David Nykl: The Czech of Atlantis

It’s time to hear from everyone’s favorite berated, overworked, underappreciated scientist. Move over Rodney! Radek Zelenka of the Atlantis expedition is a pretty quiet fellow, but actor David Nykl is anything but. He’s a ham. This was my second time seeing David. He attended the Chicago Creation convention last year, and though he is not listed yet for this year, I have high hopes. I have an ulterior motive, though. I will have something to present to him has a gift. That is if I can find the time to write it. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read my “Cabaret and Cocktails” post!)

Please Note: Even though I have used quotes, this is not word for word everything that was said. It is only as close as I could get by scribbling down everything I heard. No audio or video recording is allowed at Creation conventions. If I’d been using a pencil instead of a pen, I have no doubt that the wood could have caught fire in my hand from the heat of the friction! Fortunately for all attending, I don’t like to use pencils.

David started out by polling the audience to see where people had come from. He soon discovered that a good number of us were from the US. “Your dollar goes far. Thanks, thanks a lot. You can get two photos of Dan Shea for the price of one. But really who’d want to? I mean . . .”

“Yeah, my name is David Nykl. Hello. I played (shifts into the Czech accent) Doctor Radek Zelenka on Stargate Atlantis. Does anybody remember that show? Remember, all those years ago? Remember working? [Someone shouts that Radek is better than Mckay] I’m way better than McKay, apparently! Oh, you’re just saying that. If Hewlett was on stage right now . . . I was actually just in Los Angeles, talking to David Hewlett. He’s doing very well, he sends his love. He’s doing what the rest of us are doing and trying to work (laughs). ‘Will work. Unemployed astrophysicist.’ (Grimaces) It’s kind of a hard job to continue with, you know? (Laughs) You get benefits, though.

“I’d tell you some stories from filming, but we wrapped, what . . . almost six months ago. It seems like such a long time ago now. But we live on in reruns, don’t we? Today is Friday, so I can’t ask you what episode was on last night. Are we still running? [Some people shout yes] On ‘Sifi’? ‘Sify’? ‘SwyFwy’? Is that how you pronounce it now? What’s all that about? SwyFwy. Have you seen that? [Fans groan ‘yes’] So they’re changing their logo from SciFi to Syfy? I mean why would someone want to put a ‘y’ in the middle of a word . . . [turns to look at his last name, Nykl, which is on the view screen behind him]. Can I buy a vowel please? It’s some weird Cech thing, about not having any vowels.”

Uh oh. David had a Czech joke to tell us. “The Czech guy comes up to his optometrist – now stop me if you’ve heard this one. Oh you have. Ok, forget it. (Laughs) Czech guy comes up to his optometrist, and the optometrist goes, ‘see if you can read that line on the bottom of the chart’. So he covers his eye and goes, ‘R, K, Q, R, N, M, V, N, K’. And he goes, ‘hey that’s pretty good, you can read that!’ ‘Read that? I know him!’”

David warmed to the Czech discussion. “I’ll answer your questions later (laughs). This phrase in Czech that goes, [says four words in Czech. I’m sorry, but I’m not even going to try. I’m scared that if I misspell this it will turn into a horribly offensive curse] which is an entire sentence without a single vowel in it. And it means, ‘Stick your finger through your throat’ (takes his index finger across is through, tip first). That’s why the Czechs look like they do. It’s kind of a weird thing. I don’t know. Vowels? Don’t need them.”

Somehow we got back to the Sci-Fi name change topic. “You can’t copyright a genre. It’s like if there was ‘Western Network’ or ‘Soap Network’, you can’t copyright a genre so they have to go with ‘SwyFwy’. (Emphasizing the ‘wy’ sound every way he can) ‘This Monday on SwyFwy, Stargate Atwantis!’ Oh I’m not going to be in the movie for sure now. Make fun of the network, Nykl. Smart.

“I know you’re going to ask, so I’ll say what I know about the movie, and that is I don’t know. What I heard, it’s going to be on, and I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it. There was talk of doing it in spring sometime. I’m not too sure where even the script is at, if there is one. So this is the time to call the writers and go, ‘*Cough*Zelenka’. It’s like when we were filming ‘Vegas’, I came up to Joe Mallozzi and I said, ‘You know I think Zelenka is really good at black jack. And the only way is if you fly him to Vegas’. Naw, Flanigan gets all the fun. He gets to run around and chase Wraiths in casinos. I just do Microsoft Word on a lap top. (Pretends to type) ‘Oh John, I’m so worried about you’. (Laughs) No it’s not like that. Heavens.”

