Michael Shanks: Beware of Unleashed Actor

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His mistreatment by the writers led to the coining of the term, “Danny-whumping”. He has died more times than most fans can account for off the top of their heads, but in doing so he saved someone else. He’s a walking talking encyclopedia of historical and archeological history. He’s been referred to as the conscience of the team. Michael Shanks has been playing the role of Dr. Daniel Jackson for 9 seasons, 2 movies, and 3 Atlantis episodes, and he’s not done yet!

Of all the Stargate cast members, I feel as though I know Michael the best. I’ve seen him six times, and this Augusts’ Chicago convention will make seven. It helps that he has never missed a Chicago convention since they began in 2004, and neither have I! I have an autographed object from each encounter, and I have two photos taken with him. Over the years I’ve gone from barely being able to squeak ‘hi’ and spell out my name for him, to chatting with him in full coherent sentences in the autograph line. It’s not that he is intimidating. He’s very open and friendly will fans. Let’s just say that Daniel Jackson is my absolute favorite character. I’m sure you get the idea! <3 So please pardon the comments I throw in here. I couldn’t help myself!
I kept questions in the order that they came to give you a feel for how easily we can bounce back and forth from one topic to another in the course of an hour-long Q&A session.

I feel that I should post a quick warning for younger audiences in regards to Michael. He has a very . . . odd . . . sense of humor, and he did forget to poll the audience for young children. There are no obscenities to be found here, just a few quick references to thing that you may not want your children to encounter. If you have children who want to read this, I recommend that an adult read it first, copy it into a word document, and remove the few things that may not be suitable for your child. Thank you!

Michael almost always starts by asking everyone how things are going. “So how’s everybody doing? [We cheer] Who’s hung over? [A very few people cheer] (Acting shocked) Really? Economy’s tough, huh? There’s like four hung over people at the Stargate convention? That’s really lame. Why’d you come? They actually have to put up with the actors and each other. That’s crazy. [Someone in the front row says something to him] Well no, yeah why not? I would. I don’t anymore but I would.” Read into that what you will!

Michael always draws HUGE question lines in Chicago, and his lines in Vancouver were as long or longer! He always tries his best to get to everyone’s questions, so after chatting for a minute, he got down to “business”.

Are you going to be on Stargate Universe? “I will answer that question by saying this: I’m not allowed to talk about it (grins).” Most of the audience realizes what this implies, and we start screaming. For the other half, Michael said, “Now fortunately most of your are intelligent enough to glean from that that there might be something to that because if I wasn’t on it, would I be saying that I wasn’t allowed to talk about it? I’m just, you know, giving you guys the benefit of the doubt on that one. I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

Tell us about The Eastmans [currently in post-production according to IMDB]. What’s with all the paramedic roles? “Uh, yeah. Jack O’Brian will be my third paramedic. (Laughs) My first foray into paramedic land was on a short-lived spelling show called University Hospital, where I played Jake the paramedic. Sounds like a porno, but that’s what I played. And the second was in (sarcastically) the brilliant Sci-Fi original feature, Megasnake. If you haven’t bought it yet, good for you. If you have, (shakes his head) give your head a shake. And that was Les, the paramedic. So I don’t know why paramedics only seem to have one syllable names, but now this is Jack the paramedic. The show is called The Eastmans. It’s a pilot for CBS, so you may never see it. I don’t know. I love that about pilots. It’s a show starring Donald Sutherland and Jacqueline Bisset, and Saffron Burrows, and it’s about an aristocratic family of doctors called the Eastmans. It’s kind of like Brothers and Sisters meets Grey’s Anatomy kind of thing. So it’s character drama and a bit of comedy involved in it. My character is a paramedic who works at the hospital who is having an affair with Jacqueline Bisset, which is uh . . uh . . uh . . you know! (Laughs) And if the show goes on, I will reoccur, and probably in the first few episodes, will be quite intricate to the plot. So I look forward to seeing what happens with that.”

The next question was about Michael’s role on USA’s Burn Notice, for which many fans cheered in appreciation off. Michael was rather surprised that so many Stargate fans had watch it. “Matt Nicks is going to be so pumped to hear about that. It’s really cool, honestly.” The fan asking about it says, “He said you were a stud.” “He said I was a stud? Oh. He shouldn’t pillow-talk like that. No, I had a lot of fun. Matt is great, a great creative mind on that show. You guys are the ones that helped make it the biggest show on cable the night the finale went down! Congratulations for that, that was fantastic, I appreciate that (tries to applaud us with the microphone in his hand).”

