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An Interview with Stargate's Colonel O'Neill, Richard Dean Anderson

Richard Dean Anderson

Richard Dean Anderson is in a playful mood. But that's business as usual on the Stargate set. Taking a break between scenes, he jokes that his reduced schedule this year has him flying between Vancouver and Los Angeles every three or four days and doesn't allow him enough time to get into mischief. He promises to work on that, and he takes out his cell phone, holding it up to the tape recorder. "You've got to have Real Player for this,” he grins, as he turns on the ringtone and records a message for the online fans.

A year ago, Stargate SG-1 was nearing the end of its sixth season and its future was uncertain. Richard had been looking forward to some time off to spend with his daughter and his environmental projects, and had expected season six to be his last. However, the strong ratings on the Sci Fi channel led to SG-1's renewal for a seventh year, followed by the announcement earlier this summer that an unprecedented eighth season has also been negotiated. Colonel O'Neill will be returning for both seasons, and Richard Dean Anderson has found his anticipated retirement taking a slight detour as the road ahead leads him back to Vancouver.

"I talked with Robert [Cooper, executive producer]," he explains of his new direction. "One of the hesitations I had was just artistically, creatively, are there enough stories to tell to warrant venturing into an eighth season? Robert assured me that there were, and he kind of briefed out a couple of arcs that worked for me. But the real answer is that there was no reason not to do it. I'll be in the process of building my house, Wylie will be in school, everything was accommodated beautifully for time. And I think Robert and Brad both felt that it would be very beneficial and helpful if we could use the eighth season as the transition into the spin-off, the Atlantis franchise. And you know, I'm really kind of coming to grips with the pending reality. I mean, you see how comfortable this environment is for me to be in. Without sounding like too much of a sap or a cliché myself, it's just a little bit of a family, and so anticipating it all going away and not being a part of my life is a little hard. It's hard to let go. I couldn't make a case for not doing it. A lot of people will continue to work, and we have an opportunity to make a nice smooth creative transition in story and in franchise. And as TV Guide said, it's the most successful show Sci Fi has ever had. Whatever that means!" he laughs. "It's all flattering, except that wasn't going to sway me one way or the other. I had already made my decisions before any of that came out. But I think it will work fine."

What works especially well is that his reduced schedule allows him to spend more time with his daughter, Wylie. He commutes to Los Angeles each weekend to be with her, and a work schedule that allowed for this precious time was imperative when making his decision to return to the series. He has recently returned from a three week mid-season hiatus, and his face lights up as he describes the time he and Wylie spent together. "Her mom did an educational conference of some kind, so the timing was impeccable because I was available for three straight weeks, and Wylie and I got into a rhythm of daddy-daughter relating and interrelating in life. You know, it's rhythmic, there's a rhythm to it."

Part of that daddy-daughter bonding came when Wylie discovered MacGyver. "Wylie, now, has taken a liking to MacGyver," he smiles. "It was quite inadvertent, but she couldn't sleep one night and she crawled in with me, and we were just kind of channel surfing, and there was a MacGyver on. And we watched it, and she's now a big fan of MacGyver. She says, 'Dad, I like MacGyver because he does good stuff.' And I have to explain to her. I mean, this is where it gets into the parental tap-dancing thing, because I want her to know that it's a job, and that it's make-believe and all that. And in part, it helps me explain why I go away every week, too, coming up to Vancouver. It's that I have to go to work, because my work is playing Stargate. So she gets it, and she understands that MacGyver was a long time ago. She certainly can tell by the hairstyle differential!"