One fan in the front row made a request, though since she didn’t use the microphones stationed on either side of the stage it was hard to hear her. It sounded like she was telling him that she asks all the actors with accents that she meets to say something in that accent for her. “Is this one of those things that is going to trap me in YouTube hell? . . . With my cool accent can I say ‘Harry Potter’? (Laughs and lowers his voice) ‘Live from FM 99.3’ . . . um, (in his accent) Harry Potter.” Everyone applauded, and he just stood there looking at us like, ‘You guys are so easily pleased.’ I have to admit as a Potter fan, it did sound cool! Apparently David was just as easily amused though, because he started saying things with his accent just to get our reactions! “Return of the Jedi. Hitchhikers Guide to Galaxy. [Someone shouted out Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious] (Laughs and shakes his head) Talk about having vowels!”

David started to take questions, finally.

In ‘Grace Under Pressure’ you mutter on in Czech, and Sheppard says he knows what you mean. I have no idea what you said and I was just wondering . . . “You think I’m going to tell you? (Laughs) This is the way it worked with the Czech. (Sarcastically) Because all the writers on Stargate Atlantis are fully fluent in Czech. I get the script totally written in Czech. No it’s written in English, and there’s this little slug line in there that says, ‘Mutters in Czech’. Dot Dot Dot. So it’s me. Teaching the world to cuss in a foreign language. One Friday at a time. Repeat after me. I think it is on YouTube, someone has cut together absolutely all of my expletives. In Czech, on YouTube, where things never go away. So if you do want to learn to cuss in a foreign language just download that clip and repeat after me, and you’ll go far. You’ll start to get kicked out of a lot of places.”

What are you working on now? “An actor’s work is getting work. That’s what we do. I’ve done a few little bits and pieces. I’m also very circumspect about talking about it. There’s a few little brands in the fire. Things that I do know are going on include directing a play, which I love doing. I’ll be doing that in May. There’s a couple of things that I have a lot of interest in that are coming up, and I’ve got a little short film also. Without being too specific . . . Mmmmm stuff. There’s this one film that I did two years ago, “Beast of Bottom’s Lake” [Not sure I heard this right, so please don’t take my word for it], which I’m really excited about. I’m looking forward to it coming out. It’s a comedy, and it’s on the verge of being released, so watch out for that. “Beast of Bottom’s Lake”. It’s a Moby Dick story. We’re chasing after a cryptic sea creature. Is that going to be on SciFi? “No, it’s independent, so it’s where ever we manage to get it released, so www.davidnykl.com!”

How long did it take the writers to figure out that you were swearing in Czech? “They knew. They wanted me to swear. I think the real issue is if the show is ever sold in the Czech Republic. It’s funny. There are fans here from France? Where are you? They dub the show in French, right? Italian too. Well apparently if they do that in Czech they would dub me into Czech, which is the biggest irony. I get emails. ‘So would you consider dubbing yourself . . . into . . . yourself?’ It’d be kind of weird. But they’re genuine swear words in there, but the American sensors and the Canadian sensors can’t tell. And who cares about the Czech ones?”

Do you ever go back to the Czech Republic? “You know, it’s a flight. It’s an expensive flight sometimes. So it’s just dependant on time of year, whatever. I try to go every couple years. If you’ve never been, it’s beautiful. It’s a great bargain too. It’s a worthwhile stop in the middle of Europe.”

In the Olympics, if Canada’s playing the Czech Republic who do you support? (Laughs and jumps up and down!) I knew it! I knew I was going to get that question! I get that question in Prague and I go, ‘Oh the Czech team!’ ‘In the Olympics, if,’ well that’s great. Way to put me in a spot. Well, because it’s Vancouver, because it’s the Olympics on here, then it’s Team Canada. But we’ll give them a run for their money! That’s right, the Olympics are just a few short months away. Well no, it’s March, early March, late February. [A woman near me shouts “April”] Or April, yes. What would happen if we didn’t have snow? It’d be so funny. Here’s the Olympics. Imagine the loge. Scraping down the thing, ‘I don’t know!’ No snow!”
If you took the brains out, who would win in a fight between McKay and Zelenka? [Poor David was a bit befuddled by this one!] “So, what are the conditions? Take the brains out,” The woman asking the question said, “Yeah, basically a WWF style death match. Who would win?” “Oh. Between McKay and Zelenka? You have a lot of free time, don’t you? That’s one thing we can charge money for. We can get together and do arm wrestling. Um, Zelenka would smack his mmm down! (In an innocent little voice) David Hewlett’s a really nice guy, he doesn’t deserve to get beat up. He’s my best friend. (Laughs and goes back to his normal voice) That’d be kinda funny, wouldn’t it? [The woman who asked says, “You must have imagined it a few times.] Yeah, actually, it’s not too far off.”

