Michael Shanks

For five years, Michael Shanks portrayed the heart of the Stargate SG-1 team, Daniel Jackson. An archaeologist by profession, Daniel joined the Stargate program near the beginning, helping to translate key aspects of a cartouche that eventually facilitated stargate travel. It was when his wife was abducted by Apophis and turned into a Goa'uld host that Daniel threw in with his old friend Colonel O'Neill in the hope of saving her. He had many adventures over the years, but finally succumbed to a fatal dose of radiation poisoning. However, he was given the opportunity to 'ascend' to a higher plane of existence, which means that while he is no longer presence in body, Daniel still survives in spirit.
It was in the fifth season that Michael Shanks decided his character wasn't going anywhere, and told the producers he wanted out. The inside story is one only known to a few people, but suffice to say that it wasn't the happiest parting of the ways, but it was a mutual decision between Michael and the producers, and he has since been asked back. Whether it's believed or not, Michael was not pushed out of his job, despite the vocal
Stargate fans who still insist on some kind of conspiracy. This interview happened shortly after Michael left the show, before his return had been organized, but he was chatty, happy and upbeat, and certainly keen to make it clear that he harboured little to no ill will towards those he'd worked with for five seasons.

Note: Unusually, this is the bulk of the interview I did. There is some material missing from this transcript, but Ultimate DVD #30 didn't require more than 800 words of material. When you're offered a timeframe in which to talk to someone in person, you don't tend to refuse, so much of my 20-minute chat with Michael was never printed, mainly because at the time all of Visual Imagination's magazines were a bit Michael Shanks-ed out, with writers queuing up to ask him about leaving the series. The transcript might jump around a little, as my questions don't always create a flow, and there are still some bits not present. The reason there are some questions about DVDs at the start was because of the magazine I was doing the interview for; personally I wasn't especially interested!

Have you seen many of the Stargate SG-1 DVD releases?
I've only seen the first season. I think that's all we've gotten in America, the first season on the box set or whatever. Over the last couple of weeks here, I've seen the covers of many that I've signed, but I haven't seen the contents of a lot of the discs.

How familiar are you with the discs?
The DVDs obviously make the history of purchasing the entire series all over again all the more palatable because it includes those extra features that you can't normally get just by watching the show, so it can be very enticing. In terms of my actual involvement, I've done one commentary for it, but in terms of hands-on involvement I probably would be included a lot in the future.

How did you approach doing a commentary for Double Jeopardy, the episode you directed?
I just swept through it; you sit down and you watch it and I was with James Tichenor, the special effects guy, because special effects or visual effects were such a big part of that episode and James helped me along because he'd done a few of them. We just talked about each scene and how everything came up and had a few chuckles about certain things and the way it was edited and certain looks; and the costumes, the make-up, the visual effects, the re-shot scenes because I screwed up so bad the first time. It was like reliving the entire nightmare, like the nostalgia of looking back on it and going, 'Okay, okay, I can explain this. No, this is bad… I can explain all this'. We did it scene by scene and talked our way through it like two guys sitting around watching a movie with the sound off, talking about what you like about it and what you don't, and that's basically what it is except for you've got a microphone there that captures all of it.

So were there points where you went, 'Oh my God!' at something?
There was always something to sort of go, 'Oh God, remember this one or remember that one'. There was always something, so it was like looking back on high school.

Did you find it difficult, as you didn't direct again after that.
I think that's the best way to put it. I'll leave it at that. [It] was a little bit overwhelming so I really didn't push too hard to direct in season five because I kind of figured, 'Well, I'm kind of enjoying being an actor again, let me enjoy that again for a while'.

Would you like to direct other things?
In the future. I will plod away throughout my career as it goes, little bit here, little bit there and eventually when I decide that acting isn't what I want to do anymore, then I'll probably become a more full-time director. Who knows? I may still do it while I'm acting if I find a story that I really want to direct. But it's always good, I think, to get the technical knowledge. You're in these great schools, these great learning institutions which is a television series, and it's great to take advantage of all the resources that are at your beck and call. If I didn't take advantage of those, I'd probably be kicking myself for it years later.

Would you like to direct Stargate again at some point?
I don't think that's gonna happen.