Wylie shares many of her daddy's other interests as well. "It was wonderful," he beams, recalling his hiatus, "in part because I got to experience her as a kid that's about to turn five years old, and all the trappings that come with that. We did a lot of things. We went to the Hollywood Bowl and saw the sing-along Wizard of Oz. I started to teach her how to surf, even though I don't know how to surf. The next weekend I taught her how to boogie board, on very small waves. She got the sensation essentially. I'd throw her in front of really tiny waves, but she'd ride them right on in. I'd let the wash of a wave come in, the whitewash, and just get her in front of that. It still would take her up to the beach, but she'd get the idea. She sees me go out and catch these medium size waves, and disappear, and crash, and stuff like that, so, she's kind of primed. It was, I suppose, inevitable in that she's my kid, that she wants to try whatever Daddy tries. So I have to be careful, and I'm very conscientious about it, very conscious of it, because she has a certain amount of, for lack of a better term, bravery, or desire to at least try something. Around my house I climb trees, and jump into the pool, or do crazy stunts into the pool, and she's seen some pictures of me up at Headwall, she's seen me on the side of the mountain and doing things like that. And the MacGyver thing didn't help too much because in the one episode I was hang gliding, mountain climbing, soaring with an eagle, beating the bad guys, and doing all kinds of MacGyveristic adventurous sort of things. So she wants to try what Daddy tries. But I have to be cautious because I don't want her to get hurt. So I have to ease her into some of these things."

In a few days, Wylie will be celebrating her fifth birthday, and Richard is looking forward to her party. "We've got a little bowling party planned for her. It's kind of my year to plan, but her mom's so spectacular at party planning and organizing such things that we've worked together on a bowling party, kind of a theme bowling party because she's a big fan of the Power Puff Girls. So it's thematic in that I think kids will wear some kind of costume. She loves bowling. And I love that she does, because, you know, there's nothing more adorable than watching a four year old try to bowl, with black light flashing and things like that. It's quite a hoot!"

Maintaining a private life and a public career is a delicate balance that Richard admits he took some time to learn, but over the years he has become more comfortable dealing with celebrity and with the public. He offers thoughtfully, "It's become quite easy for me. I think it's in part because MacGyver was kind of a global phenomenon, so it's at least been around the world a couple of times, so there's maybe a general awareness. Even though we made it in the 80's and the early 90's, it continues to air, so people at least have access to it and they can become familiar with it. If I go to South America, because it's a little more current than it is here, I have to be kind of on my toes. I guess parts of Europe are that way as well. In the United States and Canada, I think there's been enough exposure in print or otherwise, that people know that I'm a private guy and that I don't seek the limelight, I don't seek exposure. So there's a respectful air about people who are, I guess, my fans. In dealing with it... People are nice! I'm less reactionary now than I was early on, because if people were rude and insensitive to any given situation, I would be rude and insensitive right back. But now I'm less apt to react that way, and be a little more diplomatic about handling people who insist on invading space where it's so obviously inappropriate. I guess my patience level is a little higher. Part of that is due to just a mellowing, I suppose, or maybe more self examination or inner dialogues where people's feelings are extremely important. I know what it's like to feel hurt or to feel lonely or left out or whatever it is, and there's a certain amount of empathy."

He adds that Wylie's existence in his life has dramatically altered his outlook. "I'd be on the roads driving, and I'm a whole different human being now. Wylie busts my butt if I honk at somebody. If I just give a little beep beep honk honk, her response is, 'Did you honk? Was that you? Did you do that? Why did you honk?' She wants to know exactly why I've done something. Or if I've said something under my breath, like, you know, 'D'oh!' or whatever, she'll say, 'What? What happened? What is it?' And then I'll have to explain." He grins as he takes on the gentle voice of an adult explaining to a young child, " 'Well, that man was stopped in the middle of the freeway, and it was somewhat dangerous, and he was signaling for a left hand turn, and it was very dangerous what he was doing, so I had to give him a little beep.' You know, it's, 'Why, Daddy? Why?' so I've become a little more sensitive to the relationships people have and what I project, whether it's positive or caustic... or snotty. I can't stand attitude on other people, so why should I be [like that]? So it hasn't been that difficult. Not only that, I've been around for so long. I've never considered myself that big a quote/unquote 'star.' I've dealt with the tenets of celebrity very practically. I mean, if you want privacy, then create your privacy. Don't go out in public, or don't wear a bright red shirt with yellow polka dots on it, or drive a convertible. There are ways of getting around confrontation with the public if you're not seeking it or if you're not willing to handle it in a civil and diplomatic way."

