How do you replace a much loved character in a popular television series that has at its foundation the importance of teamwork? That was the challenge facing the producers of Stargate SG-1 when Michael Shanks chose not to renew his contract after five years in the role of Dr. Daniel Jackson. According to Corin Nemec, the solution isn't in trying to replace the character, but in aiming to maintain the sense of team that has always been at the heart of the show. It's not an easy undertaking, but it's a challenge he's looking forward to.
Corin found himself as a focus of the changes swirling about Stargate's upcoming sixth season when he was chosen by Brad Wright to become the newest cast member to join the SG-1 family. Graciously taking time out from his lunch hour for a chat, he describes how he learned about the role. "I was on the lot of MGM, where they have their corporate offices in Los Angeles, and I was there auditioning for another MGM feature that they were doing. While I was sitting out in a courtyard, the heads of casting were walking by, and they had been part of casting me in a couple of projects for USA that year. So we had talked for a little bit and they had briefly mentioned the possibility of Stargate. A couple of days before they had just gotten notice that they had needed to find this new character. So it was really one of those moments where the universe kind of aligned, you know. Later on that afternoon, my manager had a talk with Hank Cohen, and by the end of that day, there was a big chance that I would be the guy for it. They sent my reel up here to Canada, and to make a long story short, that's how it worked out."
With final approval from Richard Dean Anderson and the executive producers, Corin was cast in the role of Jonas Quinn, an off-world human and a leader among his people, who acts as a liaison with the SG-1 team on their visit to his homeworld of Kelowna. Jonas was scheduled to appear in Meridian, the penultimate episode of season five in which Daniel Jackson's departure would be explained, but the role was a tentative one, and future appearances depended on how the episode was received. "The way that we agreed on it at that point was just to see how it worked out for that episode," he explains. "Let's just see, basically, how I gelled with the other cast members outside of the acting part of it as well as how the character looked with the other guys. So it was really contingent on how that episode turned out, and if everybody was happy with it. It turned out well, I guess, and we went ahead with this year."
For the sixth season of Stargate SG-1, Corin will be given star billing, but he is careful to make the distinction between taking the position as the fourth member of SG-1, and trying to replace the departing Dr. Jackson. The transition will not be an easy one, either for the members of SG-1 or for the audience, who have lost an important and much respected member of the team. The acceptance of Jonas will take time, but fans who have followed the Stargate saga since its inception in the 1994 blockbuster movie, will recall that Daniel faced a period of transition himself. Jack O'Neill had had little patience for the sneezing archaeologist he had dubbed a "geek," but the evolution of the characters led to the mutual respect that many believe is the core of SG-1's popularity. Corin is looking forward to the evolution of Jonas Quinn, wherever it might lead.
His appearance in Meridian was meant as an introduction, and Corin acknowledges that "the character seemed a little stiff to fit in with the rest of the characters. In relationship to how the character was when he was on his planet, there was a different kind of impression that the character was giving, because of his position on his planet, and the difference in how they socialize there." He relishes the opportunity to use this clean slate to create something new. "The exciting thing is that we're developing the character as we go along. The character has to grow, and become part of this new environment, and take his new position in life, and there are a lot of things that are happening to the character. It's quite exciting because, unlike the rest of the characters on the team, they're all pretty much solidified in their point of view and in their reactions. So it's kind of fun to be able to play around with it a little bit, with that newness, and I think that will translate well for the audience, too."
The newness and the constant change are what make it difficult for him to describe the character Jonas is becoming. "I hate to try and describe characters anyway, because, just as I like to try and perceive life as constantly changing, constantly developing, that's really the way that I'm trying to approach the character, too. I'm hoping not to ground myself too much in one particular kind of way of being, so I'm hoping to try and leave that open quite a bit, so that the discovery is new for me, and also for the audience as the character develops." He hopes that this sense of discovery will be one of Jonas's key contributions to the show. "I think that it has a lot to do with his newness to that particular environment, and his enthusiasm for what he's getting involved in, and the opportunity that he is being given to help to make a difference in the universe, so to speak, because this is a universal kind of a storyline that we're dealing with here. So, his being able to take on a larger role in his life as that character is quite a big deal."
