In a recent interview conducted by Sci-Fi, Ben Browder and Michael Shanks discuss the up and coming Stargate The Ark Of Truth.
When Stargate SG-1 left the airwaves last year, the series left viewers clamoring for more SG-1. The show also left behind a slew of dangling plot lines revolving around the ongoing battle with the Ori and their armies of followers.
This week’s release of Stargate: The Ark of Truth —the first of two original, direct-to-DVD movies —promises to wrap up many of those dangling elements, balancing peril with perseverance. We step through the Stargate once more with Michael Shanks (SG-1‘s Dr. Daniel Jackson) and Ben Browder (Col. Cameron Mitchell) as they share their perspectives on the making of Ark.
Ben Browder, are you satisfied with how it wraps up the final years of SG-1?
Browder: The question of satisfaction with the wrapping up of the show, I think that lies in the hands of the audience, not with a relative latecomer like myself. There’s so much information, and such a plethora of mythology and storyline within 10 years of Stargate, that I don’t think you can entirely wrap it up [in a single movie], nor do I think is that the intent. So then I guess the question is, does it satisfy the major story arcs of the last couple of seasons of Stargate? I think it does, but nonetheless it’s still a question for the audience. The audience is the most important active ingredient in any story being told.
What was it like, all of you coming back together again after not working together for some time?
Browder: Well, that was just flat-out fun. It’s fun when you think you’ve said goodbye to get back together and to get back into the groove with people that you have a great time with. It’s very easy to slide into a working pattern, and we have such a good time on set that it’s a pleasure.
The fight scenes with Marrick [Currie Graham] look … intense. What were those like to film?
Browder: [laughs heartily] Robert did a great job shooting that. We spent two days actually shooting the fight, from first blow to last blow-up. The amazing thing is, we had not actually rehearsed the fight together in the same room before we got there [laughs]. Which is a startling thing, to be doing a fight that’s that big. We were talking before we were shooting it, and said, “Well, let’s just try not to kill each other.” We managed to get through it without damaging each other. He was great. It was a fun fight scene, but it was exhausting. Two days of that is … I guess there are people who know how to train for that, but they’re usually people who are going into the octagon or something [laughs]. I came out of it and was like, “I haven’t used that muscle in my entire life! Where did that muscle come from? And it’s sore!” Next time, before we train, we go to the octagon: It’s a cage grudge match with Marrick and Mitchell.
Did you get any coaching on the choreography at all?
Browder: We were working with fight choreographers on and off for the previous years on Stargate, so obviously we covered some ground. And the history of running fights goes back to my days in drama school. We did quite a bit of it on Farscape, and we did a fair amount of it on Stargate. So I’m not completely out of my own depth when it comes to fight scenes. But every fight scene is different. You’re adding on what you’ve done before; every time there’s something new. It’s a pseudo-athletic performance event, and a tremendous amount of fun. It appeals to the boyish nature in me.
It feels like Mitchell is having fun in this movie.
Browder: Really? [Laughs.] Well, that’s Robert Cooper. From the very beginning, Coop wanted Mitchell to be having fun. That he was the one who had fun with going through the gate, he was the one who had fun going to new worlds, and he was the one who had fun getting his ass whupped. And I like that about Mitchell, so I’m glad that it came through in the movie. After two seasons and a movie, I finally got it right.
Everybody had something in this movie. It was nice to see that every character had their moment; no one ended up in the back corner.
Browder: No, nor should that happen. Within the cast itself, between Daniel, Vala, Carter, Mitchell, Teal’c and Landry, you have full-blown characters that somebody out there wants to see. I think it’s important from a storytelling perspective that, in a movie that’s a follow-on to the series, that you do give those characters their moments, and I think Robert went to great pains to do that in the script.
Mitchell really took charge with this mission —he took the big chair, so to speak.
Browder: I think that after two years, Mitchell is far more comfortable with his position within the course of the team —as he should be. It is a development from the first season, where, in comparison to the rest of the team, he’s quite obviously out of his depth. Yet, theoretically, he’s in a position of responsibility. Over the course of the two years and into the movies, I think he’s grown into that position and he’s very comfortable with it. There’s an ease about him as he develops, which is probably more true to the character; it’s just difficult to do that in the very beginning, when you walk in and you’re dealing with what are essentially legendary characters within the mythology of the show. Because if you walk in straight off the streets and you start ordering around these legendary characters, both from an audience perspective and a storytelling perspective, it’s going to ring as false. Or it’s going to ring as hubris. And I don’t think that was ever part of Mitchell’s character.
If you followed the hierarchy of military command in the strictest sense, you end up with a character who looks a bit like a fool. Even experienced officers know when they walk into a unit, the first thing they have to do is pay attention to their NCOs who actually run the unit. Certainly in the case of SG-1, with Teal’c and Daniel, who are not military, obviously, and with Carter, who is of equal rank, it’s a foolish notion to think that Mitchell is going to control things. Having said that, he does have that nominal title, and by the time he gets to the early, certainly the latter part of season 10 —that’s a big number, season 10 —Mitchell’s comfortable with what he needs to do within the team. And I think it does develop in the movie as well.
What was it like filming this movie and the next one, Stargate: Continuum, at the same time?
Browder: There was very little overlap between filming the two movies. You had a few days to catch your breath in between the two movies. It was great to shoot them back to back.
