"Chevron one engaged!" As the familiar face in the control room, Gary Jones has become a favorite among Stargate fans, known for years simply as "The Chevron Guy." After seven seasons, he's still in awe that viewers have even noticed the man who quietly goes about keeping the gate operating. But controlling alien technology is only one of the skills of this multi-talented actor, comedian, and writer.
"It sort of morphs, it changes," he says, when asked to describe his career. "Right now I'm getting more writing work than I am acting work. So I consider myself more of a writer than I do an actor. I started off in Toronto with Second City Comedy Theater, learning to do improv. That's what I did for about two years. Then they moved. They opened up a theater at Expo '86 here in Vancouver, which was like a world exposition, and they put a theater in there and it ran for six months. I came out with them and I performed six nights a week for the full six months. In doing so, you kind of learn how to write comedy sketches, and you learn a certain style. Plus, you get to perform night after night. You really get your confidence up on stage and get to be a better performer.
"Then after that was over, I stayed here in Vancouver and started looking for film and TV work. I ended up on a show where I actually went in and picked up the wrong audition. They had told me to go in and read for this one character, and I went in and I picked up the wrong sides [audition script]. But the director ended up saying, let him read it anyway. And I got the part. And it turns out that that was a guest starring part, instead of just an actor role. So I ended up guest starring on this one show, and that gave me enough money to stay in Vancouver. Up until that point I didn't have any work after Second City. I didn't know what I was going to do for cash and that kind of thing. So, that was enough for me to stay here, but then I didn't work in film and TV for about two years after that, because I really didn't know what I was doing.
"So I concentrated more on the stage stuff, and I did tons of improv with the Vancouver Theater Sports League. You don't write sketches, there's no written stuff, it was just pure improv. It was night after night, just on stage constantly learning to improvise and create characters and that kind of thing." The format of pure improvisation has become familiar to TV audiences with the likes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? But Gary points out that those improvisational roots date back to his early stage days. "You know Ryan Stiles on Whose Line? I was in Second City with Ryan Stiles. And the hilarious thing about Whose Line Is It Anyway? is that because it's on TV now, and it's bringing improv to the masses, everybody sees the TV show and thinks that what we're doing kind of came after that. But actually the TV show is what came after what we did. All the old stars that I performed with, we always go, 'Aw, man!' It's like no matter what we do now, they'll go, 'Oh, you mean like Whose Line Is It Anyway?!' And we just go, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, they're doing what we did.' You know? It's pretty hilarious. But anyway, it is that kind of thing, it's improv.
"And then I met lots of great performers here in town, and developed good friendships, and then I started writing. I started working on writing plays, so I've actually been a playwright. I wrote a play with a buddy of mine and it won a Jessie Award for the best play of 1994 here in Vancouver. So that was amazing." The play, entitled World's Greatest Guy, was about a pair of roommates, one straight and one gay. "They are the best of friends and co-exist happily," Gary describes. "The gay character has come out to everyone but his brother. His brother happens to be passing through town with his bride of two weeks. They stay the weekend and that's when the gay character decides to tell his brother that he's gay. It's also when the straight roommate puts the moves on the new bride. It's a farce, and was written by myself and Shawn MacDonald. I played the straight character, and Shawn played the gay character. Great fun!
"That actually began as a "fringe" play, meaning that it was a one-act play in the Vancouver Fringe Festival. It's a festival that promotes emerging writers and helps them get plays produced on a small scale whereas they might not have that chance with any of the local, larger venues. Most plays only get six to eight chances in front of a crowd. After our first show we sold out all the rest of the run and caught the eye of the artistic director of one of the biggest commercial theatres in town, the Arts Club Revue. Bill Millerd, the artistic director, told us that if we could make it into a two-act from a one-act, he'd mount it. So we did, and it ran for a month, and then it got held over for three months. And from that, Shawn and I won a Jessie Richardson Award. It was pretty cool!
"Most of the stuff I've ever written is comedy. I was a story editor on Big Sound. I was one of the writers. There was a group of us, and I worked on 22 episodes of that. That was a situation comedy about the music industry, and that just ran for one season. Then using that credit, I talked my way into a writing gig writing a cartoon series. So now I'm working on writing a cartoon series with another friend of mine who was a fellow writer on Big Sound." The series, entitled Silverwing, is based on Kenneth Oppel's bestselling fantasy adventure story about bats, written for children and young adults. "My writing partner, Richard Side, and I adapted the book into 13 episodes. We then wrote all the episode outlines and then wrote nine of the episodes. It will debut on the Teletoon Network here in Canada in September. Teletoon said that they consider it to be their "flagship" show for the upcoming season. I'm really proud to have worked on this. Animation has very specific writing requirements and it was a huge challenge for Richard and me. Neither of us had written any animation before. The animation house, Bardel Animation, brought in all these top of the line animators, and the show is going to be fantastic.