Corin is grateful, too, for the freedom he has been given in the evolution of his character. "It's absolutely a mutual creative partnership. The writers write what they're thinking and then I try to incorporate my own ideas. I'm thinking about where he's coming from and what he does when he's involved in situations, and when they see dailies, and the scenes played out, they can then start to get a better idea of who this guy is, and then they start to incorporate that into the writing. So it's definitely a mutual relationship, and they're really really open about the development of characters on this show. They're really giving, and I find that to be really freeing, and relaxing, not to feel that there's a lot of pressure on me to conform to a certain idea and make that idea real. Instead, there's absolutely no pressure, and there's a lot of freedom and creativity."
Creating the transition onto the team itself is definitely the greater challenge, and it won't happen right away. "Without giving anything away, really, there's definitely a build to the character getting onto the SG-1. It wouldn't make sense for them just to let this guy on the team just because the show must go on. There has to be a logical realistic transition where my character has to essentially prove himself to the team, and also deal with the issues that some of the team members have with how he came to the planet Earth, which had to do with the incident in which Michael Shanks's character, Dr. Jackson, ascends, or passes on." It will be well into the fourth or fifth episode of season six that he'll begin to find his new place on the team. "The first three episodes are introducing the character to the audience, showing his enthusiasm, his point of view, what he has that he could bring to the team. Then once he's allowed on the team, it's a matter of a few more episodes to allow the character to start becoming part of the team, being able to actually show what he can do to assist in the success of whatever mission they're on. So it's not that he's given carte blanche right away, by any stretch of the imagination. And that, I think, is going to assist also in the audience's acceptance of the character, because this character's not being thrown in anybody's face. He's being developed before your eyes. So, I think that the audience should have a good transition."
His acceptance by the team might take some time, but his acceptance by the cast was much easier. Meridian was a highly emotional episode that brought its own challenges. "I went in and did the final episode of the fifth season. It was Michael Shanks's last episode, so there was definitely a particular energy around the set. Nothing negative, mind you, but there was a lot of energy around the set. This year it's been a lot different. Coming on this year, fresh, everybody's brand new, back onto the set, they've had their time off, and this year they're really going all out on the episodes for their debut on Sci-Fi. It's been a great experience. It's been a lot of fun. I tell you, there are a lot of good times on set. I mean, everybody is just so laid back, and they're all here to have a good time, and there's really no tension on the set. There's a good amount of joking around, so it's definitely a really really wonderful work environment to be in."
Corin admits he was new to the Stargate universe when he was first approached by those casting agents on the MGM lot. He's been doing his research by watching the episodes, and it's something he really enjoys. "I've seen all of first season, and I've seen about 26 or so episodes from seasons two through five. And I'll continue watching them as we go along. First season was really important to me just so I could get a basic understanding of the mythology, and the mission that they were on, and the different beings or races that they encountered, so that when it came to actually doing scenes when we were talking about certain topics, I'd have, in real life, a realistic understanding of what it is that's being discussed, and not just pretending that I understand it because it says so in the script, you know?" He finds the premise of the show intriguing. "The mythology is so rich, and it's a wonderful mythology that has been developed in relationship to our own Earth mythology. They utilize that mythology to basically back up the storyline, and give it a very, very realistic quality, which, if you watch the show and you wanted to go out and do your own investigations into the mythology, you'd find that it is right in line with the mythology as it is. It's not just made up. And I find that to be a really wonderful addition to the entire show, because without it, it wouldn't be as grounded, I don't think."