Given the fact that your appearance brought a lot of new fans to Burn Notice, are they thinking about ways to bring you back in some back story? Maybe some stuff in the past? “Some flashbacks or something like that? Um, I did a commentary on their DVDs, season 2 DVD track for the finale with Matt Nicks and Bruce Campbell. I was a fan boy of Bruce Campbell so working with him was a treat. It was kind of a dream come true in a strange way. I had sort of bugged Matt about it afterwards and sort of listened to him and he said, “it’s amazing how many people since this show aired have asked” and he said this too, that they felt so bad that they killed Victor, and asked would they find a way to bring him back. So during the commentary I just asked him. I said, “So I noticed at the end that Victor was in a different place against the wall” – because we shot it two different ways in the end – I said, “He was in a different place in the edit. Do you think there’s a possibility that maybe Victor is still alive?” And Matt said, “Yeah, absolutely Michael. When we do the jump-the-shark episode of Burn Notice we’ll bring you back as Robot Victor.” So I got from that that he had no strong intentions of bringing the character back right away. But listen, I made a lot of good friends there. Matt and I are still in communication, and it’s a great show. The writing is king over there, and I really enjoyed it, so I have an ongoing relationship with Fox studios, that makes it, and of course USA network, which is a sister to Sci-Fi network, so you never know what can happen in terms of cultivating those relationships. I’ve got a lot of friends in those offices too, so there might be something more in the future based on that, but I enjoyed my time on Burn Notice, for sure.”

How difficult was it to play the character who has to know many different languages? “I didn’t actually have to speak to many of those languages. I think the couple that I spoke, one I completely destroyed, which was the German in (has the look that tells us he can’t remember the episode, so I shout out “69! 1969!”) 1969 because I mashed the accent, I realized afterwards. I’d had, actually, a dialect coach for that. Have I told this story before? [Some say yes, but it was new to me!] I had a Hungarian woman who was teaching me the German dialect. So I was learning the German with a Hungarian accent, so that’s why it was kind of mashed up at the end of it. A lot of the times, stuff was provided. Like when we did ‘Forever in a Day’ and I had to speak the ancient Egyptian, we contacted the same linguist that had done the translation of the ancient Egyptian for the movie, the feature film, that all the natives of Abydos had taken the language stuff from. So there were experts around me that provided – of course on a television schedule, but we still got to actually do it. But fortunately for the most part Daniel just didn’t have to speak a whole whack of other languages. He just had to be the guy who went, ‘oh, what he means is . . . ‘ It’s kind of like just a really nice friend. ‘Ok, what my jerk friend means is he really likes you, he just doesn’t know how to say it, you know what I mean?’”

A young girl came up and asked how would you compare yourself to Daniel? “We’re about the same height.” Ha ha, very clever, Michael! He smiles at the questioner as she was no doubt glaring at him for a proper answer. “Daniel – he’s a lot nicer than I am. Yeah, you know that. (To the fan asking the question) Weren’t you just over there? (Indicating the line at the other microphone on the other side of the stage) How’d you do that? See, the only way I could do that was by dying and coming back in Jack’s nightmares. . . . Um yeah, Daniel is a lot nicer than I am, and . . . he means well.” Michael smiles at all of us, making us wonder, what the heck is that supposed to mean?! The little girl said thank you, and then as Michael watched her leave, he said, “She’s going back to the back and out the back door.” That’s what you get for scaring small children!

What’s going on with Rage of Angels? “For those of you who know, Rage of Angels is a project that Christopher [Judge] and I have been developing. He wrote it, but it’s been in development. I’m attached to it, is the best way to put it. Every time I make any kind of public announcement about it, it seems to go away or change or whatever so I’ve just decided not to talk about Rage of Angels anymore and wait and see what happens with it. We have hopes for the best with it. It’s in the hand of, last I heard, Direct TV and Starz Media for a two hour backdoor pilot, but that’s all I know.”

What do you look for when you’re deciding whether or not to take a role? “It’s all about the character. It doesn’t matter what venue, specifically, it’s in, if it’s on stage or if it’s [not]. Right now I’m more interested in doing film and TV work than I am doing Stage work so I’m looking for characters that are complex. Usually flawed, I find are the most interesting to play. (Shrugs) [Characters] that provide the most opportunity for you to explore within yourself, so I think the more complex the character the more interested I am in playing it.” A fan a couple seats in front of me shouts, “Is that why you picked Megasnake?” “Absolutely! (All the while, watching the woman who asked, and the look on his face made me a little nervous, and it wasn’t even directed at me!) Abso-freaking-lutely! You talk about flawed! A paramedic, who’s father was killed by a snake, who has to take on the mother of all snakes? AND he was in that movie? That’s flaws. Listen, I didn’t say I choose all my roles on the basis of merit, I’m saying I’m drawn to the ones (mutters the last couple words). And I’ll remember you!” Yikes!