"The thing about Vancouver is, I've always thought that Vancouver was too small a town to just concentrate on one thing. So I'm constantly looking for work and taking on work that I think is challenging to me that I've never done before. I've never written a cartoon series, and it's quite specific in what they want, and how you write. It's very very visual. It's not like writing kind of an urbane sitcom about the music industry. You're limited to what the live action characters can do, but this is a cartoon, so you can just make stuff up. But they also say it's got to be only 150 lines of dialogue per episode, because every time you draw them speaking it obviously costs money, so they have to limit it to that. So it's really interesting and we've been in on the ground floor. So that's what I'm doing now."
Amid writing, and doing stage and television work, Gary has returned each year to the control room at the SGC. As season six prepared to wrap, he looked back on his tenure there as an amazing opportunity. "Stargate was the ultimate, the most amazing gig. I mean, I was on that for six years, and I don't know if they're coming back for a seventh, but it sure was a great gig. I told Brad Wright, the executive producer, 'Do you want to know the three words that every actor wants to hear? "Are you available".' They would just call me from week to week and go, here are the dates of the episode, are you available for this day or this day? And I'd always say yes. This show takes precedence. I've been on it for six years, so I never go, oh, I have something better. They're just great here, I mean, really amazing. They're very generous. And I'd just go in and do a few days, and I'd be on the show, and suddenly, boom, it's six years later. It's amazing!" With Stargate now picked up for its seventh season, Gary is hearing those three magic words even more.
Although he had appeared regularly in the episodes of the first season, several other technicians began taking his place during the second year. It was a matter of scheduling, and an effort to expand the personnel of the SGC, but Gary eventually returned, much to the satisfaction of the fans. "It was a production decision," he explains. "I was talking to the production manager about it, and I asked him about that. He said they always wanted to use me first, and I always tried to make myself available, but it just turned out one time there was a one day thing where I couldn't make it. So they said, let's not put him in this episode. I guess they didn't just want to rely on my schedule. Even though I try to make myself as available as possible, sometimes it's just not going to work out that way. So what they did was, they got a couple of other technicians and rotated them in. So I was out for a while. They were just kind of checking it out, but it turns out that they wanted me to do it anyway, so they brought me back."
He was surprised to discover that not only had his absence been noticed, but that he had begun to develop a fan following on the internet. "There's actually a website out with me," he says in amazement. "Some lady in Germany made a website out. When she gave me the address and I went to it I was like, oh my God! Quite frankly, I see myself as a very small character who goes in there and works and then leaves. I don't go on any of the adventures, I'm just there in the control room. So any information that I get back that says, fans wanted to know where you were, or they know about you, seriously, it just blows my mind! It really surprised me because that's not how I ever thought of myself."
He was in for an even bigger surprise when he attended the first Gatecon convention, and was surrounded by fans who had taken a special interest in his character. "I went to the first Gatecon, and they were like, 'What's your character's name?' 'Where have you been?' And I'm like, What?? How do you even know who I am?? Pretty cool," he laughs, although he hasn't yet adopted the fans' eagerness to find a better character name than "Chevron Guy." Over the years, in fact, he has acquired a string of names as 'Sergeant Norman Walter Davis', but Gary prefers to just think of him as 'Technician'. "In the scripts it just says 'Technician.' And when the general talks to me, he calls me Sergeant. Nobody ever calls me by any kind of name, first name or surname or anything. When I go through the scripts, I just look for Technician, Technician, Technician," he laughs. "So, it doesn't really matter to me. What matters is that I show up on set. That's all I care about, whether I've got a name or not."
Toward the end of the sixth season, he was briefly concerned that his days of showing up on set might come to an abrupt end. The final two episodes of the season, Prophecy and Full Circle, were shot in reverse order, and when Gary received the script for what he thought was the final episode of the season, he discovered what appeared to be his own death scene. "It turns out that Corin Nemec's character has premonitions. He sees these flashes in the future, and he sees two versions of what could happen when these aliens come through the gate. One is that when General Hammond says open the gate and let them through, in the real event, Colonel O'Neill comes through. But in his flashback, it's the aliens, and they just fire off all these big guns and I get shot in the chest, and I'm dead, and they blow up the window, and the General's injured and all that stuff. But the thing is, when I get the scripts, I just peel through the scripts looking for technician lines. I never go anywhere else, I'm always in the control room. But I peeled through that script and I saw my lines, and then somebody said to me afterwards, 'So, you get killed, huh?' And I'm like, 'What??' And they go, 'Oh yeah, it's in the script!' So then I had to go back and read, with a fine toothed comb, the script. And I come across this line in the action that says the technician lies dead. I was like, WHAT?! So then I cornered Andy Mikita, the production manager, and I said, "What happened??' And he goes, 'Nah, it's a dream.' So, I'm not dead. It was just a dream," he smiles with relief.
