THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Despite reducing his involvement in the series' seventh season, Richard Dean Anderson continues to lead humanity's exploration of the galaxy as Colonel Jack O'Neill in "Stargate SG-1" - and he's just signed up for an eighth year of adventures. The popular actor considers what the future might hold for O'Neill and SG-1, and tells Ian Spelling why season seven is right up there with the show's very best years...
When the US Sci Fi Channel announced its intention to dial up an eighth season of its top-rated series, many assumed that Stargate SG-1 would be continuing without its leading man, Richard Dean Anderson. Anderson famously reduced Colonel Jack O'Neill's role in the show's seventh season - a season that will conclude in the spring on both sides of the Atlantic - and his permanent departure looked to be just a matter of time. But much to viewers' surprise and delight, Anderson has signed up for an eighth season of Stargate, and will continue to share the screen with SG-1 members Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), Teal'c (Christopher Judge) and Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping).
With season seven now in the can and season eight set to begin filming early in 2004, Dreamwatch catches up with Anderson at his home in California to discover why he agreed to an eighth year of Gate-keeping and learn how next season will almost surely bring Jack O'Neill's adventures to an end - unless, of course, there's a movie spin-off...
Dreamwatch: What convinced you to star in an eighth season of Stargate SG-1? Did you sign up for yourself, for the fans, for your co-stars and crew or for a combination of them all?
All of that weighs on me. This is such a positive experience, and there's no denying all of those elements and taking all of them into consideration. But the bottom line for me was the fact that the guys that put the schedule together put it together in such a way that I had time with my daughter [Wylie Quinn Annarose Anderson].
I'd told MGM that I needed to spend more time with her, and to spend it with her in California. Since we shoot in Vancouver, all I really needed was an adjustment to my schedule. They were extremely accommodating about that for year seven and it worked out great. It all fell into place. So when MGM approached me about season eight, I did a double-take and winced a little bit at first. But then I realised that, given that my daughter is in kindergarten and we're starting the rhythm of the next phase of her life, it worked out so well last year that if I could keep the schedule similar to last year, I could do an eighth season.
Everyone who wanted to do an eighth season made it clear they'd be on board. And my abbreviated schedule helps some of the creative elements of it. I remember talking to [series co-creator/executive producer] Brad Wright a couple of years ago in anticipation of the end of the show and how to do it, and there didn't seem to be a really clear-cut approach to closure for this particular franchise. If it was going to make the transition into a spin-off or a feature film or whatever the next venue might be, it didn't seem like year seven was going to accomplish the preliminaries for that. So coming back was an opportunity to help out where I could and also to make sure that my real life was attended to properly.
So, what do you get out of starring in the show at this point? Are you still having fun?
Yeah, I am. It's not like I have any great insight or anything profound to add to what might be understood about the workplace, but our workplace is in essence my social life. I like the environment. I love the people, the process, and the product is still interesting and fun. Stargate is Sci Fi's most popular show. So it's still got all those ego-bolstering elements!
But the fact is that the people I work with are a lot of fun to be with and to create with and to be actors with. And they've all become good friends.
The hot rumour is that O'Neill will be promoted in season eight. What directions remain for the character to go in?
Apparently only up. As far as year eight is concerned, we're leaving O'Neill in an odd place at the end of year seven. The end of season seven hasn't aired yet, so I should probably shut up!
But depending on what the boys have planned beyond Stargate, I'm not quite sure what can or what will happen to O'Neill. There are so many options because of our sci-fi premise. He could ascend. He could die. He could be promoted. My preference would be to see him end up in a log cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota!
What's your verdict on the show's seventh season? How does it stand up to other years of Stargate?
It's right up there. Within the seven years we've experienced there are going to be ups and downs. As the cliché goes, you can't hit a home-run every time. But as seasons go, season seven has been a really good one.
It all starts with the writing. That's been my mantra throughout my entire career. And it's absolutely true. If you don't have the writing you can't tell the story, and the audience won't be fooled for long, if at all, by smoke and mirrors. The writing was phenomenal and superior. Production-wise, too, season seven has been the best.
Returning to the issue of your reduced involvement in season seven, some viewers say they miss the group interplay between the four members of SG-1. Are you pleased, story-wise, with the way they've dealt with your absence?
I am, very much so. I'm also glad that's the reaction and I'm glad you're telling me this. I'll be honest - I miss the interaction too; the family banter that can take place between the four of us. But the way it is now, or the way it will be, is more reflective of reality. Everybody is always in one spot at one time, but, of course, dramatically, the fans miss that interaction.
We still have it occasionally. It's just not as prevalent and hopefully it makes the fans appreciate it more now when we do have it.
How pleased were you that Michael Shanks returned to the show for season seven?
Extremely. The thing about it when Michael was gone was that there had been a rhythm that O'Neill and Daniel had. The two of them shared a mutual admiration and disdain. There's a brotherly exchange that takes place, and I think it's funny. Shanks and I have fun playing that dynamic. When he went away, Corin Nemec [as Jonas Quinn] brought a whole different rhythm and it wasn't as fast, it wasn't as glib and it wasn't as peppy. I thought that was wise. It was a smart move for Corin to go in that direction, because to try to emulate Shanks' rhythm is virtually impossible first of all, and it also would have created the competition we wanted to avoid.
So I was real happy that Michael came back. I thought it [Nemec's exit and Shanks' return] was done very professionally. There wasn't any animosity going on off the screen. It was just a matter of, "This is the way the franchise-needs to go." If we're anticipating season eight and Lord knows whatever else, then the changes are good. Otherwise we'd get tired and thin and stale.