Oh my God, I felt so bad for this girl! This one fan, who I believe I’ve seen in Chicago as well, has a habit of talking too much before getting to her question. Because of that, Michael sees her and starts to pick on her mercilessly! Every time she tries to talk, Michael would start talking complete gibberish just to interrupt her, going, “ackackackackackackack”! Finally he says to her, “You do it to yourself, you know that, right? If you just came up and asked a question this wouldn’t happen every time. Go ahead.” She tries to start and Michael interrupts again saying, “Ah! Ah! Just the question. No build up, just the question. ‘Scuse me, do you have a question?” “Yes!” “Ok, what’s your question?” She was asked to take up someone else’s question, but she had her own too. After getting Michael to agree to let her ask both, she said, “It was something about the men of Sci-Fi.” With a little help from other fans, Michael understood that it was about the Men of Sci-Fi Calendar that was supposedly going to follow the Women of Sci-Fi Calendar that Chris Judge and Michael work on a few years ago. “All the men went away.” Michael joked. “No, the women one wasn’t exactly a boon, is the best way to put it. So we’ve decided to suspend that project, so yeah, I’m sorry about that. But David Hewlett will appear at your doorstep. Wrapped only in a bandana. With nothing but the radio on. . . . And yes, the second question!”

I think the poor girl just gets nervous to the point that she can’t find the words to just get her question out! First she told him that she thinks Gary Jones has it in for him and Richard Dean Anderson because their characters’ lines in the performance of StarHole SG-1.5 had some sexual innuendo going on, to which Michael just said, “That’s not a question though, that’s an observation. Do you have a question?” Michael then sat patiently, chin resting on his hand with his mic in it as she went on. Simplified, her question was, what would you like to see happen with your character in the next movie? “Would you want the Vala and Daniel thing to be settled, or he goes off and becomes a bounty hunter with Teal’c?” Darn that man! After all that he shrugged and said, “I don’t know. But you’ve given me some nice food for thought, thank you.” I hate when he does that. What a pest! The girl went back at her seat in the front row, no doubt glaring at him, until Michael said defensively, “What? I didn’t say I’m capable of answering every question, I said I’d try to answer your questions!” Booger!

On Burn Notice, when did you find out that Victor was going to die, and did it affect your portrayal of the character? “I was there in Miami. Because I did the last three episodes in September to October, and I got the script about midway through shooting the second episode, while I was down there. So there wasn’t a lot of collaring at that point to be done in except for working on that last episode. It was quite interesting. I enjoyed it. I usually key on specific scenes that are going to provide –I fixated on that first scene when he’s talking to Michael when he’s tied to the chair and reveals all that stuff as obviously the key to, quite frankly, having the audience feel sympathy for the character because he hasn’t had a lot of reasons for anybody to feel for him at that particular juncture. That scene was the most important one in terms of selling – everything about the character was in that moment and that monologue was the most important part about that character. So I sort of focused in on that. But I didn’t know. I think with actors they’re a little afraid, because they were killing the character they were afraid to give too many details. I asked some of the other writers that were on set at certain points, I said, ‘What’s going on in that last episode?’ They said, “Ahhh (looking up and away,) we’ll let you read it, we’ll let you read it.’ Because nobody wants to say, ‘oh yeah, you die at the end of it!’ But it’s fine. You’re an actor, and you sign there to be temporary anyway, so it was all cool. And only when it ran, my first reaction to it was coming up to Matt and saying, ‘Thank you. This is a great opportunity for a guest star on your show to come in and be given this much weight and this much depth for your story and for your series, quite frankly. I’m incredibly honored and I hope to do the best job I can with it.’”

Had you known sooner, would you have done anything differently? “Not at all. I think what they do a wonderful job of is following the lead of not only themselves but of the actor who’s playing it. They sort of say, ‘This quality is indicative of certain things and lets now say why it is that way’. And it was up top me in order to honor that in terms of the performance and connect the dots, if you will. It was important that the character – there was no on and off switch with his insanity. He was driven to the brink of something. He was pushed to a certain place, and he really was that way, and the reason why he behaved that way was because he didn’t care anymore, what happened to himself. It was great. I really enjoyed working on that show and the opportunity to work with those people.”

