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"I JUST WANT TO STAY ON THE PEAK AS LONG AS I CAN!"

An Interview With Stargate's Teal'c, Christopher Judge


Christopher Judge Christopher Judge is at a great place in his life right now, and he couldn't be happier. Looking rested and relaxed, he has just returned from a three-week mid-season hiatus. "The last week, my girlfriend and I were trying to decide where to go, what to do. During the season we don't get to spend a lot of time together, to just sit down and enjoy each other. My kids came over, so we basically just swam, barbecued, and hung out, went to movies. It was fantastic. It was nice actually not going somewhere for a vacation, because a lot of times those don't turn out to be vacations. Going back to work, you need a vacation from being on vacation! So truly, just for a week, I just relaxed, and it was glorious."

Now on his first day back at work, he can't seem to stop smiling. That's not unusual for Christopher Judge, but it's certainly not what we've come to expect from the solemn Teal'c. Although Teal'c has come a long way since those days as Apophis's First Prime, and much of the character's evolution has come from Christopher himself. "Brad [Wright] and Jonathan [Glassner] just created this great character," Christopher explains, "but I'm not sure if they had any solid ideas on how it was to be portrayed. And so they gave me a great deal of latitude with how to play him. I mean, the look of Teal'c even evolved, because when I first read for Teal'c I had really long hair, and I wore this part all pulled back like in a ponytail at the top of my head. And I hadn't heard for a couple of weeks, and so I cut my hair really low. And so then I got the call to screen test for Teal'c, and I said oh, we've got to tell them that I cut my hair. So I got a call back from my agent saying that will be no problem. Then we got up here, and I still had hair, and the tattoo and stuff didn't quite fit with the length of my hair. And I think it was Jonathan Glassner who suggested, or asked me if I would have any objections to being bald. And, you know, if I had known we were going to run for six years, I might have expressed some concern!" he laughs. "But at the time it seemed like a great idea, and it does fit the character. But at the beginning of every year, and after every hiatus, I go in to Brad, and I go, 'Hey, Brad, what about...' and he'll just go, 'Nope!' So it's kind of like a running gag between Brad and I now. Although, if he ever even gives me an inch…!" he threatens with a grin. In fact, he did have an "inch" (or two) at the beginning of the fourth season when Teal'c returned from offworld with a patch of blond hair on his chin. Still laughing, he admits, "But see, he let me do that! He let me do that and it looked silly! But he's like, 'Okay, Chris, you want to do it, go ahead.' And it looked silly! And so he taught me a lesson!" The new look was short-lived, however, and after nine episodes it had vanished. "Brad came and said, 'You know, for this episode, you're probably going to have to shave your soul patch.' It was like, 'Oh! Thank God!'" he laughs with relief.

"But they're always encouraging," he continues. "They're always open to basically whatever ideas I have, and they always present ideas, and it's just a very - no pun intended - symbiotic relationship." It was Christopher who had pushed to bring out more of Teal'c's sense of humor as the stories progressed. Teal'c began as a very stoic character, a warrior of great authority and dignity, but humor was not a word one would be inclined to associate with him. As some of the most pressing issues of his life have found some closure, another side of Teal'c has begun to emerge. "That was something that I had said from the very beginning, because we had 44 episodes, so you could have an arc there. And then after we went beyond that, I wanted to make more and more and more humor as time goes by, because that's what his interactions have been, and that's what he's descended from. I don't think in the first couple seasons that it was appropriate because so much was going on in his mind with his wife and his child and his people. But now a lot of that has been resolved. So I don't think Teal'c needs to be as heavy as he was then. And I think it just expands the character more. You can see his growth." His humor still often catches others off guard, however. In the episode Descent, when Jonas sought support from a fellow alien, Teal'c's deadpan suggestion of an alien conspiracy left Jonas, and more than a few fans, wondering just how subtle Teal'c's sense of humor might be. "No, it was humor!" Christopher clarifies. "It was humor. It was me poking fun at 'the new alien.' And I think it was Pete DeLuise that suggested I play it with a completely straight face, and just kind of leave it on the table. But underneath it was, that's Teal'c's sense of humor."

In fact, Christopher is finding the new dynamic between the two resident "aliens" to be a very interesting one. "Oh, we get along great," he says of Corin Nemec, who joined the show at the beginning of the season as Jonas Quinn, the new alien and member of SG-1. "He brings a different dimension to the show, even in how he's playing the character. His dynamic with O'Neill is certainly far different than Daniel's dynamic with O'Neill, as well as his relationships with Carter also, to where he's looking to me as an ally, which no one has ever done on the show. My relationship with O'Neill has come about out of mutual respect. My relationship with Carter has come out of time. My relationship with Daniel was having the Goa'uld connection between us, and relating of background, and I think that was the relationship that displayed the most humanity. In a lot of Daniel's episodes, you got to see the humanity of Teal'c, and how much his heart really went out to Daniel and his situation. And now this is a new character who's looking for an ally, who's where I was six seasons ago, searching for someone who's on common ground. So that's what gives our relationship that dynamic, and the fact that I am enjoying him seeking out an ally, is a lot of fun to play." Both Jonas and Corin have found a warm welcome on SG-1. "Just as a guy, he's such a good guy. And I tease him unmercifully, and he takes it all so well, and he gives it back also. He's really a fun guy to be around."

