FEATURE ARTICLES

A NEW DIRECTION

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


Christopher Judge Everyone should have a laugh like Christopher Judge's. The stoic Jaffa warrior who can convey volumes in the tilt of a single eyebrow, is the polar opposite of the animated and fun-loving actor who portrays him. With a smile that lights up his entire face, and a laugh that is acutely contagious, Christopher Judge seems to be enjoying life in general. And with good reason. Stargate SG-1 has just been renewed for an eighth season, opening even more opportunities for Chris to ply his craft as both an actor and a writer.

Acting had always been a goal, even as he pursued a football scholarship at the University of Oregon. "But I just knew that acting can be a very difficult profession to first of all get into, and then second of all to stay in," he recalls. "So I just always wanted to have something to fall back on in case times ever got thin." That "fall-back" was a major in telecommunication and film, where he learned the craft of writing. "Part of it is the writing of scripts, but all types of scripts, not just TV format, from 20 second radio spots to editorial rejoinders, it covers the whole spectrum of media, as far as writing goes. Then it's also the technical aspects of it, so you come out of it very well rounded, kind of a jack of all trades, but it really doesn't teach you to be the master of any of them."

That mastery has evolved over the years since, and he has continued to write, even as he studied drama at the Howard Fine Studio in Los Angeles and pursued a career as an actor. He appeared in roles in several feature films and television series, including a guest appearance with his future costar, Richard Dean Anderson, in the MacGyver episode Live and Learn. However, Stargate SG-1 has opened the door for him to pursue his interests in both acting and writing, and he has already earned writing credits for contributing the story for The Warrior, and writing the scripts for both The Changeling and Birthright.

It is seeing his work produced for the public that has been the biggest adjustment for Chris. "It's always strange in that I find writing such a creative outlet," he admits. "It's one thing to write it, and I feel really good when I write it, and I really enjoy it. But then any time you put up a creative work for the masses to judge, your enjoyment of it gets lost in the stress of whether it will be liked. On some hand, that truly takes away from anyone's creative process, in that the final reward, if you will, is if people like it. I've written for a very long time, and the final judge was me, you know? So the part that's new to me is to put it out in a public forum, and then put it out there to either be applauded or lampooned. That's the part of it that gets me a little uptight. But I really do enjoy the process of it, I really do." Judging by the reaction on the internet after his first effort, The Changeling, aired, he needn't have worried about being lampooned, but Chris has seen very little of the fan response. "I don't know if I could, you know? I would be too cognizant of, 'Okay, well, if I write this, how will that go over?' And it wouldn't be true to whatever the idea that I have is, or whatever the thoughts in my head are. I didn't read anything specifically, all I heard was that it was received well, and that was good enough for me. The rest of the writers liked it, Brad liked it, and Coop liked it, and the fans liked it. So I didn't need to know specifics about it. That was enough. I don't want to have an agenda in my mind when I write. I just want to, all the time, try to tell a good story."

Creating that good story is a slightly different process when writing for an established series, Chris explains. The writer is not developing a character from scratch because the audience is already familiar with characters whom they care about. The job of the writer, then, is to put them in an interesting situation. "At this point, I don't know if there are many more revelations about a character that I would be able to introduce, because any new character revelations would have to come from one of the writer/producers. I could never do that." Yet his script for The Changeling introduced a major character revelation for Teal'c. Wasn't that significant bit of character development his doing? "But that was something that I talked over with them, and it was something agreed upon about my character," he responds. "I wouldn't feel that I had the right, nor the expertise, to introduce anything new about Amanda or Michael or Rick. When I approached Changeling, I wondered about the Jaffa, since we're humans, what if Teal'c really had been human? What if his ancestors hadn't been taken away? How would he see himself? And what would he see himself doing? And then it just flowered from that single seed thought. And that's kind of how Changeling came about."

The original seed thought underwent some changes as it grew to fit within the continuing story arc. Chris's script had quite a different ending from that of the final episode. "I was aiming for the loss of [the symbiote], but it's funny, what became of it, and what actually spawned an episode that Peter DeLuise wrote called Orpheus. It ended exactly the opposite of how I had it ending. I ended it with, we go back, and we're in the hospital room with Bra'tac, and we walk out, and I lag behind with Rick, and I say, 'O'Neill,' and he says, 'Yeah, T?' or something to that effect. And I said, 'O'Neill, I believe there have been complications with the tretonin.' He said, 'What is it?' And I said, 'I believe I now possess all the knowledge of the Goa'uld.' So that's what I thought. But we're kind of moving away from the Goa'uld/Jaffa things, and now you see Anubis is becoming more and more, he's even surpassing what the Goa'uld are. So that really didn't fit into the series arc of where the writer/producers wanted to take the series. So I think that's why that had to change at the end. And it worked out great because it spawned some other episodes."