Burn Notice was definitely a hot topic, but let’s face it, Michael was amazing in that role! We know that wasn’t you at the end of the episode where you’re revealed, jumping from roof to roof and climbing walls. Michael laughed and said, “When I got that first script and I knew I was only going to be appearing in the final scene of . . of . . I can’t remember the name of the episode, but the third to last episode of Burn Notice where there’s the reveal of who tried to kill Michael Weston and my character is revealed. Just before this chase, for those who haven’t seen it, where Victor is climbing up walls and jumping over trucks and things like this. And I read this and it said ‘parcour’ [sometimes spelled “parkour” – look it up on YouTube!] in the script and I was like, ‘Oh you picked the wrong actor to try and do that. That’s so not what I look like when I’m running and that’s so not what I’m capable of doing at all. You need gymnastics and incredible flexibility and agility, and I’m a hockey player. It’s not me.’ So they hired this amazing Hispanic guy who could do a lot more than they showed, and actually was practicing and was just incredible at doing it. I just sat there laughing, I was like, ‘how am I supposed to match this when the show continues?’ and the funny thing was in the final episode they had the sequence were Victor runs up the back of station wagon and grabs the box off the thing and jumps into the back of the Saab. Tim Matheson, the director was telling me, ‘Don’t, (waving his hands) don’t, please don’t hurt yourself on this because it’s going to be you doing it,’ and so I jumped into the back of the Saab in rehearsal and he said, ‘Please don’t do that because we don’t want to see you get hurt’. But I had to do it! They had this guy climbing up walls and scaling buildings. If I was actually going to look like a complete moron when I was doing it on the station wagon it would be so obvious! And one of the reasons that they had the parcour there was not actually so much story. They said because there’s not much of a film industry in Miami they have to put things in scripts that their small pool of stunt people are good at. Like Jeffery Donovan’s stunt man is a high fall specialist. So at the very end when Michael Weston jumps out of the helicopter into the water, it’s kind of like that’s his forte. So they almost add things into the scripts that these guys are good at because if they needed somebody to do a water skiing stunt or something, they don’t have the people for it so they – my stunt guy happened to be a guy who did parcour so they said, ‘ok, Victor knows parcour’ (Iooked at us, tapped his chest, and nodded with an expression that mockingly said, ‘yeah, right. Sure. I can pull that off!’). Thanks!”

There’s a raging debate about who pulled the trigger when Victor died. Can you resolve that for us? “It was deliberately ambiguous in the script. I’ll tell you in my mind it was Michael Weston that did it, because he was asking him to. You know at the end of the day if they’re going to check on his story and there’s going to be ballistics evidence that comes into play, he’s going to want to be thorough about it. So in my mind it was Michael Weston but they left it deliberately ambiguous because there’s always people who go, (whining) ‘well it makes him less heroic if he committed cold-blooded murder dadadadada.’ So I think they wanted to leave it vague and leave it whatever you wanted to project onto the characters.”

Michael is a fan of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. Some fans, knowing this, went to a game the night before and bought a puck hat and a foam “#1” finger, and give them to Michael to put in for their photo op with him. Apparently he was supposed to keep them, so the fan brought it up to him at this point, providing us with a priceless photo opportunity! “I’m supposed to keep those? (With a wistful and not at all innocent look on his face, Michael retrieved the items.) For those of you that aren’t hockey fans and don’t know what these things are, (takes the foam finger) this is for proctology, and this (holding the puck hat) is a puck head.” Someone said “put it on!” so he did! He stood there and let us take photos and then said, “I’m a puck head.” He then put on the foam finger, sat down, and put the finger to his nose and pretended to either scratch it or pick it, who knows! Turning back to the fan who gave it to him, he said, “My kids will love this, thank you.” He then took them off.

Ah, the obligatory prank question! Michael contemplated for a minute and then said, “I’m not a big prank puller. I mean I’ve told the bear story a million times. I don’t want to tell that story anymore. (Seeing the look on the questioners face, he says in a monotone) I guess you haven’t heard the bear story. I’m going to have to tell the bear story (winces, and he might have muttered “Oh God”). We were filming 1969. We were up on – how many of you have heard this story before? (Hands go up, but not many) Oh really? How many of you haven’t? (Many hands go up, and Michael got more enthusiastic about it) WOW! Ok! I’ll tell the bear story! We were up filming on Capalletto Mountain [good luck trying to find where that is. I can’t! I doubt that’s the right spelling, either], there on a ski hill, and we’re on this big road and there’s forest all around us. We’re on this highway that goes up to the ski hill. Christopher Judge, for those of you that don’t know, is deathly afraid of wildlife. And I’m not just talking about he’s afraid of, you know, just the big wildlife. He’s afraid of everything. He’s afraid of possums. He’s afraid of raccoons. He’s afraid of anything but a dog or a cat, he’s afraid of. You should have seen, we were in a place called Reunion Island [again, good luck] and they have jumping spiders there, and he just about s&*%.

“So [for 1969] we have to wait for when the bus comes in, and [the crew] are digging a deeper hole for us to lie in and for the camera to go in. All you saw was this (gets out of his chair to show us) black tee shirt pop up every now and again (bends sideways with his back to us, like he’s digging, and then comes up) and the guy had black hair and beard and everything, so I went (smiles at us, and not in a good way!). So at a certain point we’re having a conversation about something and this guys is digging his hole, way off at the side all by himself. Chris started talking about something like maybe hockey and blah blah blah, and I go ‘Shhhh! (Sitting still looking around slowly, he says quietly) What was that? No no no, (holding up a hand) seriously dude, what was that?’ (Chris whines) ‘Come on,’ ‘No! Seriously! No I know that sound. What was that? (Takes a deep breath as he begins to panic, pointing at the guy in the ditch) Dude!’ He said, ‘What?!’ I said, ‘It’s a bear, man!’ All of a sudden, just at the perfect moment this guy pops up out of the ditch, back to us, all you see is black t-shirt, beard, whatever. Chris goes tearing down the mountain (draws an incline down the mountain with his finger). At full speed. He’s fast, too! So about 20 yards that he’s running down there, we start p*$$ing ourselves laughing. The crew starts p*$$ing themselves laughing. And sure enough he turns around and starts sprinting back up again (shows us Chris coming up with his hand). And I start sprinting up (shows us himself running away up the incline). So that was a pretty good one. That scared the hell out of him.”