In fact, the friendship has extended off screen as well. The cast of SG-1 has always been a close one, and Christopher still keeps in touch with Michael Shanks, who left the series at the end of season five. Speaking of his former castmate, Christopher says, "I don't know if he has a bigger fan than me. The dude is maybe the best actor I've ever worked with, and I've worked with pretty damn good actors. And the guy's work ethic is fantastic, and he's a fantastic friend, fantastic father. He and Lexa came over last week, he brought his daughter over on Friday. Dude's like my brother. And that's the thing, when you have a solid friendship. Michael's not threatened by the fact that I like Corin. He's not angry, he's not bitter about it. Just because you have friends, you can always have more friends, you know? I'm not saying that we'll ever be as close as Michael and I, because I think those friendships come around not very often in your lifetime. But, I get along great with Corin, and Michael knows it. I had a party at my house for the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight, and everybody was over, and Michael, Corin, and I, the three of us sat around and talked and laughed, and it was very comfortable. Very comfortable."

There were fewer opportunities for socializing during his recent hiatus because Christopher was hard at work writing a script for Stargate. He had been slated to write the 19th episode of the season, which needed to be completed the week before hiatus ended, so the first two weeks of his time off were taken up by writing. It's not the first time that Christopher has pitched a story. He had also developed the story for The Warrior, however that teleplay was written by Peter DeLuise. This would be his first original Stargate script, and on this first day back from hiatus, awaiting word on how his project will develop, his excitement and anxiety are apparent.

"This one I actually did story and screenplay, that I'm sure Brad will do a fix on. I'm actually waiting for Brad to get back tomorrow so we can sit down and talk about it. I wrote it, and I emailed it to Brad, and my stomach was in knots, and I couldn't sleep, because I didn't know if he would like it. I really wanted to try to write an episode with no help. Brad is sweet to a fault, and I know he would have held my hand and coddled me the whole way, because he doesn't want to see me fail. But I really need to know if I can write. So I emailed him the finished script, and I didn't hear anything for a couple days. So now my girlfriend is saying, 'Honey, don't worry about it, it's good, I read it, don't worry.' And I also emailed it to Martin Wood, who will be directing that episode. Now, this is on Thursday. By Sunday I still hadn't heard anything. And I'm like, 'Oh my God, Brad never wants to speak to me again! Brad doesn't even want to hear the sound of my voice, the episode is so bad!'" His laughter turns to gratitude as he describes the phone message he received. "But finally I got this beautiful message from Brad that was just so complimentary, and so flattering, that I played it over and over and over again. Then I did a DVD behind-the-scenes thing with Martin, and I made Martin come over my house and listen to the message! And still, this is over a week later, I still listen to it every morning! No kidding! I listened to it at 4:00 this morning before I walked out!" he laughs.

Christopher is keeping the details of the story to himself. In fact, he even avoids using the episode's working title, The Changeling, referring to it only as "Episode 19." But he does promise, with a grin, "I did really put a lot of time and thought into it, and it will be the ending and beginning of a new chapter for Teal'c. I mean, a true ending and beginning for Teal'c. I can guarantee it won't be like any other Stargate episode. I can guarantee that!

"When I pitched it, the original idea that I pitched kind of dealt with the Amazon culture, the women Amazons. And it had a particular twist. But I was really having problems, because I think the concept was interesting, but problems kind of tying it all in to why SG-1 would even be there. I was just having problems concept-wise. And this other idea just popped into my head, and so I was actually going for a meeting about that pitch, and I asked Brad if I could pitch something else. And at the end of the pitch, he said, 'Go with this. Go with this.' So we had another pitch meeting where I sat down with all the writer/producers, and we kind of hashed it out a little bit, and then I was supposed to turn in outlines. As you go, you turn in outlines as part of every step in the story, and I asked Brad if I could not do that, if I could just turn in a completed script. I had first talked it over with Peter DeLuise, about bringing this up to Brad, and he suggested I shouldn't because it might be doing a lot of work that they might not be able to use. And I said I really just need to know, just for my own peace of mind, because I used to write quite a bit, and now I hadn't really written anything in the last four years. So when Brad said, 'Yeah!' I just took it! And we'd be playing golf or something and Brad or Paul or whoever would go, 'So, how's the script coming?' And I'd just go, 'Oh, fine, fine, fine, fine, I've just jotted some stuff down.' And so finally the first day that we were on hiatus, we all went and played golf together, and individually, Coop, Paul, and Brad all asked me, 'So when's the script going to be ready?!' I got a kick out of that!