His script for the seventh season episode, Birthright, continued the story arc that began in The Changeling. "I was really excited," he smiles. "Just the whole Amazon mythology, every year there's quite a few pitches on it, and it was a mythology that kind of lent itself very well to the whole Jaffa mythology. And then we got Jolene Blalock to play Ishta, and she's just fantastic. She so suits that, the whole strong woman, and she's very very much believable as a Jaffa also, just in her carriage and her voice and her athleticism. I was really pleased with it. I've only seen the second cut of it, and then I'll probably never see anything else or read anything else about it!" he laughs. "It's just too hard for me. I'll watch the first director's cut, and then maybe the first producer's cut, and then that's generally it."

As the writer of the episode, Chris had the opportunity to voice his suggestions during its production. "For casting, they just asked me if I had any suggestions, and I said, well, like a Jolene Blalock type. And then they went out and got Jolene Blalock! So I was blown away that they actually did that, and that she would want to do it, and is a fan of the show. So it was really nice! It was really very nice." He appreciates this opportunity that writing affords to bring together the characters and actors with whom he enjoys working. "With Changeling, in my original draft, I think I had every person that's ever been on Stargate! We had to pare it down some. And then I'm pitching kind of a three-episode arc for next year where Teal'c will undergo further changes. Again, it's a chance to see Carmen [Argenziano, Jacob Carter] and Tony [Amendola, Bra'tac], and it's like when the family all gets together, you know? That's another reason that I enjoy it, because you can write in all your friends and stuff. That was another thing about Changeling. It was great to be able to write an episode where Michael and I had a heavy interaction. And the actual filming of it is really rewarding too. But you also see what the other writers go through when I, as Teal'c, will go, 'Well I wouldn't say that… What is this line?' So it makes you really respect what other people do, too. Maybe that would be a great exercise for every actor, to write a script, and then have it produced, and have your work put up to another actor's scrutiny. I think that would be a great exercise in humility!" he laughs.

Jolene Blalock may also be among the returning guest stars if Chris has his way. "We talked about it, and she said, any time. So, I'm going to hold her to it!" he laughs. "It's part of the three-part arc. I haven't fully pitched it, so I can't really go into too many details, but it would probably be for multiple episodes that she'd be back. So we'll see. I really think it's going to be hard, because I think her feature career is probably going to really take off, so it might be difficult to get her for any length of time."

However, over his recent hiatus, he came to appreciate the crossover of Stargate and Star Trek fans. "I spent the first two weeks with my girlfriend and my kids, and we just relaxed, and we went to the movies, and I didn't work out. And then we got to go to Washington, DC and see all the monuments and everything, which I've never seen. And it was absolutely fantastic. That was just my girlfriend and I. My kids went on a boat camping trip, and I'm not much of a camper!" he laughs. "But when I was back in Maryland, I was a last minute replacement at a Star Trek convention. And the show was so well received, and I was so well received. You never know, because you don't know what the rivalries are, or how many people are truly fans of both. This was my first experience at a Trek convention, and people were just lovely, and so very complimentary of the show. And I think it's going to do wonders for the show that Jolene did it, just maybe even expose more of the Trek audience to Stargate. So it's definitely a win-win situation."

Death Knell

Death Knell

Chris's costars, Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping, have both tried their hand at directing episodes of the series. Is it a discipline Chris would also like to explore? "I would love to direct, maybe something that I write," he answers, but hastens to add, "but we have such a good core group of directors here. And you know what? I wouldn't want to direct us," he laughs. I would not want to direct myself, nor Michael, nor Rick, just because we just like to goof around too much, you know? I've directed a short before, and I surprised myself with how short I was with the actors. I caught myself a few times, like, 'What are you doing??' First of all, that doesn't lend itself very well around here, but second of all, I just would not want to put myself through the headache of working with the three of us, because I see how we love to joke around and horse around. As a director that would be hard for me to stomach, you know? So I'm not sure that I would want to direct, unless they maybe gave me the opportunity to direct an episode that I wrote. And then I think it would be silly for me to pass that up. If it happens, great. I really have my heart set on writing more. If directing happens, it happens. If not, it really doesn't bother me.

"Not to say that writing isn't hard work, but directing, you've got to come for that week and prep, and then we shoot, and then you're in post for a week. It's like it's never ending! I like writing because you start, you finish, maybe do a rewrite, and then you're done with it. Then it's out of your hands. You don't have to worry about, what color should their shoes be? It's easy for me to do this with detail, but on a day to day basis, should they be wearing helmets? Or, what kind of weapons do they have? That would drive me crazy. It would drive me insane!" Chris has the utmost respect for the directors who have directed his scripts. Both were very open to his suggestions as the creative mind behind the story, but both contributed their own touches in a way Chris doesn't feel he could have. "I did have a few days with Peter [Woeste, director of Birthright], and he came up with some great ideas, like what the game should be that the girls were playing, and things like that. And Martin [Wood, director of The Changeling], of course, had the idea for all those great transitions from scene to scene which I didn't write. I just wrote 'cut to,' 'flashback' or whatever. Martin came up with the visual of it. That was all Martin. And that is something I don't know if I possess. It's one thing to be able to put on paper what you're thinking, but then to relate that into a visual medium. He's so much more technologically advanced than I am, that I just wouldn't even know that that would have been possible to do. So I think it's probably best left in the hands of someone like that, our group of directors, because they really do know all the resources that are available to us as a filmmaking team, and are much better equipped to implement them."