What have you enjoyed the most about being on Stargate Atlantis? “People will say this, everyone from the Stargate franchise will, and really, it’s the people. The fact that everyone is working on such a fun job. I think what’s different between us and other franchises is that people don’t really take it incredibly seriously. It’s work, and you’re doing your work, but there’s a kind of fun, a levity which I think reflects in the work done. So generally, that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.

‘Some of effects shots, like in ‘Adrift’ where Joe and I are jumping between the towers – that was a lot of fun. I think that little sequence even won the Grammy, the the Grammy . . . [Everyone laughs while david attempts to correct himself] the Freddy, the Johnny, the Emmy, for visual effects for Mark Savela, props to him for a fantastic job. The effects on Atlantis are stunning. It’s a combination of good old-fashioned on set know-how and plus the computer gimmickry. People think it’s all just computers, but for example, that shot was particularly – when it was put together we were in these $30,000 NASA space suits that were designed by our props team from plastic they found on the internet! They’ve also built a couple of atomic bombs. It’s just stuff that’s floating around out there for sale. And the detail on these things was fantastic. I don’t know how many of you have ever been on a space walk before, but the console on the chest has got all the little flips and switches. And it’s written backwards, and on the back of your hand there’s a mirror, so you just (demonstrates how to use the mirror to read the switches) look and you can read the switches in the mirror. Details like that on a costume. With a big ring in it (indicates around his waist) and cooling vests that the Formula 1 racers have because it gets hot inside the thing. So you’ve got a little tube that goes out to a cooler, literally, and it pumps cold water through you. And then hooked up to (indicates overhead) a spreader and a cantilevered dolly, so it’s like this crane on a dolly, and Joe and I were like these human size marionettes hanging around. It was a lot of fun. It was actually quite comfortable because they got out center of gravity such that you could just sort of sit there. And between takes – it takes up to 40 minutes to set up the lights or sometimes an hour to set up for a particular shot – it’s not like you can get down off of this thing, so you just sit there. So there’s a photo of me, and I’d fallen asleep, and you sink into the suit, (shows the bottom of the helmet at his eye level).

“Of course they woke us up after that, quite well. Martin Wood – he thought I didn’t overhear him, but I did – say to the guys [working the dolly and crane], ‘when you bring them across,’ because were jumping across, and we were filming the scene where we hit the opposite wall, he says, ‘I want you to really smack them into the wall. And I went, ‘Hey wait a minute! Wait wait wait wait!’ Being unable to pull the suit off, you could just feel them going (acts out him being swung across the stage) ‘No!’ Boom into the wall. That was fun. Stuff like that was fun. And scenes with Hewlett are a lot of fun. The sort of back and forth that we always do. They kind of waned off a little in the last couple of years, bit those have always been tremendous tremendous fun to do.”

In response to a question I didn’t catch, David said, “Of course the new StarTrek movie is going to spawn a new series, right? So they need the young Chekov. (Looks up and considers) I guess the old, the middle aged Chekov? The ‘after his prime’ Chekov? [Someone goes, “Awwww!”] No ‘awwww’ please. Yes thank you for your pity.”

2009. Prime or not prime? “2000? Prime. Oh, 2009? Ah . . . not prime. Prove me wrong! (Laughs) All you guys with the iPhone there going nenene (pretends to be calculating it on an iPhone). 2009? No, not prime, man. Half of 2009 is . . . I don’t know. You really want to do math now?!”

Uh oh. “The infamous pranks question. Whenever I come on set I insist on perfect . . . ah, no no no. There must be serious decorum, yes? The flying fruit phase of the afternoon. Whenever the fruit trays come out, – Well, the thing that we do that sometimes gets a little infuriating, is was talk right up until the last possible moment during the take. Like they’ve got the clapper and they’re going, ‘alright, scene one, dah dah dah, -‘ (talking to a cast mate) ‘Yeah and then on the weekends, (waves off the clapper person) yeah whatever, excuse me, – Ok! We’ll do the scene now.’ It’s not really a prank, but there’s been some stuff. Too bad you guys couldn’t see the blooper reels. It’d be so cool. Why is that? Why can’t we release any blooper reels? Do you know? [We tell him there were some one the Atlantis season DVD’s, but we don’t know why we can’t get more.] I mean they’re blooper reels, that’s what you do! Oh and Paul will tell you the one that happened to him, with the rock in the bag. I’ll leave that for him.”

