Whenever my career draws to its inevitable conclusion, I’ll be able to reflect back on the many fond memories of my time in “the business“. I‘ve had good times, bad times, and everything in between. That said, the high point for me were the years I spent working on Stargate: SG-1. They were memorable for a number of reasons, but chiefest among them were the incredibly talented and wonderfully generous people I was fortunate enough to collaborate with over the course of those seven years: my fellow writer-producers (especially Brad and Rob who gave us our first shot and showed us the ropes), the directors, the crew, and, of course, the cast – specifically, that core team of Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O’Neill), Amanda Tapping (Samantha Carter), Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson), and Christopher Judge (Teal’c). These four were a pleasure to deal with both on and off the set and, in the ten years the show was on the air, they made fans of, not only the viewers at home, but the people they worked with as well. A couple of weeks back, I wrote: “If you want to get the real story and truly separate the princes from the pricks and the beauties from the bitches, then get to know the men and women who spend the greater part of their days on set with these people…”.
Yes, the crew is the ultimate bullshit detector. Their exposure to actors isn’t limited to the t.v. interviews and convention appearances in which everyone is on their very best behavior (ie. Fan #1: “Wow! I met Charles Manson who was out promoting his new book! He took a picture with me and talked about his family! He is such a sweet guy!”). They are with these people 12-16 hours a day, 5 days a week, 6-7 months a year (and, the case of SG-1, 10 years!). They know them better than they do their own wives, husbands, and significant others. So what did the crew think of team SG-1 after all that time? Did they respect them? Are you kidding? Yeah, they respected them. Hell, they loved them! Every time any of them made a return visit, be it for the SG-1 movies, or a guest spot on Atlantis, the set was a veritable love fest. Everyone was all smiles and the positive energy carried over into the episode itself. It was – and I hate to say it – like a family reunion.
I hate to say it because, all too often, I hear people liken the casts of certain shows to families. “They’re like family.” or “They’re one big happy family.” Yeah, sure, to the uninitiated they may seem like family but, when you’re in the business, you become privy to the real behind-the-scenes drama behind numerous productions and, while there are some great family-like relationships between the cast members of some shows, this is usually exception rather than the rule.
In spite of what some would have you believe, I refuse to bullshit. If I like something or someone, you’ll know. And if I don’t like something or someone, you probably won’t know only because, as my mother would say: If you can’t say something nice about someone…keep your mouth shut. But when it comes to Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks, and Chris Judge – I have plenty to say. They’re talented, hardworking, and generous professionals who cared deeply about the show, their characters, and the people around them. And when I think about these four, certain memories crop up that, personally, capture the essence of who they are.
In the case of Rick, it was the very first day we met. I was settling into my office, putting my Simpsons toys up on the shelves, keeping an eye on my pug Jelly who I’d brought in for the afternoon, when THE Richard Dean Anderson poked his head into the doorway and welcomed me to Stargate. He noticed my collectibles and, being a fan of the show as well, he started to talk about his affinity for The Simpsons. At one point, I turned away to set up my laptop, said something, then turned back – only to discover he wasn’t there anymore. I was briefly stunned, wondering when he’d left and if I’d said something to offend – then glanced down and realized he hadn’t left at all but was down on the floor, playing with Jelly. I’ve always been of the opinion that anybody who loves dogs has to be a good person at heart and Rick, the original Dog Whisperer, is a perfect example.
In the case of Amanda, it was the day my auntie Antoinette came to visit. Now I rarely go to set, partly because I’m usually up in my office working, but mainly because I don’t want to bother the actors while they’re working. But, on this particular day, my aunt had come to visit and really wanted to see the sets. So, we went down to one of the stages where they were in the process of shooting a scene. We hung back and watched Amanda finish up an exchange with a guest star. When the director called “Cut!”, signaling it was okay to move around (ie. slip away before the cameras started rolling again), I was about to steer my aunt away when Amanda walked over, all smiles, and greeted us. She introduced herself to my aunt and then spent a good twenty minutes happily chatting with her before she was called away for some hair and make-up touches. I was truly impressed by that display of genuine kindness and, to this day, my aunt still mentions the day she “talked with Amanda” as though they were two old friends.
In the case of Michael, it was late in season six, the Jackson-less year. Like me, Michael is a passionate individual, and its this passion that makes him such a hugely talented actor. I look back over his body of work on the show and am amazed, and frankly, a little pissed off, that he hasn’t been recognized for some truly remarkable performances. Of course, that has everything to do with the bullshit nature of the Canadian awards systems that punishes Stargate for having the audacity to be: a) science fiction (and thus, not to be taken seriously), b) an American production (even thought almost everyone working on the show is Canadian), c) a west-coast production (as opposed to the far more deserving east coast productions). Anyhoo, Michael is a passionate individual and he won’t bullshit you. If he doesn’t like something or disagrees with you, he’ll let you know. And back in season five, he let us know. And I disagreed and let him know. So, anyway, Fondy and I were downtown one night when we ran into Michael and Chris. I hadn’t seen him since season four and wondered how he’d react. Would he chew my ear off? Slug me? Ignore me and walk off? Try: none of the above. He bought a round of shooters and we rechristened our working relationship through his generosity and the magic that is Jack Daniels. A class act.
In the case of Chris, it was actually a post-SG-1 incident. Early Atlantis’s fourth season, the character of Samantha Carter leaves the SGC to assume a command position in the Pegasus Galaxy. I was working on the script in which Carter says goodbye to the life she knew and, for it to work, I needed someone to see her off – a touchstone representative of her time on SG-1. I approached Chris Judge but was somewhat hesitant since we hadn’t budgeted for a big guest spot. He’d be in one scene, a cameo, and would be looking at a nominal fee. Well, before I could even get into money discussions, Chris smiled and told me he’d be happy to help out in any way he could. End of discussion. That demonstration of generosity and loyalty neatly encapsulates the kind of guy Chris Judge is – and it pretty much guaranteed him a return engagement in a later episode, Midway, in which we thanked him for that cameo with a kick-ass guest spot.
So all this to say that, yes, it IS like a family reunion whenever I run into any of them. I miss writing for the show, miss writing for their characters, and just plain miss them in general. Chris dropped by the office the other day and it was great to see him. And, when I asked him if he’d be up for a fan Q&A, he was, not surprisingly, good to go. “It’s simple,”I told him. “I gather the fan questions and send them your way. You can pick and choose among them, answer the ones you like, then send them back my way and I’ll post as part of a special Chris Judge entry.”
“Too complicated,”was his response. “Just take me to lunch.”
Done and done. All I have to do now is find a way to slot that lunch into his busy schedule.
But, in the meantime, another big announcement: I was exchanging emails with the lovely Amanda Tapping and I asked her whether she might be interested in doing a fan Q&A. Well, I’m happy to report that she’s more than happy to visit with us. And with production on Sanctuary’s second season poised to begin soon, she has a rare/brief window of calm before the inevitable storm. So…
If you’ve got questions for Amanda Tapping, start posting. But please avoid duplicating questions that have already been asked. Be concise and let’s avoid burying Amanda under the inevitable avalanche of well-wishes and meandering queries.