For the time being, Chris has his hands full with his role as Teal'c, and his writing projects that he has already begun, both for Stargate and elsewhere. "I'm interested in just about anything, but I love the whole science fiction, fantasy world. I'm working on a pilot where it's kind of like a heaven and hell on Earth where angels and devils walk the Earth and interact daily with man. I just love that whole not having to work in the boundaries of [reality]. You know, 'he works for the NYPD so he can't do this or he can't do that.' I am not a good linear storyteller. I can't go, Monday this happens, Tuesday this happens, Wednesday… because my mind doesn't really work like that. The hardest part for me to learn is structure, and I still have problems with structure. But what I found in sci-fi and fantasy, the structure can be a little looser. So I think that lends itself well. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I enjoy writing [science fiction]." It's a direction he sees for himself even as Stargate eventually draws to a close. "I always wanted to end up as a writer/producer, and really pare down any acting to either working with friends, or stuff that I've written or produced. Stargate has definitely opened the door for that, just for me to kind of move away from acting so much, and much more into being a writer. Putting the cart before the horse again, but if the spin-off does happen, I'm going to actually talk to Brad about maybe even writing an episode or two for the spin-off." There's that smile again, as he looks forward to a new direction, both with Stargate and beyond. "So, hopefully next year will be a very fruitful one."

****************

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN...

Many questions were submitted to the Fan Club by fans hoping to hear an answer from the cast, crew, and production team behind Stargate SG-1. Several questions were selected for this interview, depending on available time, and many others were saved for the future. Here is how Christopher Judge responded to the fans…

From: aswr
What is your Favorite Color? Mine is pink.
Elizabeth Reed, Age 9

Christopher Judge:
My favorite color is money green! No! No! I'm kidding!! [laughing] What is my favorite color? Wow, I haven't thought about that for a long time. I like earth tones like browns and reds. I like things that are more nature colored, so browns and reds, and things like that.

From: aswr
How do the make-up people put that weird thing on your forehead? Is it comfortable?
Elizabeth Reed, Age 9

From: BLaCkBiRD525
What's it like having that symbol on your head in every episode? Does it get annoying at all?

Christopher Judge:
No, I don't mind the tattoo. In fact, once it's on, I never even notice that it's there until it's time to take it off. It's very lightweight and breathable and all that stuff, so no, it's not an encumbrance at all. Originally I did mind it because the adhesive that they used, I would have reactions to. It was a three piece kind of design, and so you'd have to have each piece exactly perfect, and it wasn't, by any means, an exact science. Just the tattoo part of it took sometimes 30 minutes, but now the entire makeup process all told takes, like, 20 minutes. So, yeah, it's nothing anymore.

From: scott
What would you do if you weren't an actor?
Thank you very much,
Scott Gibson (age 9)

Christopher Judge:
If I hadn't been an actor, what would I have been? I probably would have gone straight to writing. I mean, that's really the only other talent that I have. And that's questionable! [laughing] Yeah, I think I probably would have become a writer.

From: tessacason
Your preference is writing, is it sci-fi? What do you feel is the most important element necessary to tell a story that "hooks" the audience?
Thank you,
Tessa

Christopher Judge:
I think, just that it has to be a good story. In a series, I think it's so different because you have a cast of people that the audience already cares about. So then, to have a good story, all you have to do is involve the people you care about in an unusual situation, you know? As a writer of a movie, let's say, half the battle is to have an interesting character to make you, as an audience member, care about the character. But when writing for a series that's been in production now for seven years, you already have that. So your main goal is to have an interesting story, and then you just put the characters into that interesting set of circumstances. It's a little bit different than writing a movie or something like that. You don't have to do the character development part of it because the audience already knows us.

From: calliesg1
If you could change one thing about Teal'c what would it be?
Thank you for your time and this opportunity,
Stargate-crazy, England

Christopher Judge:
[before the question is even complete] Hair!! He'd have hair! He'd have hair! Now that we're going to season eight, I'll get to go in and have that talk with either Brad or Coop. Yes, I've pretty much resigned myself to that fact [that they'll say no]. But you never know. You never know. I'm holding out the slimmest bit of hope that perhaps… But, we'll see!

____________________
Ritter, Kate. "A New Direction." July 24, 2003.


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