Close Up With David Hewlett

David Hewlett, the actor behind the ever-irritating and indeed, irritated, Dr. Rodney McKay, is enjoying his first period of ‘down time’ since filming on Stargate Atlantis’ fifth season began. According to Hewlett, McKay is having quite a time of it this year – and he’s happy to tell us all about it.

“It’s been amazing,” he says, with obvious enthusiasm. “I’ve got my first break; there’s an episode, ‘Whispers’, where I just have a couple of cute little scenes with the lovely and talented Paul McGillion, so I’ve actually had a few days off. But it’s been amazing. The episode I’m most excited about so far is called ‘The Shrine,’ which we’ve just finished shooting. It’s Brad Wright’s triumphant return to writing scripts for Atlantis, and it’s just great. It’s a really meaty McKay episode, but the great thing about Brad is that he may write episodes that are kind of McKay-centered, but he’s so good at bringing in all the other characters as well. So it’s just a great ensemble piece where I get to do some acting,” he laughs. “I love running around shooting things and techno babble and all, but it’s just nice to go, ‘Wow, I actually have to act…’ I can’t just have fun I actually have to do some serious work!”

Though ‘The Shrine,’ (which sees McKay have to deal with losing the genius mental capacity that has made him so invaluable to Atlantis) is a particular highlight so far, there have already been plenty of other adventures to keep Hewlett occupied. “I guess upstairs has something to prove,” he says with a laugh. “They’re knocking them out of the park this year, there’s non-stop stuff going on.”

Of course, the season opens with the resolution of the cliff hanger that saw the team trapped in a collapsed building, and getting out of that was never going to be a piece of cake, especially for McKay.

“It was one of those ones where, when we first walked in I was like, ‘How the hell are they going to pull this off?’ They were trying to build this destroyed tower in a studio. Then we got in there and started looking at it, and it’s unbelievable. We had little flames flickering in the foreground and these giant columns lying there – it was pretty neat. That was kind of fun,” Hewlett reports, “it was me and Kavan [Smith] stuck in a little air pocket, trying to get ourselves out.” The thought of McKay being stuck in a confined space with anyone is a worrying proposition, let alone with a career soldier like Major Lorne… “Lorne is just the opposite of McKay. Lorne’s this no complaints, do-the-job, sturdy soldier type, versus McKay who makes a meal out of everything. It is quite a fun dynamic, so hopefully they’ll pursue that a bit more.”

Stargate Atlantis‘ fifth year sees a wealth of cast changes and additions, two of which will mean a notable difference for McKay – Richard Woolsey and Jennifer Keller. Interestingly though, Hewlett points out that as far as Woolsey goes at least, McKay might experience something akin to a meeting of minds.

“It’s an odd one,” the actor muses, “because McKay doesn’t really know Woolsey. He’s worked with him and certainly been irritated by him, and in alternate realities has had a couple of run-ins with him. But in this reality it’s strange. You know, he’s a bureaucrat. And McKay understands bureaucrats because up until Atlantis, he kind of was one. He’s the academic version of a bureaucrat; he wants everything by the book, by the things that he’s read. So there’s this weird sense of complete and utter disgust at the fact that he’s taking over, but at the same time, he’s not going to argue with someone who takes the safer route through things.” Hewlett laughs, “McKay’s generally not the one to leap into the fray! So I think there’s a sort of begrudging agreement. It puts McKay in a strange position, because he somehow sees himself somewhere between Sheppard and Woolsey. Somewhere in between those two, there’s a McKay, because McKay definitely has to dial up the hero thing once in a while, but for the most part he’s probably more Woolsey than Woolsey.”

Where Dr. Jennifer Keller is concerned, however, it’s an entirely different story. Could it be that season five will see McKay struggling through yet another hopeless relationship with a member of the opposite sex?

“They are definitely pursuing that,” chuckles Hewlett, regarding the tenuous connection that was established between the two characters in season four. “It’s very funny. McKay just can’t have a normal relationship. It definitely comes up in ‘The Shrine,’ and there’s another one that we’re going to be shooting, called ‘Tracker,’ which will be really fun because that’s going to have some Ronon and McKay stuff, basically addressing what has become a love triangle. It’s Ronon and McKay out in the woods the whole time, so that could be humorous. There’s definitely a begrudging friendship there, it’s obvious from episodes gone by, like me healing his wounds when I had the power to do that. Ronon seems to be very good at getting to and judging the core of people – unless he’s being misled by his friends. I think he knows that McKay is not a bad person at the core, he’s just bad at showing it. And bad at doing anything that involves any physical dexterity!”

It’s clear that, five years into Stargate Atlantis‘ run, Hewlett has no desire to move on, at least not just yet. With plenty to explore in McKay’s life, and a lot going on in his own (Hewlett’s first child was born in October), it seems that the actor is happy to carry on exploring the Pegasus galaxy for a while to come.

“The scary thing is I feel like I’ve learned a lot from McKay. People always laugh when I say this, but I’m actually quite shy and retiring. I’m not really good with people, I’m not really good in first impressions, I’m not very good at social scenes. And McKay’s kind of given me this like ‘Well, they all hate me anyway’ attitude,” he laughs. “It’s given me the freedom to get out of my skin a bit, and it’s given me a certain confidence. And also, to be fair, as an actor, there’s a confidence in having a regular job. One of the hardest things as an actor is to not base how you feel on whether you’re working or not, because so much of your time as an actor is spent not working. But when you’ve got a job like this, and especially a character like this who is so much fun to play, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.”

Interview  courtesy of the Official Stargate Website