Michael has done a couple of audiobooks in the last couple of years. First he read Local Custom. Then he did two Stargate audiodramas for Big Finish Productions, one where he told the whole story from Daniel’s perspective, and another where Daniel was trying to help get Vala – voiced by Claudia Black – out of trouble . . . again. I highly recommend them! A fan asked, How do you like doing audiobooks? “The good thing about performing an audiobook when you’re an actor is that all the back story – you know, you always talk about when you watch a movie, when they turn a book into a movie, that so much gets lost because a lot of the stuff is the subtext and the under-narrative in the writing of the book that you don’t see performed. That’s the good thing about reading a book, it’s all provided for you. The fleshing out of the characters is right there on the page, so it makes a lot easier. It’s an exhausting process, reading audiobooks. I don’t think there’s a proper way to prepare for them, because you read the book once or twice – nobody is going to sit there and study them, read the book 20 or 40 times to really get the characters. You’ve sort of just got to dive in there and see what falls off the truck. I didn’t think it would be as exhausting as it was. We spent three eight-hour days in just a booth at the thing, just sort of going through it, and then when I screw up a word or a syllable or get something wrong, we have to go back and do it again. (Shuts his eyes and laughs as he says) Especially a science fiction book, where the authors have created their own universe and their own mythology, but it’s not familiar to you, so you get – these guys were big fans of using apostrophes in the middle of words, kind of like the Stargate guys do. Like hoc’til and blah blah blah. Well on Stargate I’d ask them, ‘well how do you say this?’ When I’m reading the book I have no idea. So the producers are there telling me, but I’m having to figure out these words for myself, and then try and say then like I know exactly what I’m talking about! So that was the most difficult part, the science fiction book part of it was a bit of a challenge, for sure.”

Back to Burn Notice! Were the effects realistic given the material that Weston was shown to be using? And that wasn’t your real family in the picture of Victor’s family, right? I missed a little bit here, I think, but Michael said the crew was very diligent in making sure that the tricks that Weston does are actually able to be done only with the things that they show him using. “They even changed a line in one episode. Michael throws out some brake fluid with chlorine dioxide, and they had to add a voice over line of ‘and some other stuff’ because the fireball that the special effects guys made was too big for what it would actually be, so they added something more to make t actually believable. So I kind of look at it and go, ‘don’t tell the kids how to make this stuff!’ But I really enjoy that fact that it’s all kind of based in reality. And no, obviously, the wife in the photos was not mine, and the son I had is a little bit older than my son, but no. They used some local actors and models or stuff to play my family.”

Have you ever struggled with having to take multiple takes on Stargate? My hand must have been wearing out! Michael said that having to do multiple takes was something that Chris Judge was more known for. “As much as the fact that he didn’t really know [his lines] in the first place before we started, some of the time. Before we started filming in HD, before season 8, we were filming on 35 mm film. We would go through entire mags of the camera without him getting his one or two lines that he had to get out of his coverage, just because he was either having way too much fun, or he couldn’t say something. So he would go through take after take after take after take, with Peter DeLuise going, ‘(does a passable impression of Peter’s higher, more nasal voice) just keep going! Keep Going!’ We’d just keep filming it until the film ran out of the camera and we never actually got the scene. I don’t remember struggling with a number of takes on any particular scene. I remember struggling with one particular scene, I remember, I’ve talked about this a few times. There was an episode in season 8 called (frowns). . . . baaah. What was the one were Teal’c’s son is getting married? [A number of people shouted “Birthright”, but others mutter “No”.] Birthright? Is that it? [Someone shouts “Sacrifices” and other people latch on until Michael hears them.] Sacrifices! (Frowns and points at us) You guys are getting sloppier now. Used to be when I would say that someone would just blast it out! Now it’s kind of like (frowns and mutters incoherently into the mic). Me too, though. I used to be able to (snaps his fingers) knock ‘em out and now I can’t even remember. [Someone in the front row says something to him, and from what he says in a minute, they much have said, “You’re getting old!”] Yeah, totally! Totally. . . . . Viagra. . . . At the very beginning of that episode, if anyone remembers, there was a scene where Jack and Daniel are going down a hallway. What had happened was the episode originally had started after that scene where Bra’tac comes through the gate ant announces that Ry’ac is getting married. (Struggling to remember) There were problems with what’s-her-name, Sho’noc or Sha’nac or [someone says, “No, it was Ishta!”] (Michael shakes his head, smiling ruefully) Jolene Blalock, anyway! I guess someone had given a note, just before we went to camera on it, that they didn’t understand because it was kind of a sequel episode from an episode that Chris had written the previous year [“Birthright”!] They didn’t get what had happened to the tribe of warriors between now and then. So, the quick fix on that one is ‘let’s give it to Daniel and he’ll talk about it for a page and a half of dialogue.’ And Jack won’t say a word. So, that’s what they wrote.