Now with Stargate SG-1 following in the footsteps of MacGyver as a global phenomenon, that diplomacy has enabled Richard to balance his roles as father and celebrity, actor and executive producer. Taking time out of his busy day for an interview, he slips away to shoot another scene, then returns after each take to answer more questions. His assistant drops by to let him know that later he will be needed to edit tapes of two other episodes that have just come in, and there are casting decisions to be made for an upcoming character. Despite the many pressures and responsibilities, the atmosphere on the set remains light. In the morning chill and the afternoon heat of the GVRD in North Vancouver, O'Neill and Teal'c pursue their prey in the episode Death Knell. The script calls for O'Neill to check in with General Hammond by radio as he walks through the forest. Bill Nikolai, Richard's stand-in, waits off camera and reads Hammond's lines from the script for O'Neill to respond to. In the first rehearsal, the timing is off, and O'Neill walks completely beyond camera range before Bill finishes his lines. Grinning, Richard speaks into his radio and calls back, "Could you possibly read any slower, Sir??" "I'm just doing what it says!" Bill jokes back as the crew laughs and sets up for another take.

What is in store for Colonel O'Neill as Stargate enters its eighth season has yet to be decided. There has been talk of giving O'Neill a promotion to better accommodate Richard's shooting schedule, but that is only one possibility under consideration. "That's one way of approaching the situation," Richard acknowledges. "And it makes sense for everybody to sort of come up a notch. But I was talking with Robert and we haven't opted for any one idea yet. That is one of the things that we toyed with, making him a general or getting him up there somewhere so it might create a storyline situation where O'Neill is more administrative than hands-on, which is so not O'Neill, so there's a frustration there to deal with a whole different dynamic, potentially. It's one of the ideas that we're throwing around but we haven't settled on anything yet. When he first mentioned that, I went, 'I don't want to be a general!' I wanted him to be a captain, so you could call me 'Captain Jack.' How about if he got demoted, and transferred, or sent someplace?" he wonders aloud. "We're not quite sure where we're going to go with it yet."

Whatever lies ahead for Colonel O'Neill, Richard Dean Anderson is content knowing that he'll be heading back to the world of Stargate for a little longer. There are still more stories to be told, more worlds to save, and maybe a few more opportunities to get into mischief.



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 Richard Dean Anderson responded to the fans...

The first question called for some philosophical introspection:

From: edna.potter1
I have a question for Colonel Jack O'Neill. As Richard Dean Anderson knows O'Neill so well, could he answer for me? "What is the line that he (O'Neill) would refuse to cross in the name of Home, Country and Planet?" I ask this because there have been so many times I would have resigned had I been him. So I wondered what would make him say NO?
Thank You.
Edna Phillips from England

[Richard gave the question serious thought, and when promised that the next questions would be easier, he joked:]

Richard Dean Anderson:
I hope so! There'll be a lot of dead air right now! That's far more intellectual than I've ever...

[Asked if he would prefer to save the question for later, he answered:]

Richard Dean Anderson:
Maybe! We should get on to something like, what's my favorite color?

[Certainly! In fact, we have just the thing...]

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

Richard Dean Anderson:
I love it! I will gladly answer that. It's orange, dark orange. I don't know what they call it, but like deep sunset orange.

[Regarding favorite colors, Richard has mentioned in the past that he is colorblind, but he elaborates:]

Richard Dean Anderson:
Slightly. It's not debilitating. Mine's in blue. There's a blue-green sector, or there are some hues of blue and green that will blend. They'll kind of... do this [gesturing an overlap with his hands]. It's very subtle, and most of the time I can tell what's what, but sometimes they'll just both come out as grey, so I can't distinguish sometimes. But it's so insignificant, although I've made some fashion faux pas in my color combining, apparently, in the past. And I did lose $50 to Mike Greenburg one time in betting that a sweater on a woman who came into a restaurant in Vail, Colorado was blue, and it was actually green. I was adamant. And I lost $50. But other than that, orange is, I don't know, I'm drawn to it. And if I start thinking, and breaking it down, and intellectualizing it, I could start thinking about Tibetan orange is my favorite color, Wylie identifies orange with her dad for some reason... and it's not red! [laughing]

From: aswr
My mom read that you like dogs. I do too. I have two Jack Russell Terriers and sometimes I think they're Jack Russell Terrors! What breed of dogs do you like?
Elizabeth Reed, Age 9

Richard Dean Anderson:
So easy! Australian shepherd. [His current dog, Zoë, an Australian shepherd, stays with his brother when Richard is away.] I'm not going to get another dog until Stargate is over for me, because my commute just would not be fair to the pup. Also I want to be established in a home. I've got a couple of acres in California, and they need to be able to run. But I can't wait for the time that Wylie and I go out and shop for a dog. She loves dogs.