Did that help you get into the groove and stay there?
Browder: Yes, but when it ended, it felt like we’d just started, because the run of a season, if you start in February, you’re only through the first inning of your run. So there was a sense of getting to the end of the films —and at that point the equivalent shooting time would be four or five episodes —and you’d think we should be going for another six months, and then you’re saying goodbye again. So from that point in time, it felt very short and very quick.
Michael Shanks, were you satisfied with how Ark wrapped up the outstanding bits of the Ori storyline?
Shanks: It’s almost like you want to take the six episodes or eight episodes of season 10 that were devoted to just the Ori story, and do more of those —just eight hours, a mini-series if you will, of resolving the Ori storyline. After two years of building these guys up, [Ark’s fewer than] two hours seems a really short period of time, a really short-handed way of finishing them off. I would have liked to have seen more-that’s the best way to put it.
Did everything feel bigger somehow?
Shanks: Definitely. Even though we were with the same group of people we’ve been with for years, the care and time being taken [on the film], everybody’s reverence with the process was much more than usual. We’re very used to having a loose group and shooting things on the fly —and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but if it’s 80 percent [there], that’s good enough, and we’re moving on because we have to. In this, the care was taken, the time was taken, this has to be right. It was well thought out, well written and well executed, and the time was there [to do that], a little bit more time than usual. There was a reverence to the craft that hadn’t been there for a long time.
What was your favorite scene in Ark?
Shanks: Gee, that’s hard to say. Selfishly, I really enjoyed the opening stuff with Claudia [Black], because it was one of the few times, even in the last year of the series, where we got to actually do a little bit of bantering back and forth. I enjoyed the scene, just for pure selfish reasons, working-wise, with Morgan le Fay in the prison sequence, because that conversation had been a long time coming with the character. In terms of favorite scenes overall, I don’t really have [one]. There are some great visual sequences; I really enjoyed the final confrontation. All of the action stuff is cool, too.
The prison scene provides a seminal moment for Daniel Jackson —as if his whole past were leading up to this point.
Shanks: With the character, it’s about the evolution —and this is something I’ve enjoyed playing for the last few years —from when the character died and became an ascended being. The unanswered question of what happened to him was always lingering out there. And why he decided to come back was something that was dealt with, and then everybody moved on. For me, to just inhabit that character, I always have to be asking the questions of what did happen to him and what does he recall and what has he taken from that, what’s important and what’s not. The logical question is “How do you put the character on train tracks?”
There were a couple of scenes in the past where he’d questioned another [ascended] character, called Oma Desala. Why didn’t she interfere, why doesn’t she help? And then with this character, Morgan le Fay, in an episode in the 10th season called “The Pegasus Project,” he confronts her directly, and he’s saying that these people [the Ori] are going to basically take you out as well —don’t just help us, help yourselves and join this fight, and she still refuses to do it.
What did you draw on when it came time to film that raw, emotion-driven moment in the prison?
Shanks: I think that, as opposed to continuing to have that conversation [with the ascended beings] —and especially in that same confrontational tone —for the character anyway, it came from a place he was at: It was over, he’s done, he can’t fight anymore. Before there was fight in him, he was going to fight his fight, and he knew he needed some help. And now he’s done everything he can; they’re losing, they’re being tortured, they’re near death. And there’s nothing more he can do to fight —this is where he needs help. This time, as opposed to continuing to be angry about it, this was a plea. And that was the reason why I enjoyed playing that, because finally he got to find a way to get through to these people, in a way that wasn’t just doing the same, “C’mon, help us. Help us. Please help us. Help us. Help us.” This was like [voice changes to a more desperate tone] “Jesus Christ, help us.” I think anybody that —I hate to say it, it sounds trite, and I didn’t treat it as trite —has ever prayed to God for something that was very important to them, well, that’s where I put myself, that’s where I drew from for it [in that scene]. It was about asking for help. From God. In this specific case, it was a science-fiction character that was a godlike figure, but I think anyone that has ever been in the position to pray for something can understand that emotion.
It’s a bit shocking to see a member of SG-1 give up hope.
Shanks: Yeah, that’s the thing, absolutely —especially with Daniel, who’s always been the character who’s been the beacon of hope and the believer in the best of human nature and others. To see him looking like he’s about to give up, in terms of being a climactic turning point, perhaps that’s what gets this person —this being or creature —to help. To see where this has gone and how weak [SG-1 has] become and how they really do need some help for a change. So that was a nice beat to play. It’s a flipping point in the film, but it’s also an honest and sincere beat, not only for the character but for myself.
Was there anything you would have liked to explore with Daniel in the series, but didn’t have a chance to?
Shanks: You know, I could find things in his backstory. The more I look at the character and what his backstory is, the character has always been an explorer. In my imagination, he’ll always be that way. He lives out there, traveling among the stars; he’s never going to stop. Is there anything I’d have liked to have seen? Hey, Daniel will be going over to Atlantis this year, which I want him to do again. And in my imagination beyond that, he’ll always still be traveling everywhere else. I’ve gotten a lot of chances throughout the show to do many different things with the character, and I love the fact that I don’t have to feel unsatisfied. I can just close my eyes and picture him out there, doing whatever he wants to do —and be satisfied with that.