“They gave it to me a couple days before we were supposed to film it. So I, being as cocky as I am about dialogue, however forgetting the fact that (looking right at the person who suggested it earlier) I’m getting old, I can’t remember things as well as I used to. I kinda waited up until the last minute the night before to try and memorize it, realized how long it was – it was a full page (shows us the length with this hands) and a half (shows us) of just nothing but Daniel talking. And I don’t know how you guys are with memorization, but the later I stay up the night before trying to memorize something, the less likely I am to remember it the next day. And that’s what I did (grimaces at us). So I was a little bit shake with it. Worse than that, Andy [Mikita], to make the scene more interesting, he wanted to do it as one take, meaning the camera will carry you (drawing with his hand) around and walk down every hallway of Stargate till we get to the gateroom, and that will be the scene in one shot. So there’s no chance for editing, no chance for fixing it, no chance for anyone to interject or for me to pick something up. Get it, (points his thumb over his shoulder) or you go back and start again. (Rolls his eyes, closes them, and shakes his head.) And then to make it more interesting, he starts us at the furthest corridor, and then he peopled the corridor with lots of people crossing and lot of – there was a forklift going down one way, and all this other stuff. And then when we started off doing the first take I thought I had it. I walked around a corner and I literally just opened my mouth and said the first line, and then all of a sudden there’s this huge spark hit from the wall (shows it blowing with his hand suddenly opening, fingers spread) and I go ‘(hands waving) what the hell?!’ and I look over and there’s like two guys pretending their welding. And because our walls are made of wood, they weren’t actually welding, what they had, it done was the special effects guys and they were making it look like were welding. So all they had were this little mini explosives that were popping off sparks that were very loud. So I said, “Andy, what the hell was that?!” and he said, “Oh sorry, I didn’t tell you. These guys are going to be working in the hallway. It’s going to be bustling, lots of activity.’ (Rolls his eyes) I said, ‘Ok, but man, that scared the hell outta me!’

“Well after that, it was all downhill. I did it, and God bless Rick. Usually in a scene that long where he doesn’t say a word, he’s going to be d*$&ing around the entire time. But God bless him, after three takes he saw I just was having trouble. We starting walking and we got three quarters of the way there, a page through it, and I flubbed a line or stumbled on something and it’s like ‘(groans, putting the heel of his free hand to his eye)Oh God!’ Go back. Because this is the thing. This is the first time that we had like thirty extras or something, Rick was working there, then we were going to meet Christopher Judge and Tony Amendola in the gateroom, and you have your 100 crew people standing around, so you’ve basically got 150 people there who are waiting for you to do your job before we can continue our day. And this was the first time I felt, ‘I don’t know if I can actually do this!’ Like I panicked, and this is eight years into the show, where I’m going, ‘I don’t know if I can do what I’m being asked to do because I don’t think I can make it through and remember all this stuff and do it properly!’ And that made the situation worse! So here you are trying to remember it, and trying not to screw up. Well everybody knows when you try not to screw up and you focus on trying not to screw up you screw up, so five takes in I went outside. I said, ‘can I can have a minute?’ and 150 people sat around and waited while I went outside for a breath of fresh air and cleared my head to try and do this again, and I came back in and we went one more time all the way through it – this is the sixth take I think – and I got to the end and Andy yells, ‘cut’. And he goes, ‘Great! Great! Perfect!’ and I said, ‘(puts his head back and sighs) Oh thank God. Thank God!’ And he comes up to me and I go, ‘Did ya get it? Did you get it?’ and he goes, ‘Yeah yeah I got it! There was a little stumble on the last line just before you came in, so let’s do it one more time, we’ll get it perfect!’ (Michael’s reaction: jaw drops, eyes wide, he manages to close his mouth as a shaky hand scratches the side of his face, then comes down to cover his still open mouth. OMG it was so funny!) I took Andy aside and I said, ‘Andy, can you use that take?’ He said, ‘Totally! I could totally use that take. I just think we can get one better.’ I said, ‘Can you use that take, yes or no?’ He said, ‘Yes I can use that take.’ I said, ‘(voice going up in panic, expression near hysteria) I can’t do another one!’ He looked at me for a long beat, looked at the look in my eyes, and went, ‘. . . Ok, moving on!’