I know something about the circumstances surrounding your departure, but what can you offer on the subject?
People can interpret more if they wish upon it, but these are the facts as I know them, without naming names and pointing fingers because it's just not worth it. I'm not jumping up in the air and stomping my feet about it, I just don't want to be full of crap either, it's just a matter of being straightforward and not having the finger [pointed at me]. [I felt] that my hand was being forced into a situation that I didn't necessarily feel I wanted to be put into, but I have to have certain principles as an artist, as a performer and as just a person of principles, as a civilian. And I wouldn't teach my children to accept a situation that had become unacceptable and that's not the way I was gonna live my life. So in terms of any other deviousness and whatnot, I don't know enough about it nor do I care enough about it; I just know the end results of it, so regardless of what the circumstances leading up are, I can't clarify them any more than I already have and quite frankly I don't really care to do the research.
The true irony of it, and something that does bother me to some extent, is that MGM have made no effort to really promote the fact that there's a dynamic shift in season six, or announce that I've left the show in some sort of formal fashion which in my mind goes hand in hand with their programme of non-publicizing the other three members of Stargate SG-1, be they in the show or out of the show, and I think that's definitely a slap in the face. But stuff like this is a reflection of how the fans feel about that. It's not a matter of whether they want control over the show, but they do wanna be given the benefit of the intelligence and I think like the actors they want to be given the benefit that their opinions mean something to the show and I think that that's something that MGM hasn't given these people the benefit of.

How have you felt about the fan reaction to your departure?
I think it's been a little bit overwhelming. It's been very supportive and overwhelming. Like I aid, initially there was a lot of ire aimed squarely at my head and that's just something, like I said, I didn't feel was necessarily my lot, because the truth be told, what I've said is the truth, there can be no rebuking it, that's the plainness of the story in terms of my reasons for leaving, nothing more than that. But stuff on the Internet and letter-writing and stuff like that, that's great and thanks very much for all that.

What do you have to say to those fans who claim you were forced out of the show?
Well, I think that there can be an overzealousness, looking for a quick fix in a way to explain away the circumstances. And I can't explain it away. If I could attribute it to any one thing or any one person, I don't know if I would say, but I would certainly know I would feel a lot more comfortable saying, 'I know the reason, just leave me alone'. And if this is the way that the party line is at this particular moment, then this is the way it has to be. I can't necessarily blame negligence on the part of the production staff for certain things; I know there were elements of new people not necessarily completely in tune with the way the machine had been working and stuff like that, but maybe that wasn't necessarily their fault, maybe there was a different dynamic being forced upon them. I don't know the answer to that,
I never really got any straight answers while I was there and speculation's always a waste of time anyway. I just know, like I said, the end result, and how it made me feel and how I felt it wasn't going to change because since I'd aired my concerns in the fourth season, I'd seen a gradual degeneration and a lack of change despite the protest that, 'Oh yes, we are taking your notes into consideration,' and I just felt that that wasn't really going to be the case and so nothing much was gonna change for another season so there was really no point in carrying on.

The main problem seemed to be that Daniel was always the explorer, finding new things, and there was little left to uncover.
That's the argument that I made too, and that's where I thought that the show belonged on the threshold. I'm not saying we didn't miss a few times when we were doing our discovery-type episodes, I just know that that's where the character was functional. I'm not saying he couldn't have been functional in these other storylines, but you have to make a specific effort to incorporate him because he doesn't fit naturally into that group and I know that they knew that, because we talked about it and that he doesn't fit into these groups and then they'd write the stories and bring the characters along that fit in. And I just said, well after a while, you've gotta go, 'Hey, we're leaving somebody out here, how do we find a way to work him in?' and it just seemed to me that that wasn't something that was a priority to do, it wasn't important to anybody but me, seemingly from that end. Like I said, that comes from more politicking and priorities rather than a specific attempt at negligence.

Chris Judge has a similar problem of a lack of involvement.
I know, and the unfortunate aspect about that is Chris has always had that lot, it's been that kind of thing for him.

Then again, being the strong and silent type tends to bring a lot of silence…
Yeah, exactly. And he's always been dealt that hand, so in a sense, although in the past couple of years he's had the same amount to do as I have, he's had that throughout. And I wouldn't say he's been content with that, but he's given in to that sort of lot. My problem is that, I think, in the first three years of the show, I had a lot more to do and in the last two I didn't and I just felt that that wasn't called for, and either there was a specific reason for that which wasn't being explained to me, or there was a negligence that was running rampant for whatever reason. Either it was deliberate or it was an accident, but either case, like I said, the result was the same. And because it had been a transition for me, I was going, 'Wait! What did I do?' blaming myself in some ways, and then I realized after a while that it didn't really matter what I did, it wasn't really going to change.

