
"Hi, how're you doing?" he says, with no room to move aside.
The dogs, Tugboat and Molly -- whose names were drawn by their owner, producer John Smith, from The Beachcombers, which Smith used to produce -- scamper back with the ball and leap on Anderson. Anderson fires it the length of the hallway again, while secretaries and production assistants dive for cover.
There's a crackle on a nearby walkie-talkie and an assistant relays the message: Filming is about to resume on a nearby soundstage.
Anderson gives the dogs one last affectionate rub, stands up and fingers a military dog tag he is wearing around his neck.
"It's a dog's life," he says, keeping a straight face.
Anderson has been down this road before. For seven years, between September 1985 and August 1992, he played "Mac" MacGyver in the made-in-Vancouver MacGyver, a popular series about a rugged, handsome hero who favoured paper clips and candy bars over guns and fisticuffs in his fight to right wrongs and defeat bad guys around the world.
Now Anderson is playing Air Force Colonel Jack O'Neill in the MGM Television series Stargate SG-1. He is still defeating bad guys, only now they are scattered around the universe.
Anderson's latest series -- he is one of the show's executive producers as well as its most prominent performer -- has evolved into one of television's more improbable success stories of late. After just one year on the air, Stargate is the highest-rated prime-time series on the U.S. cable channel Showtime. It was recently renewed for another two seasons, which will result in a grand total of 88 episodes. The U.S. Sci-Fi Channel has an option for two more years after that, which could conceivably extend Stargate's life span to a total of six years.
It has come a long way since Vancouver producer Brad Wright and his partner, Jonathan Glassner, first floated the idea of an extended series based on the critically drubbed but financially successful 1994 movie starring Kurt Russell and James Spader.
For Anderson, who co-produces the series with his partner Michael Greenburg and their company, Gekko Film Corp., Stargate has provided a homecoming of sorts.
It has afforded him the opportunity to silence his critics -- the ones who said he was a flash in the pan whose 15 minutes of fame would be snuffed out with the demise of MacGyver -- while renewing his ties to a city he called home for seven years.
"I'm not going to deny that I've gotten older," Anderson says during a break in filming. "It's all a matter of adjusting. I still have the stoic, Swedish stamina that allows me to put up with the hours and rigors of this kind of work."
Script pages and production notes are tossed around Anderson's trailer, the workplace of a man juggling two hats. Anderson scans his eye over the script pages for the next day's filming while taking sips from a bottle of B.C. mineral water. None of that import stuff.
"As much as taking on extra duties is one of the -- and put this in quotes, please -- 'burdens' of being a producer, it's also one of the joys. It keeps me thinking, keeps me aware of all the elements of production. I'm not just 'the actor,' which is good for me in the long run. I need that kind of stimulation."
There are knocks at the door. Walkie-talkies crackle. Questions are asked, advice given.
Even at the height of its popularity, MacGyver was never quite like this.
"MacGyver was the springboard to my career. It gave me, I think, a wonderful perspective on things. It was a seven-year run that launched me into a perpetual state of employment... I don't hold myself in any high esteem as a great actor. I've gotten by and I'm fairly comfortable in my own skin."
The man who was MacGyver then makes a surprising admission.
"I don't really have a mechanical mind. But I'm fascinated by the technical elements involved in doing special effects, things of science, the technology involved in doing what we do. It can and does require interminably long, dull, repetitive hours, but the technical aspects of putting this show together are as intriguing to me as they are difficult... I wouldn't have signed on to do another perpetual series if I didn't think I could handle it, find some joy in the day-to-day regimen of making miniature movies, which is essentially what we're doing."
Anderson made it clear from the beginning that he would not play Colonel O'Neill with the stoic pose struck by Russell in the film.
"I made it a lot easier for myself by bringing my quirky slant on life to the role. Life's too short not to have a sense of humour about what you do for a living. With me, it manifests itself in a sarcastic sense of humour, which is a little inordinate for a military man." He pauses. "You don't see sarcasm a lot in the military."
ANDERSON BRINGS QUIRKY SLANT TO ROLE
He says life's too short not to have a sense of humour -- whether the subject is Air Force Colonel O'Neill or the rain in Vancouver.
Then there's the rain. During his MacGyver days, Anderson made an off-the-cuff quip about Vancouver's dank, gloomy winters. That gave him something in common with a certain actor from another TV series.
"Hey, [David] Duchovny called me," Anderson says, brightly. "We'd never met, but he tracked me down through people that we know and we chatted on the phone. He said, 'Richard, what do I do? Basically, they're all over me.'