“So if you watch that episode, watch that scene. First of all, I know this about me. I have a quarter Italian, but this is not an excuse for what I was doing. When I kinda don’t know my lines in a scene, especially got long exposition scenes, you’ll see a lot of this happening (gets up and walks with his free hand up, waving, clawing, and grabbing at the air, growing to full wind milling from the floor up). That’s me trying to will the words up! Out of my brain! It’s totally involuntary. There’s no benefit that comes out of it, but that’s what happens. Watch that scene and it looks like I’m trying to get off the ground. And watch Rick because Rick was so so good to me. It’s like I said, if I’m doing fine or whatever, he’s going to figure out how Jack O’Neill would take this which is pretty much wander down another hallway and then come back. All sorts of stuff like this. But he knew that anything he would do on the side was just doing to distract me and make the situation worse. He’d never seen this look before on my face, I think. So if you watch him when he’s walking down the hallway, he’s almost walking not to make any noise, like this (shows us, hand in his pocket, looking down, stepping softly). Which you never see him do a whole heck of a lot of. He was trying to be supportive as the actor who’s in the scene and got it a lot easier can be. And he wants to go home too. So that was probably the hardest experience I think I ever had on that show.”

Bruce Campbell plays Sam Axe on Burn Notice, and has been seen and heard in genre TV since 1972. How was to work with Bruce Campbell? “Bruce is great. We only really worked together in one scene. We saw each other in passing after that but had a great 3 or 4 hour conversation while we were making that once scene and it had a lot to do with similar experiences. One of the good versions of the story was about trading stories about filming in Bulgaria. Have any of you guys scene his new movie, They Call Me Bruce? Or My Name is Bruce. Sorry, They Call Me Bruce, that’s another movie. My Name Is Bruce, I can’t wait to see it. I just remember one of the lines, great lines from the trailer is, ‘Can you handle it? Can you handle it?’ ‘(impersonating Bruce) Kid, I shot a movie in Bulgaria. I can handle anything.’ We had a lot of great experiences to talk about in terms of being in genre TV and things like that, so he’s a really great down to Earth guy and I had a lot of fun working with him. He was just off after we were done with the season to go do a tour with his movie and everything like that so he’d given me a lot of advice about doing your own productions and things like that. He’s a really good guy.”

Someone asked a question about the new StarTrek movie – possibly what Michael thought of the fact that they are using younger actors to portray the same characters – and Michael said, “I’ve only seen part of the trailer so I’m not entirely sure, and everything that what’s-his-name touches turns into gold these days, so [someone calls out J.J. Abrams]. No, that’s not who I’m thinking of. (Laughs) Yeah I know. It was funny when – obviously I’m not in the production – when the breakdown for Stargate Universe first came out, though, that was the first thought to go through my head. ‘(Cocks his head, looking at it funny) Didn’t we just mock this?’ I mean, I don’t think Robert Carlyle falls into that category though, so I’m pretty sure that a lot of opinions have changes since then. How many of you guys are looking forward to Universe? [There’s plenty of cheers and applause, but Michael can sometimes be a glass-half-empty kind of guy. He spots the people not cheering] Ooooooo. Little chilly in here. I’ll let the other opinion spollers sit down. Is there going to be some controversy over this show, do you think? [Shouted answers were too mixed to hear what the majority thought] Who’s going to watch it to hate it? (Flings his hand up in the air with a really scary, crazed look on his face) I love people who watch a show to hate it. ‘(Angrily) Did you see him in that? He sucked!’ ‘(Not angrily) It hasn’t aired yet’ ‘(Angrily) Well it’s gonna suck!’”

One more Burn Notice question! Were you actually driving in that chase scene? “No, the stunt guys did a lot of the driving, because there was a whole other unit. We were shooting the main unit stuff and while we were acting they were doing all the car chase stuff. I did get to do a couple of shoots, one which, at the concrete plant, I got to do about three or four laps around the place with the camera on the passenger seat looking up just to see me driving with the scenery going by. I don’t think they ended up using a lot of those shots but God that’s fun! When somebody hands you the car keys for a car that’s not yours, V-Eight engine, and says ‘Drive this really hard, you guys are in a car chase,’ that’s like every little boy’s dream come true! ‘So I can just drive the bag off this thing and if I destroy it, you won’t mind?’ ‘No, it’s production, it’s your job.’ (Shows us his shocked, eyes bugging out, jaw dropping face.) We did an episode on Stargate called ‘The Curse’, and there’s a bunch of scenes where Teryl [Rothery], myself, and Amanda [Tapping] are all driving in this jeep through the desert or whatever. That was another dream come true. We’re out in the sand dunes in Richmond. I got to drive for like eight hours in sand in a sort of souped up SUV old Toyota dune buggy thing. And I was bouncing Amanda and Teryl out of the back of the truck. When you hit dunes, (shows us the car with his hand, going up and down the dunes) you have to gun it as you’re coming out, otherwise you’ll get stuck in the dunes. So you really have to gas it when you nail the dune and come up the other side. So, I killed the alternator in it. They had to actually go out and get another alternator. It’s the most fun when you say, ‘you have to drive this hard! This is important! You Must!’ ‘(Shrinking back) OK!’