From: ewokmonster
I see the old line about not working with kids and animals. But you seem so comfortable acting with children. Is it something you enjoy as much as it seems?

Richard Dean Anderson:
Great question! Spectacular question! Yes, very very much. The general perception of what's at stake for an actor to work with a kid or an animal is that, they're the ones everyone's going to be looking at. And that, to me, reeks of ego, and some other need that I don't, apparently, have. First of all, because I love kids so much, and I love dogs so much, just being in their presence makes me happy. I find great joy in that alone. But as far as performance goes, I feel like there's an understanding, or an acceptance of what's supposed to happen. I'm relaxed with them. Again, if you can't have fun, it's not worth doing. I have so much fun with kids that any kind of scenes I might have with them, are fun. So, no, I'm not threatened by the common notion that you shouldn't work with kids. I'd much rather work with kids than big humans. Working with Thor is a lot more fun than working with a lot of humans! [laughing]

From: snuffles
We know you're a big fan of The Simpsons. Are you also a fan of Futurama, and have you been able to watch the show the last couple of seasons? They have had several tributes to SG-1.
Judy W.

Richard Dean Anderson:
I'm not as big a fan of Futurama. As much as I like Groening and all his stuff, or most of his stuff, I didn't focus on it enough, I guess, to really see if it was going to grab me, but it didn't. And I think, maybe, that's in part because I'm not a big fan of science fiction! [laughing] I mean, The Simpsons just, is so good, that the bar's been set too high, I think. Matt [Groening], I love you, buddy!

From: wendy.smeg503
In the 70's there was an aftershave called Hi Karate which no woman could resist. Is this the one you use or is there a new one out that has the same effect? (A very badly disguised question to find out what aftershave you use.)
Wendy (aka Jacksbabe)

Richard Dean Anderson:
I don't wear aftershave. I don't wear any kind of perfume.

From: micheldaniela
Is there any particular reason for Jack O'Neill to eat jello or ice-cream with a fork?

Richard Dean Anderson:
I love that! That people notice... I really do. Umm... It's easier! [With a wink, he launches into a dissertation on the physics of jello.] You know what's coming... The jello has to be of a certain consistency to be able to eat jello with a fork. The type of jello that you usually get in a cafeteria, as in the one in SG Headquarters, there, will be in tiny square cubes. Those are easy to skewer, and they also set up really hard. To get more than one on a spoon, you're jeopardizing getting a mouthful at all. So by skewering them, because they have the consistency that will hold a fork, you can get a couple on there at least. [laughing] That's well thought out...

I have a question that's been bugging me for a while. How did you get that scar across your eyebrow?

Richard Dean Anderson:
It's part of what we established in the character. We have to maintain it because it will grow over, and believe me, it's a pain in the butt to be walking around with this bareness there. It was one of those elements of movies and television that has always driven me crazy. Like MacGyver, for instance, if we showed him naked at any point, he would be nothing but one big scar, because he was always getting cut or ripped or shot or whatever, beat up, bruised, and yet by the end of the series, he didn't have a mark on him. It was one of those things. So, I can't remember the episode, but I got hit in the eye or slugged or something, and we established a big bandage and the whole thing, and I told Jan [Newman, make-up artist], you know, this would leave a mark. Let's run with this. Let's keep it in there as part of what defines O'Neill. And so that's all it is. It's just a character thing. In fact what I try to do is to suggest that any time O'Neill has to be beat up, that he always holds his left eye. He always takes the first shot, and every monster that he fights is right handed, so he takes the shot to the left eye. [laughing]