"I went through exactly the same thing about eight years prior, during the early days of MacGyver. I made the mistake of actually commenting, as he did, honestly about my perception of Vancouver's weather. I said, 'It rains here. It's cold and wet and it can get a little dark.'
"From that quote came the perception that I hated the city. Literally, this was the interpretation of my comments about the weather.
"I told Duchovny, 'You know, you have to, please, take it with a grain, please, just let it slide,'" Anderson pauses, "'like water off a duck's back.'"
Anderson says he offered some advice, for what it was worth.
"I said, 'Think about what you're talking about, about what's at stake. You're talking about the weather. This is the weather you're talking about. You haven't gone at them culturally. You haven't undermined their nationalism, their love of country, or anything like that.
"You're talking about the goddamn weather. Put it in perspective.' And part of me was hoping that Vancouverites would do the same.
"You have to have a sense of humour about things. Take pride in the fact that you live here and can endure such hardships. Take pride in the fact that you're stoic and made of tough stock and can endure a cold, hard, wet winter. That's the reality.
"Besides, this has been one of the warmer summers I've ever experienced in Vancouver. You'll never hear me complain about it being hot in Vancouver, because I know what the winters are like."
Anderson has noticed a few changes in the Lower Mainland since his MacGyver days.
"First of all there's a new race track for the Molson Indy," he says, deadpan. "There are the obvious architectural changes. To be honest with you, things seem to be pretty much the same culturally, which to my way of thinking, is a plus.
"Part of what I love about Vancouver, and have been so enamoured with over the years, is its culture -- the symphony, being able to go down to Bard on the Beach, when I can, when I have time. There's a cultural -- I hate to use the word cornucopia -- cornucopia here that I find intellectually invigorating.
"It's not my home country, but I feel like an adopted son to some degree. I love the country and have a kind of ongoing love affair with the city -- despite what the guys on KFOX, or whatever it is, have been trying to rag on me for the last decade. Please, let's move on boys."
Anderson, 48, recently became a father. The announcement in Variety was brief and to the point: "Actor Richard Dean Anderson and his girlfriend Apryl Prose welcomed their baby daughter, Wylie Quinn Annarose Anderson, into the world on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1998... Father, mother and baby are all healthy and happy."
"I was a bit of a dog," Anderson admits, talking about his younger days. "I was a misbehaving fool. I was just having a ball, in a relatively harmless way, right up to the present.
"Meeting Apryl and having baby Wylie was something that had been pending for a while. It was obvious to me that something was happening internally. My perception of things was becoming a little softer, a little gentler. I wasn't as hard. I wasn't the workaholic I had been in the past. I wasn't playing as hard.
"I know that's a natural part of the aging process and maturation and personal evolution. I'd always said that I loved working with kids, with inner-city groups and various charities, and I always said I wanted them. The opportunity presented itself and it was time to put up or shut up. Life was calling me on myself.
"And now we have this beautiful healthy baby that right now is the sole source of emotion and absolute joy. It's made me more sensitive to my own feelings. It's heightened everything. I'm a little more aware of what's going on, rather than being the stoic Scandinavian I've always prided myself on being, hiding my feelings.
"I am finding at this point in time, since [Wylie] is a month old, that work is getting in the way of my being the dad I want to be. But you make your adjustments. You keep flexible, as people with children know. You just kind of bend with things."
RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON
Claim to fame: Plays Colonel Jack O'Neill on the Burnaby-based TV series Stargate SG-1, the highest-rated prime-time series on the U.S. cable channel Showtime. Stargate's second season is airing Sunday on CHEK-TV at 7 p.m.
Background: Age 48, born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father was a jazz bassist, his mother an artist. He studied drama at Minnesota's St. Cloud College and Ohio University, then moved to Los Angeles, where, in 1976, he landed the role of Dr. Jeff Webber on the daytime drama General Hospital. In 1985, Anderson was cast as the signature role in MacGyver, which was filmed in Vancouver until the series' end in 1992.
The acting bug: "When I was six years or seven years old, I would tag along with my dad to theatre rehearsals. One time, at a rehearsal, instead of a birthday cake which was supposed to be part of the action, they brought a whole bunch of Hostess Twinkies. As a kid, you see a plate full of Hostess Twinkies and you're thinking, 'Okay, I've come to the right spot.' It was part of a play, with people play-acting. Somehow I made the association that any job that would allow me to get free Hostess Twinkies was a job I wanted to do. Obviously, I was just doing it for the perks."