"But the thing is, I had been working on it continually, writing. Even just sitting here, I'd write a scene. Just write a scene. Or just write pages of notes on, maybe this could be this, or maybe that could be that, which all came fairly easy. So I thought the actual process of putting it all together was going to be a lot easier than it was. And what happened was, of all the stuff I'd scribbled down, some notes I'd just taken out of the computer, there was like 70 or 80 pages of stuff. And when I gave it to my assistant to try to make sense of it, she was like, 'I don't know where to start!' because I just kind of put stuff basically in a scene order that I wanted, but there were really no transitions. So I tried to talk her through her typing of it, and we were really going at a snail's pace. And so finally I just said, I'll just type it myself. And so it took two weeks to kind of assimilate everything, two weeks of long days. So I just have so much respect for our writers, for them to be able to put out as many scripts a year as they do. And that we've done so many, and they're still putting out scripts, is just really remarkable. It's really a testament to them."

The experience has revived his interest in writing, and has sparked a possible future direction for him. "You know, this has whetted my appetite even more to be more on the writing and producing side of it. My drive to do it when I was a little bit younger was very strong, and then it kind of waned. I've just rededicated myself to all the things that I used to have a real thirst for. Writing is one, photography is another one, and really working on being prepared for scenes, and stuff like that, as an actor, and not letting the ball drop as an actor. I feel really reinvigorated, you know? So if this were to be the last season of Stargate, or anything Stargate-related for me, it would be a great springboard for me into something else. It's just, God, I hope it goes on for a while longer!"

Despite his apprehension after turning in his script, Christopher insists that he usually doesn't seek out reactions or feedback. In fact, he's never even read any of the interviews he has given. "I was here when it took place, so, how someone else wants to write them down or interpret them, that's kind of their business. And that's even how I approach acting, even when I have auditioned for parts, and stuff like that. I have a lot of friends that couldn't let it go after the audition. They'd be worrying if they got the job or not, or worrying if they could have done better. To me, all you can do is just control your part of it, and then that's it. It's someone else's thing. So I never worry about being misquoted, I never worry about coming off like an idiot, I just say what's on my mind, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm at the happiest point of my life right now. So it's almost like I wouldn't allow it to affect me either way anyway. So it's nice that they want to do an interview, and then after I do that interview, that's it. The ball's out of my court. And I don't particularly enjoy, nor need to read about myself or anything. I have a job that I'm very happy with and I work with great people, so, I don't need to read about it. I get to live it every day!"

He doesn't usually follow weekly fan discussion and feedback either. "I did at first, because I wasn't secure in my performances. I wasn't confident in the fact that people would believe my portrayal of Teal'c. But I get more feedback just from walking the streets, and people coming up to me, and I like that. I like dealing with people one-on-one. I'm not good over the phone, I'm not good correspondence-wise. I like to deal with people person-to-person." Those personal interactions happen more frequently now that he's recognized more often since Stargate began. "To a point where I wear a lot of hats, a lot of sunglasses!" he grins. "I do it more so if I'm with my girlfriend, or if I'm with my kids, because now, as flattering as it is for me, it's becoming annoying for my kids. So I feel like I owe it to them to try to maintain some anonymity when I'm with them. As soon as I'm in the off season, I grow hair. I just shaved my head this morning. I had a full head of hair, and a beard. And it's not that I want to avoid people, it's just I want to give my kids a chance to be with their dad, and them not have to be caught up in any of the success of Stargate. I just think that I owe that to them, to just be their dad. As long as I'm not alone, or eating with my kids, or my girlfriend, or whatever, it's never invasive to me. To me it's always nice when someone comes to you and compliments you on what you do for a living. That's like flattery, you know? That someone notices you? I mean, just think if you were a construction worker or something, and someone came and said, 'Hey! You're doing a really nice job!' That just fuels you! That makes you want to continue on doing good stuff."

He has been grateful for the support from his co-workers as well. As the sixth season got under way with the two-part episode Redemption, Teal'c had a pivotal role, and his work drew very positive reactions from the producers. "And just having the producers coming to me and congratulating me on the job really meant a lot, because I kind of rededicated myself this year, not only to Stargate, but to the crew and to the producers who put up with a lot of my crap for a long time. And so I just wanted to say thank you to them for kind of sticking with me this whole time. It was kind of scary, just whatever suggestions were made, I took them. I took them, and I tried to incorporate them, and so it was a little scary. But as an actor, that's what you want. You want to delve into the unknown. So I got feedback from them, and then Martin Wood was just saying something about it in one of the magazines about Redemption. So the only thing I heard about it was positive."