Adam, one of our two amazing Creation MCs, interrupts and says, “We have a Twitter message from David Hewlett.” Nykl says, “Bring it on.” Adam hands him the phone the message is on, and David reads it, laughs, and says, “’Radek who?’ Oh, he’s just jealous. He’s sitting there at his typewriter trying to come up with his next little thing. We’re going to do a series together, David Hewlett and I, I think. (Pointing to the phone and then to himself) ‘Smart and Smarter’. I love that, I should write these things down sometimes.”

Do you understand any of the science that your character has to use, or is it all just gibberish to you? No, no, heavens no. It’s not just gibberish. I’ve always been, let’s call it a hobbyist or an aficionado. I get Wired Magazine, I love dicking around in stuff like that. I’ve always been that way. The way that the show is written is science fiction, science fact. The stuff seems to be out there, but it really follows really kind of basic princi – well I guess wormholes aren’t really that basic; quantum mechanics – but the show has furthered that interest, yes. Because it’s not that I discovered science fiction through the show, I’ve always been a fan. I’ve always enjoyed the technology, and I understand a little bit of the science. I don’t claim to be a physicist for real, but I do know some of the basics. And the show has a physics consultant.

“There’s been some fun stuff, like there’s one in – if you remember the episode – ‘Sunday’. You know in the episode ‘Sunday’ where they killed Paul McGillian? We’re playing a chess game. It’s like what we do on our day off, is play a chess match. And they brought in a grand master! And I like the game, I play quite a bit. So we had some time on set, so he showed me of these wicked (moving his hand around like he’s rapidly moving chess pieces), so stuff like that. I’m like ‘I’m not doing it without my chess master’.”

Did you know Don Davis? “I’d seen him on the show. I never got the chance to see him personally, unfortunately. Or paths just didn’t cross. When we were doing Atlantis, for those two years Atlantis and SG-1 were concurrently running, it was like oil and water. They were on their set, we were on our set. It was just because of scheduling. So I missed him, but I’ve heard – tremendous tremendous guy.”

Does Zelenka have any parts of your personality? “That’s kind of up for you guys to decide on. What am I like, and what is Zelenka like. Zelenka’s much more conservative, I think. And a bit more risk averse, perhaps, just generally. And the nature of the relationship between . . . Hewlett who? . . . and Zelenka, the Mutt and Jeff thing, is of course the Amadeus/Salieri kind of thing. . . . That’s kind of a weird analogy, isn’t it? Just going off the top of my head here. For that sort of dramatic tension to work, it’s got to flow somewhere, so there’s got to be an unfairness, an imbalance. So we work off of that kind of thing a lot. He’s being arrogant, he’s being an (mouths the first half of the word, but doesn’t say it out loud) —hole, (everyone laughs so he pretends to censor himself) an *beep*hole, I’m the put upon Zelenka.”

A fan in the front row had a suggestion. It was difficult to hear her because she didn’t have a mic, and David did not repeat what she said for the rest of us, but from what I could catch she said something like, “You say your insults – what you really mean – in English, where as Zelenka is a little more nervous so he mutters them in Czech.” David smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll do all my insults of Hewlett right here, now. You guys can Twitter him back. Let’s just bomb him with Twitters, can you do that? Can you go on his page? [Fans familiar with Twitter say “Yeah!”] Ok, do me a favor. (Starts laughing, and we all laugh thinking, uh oh, Hewlett’s gonna get it!) The power of the people! ‘Rodney who?’ Yeah? ‘Rodney who’ question mark. Hundreds of them. Right? Would you do that for me? [We all laugh and cheer!] We’ll come back, oh that’ll be sweet! I love that idea. Who’s idea was that? Oh it was mine.”

Got any good impressions of your fellow actors? “Here’s the thing. I was asked – was it in Philadelphia? – that there’s a tradition that actors do impressions of other actors, and I said, (skeptically) ‘Oh really? It’s a tradition? Ok.’ ‘So would you do Flanigan?’ ‘No, I can’t do –‘ ‘Aw, come on! [probably the whole audience there got into it]’ So I was like, ‘ah yayaya’ [David didn’t even want to do it for us!] #1 thing on YouTube. So no thanks, I’m not going to get fooled by that again. No way.” Clearly someone forgot to tell David that there’s no video recording allowed at Creation conventions, so he would have been perfectly safe from YouTube!

Is there a reason that Zelenka never gets to really be the hero, just Rodney? [The writers] knew there was an imbalance in terms of that, and I think such episodes as ‘Quarantine’ – remember that one? – addressed that a little bit. A little bit. I mean it can’t always be that way. Yeah it’d be nice for Zelenka to have his comeuppance, but wait for the movie, right?”