Science fiction in general is a realm that fascinates him, and he's enjoying the opportunity to visit other worlds, even if it's a virtual voyage. "I really enjoy science fiction. I enjoy theoretical physics, and all of the different far-out ideas that have come up in that field, as far as how our universe is constructed, and how everything is woven together, and taken apart. The whole idea of science fiction touches home for me, anyway, because, I think, like a lot of fans of science fiction, there's just an innate kind of feeling that there's no way we could just be the only ones in the entire universe, you know? And I think that people relate closely to science fiction because there's something that's very real about it to people, innately. And I think it's very enjoyable to live vicariously through these stories and these characters who get the opportunity to go out there and discover these new worlds, and interact with these alien races, because I think that there is somewhat of a hidden belief, or a very open and outright belief, that this is a very possible, a very feasible outcome for our future."
Science fiction isn't a new genre to Corin, although most of his work before joining SG-1 encompassed the range from comedy to drama to action adventure and thrillers. The thirty year old actor was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and lived briefly in Tennessee before moving to Atlanta, Georgia. He was bitten by the acting bug early, and began in local theater companies before doing his first commercial at the age of 12. A move to California brought him more acting opportunities, and he considers his first big break to be his role in the 1988 Francis Ford Coppola movie, Tucker, with Jeff Bridges. "That was the first big project. When I came back from that, it was a little bit easier to get jobs, because anybody who came off that show at that time was a pretty hot project." Indeed, he has worked steadily since then with an extensive filmography that spans television series, TV movies, and feature films. He earned an Emmy nomination for his role as an abused kidnap victim in the 1989 TV miniseries I Know My First Name Is Steven. He is probably best known to audiences for his title role in the 1990 TV sitcom Parker Lewis Can't Lose, which ran for three years and gained an even wider audience in Europe.
A little more than a year ago, Corin moved his family to San Antonio, and Texas has become home. Once the school year is over, his wife and eight year old daughter will be joining him in Vancouver, but whether Vancouver becomes a new permanent home depends on how things work out with Stargate. With talk of possible sequels or features in the air, the move up north may last longer than he anticipated.
For now, he's enjoying the new adventure. Several of the sixth season episodes are being shot out of order, and the emotional return of Daniel Jackson in the sixth episode, Abyss, had just been completed. Next on the schedule is Nightwalkers, due to air as the fifth episode, and Corin is looking forward to opportunities for Jonas to explore Earth and open up with a little humor. "The next one is called Nightwalkers, which can be really a lot of fun to do. We get to get off the base, you know? I've gone on some missions off-world, and stuff like that, but ultimately, being from another planet, I guess I'm not quite allowed to just go meandering about the US. So this is going to be a cool episode. Teal'c and I have some fun scenes together, not just in Nightwalkers, but just in general, because we're kind of the two aliens. Although I'm not alien, I mean I'm totally and completely human like anybody else. But, you know, just alien because I'm from another planet."
He's also looking forward to seeing the finished episodes, and getting to know the fans. That may mean checking out the discussions on the internet. He hasn't been keeping a close eye on the online discussions to date, but he hasn't ruled out taking a more active role in the future. Although an online search engine will turn up a handful of websites devoted to Corin Nemec, none of them is official. "I don't have a website," he explains. "I've been asked that before. It might say the official one, but I have absolutely nothing to do with it. Depending on what happens with this show after this, I'm probably going to create an official website of my own. But as of right now, anything that's on there, I can't really vouch for."
The face-to-face and personal interactions with fans appeal to him as well, and it seems that stories shared on the set have already given him a hint of what to expect at some of the Stargate conventions. Although as yet he has no plans to attend any specific events, he speaks enthusiastically about the prospect. "Oh, yeah, I'm totally interested in that kind of stuff. I love doing those kinds of events, but I don't have any official invites to anything at this point. But I have been loosely told about what they encompass by some of the other actors who have gone to them." One can only imagine. Another adventure for the future, perhaps? For the moment, Corin just hopes that the fans are ready to go along for the ride. "We're all just here to have a good time, you know what I mean? We can all just enjoy this together, and see where it takes us."
Ritter, Kate. "Stepping Into a New Adventure." March 22, 2002.