[Asked if the scar might have originated from a genuine injury from hockey, for example, he continued:]

Richard Dean Anderson:
No, I've got those on the top of my head, and one down here [indicating the bottom of his chin]. I've had that since I was a kid. I took the rear end of a skate blade right up through the bottom of my chin... and bled! Wylie and I were trying to count how many scars Daddy had at one point. I think it was 70 or something like that. She started wanting to see them all. She's got two already. Like I say that with pride! [laughing]

[Asked if Wylie is taking after Daddy, he adds:]

Richard Dean Anderson:
You know, in some ways I hope she does, but certainly I don't want her to have my medical charts. She doesn't need that.

From: newfie
You've said in the past that you are extremely short sighted. Do you wear contact lenses for filming or do you prefer to work in a blur!!

Richard Dean Anderson:
I used to like to work in a blur, but then I started realizing that maybe eye contact from across a room would be a good thing! But certainly in doing action adventure type things, you sort of need to see what's going on. So I wore contacts for the longest time, and they just became a pain in the butt to deal with. I had LASIK surgery. And I love it. In fact I had two of them. The second one was an enhancement. I went from what was 20/250, or something like that, to 20/15 vision after the first surgery. It softened up to about 20/25, which meant I could still see more clearly at distance, and I could also read. The 25 rather than 20 allowed me to read without glasses. It's what, I guess, the doctors kind of aim for, so you don't need to have any form of glasses at all. When I came out of my first surgery, I had 20/15 vision. That's like eagle eye. That's seeing details at a distance that sometimes you shouldn't see. Once everything settled down and I got into my 20/25 range, I went to a hockey game, and I could see the numbers at the opposite end of the rink, but I couldn't really distinguish the facial things that were going on, and the numbers were a little soft. So I opted for the enhancement, and I went back to 20/15. Once you've had eagle eye, you don't want to go back. So, to read, if I don't have a ton of light on a piece of material, I've got about two dozen pairs of those little cheapy reading glasses. But, I had the LASIK, and I'm ecstatic about it.

From: mingo59
Could you elaborate on the references to Colonel O'Neill's subconscious infatuation with Mary Steenburgen, as mentioned in the episode Urgo, and yet again in the lowdown scene from Heroes?

Richard Dean Anderson:
The source of it is, my cell phone message when I first got up here, I programmed in Mary Steenburgen. 'Hi, this is Mary Steenburgen. Please leave a message...' It was my phone, my voice, the whole thing. And I have no idea why, except that I really liked the sound of her name, and there was just an oddity involved in having people who, either I knew or didn't know, friends or never to be friends, calling and getting a voice message for Mary Steenburgen. People who really knew me knew enough that I was just kidding around, and playing, and being mischievous. I had a lot of hang-ups early on, you know? [laughing] But it just kind of bled over, and I think I might have ad libbed it on set after all that. It just kind of came up, so I played with it. There was a speech [in the episode Heroes] where I'm walking down a corridor, and Saul Rubinek is about to pester me with questions as a reporter, and I said my favorite color is peridot, and I think Tibet should be free, and if I could spend any time with anybody it would be Mary Steenburgen. I mean, the color peridot?? Nobody says that! [laughing] I think what was written was my favorite color was salmon, or something like that, so I just played with it. Who's ever heard of peridot? So anyway, it's just one of those Rickyisms.

[This brought us back to the question about the line O'Neill won't cross...]

From: edna.potter1
What is the line that he (O'Neill) would refuse to cross in the name of Home, Country and Planet?
Thank You.
Edna Phillips from England

Richard Dean Anderson:
I don't know. It's so potentially wonderfully intellectual and profound a question that I don't feel prepared to really respond to it. I'd like to say there's no line he wouldn't cross to save the planet. Honestly, my only response to that would be that that's one of the best questions that I've been asked in conjunction with a character that I portray on television. But I honestly don't have an answer for that. It's a deep question that I just haven't gotten that deep with. My apologies! But I like the thought given to that question. Keep 'em coming!

Ritter, Kate. "The Road Back." July 23, 2003.