Is there any science fiction that you enjoy? I liked Doctor Who. [Whoot!] The books, mind you, not the series. [Some fans grumble. Um . . . there were books first?] ‘Ooh, you’re old!’ . . . Star Wars, when it started out, but I don’t know towards the end. Pretty excited about the new Trek movie coming out. Paul [McGillion] showed me a secret sneak preview that he’s not allowed to show anybody. And, what happens is that – (tries to look innocent and fails miserably). I think JJ Abrams could swap me from here (looks up as if checking to see if he’s going to get smacked). Wherever he is right now.”

Did you ever discuss with the writers things that you would like to do as Zelenka? I figured out pretty early that if I was the kind of actor that went up all the time and said, ‘I wish I did this, I wish I did that,’ that you become that kind of actor that IS ‘I wish I did this, I wish I did that’. I had to kind of respect that the writers of the show have their own creative process. It’s an interesting sort of dichotomy because they create the character. They’ve got their plans, and I’m the one that’s playing it. There are things that we would discuss once they were on the written page, and there were suggestions that I made, and I think that kind of back and forth always exists. But it was never my intention to go, ‘I think this is what he should be like’ and want that.”

Where would you have like to see your character go the end of the series? “To be honest I would have liked for it to have had a better conclusion than it did. At the end of season 5 in kind of petered out a little bit. It didn’t feel like there was any sort of, ‘what’s going on with him now?’ sort of thing. But who knows, maybe that might be addressed. It’s always open.”

How was it to work with Amanda Tapping in ‘Quarantine’? “Crazy! (laughs) That was all done it one day, and it was a short day at that. We were in a transporter, which is basically, they find a broom closet on set, and they sweep it out. ‘Stand in there.’ And with Martin Wood shooting, and Martin and Amanda have worked together and are still working together on Sanctuary. We were done in a matter of hours. It’s deceptive, it seems like it’s all throughout the episode, but it’s all shot in one day. So just a couple of takes. There’s some effects. Effects usually slow you down, when there’s sparks and stuff flying out of there, and stunts, and getting thrown around, but it’s terrific. Everybody says that it’s great to work with Amanda, and well, it is great to work with Amanda. I had a chance to work with her again later on on Sanctuary. Yay!”

Aww man, there’s the two minute warning. “That’s three questions? Always pushing me! Always!”

Is it hard to switch back and forth from English to Czech? “If you try to learn a language later on in life, it’s a lot harder. I had the benefit of my wonderful mother who taught me to speak Czech when I was at home. So I spoke it as a kid and when you hear it as a kid and you have the language in your head it’s part of how your brain develops. So literally, the switching back and forth is – I do it all the time. It’s like a second processor. And linguists will tell you that the culture, thought – I mean think of all the process we have when we think. Is it in language? Is it in pictures? What is it that makes a thought come into language? Having full fluency, being able to sort of cut between those two languages was just lucky I guess. A lucky circumstance for me. So the flipping back and forth is easy. It’s remembering to do the accent! There’s been a couple of takes where I start, (without the accent) ‘well Rodney, you can’t really – oh, I mean – (with the accent) Well Rodney, you know you can’t . . .’ You’re Czech, remember! It’s kind of ironic.”

Are there any sites in Vancouver that you recommend we visit? Answering as quickly as he could since time was nearly up, David said, “Do you ski? Snowboard? Go to the mountains. They’re just above the city, especially on a day like today when it clears up. Go up the sky ride, or if you want you can walk up. There’s a thing called the ‘Grouse Grind’ [not sure that’s right]. (Laughs)Yeah, if you’re nuts. Pay the $12 or $18 and go up the gondola. Great view of the city. But otherwise when you’re in the downtown core, it’s a walking downtown. Have a great time in Vancouver!” With that, David Nykl took his leave.

David was supposed to attend the cocktail party that night, but it seems that he chickened out. Actually, I just realized that he wasn’t listed to perform at the Cabaret! It does make sense, actually. He only had the one act, though considering that I ended up being a part of it, one act was plenty from him! (Again, see the “Cabaret and Cocktails” post)

Next up, he’s been electrocuted, had things blow up in his face, and been seen in the infirmary with numerous unexplained injuries. He’s also been thrown around and beaten up more times than fans can count because half the time you couldn’t tell it was him! Care to take a guess? Stunt coordinator, stunt double for “Big Boy” Richard Dean Anderson, and SG-1’s Sergeant Siler, Dan Shea arrives bringing set stories galore!


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