“So we did film a little bit of stuff. Most of the interior stuff was shot in what’s called ‘poor man’s process’ which is literally two guys with the projection scene in the background waving bye (waves his hand where the back window would be), and two jack@$$es in the front seat. Well, you feel like a jack@$$ doing this (sits on the edge of his chair, and pretends to drive with an otherwise steering wheel, looking over his shoulder warily, and turning the wheel exaggeratedly with a straining look on his face). And that’s, I mean, I’ve done it. I don’t know, because it’s just more confined. I felt like a jack@$$ doing it on Stargate a lot when you’re in the cockpit of a ship and you’re doing the old (stands up and acts like he’s in a ship taking fire and it about to fall over as he tries to keep his balance). ‘(Impersonating Peter DeLuise again) And then the bombs go off!’ (Keeps fighting to stay on his feet.) You know, the rumble and sparks acting, that’s silly enough. I felt pretty silly at times, doing that as a grown man, falling back and forth with sparks going off. In a car, I didn’t think so, but it feels even sillier, because you’re not even using your imagination. You are in a car, there’s just nothing but the steering wheel, and especially when you’re the passenger, you’re just doing this (in his chair, leans right, leans left bracing himself with his arm, and then sticks his feet out in front of him, pushing himself back into the seat to brace himself). But it cuts together really well, so it dosen’t look out of place at all. It looks perfectly natural. But when you’re doing it, (nods at us) you feel like a moron. It was like an act-long car chase if you put the two of them together. It was really fun.”

I’m pretty sure this was a question about Jack’s reaction in Continuum when Daniel says to him, “your son Charlie killed himself with your gun”. A fan wanted to know what Michael though of how Rick played that. “Yeah, Rick brought a lot of emotion to that part of the thing that I hadn’t seen before, so . . . it was unexpected, is the best way to put it.”

I can’t trace what the question was from this answer, so I’ll just give you the answer! “I really enjoyed Daniel’s integrity as well. That was one of the keys for me. At this point I would make a joke and say that’s one of the differences in us, is that Daniel has a lot of integrity, while I . . . (looks at us funny until we can’t help but laugh at him and he smiles). But actually I won’t joke about that because I come from a family that has a lot of integrity as well, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the character. That he would really stand his ground for what he believed in because that’s kinda how I was raised, so there is a strong parallel there between us, so I really enjoyed that aspect of it. The scene in Unending, I know some people didn’t like it because Daniel was being particularly harsh, but we felt that at that point in the arc that there needed to be some sort of – for there to be that kind of out-of-character coming together at that particular juncture – there needed to be an out-of-character, out of the comfort zone kind of confrontation over the situation, and that’s what it required. I think that in real like that’s kind of how it works sometimes.”

Oh sadness! We’re down to the last question! I’m afraid I can’t trace this one back either – I don’t write down the questions, just the answers, and I can usually work backwards to get the question, but not always! I can tell you it was asked by a young boy! So the last thing that Michael had to say before leaving was about working with RDA and Amanda Tapping. Before saying anything though, he quickly ran and stuck his head through the curtain behind the stage . . . to see if Amanda was there! He comes back, shrugs, and says, “She’s not even here, I can’t even send it up. It was great. Richard is a lot of fun. He’s a very funny man in real life. A lot of the really funny sequences that he did were of his own invention. He made them up himself, some of the funny stuff. And Amanda is a dear to work with. She’s very smart, she’s very funny, she likes a good laugh. She’s very mom-ish to all us kids on set. She was like the big sister to the three petulant brats. Rick and Chris and myself were so um, um, it kept us in line a lot of the time but they’re both very funny, very nice people.”

Thanks a lot Michael, for all the wonderful stories! It’s no wonder he’s such a big favorite on the convention circuit, is it? I mean, who wouldn’t like this guy? He’s blatantly honest, he’s a great story teller, and . . . well, he’s just cool! Thanks Michael! WormholeRiders will see you again in Chicago!

Last but in no way least, we hear from our final guest. The amazing Amanda Tapping comes with old stories and new to tell!

Alyssa

2 thoughts on “Michael Shanks: Beware of Unleashed Actor

  1. Pingback: Michael Weston
  2. Great job as usual PlayItGrand!!! You captured Michael’s personality perfectly!

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