Are there any episodes from season seven that you're particularly fond of?
The last one [The Lost City]. The last one is a two-parter. We did a little bit of stunt casting. We were blessed to have guys like James McDaniel, William Devane and Ronny Cox. We deal with the end of the universe, basically, and William Devane [as the new US President] is being very presidential about his dealings with Anubis. That, to me, is an extremely hilarious scene. The fate of the known universe is at stake, and Devane is talking to this oily-faced, black-cloaked bad guy and being almost O'Neill-esque. He's somewhat glib and smart-alecky with this guy. But the last two episodes of the season are big.
The two episodes were originally written, at least in concept, as a [Stargate] feature. Despite any paring down you do to get something to a television scale, you still have to keep in mind that you're dealing with a big concept. So the ideas are still big and good.
When you started working on Stargate six years ago you said you would be thrilled to be on the air for a couple of years and the main mission was to differentiate the show from the movie. So, in the broader sense, how has Stargate exceeded your expectations?
My comment early on was that we would be limited only by our imaginations, and if those dry up we shouldn't be doing the show. Blessedly, along the line, we've had good writers and a great, tenacious production staff. I want to mention guys like [co-executive producer] John Smith and [executive producer] Robert Cooper and [series co-creator/executive producer] Mike Greenberg and [producer] Andy Mikita. These are all guys who've pretty much had to be the machinery behind what we do. They make it all go. For me to express any surprise that we will have lasted at least eight seasons is kind of bogus, because these guys are geniuses at what they do. So the machinery is smooth and the writing is so good that the show warrants being around for as long as it has been.
At this point, how does your Stargate experience compare to your MacGyver experience?
I think my name was probably synonymous with MacGyver, but it's not necessarily synonymous with Stargate. Stargate is an ensemble show. Although my name gets bantered about in referencing it, it's still an ensemble show. It's a group effort, whereas on MacGyver it was clearly on my shoulders. I worked with Dana Elcar for years, but it was still pretty much Anderson carrying the ball through the line. That's the difference.
And blessedly it all happened in the order that it did. I don't think there's any way I could do now what I did during the MacGyver days, in part because I'm older and I need the help! [Laughs]
Stargate SG-1 is thriving when so many other sci-fi series, like Farscape, have bitten the dust and others, like Enterprise, are struggling in the ratings. How would you account for Stargate's enduring appeal?
I'm so unattached to the outside perception of the show and what happens to it. I don't necessarily talk to the Sci Fi brass too much. MGM keeps its distance and lets us make our product, and it's been successful.
I honestly don't know, but possibly it's the combination of it being a sci-fi oriented show - let's face it, it is of that genre - and it taking place in the current day, with real people. We're not dealing with the future, which can detach things a little bit. And we've got what I think is television's greatest standing prop in the Stargate. It's that go-to thing and once you go through there, what's there? That might be keeping people coming back.
The other part that I'm aware of and that I live with day-to-day while making the show is that there is an obvious on-screen rapport and camaraderie that comes through. People tell me that they're extremely comfortable watching the four of us and our interplay. People have grown familiar with it and have grown to anticipate some levity, some comedy.
And on top of that there's the presentation, the production values and, for the real fans of sci-fi, some profound ideas and concepts. But you don't have to be strictly a sci-fi fan to watch our show and enjoy it because, in the end, it's about human beings.
If season eight goes well, how open would you be to a ninth year of Stargate?
At this point, I'm not very open to it. I don't know. I should be fair to everyone, including myself, and say that I should use year eight as my 'So long'. It's just time. I have this beautiful, wonderful, life-altering being in my daughter who I really want to be around for. So I think that puts things in order.
How about the idea of Stargate SG-1 movies? If they could bring you in for a few months' work and then let you get on with your life again, would you be open to playing O'Neill in a series of Stargate films?
We've talked about that. Yeah, I'll listen to anything. My agent has become one of my better friends over the 20 years we've known each other. She knows me very well. She knows that once Stargate is over, I'm going to want to take time off, build a house and be with my daughter and possibly go on some travel trips, possibly back to Tibet and certainly back down to Ecuador to do some diving and possibly some filming [for his in-the-works documentaries]. But, for the most part, it's clearly feeling like a transition time for me.
It sounds like you're planning to move away from acting work even further. Some might call that retirement. Is that what you're thinking about?
I don't know what to call it. For a workaholic to say "I'm retiring" - I mean, who believes that? Not only that, how do you define retirement to someone who enjoys working? I honestly don't know. I know I'm building a house. As much as I've travelled and have not been too rooted to one place throughout my life, it kind of feels like I should be setting up at least a home base in Los Angeles. So that's going to take my attention for a while.
I don't know. My agent has told me right to my face, "I'm not going to call you unless something really catches my eye and it's worth you coming out of the hills!"
Stargate's seventh season premieres across the US on Fridays at 8pm on Sci Fi, and continues on Sky One on Mondays at 8pm.
Richard Dean Anderson discusses the death of a SGC officer in the upcoming seventh-season adventure Heroes...
What did you make of Heroes, the episode in which Dr. Fraiser is killed off?
Please don't take this as a dispassionate comment, but as familial as we are - and we all adore Teryl [Rothery], we all adore each other; it's kind of obnoxious, actually - it's part of what's needed sometimes in the telling of a story. You have to shake some things up dramatically.
So as much as there was a sadness about losing a regular castmember, we're OK. I think it was handled pretty dramatically.