Were you sad to leave?
Oh, of course. When you've worked that long with a group of people… They always say you wanna leave on the best possible terms, but I think it's like a relationship; if it didn't end badly, it wouldn't end. I'm not saying that there's really hard feelings there, although there is certain frictions that would have to be dealt with, but there's a lot of good memories there and I have a lot of friends I have that work there and I wouldn't dare of saying anything bad to them, I wish them all the best. I really wish that the show continues doing well and that everybody there continues to get everything that they want out of their situation. It was difficult to leave just because you've lived with these people for five years and you've helped create something, so it's important to make sure that you're leaving at least with a certain amount of that friendship intact as opposed to just sloughing it all off and saying, 'Up yours, I'm moving on.' I really wish the best for them, but it was sad to leave, sure.

Are you on good terms with the cast and crew?
I would say that 90%, yeah. 90% we're still as close as ever and certain relationships have changed. We're still as close as we've ever been; I'm certain that that same 90% understands my decisions completely if not wholeheartedly.

How do feel about Corin Nemec coming in as your replacement?
I have absolutely no feelings about Corin coming in; I don't know him that much and I know he's got a bit of a task ahead of him and it's difficult to be placed in that kind of situation. I said at the time, and I still say, that I just thought that the episode in which Daniel dies to introduce that character was a bit of a choice of poor form; it dilutes both threads in the sense that you introduce a new character and you eliminate the one he's taking the place of in the same episode, it's like you're taking the tension off of one but you're taking the grandeur of the entrance off of the other too, so you're not really helping either in that situation. It's almost as if you want to say to the character, 'Could you come back in 10 minutes? We'll just finish mopping him up, we'll wait until he's cold and then we'll bring in his replacement' kind of thing. But at the same time that's not the actor's fault, he didn't describe that situation and I'm sure he'll do the job to the best of his ability. He's got a bit of adversity to face unfortunately, but I'm sure he'll do fine.

You're not in the season finale, though.
Don't ask me, I only worked there.

During filming of your last episode, Meridian, it seemed as though the cast members were saying goodbye at the same time as their characters. Did you get that feeling?
I think so for sure. You don't realize the ramifications of something like that because to each other in a lot of ways you become the characters; when you're there acting with each other for that length of time and you see each other as the characters and the actors, the line gets a little bit blurred and so I think that when they look and see their future ahead of them without seeing you every day as well as seeing the character every day, it's the same kind of thing. I think the actors were making their peace in a lot of different ways. That last episode was quite emotional for everybody.

Would you come back?
If the circumstances were appropriate and the role was something [that] was going to be keeping the integrity of the character intact, I think I would have to definitely consider it, yes.

Do you think the ratings might drop off in season six as a consequence of you leaving?
You know, I can't see that happening. It's a solid show all around and I can't see the loss of any particular actor really affecting that show too dramatically. I think it's more a change than a grand letting out of the air out of the balloon, I think it's a strong change dynamic. It's not necessarily gonna be a worse show, it's gonna be a different show and that's all. It's just gonna be a different show with that kind of dynamic switch. Everybody there still does a great job and I think they'll continue to do well.

Of course, Daniel now has special powers…
He can now operate a fax machine by remote control!

Have you seen the finale?
I haven't seen the episode Daniel dies in yet.

Only at the end of the episode there's a gust of wind, and O'Neill smiles, presumably because it signifies Daniel still being around. How do you feel about being wind for season six?
[He laughs] People always said I was full of hot air anyway. To be present but not present is an interesting plot device. I think there is a type of intention to keep the character alive in some way like that. But in a sense, that's again a very flattering and noble thing that the writers and producers feel the character valuable enough to want to keep him existent throughout the series for whatever reason. That's never a bad thing; how they do that sometimes can be good or bad, but I think so long as it pays off, it's not a bad thing and if it's just a carrot dangled in front of the audience that never pays off I can imagine the audience would be kind of peed off about it. We'll have to wait and see.

So what are your plans next?
My plans next involve, right after I'm done here on Friday, I'll be going down to Los Angeles for pilot season, then in March I'm in India to do films for about a month. And beyond that bob's your uncle.