Close Up With Bill Byre

Bill Nye, better known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is in no way bothered by the fantastical elements of science fiction. So when he was asked to guest star on the Stargate Atlantis episode ‘Brain Storm’, he jumped at the opportunity.

“Many of us [scientists] you will find were inspired by science fiction,” said Nye. “Science fiction is a large reason we proceed science. Not universally, not everyone you’ll ever meet, but many scientists are inspired by the classic television shows, Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek … and The Outer Limits. These were really influential science fiction shows where you try to imagine what’s possible. Science fiction inspires you because you use your imagination with science. What’s not to love about that?! It’s really cool. It’s fun to be part of.

“In my episode, if I may call it my episode, I was very pleased indeed that it’s kinda cool science fiction where we’re trying to solve global climate change by shipping heat to another part of the universe at another time. Anyway, old science fictions didn’t have climate change. This is a new and crazy kooky thing then isn’t it? Making it, if I may, even more fun!

“It was cool science fiction because the whole idea, what we all want to do in life is violate the second law of thermal dynamics. I mean, if I may, who doesn’t? The second law of thermal dynamics is a big deal. And in this episode we flout it!

“And we did pyro; we had pyrotechnic effects. Come on! It was fun … and it was no trouble at all for me to really imagine it. I mean, I had no trouble. And I thought the premise was just outstanding – that freeze lightning. I thought that was just cool. If you could somehow concentrate heat and then exclude it. It was just a cool idea. If you could control heat the way you control a beam of light. We can in a limited extent in infrared, but this took it to another level.”

Nye also relished the chance to work alongside old friend Neil deGrasse Tyson in a different capacity. Tyson, an astrophysicist, and Nye have served on the board of The Planetary Society together for almost 10 years.

“Working with Neil was a blast!” Nye exclaimed. “Neil had never really done any acting … I was quite charmed by how seriously he took it, and frankly, what a good job he did. I thought that was wonderful.”

Nye insisted he had a blast running around in a tux for a week. When asked about his planetary themed bow tie, Nye exclaimed, “I brought that! And Neil brought his. It’s the nerds, man; showing up with our gear.”

Tyson and Nye weren’t the only guest stars recruited for ‘Brain Storm’. Veteran comedic actor Dave Foley also came on board to play Rodney McKay’s academic nemesis, Malcolm Tunney. Nye was thrilled to work with Foley.

“Oh god, he’s a riot!” Nye exclaimed. “I mean, he’s Kids in the Hall. He’s the real deal. I mean, he’s a majorly comic actor. Very professional.”

Nye was even more impressed with Foley when it came time to film a scene where Nye had to slap him.

“He [Foley] goes, ‘Now you got to really slap me or it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t look right, Bill, unless you really slap me.’ Dave? Really? ‘Oh yeah, you got to really do it.’ So we would work the scene right up to that moment over and over, right? And then I let him have it, and it was cool. And then the makeup woman shows up to kind of hide it for a few minutes. You know, people of our ancestry, the red shows for quite a while. But I really did slap him.”

Of course there was no real malice behind the scene with Foley, but Nye did his best to goad David Hewlett in a scene where Nye questions McKay’s academic achievements as of late.

“At one point David Hewlett and I really got mad at each other; or felt like it,” said Nye. “It’s really fun as an actor when you get a rise out of the other actor. That’s your goal. That’s what you want as an actor. And then that will generally produce an effect in the audience.”

“He’s a good guy. God he works hard, man,” Nye says of Hewlett as he tries to do his best McKay impression. “You try talking that fast. I mean, I can’t possibly talk that fast. He’s amazing. Rodney McKay is just talking a million miles a minute all the time. With these crazy complicated words he’s got to deliver. It’s charming.”

In a room full of scientists, Hewlett’s character wasn’t the only one delivering massive amounts of techno-speak. Even so, Nye found he was no match for the great Rodney McKay.

“When it was my turn to make up some math stuff, I really wanted to get in convolution integrals where the boundary conditions are functions of time, but I just couldn’t talk fast enough.”

One gag in the episode was everyone’s disbelief that Dr. Keller could be McKay’s date. Nye says it took a lot of concentration on his part to make sure he could whistle when Dr. Keller walks away after their initial meeting.

“Remember when Bill Nye first meets Dr. Keller? [whistles] I had to take a sip of water almost before each take, almost, to make sure I could whistle. And that was charming yes? Hilariously charming.

“Jewel is a delight. She comes to play. Okay I’m a doctor today I’m going to make you cry. ‘Suck it up you guys!’” Nye laughs. “And she’s really good. It was really fun.”

Nye had the privilege of guest starring in the first ever Martin Gero joint. Gero wrote and directed ‘Brain Storm’, and Nye had nothing but good things to say about his director.

“He is fantastic. I’ve told everyone, I’m so impressed with that guy. That kid is going to go a long way. I really enjoyed working with him. You’re never supposed to say your favorite, but boy, as an actor he really looked out for you and gave you good advice and kept it moving. Let it be light when it needed to be light let it be heavy when it needed to be heavy … I predict he will be very successful. I think the guy is brilliant. He has discipline and the eye, and the sense of humor and sensibility. I think he’ll go a long way.”

“It was really fun. I don’t know if I said that 35 times already, but it was really fun.”

Interview courtesy of the official Stargate Website