The world of fan discussions on the internet is still a mystery to him, however. In fact, if it hadn't been for the script to "Episode 19," he might still be computer-less. "I just learned how to get on the internet last week. Last week! So anything I'd hear about the internet, maybe coming from Michael, or Amanda, none of it was first hand. Computers scare me, because… I'm old! And so when I decided I was going to write the script, I wanted to go out and buy a typewriter." A typewriter? "Yeah, exactly!" he exclaims. "You can't find them anywhere! You can't find a typewriter! And then even the ones you find, they're all kind of computer-like. You don't type right on the page, you type on a screen. I just want a typewriter, you know, with keys that ka-plink… ka-plink… ka-plink…" he explains, with gestures and sound effects to clarify a typewriter for those who may have forgotten an era gone by.

Forced to enter the 21st century, Christopher is now learning his way around the computer. "So I got my girlfriend, and we spent like a day, and she was like, 'Okay, you have a code, and now you'll need this code to access your files.' And I was like, 'Well, what if I just never turn the computer off? What if you just turn it on for me right now?' Oh, my God, this is so daunting! And then I had to learn this screenwriter program. The first two days of the two weeks, basically was me reading this book and learning how to work this program, and then learning how to get my files. And my girlfriend, God bless her, she'd be out in the sun or something, and I had to get her to come in and find my files, because somehow I got messed up doing that. So we have gone to a point where now she gets on the internet and I look over her shoulder at how she does it. So I'm getting in there! I'm learning! It's still very intimidating to me. Like I said, I've never been good at corresponding, or through a phone. I like this," he gestures, indicating face-to-face conversation. "I like something visceral. She went to some site, and people were chatting, and I found it disorienting, because people were answering questions to people that weren't in the conversation, and someone would just jump in, and where is this person from??"

It may be some time before Christopher is comfortably surfing in cyberspace, but face-to-face he extends his heartfelt thanks to those fans who have followed and supported the show. "I just want to thank everyone for all their support, even when you go and do a convention or something, just the wild enthusiasm. Just let everybody know it's not lost. It's not lost on us. We feed off of it. We feed off of it. It's just great, and I hope we can give you some more seasons!"

The sixth season of Stargate was expected to be the last, but there is talk of the possibility of a seventh season, with the official word expected at any time. Christopher wouldn't hesitate to give it another year, although there was a time when he felt differently. At the end of the fourth season, he considered leaving the series, prompting the writers to leave Teal'c's fate up in the air during the season cliffhanger, Exodus. Looking back now, Christopher is very grateful that there was a sarcophagus handy when he needed it. "You know, it's like the 'grass is always greener' syndrome. I'd gotten a lot of offers through the course of the season, through the course of our seasons. And at that point I just wasn't a very happy person, and I was looking for a fix for it. And it turned out not to be work at all. It was what I brought to work that was making work not seem good, you know? And so, thankfully, basically MGM wouldn't let me go. But I'm so thankful for that. Even my relationship with MGM is better now than it's ever been." Reaching to tap the table beside him, he adds, "Knock on Formica, I just hope it stays this way for awhile, you know?"

With season seven a possibility, and a feature film in discussion, he couldn't be happier, and he's definitely on board if either project is given the green light. "Like I said, I can't put enough emphasis on really just coming to a place that you enjoy being every day, and realizing how lucky you are. I mean, I'm sure I'll work again, but I'm almost as sure that I'll never work in a situation like this again, you know? So, we'll see how it goes. I'm just really enjoying myself. I'm really enjoying the people I'm around. I'm enjoying my home life. You know, you go through peaks and valleys in your life, and this is really a peak. So I just want to stay on the peak as long as I can!"

A seventh season may hinge on negotiations with Richard Dean Anderson, who has expressed in the past his desire to move on at the end of this year. Whatever happens with the future of Stargate, Christopher has nothing but respect for his co-star, and expresses his gratitude for the friendship they have shared. "If this is his last year, I hope I remain in touch with him, because that dude's spirit, and wit, and charm, you know… I would really miss him. I would really miss him. We've really gotten close over the years. And we had a slow start!" he laughs, remembering the early days. "We were very much two alpha males who were sniffing around at each other, you know? But what really brought us close together was when he had Wylie, and we were talking about being there when our kids were born. And we were in the middle of a circus, and we both started crying. And people were walking by us going, 'What the hell is wrong with these two??' And from that point on, we've just gotten along so well. We just talk about things, we talk about life, you know? And it's just really enjoyable. I really enjoy his company. But I'm going to just soak up this year, in case it is the last one, because I never want to forget how good a set can be. I never want to forget this. Because other sets I've been on, haven't ever been like this! Yeah, it's been a great ride!"

____________________
Ritter, Kate. "I Just Want To Stay On the Peak As Long As I Can!" July 15, 2002.


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