Indeed, he's very much alive and well in Stargate's seventh season, the filming for which is now well underway. "I've been on practically every episode this 7th season," he points out happily. "It's brilliant! My favorite recent episode was one in which a documentary filmmaker is given access to the stargate and he attempts to archive the stargate on film. He comes up against all sorts of red tape, but one fun thing was when he interviewed me and finds out that all I really do is open and close the gate. The dialogue is hilarious, and I had a blast doing it. It was directed by Andy Mikita, and we were all just killing ourselves laughing."
As for what the future might hold, he admits, "Obviously, if I'm sitting there for all these years, looking at the stargate, and they're all going through, you know, it would be great to do an episode where I'd actually accidentally go through the gate to another planet." Not that he expects that to happen any time soon. "They can have these aliens and they can do these story arcs and give them character background. I literally just open and close the gate, so my role at that show is super specific in what I do." Given his training in improv, has he ever experimented with creating a background for Sergeant Norman Walter Davis? "No, I don't think he needs that. When it's all kind of perfunctory technical jargon, you just go in and deliver your lines and that's about it." He laughs at the image of appearing on set one day with a complete backstory in mind. "It's not like you could sit there and go, 'Okay, now wait a minute, I crashed my car this morning, and so what I'm going to play in this scene is…' They don't want to know that! They just go, 'Just say your line, open the gate, and get on with it!' I've worked with those directors now for ages, like Peter DeLuise and Martin Wood. I could actually say to them all that stuff, and they'd just have a huge laugh. 'Martin, I really think that my character is divorced, and he had a life altering experience about two years ago…' He'd go, 'Just sit in your chair and open the gate!' He would, I know he would!" he laughs.
Gary may not be inclined to develop his own backstory, but it seems the directors may not be as opposed to the idea as he might think. During the filming of 2001, for instance, Peter DeLuise decided that the Technician should be suffering from intestinal discomfort. "Oh, you know what?" Gary recalls. "Peter DeLuise once, I don't know why he did this, he just took it upon himself and he handed me a bottle of Pepto Bismol. And he made me drink Pepto Bismol in all my scenes. He kept saying that I had bad cramps, like diarrhea cramps. I'm not kidding you!" he laughs. The Technician's distress is especially noticeable in a scene in which the General discusses the mysterious note from the future with O'Neill and Carter. The observant viewer will recognize both DeLuise himself, in a lab coat, and the Technician with his pink prop, making a cameo in the background behind the star map. "And I went, yeah okay, Peter. Sure. Whatever. He just said, let's throw this in. And there was this one scene where the General was looking at the star map, and I was in the background drinking out of a bottle of Pepto Bismol."
Gary and Peter have also had the opportunity to share their humor on some of the audio commentaries for the DVD releases. "I've actually gone and done a couple of DVD commentaries with Peter DeLuise. That's really fun doing those. I like those, because Peter and I get along great. I did one with Peter, and then Peter Woeste, the director of photography. The three of us had a big laugh. You just go in there and they'll show the episode, and then we do our commentary and talk. And I go, 'Oh yeah, I remember that episode!' And then once in awhile there'll be a shot of me, and I'll go, 'Oh there I am! Hey! Yeah! Look at me!' And then Peter just hacks me over in the scene. But we just make fun of everybody and goof around. Peter will talk about a shot that he did, and I'll say, oh, look at so-and-so's hair, and then we'll just kind of riff on that. It's fun! So that was pretty cool."
Life in general is pretty cool for Gary Jones these days, with another year of dialing the gate underway, and his animation project in the works. He enjoys attending conventions when the opportunity arises, and has been a guest at both Gatecon and Wolf Events. About his visit to England last fall, he recalls, "I went to the SG-5 Wolf convention and had a great time. I felt like a rock star in front of 1200 fans!" He was also the co-host of this year's Leo Awards ceremony with Ellie Harvie. The Leos, which were presented on May 9th and 10th in Vancouver, celebrate excellence in British Columbia film and television, and Stargate had garnered 12 nominations, including best dramatic series, and two wins in the categories of costume and make-up. "It's a big deal out here on the coast," he adds. And on top of it all, Gary still keeps busy with other acting roles as they come up. "I audition for stuff, and whatever I get, I get. I'm just scrounging up work like everybody else. I'm just happy to be working, you know?" And we're pretty happy about that too.
Ritter, Kate. "Chevron Seven Locked." October 15, 2002.