Stargate Atlantis-related interviews with Joe Flanigan, written or video, originally posted during the show being shot and aired for the first time (2004-2009).
Interview Rewind: Joe Flanigan
By Blaine Kyllo, August 12, 2011
This interview was originally published in 2008 and is presented again here to mark the release of Stargate: Atlantis – The Complete Series on Blu-ray (reviewed here).
Joe Flanigan, who plays John Sheppard on Stargate Atlantis, is a funny guy. But he has a dry sense of humour, so when he’s telling a joke it takes a moment to register because the only cue to the fact that he’s just said something funny is a slight shift in the cadence of his speech.
In talking with journalists at Vancouver’s Bridge Studios in May, he kept the group so relaxed and at ease that the 30 minutes seemed less like an interview session and more like a group of people hanging out at the pub. Flanigan talked about the sorry state of the action-adventure genre in the medium of television and why he prefers the Wraith to the Replicators.
CinemaSpy: Would you consider Sheppard to be old fashioned?
Joe Flanigan: No, I’d never consider him to be old fashioned. Old school?
CinemaSpy: I’m referring to the relationship with Teyla. Sometimes there’s an old fashioned treatment of Teyla, do you not think?
Joe Flanigan: What’s old fashioned? What do you mean?
CinemaSpy: Well, she’s pregnant so you don’t want her to go on missions. That felt old fashioned to me.
Joe Flanigan: As opposed to putting a pregnant woman in the middle of battle.
CinemaSpy: Or letting her decide for herself what she can and cannot handle.
Joe Flanigan [laughs]: I don’t write this stuff, remember? I act it. I think, actually, that there’s a protective thing regarding . . . I don’t think anybody’s ever seen it that way before, but if it’s old fashioned. . . . I don’t think it’s old fashioned. If a woman’s pregnant you’ve got to make sure she’s out of physical harm. Seems like a pretty logical thing, doesn’t it?
CinemaSpy: It’s protective.
Joe Flanigan: But wouldn’t it be considered insanely responsible to stick a pregnant woman in the middle of battle? I don’t see it that way. What I found in that particular storyline with her being pregnant and wanting to go and not wanting to go, what I found – actually Rachel and I both found – we were like, “This is so tedious.” It actually plays as an impatient kind of thing, which was more interesting. I said it to her and we made a choice, I said, “I think I should be really tough on you and impatient because I’m tired of asking whether you want to stay or go.” I don’t think he’s old fashioned. He might be a little old school. When it comes to men and women and their relationships and the military, no, I think he’s pretty modern. [pause] I just want you to know that when I was pregnant, I was in battle. I went to war.
Question: Ever since you were stuck in that cell with Todd [a Wraith played by Chris Heyerdahl], you guys have had a really interesting relationship. How would you describe that dynamic and where does it pick up this season?
Joe Flanigan: With Todd the Wraith? [pause] There’s a Todd and a Bob and a Steve, and now this year there’s a Ken. Ken was a weird one. I was like, “Where’s the Barbie?” [pause] We pick up with Todd and try to come to some type of a deal, an agreement, where he can help us and we can supposedly help him. Surprisingly, it backfires. Which makes a very interesting 44-minutes of entertainment: When plans go badly. That’s what we just finished shooting, and Chris Heyerdahl, who plays that character as usual – he plays a lot of different Wraith, he’s one of our best Wraith, if not the definitive Wraith. Much to his chagrin, ‘cause he’s a great actor. I think we should introduce him as himself on the show somehow. We just generally have fun with those characters. It’s an interesting thing, the only thing we try to keep an eye out for is not becoming so familiar.
Question: Yeah, it’s not like you’re drinking buddies.
Joe Flanigan: Exactly. Or that there’s a freaky element to it and that we’re always adversarial in that on any given moment we’d like to clearly kill each other. So no love lost.
CinemaSpy: I’ve read you say that you’d like to see episodes that explore Sheppard’s background a little more. Do you have a particular idea of what his background should be?
Joe Flanigan: Well, yeah, I do. We did part of that in “Outcast” [Season 4]. “Outcast” was a story that I came up with. My original idea was that Ronon and I have to go back to Earth because Replicators have infiltrated the population and they are insidious because you can’t distinguish who’s who. But basically us running around civilian areas blowing things up. And they liked that idea and wove some backstory into that regarding my father passing away. I think the episode turned out pretty well and I think they are going to return to that. If I’m not mistaken – and you really should talk to the experts, who are the writers and producers, on the issue – they say on our hundredth episode we’re going to Vegas. And I think that if we’re in Vegas it’s because there’s aliens there, right? What better way to spend a weekend in Vegas? Killing aliens.
Question: That’s the season finale for the year, right?
Joe Flanigan: It is the season finale, too.
CinemaSpy: Vegas? Now, practically, how do you do that?
Joe Flanigan: Well, you’ve got to walk away from the blackjack table. Save the galaxy.
CinemaSpy: No, shooting the thing.
Joe Flanigan: Shooting Replicators in Las Vegas?
CinemaSpy: Are they going to send second unit down there to shoot sequences?
Joe Flanigan: Why can’t we shoot main [unit]?
CinemaSpy: Really? Actually go to Vegas?
Joe Flanigan: Sure. We’re going to Vegas, man. Actually, Jason and I were all excited and high-fiving, “We’re going to kill aliens in Vegas.” And then he found out that he wasn’t in the sequences.
CinemaSpy: So what happens there won’t stay there in this case.
Joe Flanigan: I think we’re going to end the season there. I think the last four days of shooting will be us there.
CinemaSpy: Then the CSI guys will move in.
Joe Flanigan: I think there should be a crossover.
Question: You mentioned Replicators. What are some hints about what we’re going to see in that storyline this season.
Joe Flanigan: Surprisingly, we’ve dealt with a Replicator variation, and the Weir character comes back in this Replicator variation, but we’ve been dealing with more Wraith this season. I personally prefer the Wraith because I think they are more . . . spooky. The Replicators are weird because you’re acting with a regular person, they look very regular. It’s not until they add in the special effects that you realize they are crazy and spooky.
CinemaSpy: So it’s harder to play off of?
Joe Flanigan: It’s a little more challenging, [pause] but I’m old fashioned, in the sense that I like to have bad guys and good guys and I like to be able to tell who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. It’s kind of classic, “There’s a monster, let’s go kill the monster” stuff. The episodes that I find most challenging are the conceptual pieces where you’re in parallel universes and all that stuff, because it is primarily a show that requires a lot of exposition to explain, and it’s challenging from an acting perspective because you’re just dealing in high concept. You have to create urgency out of high concept, versus there’s somebody’s claws going into my chest. Which is, to me, more interesting. It’s also why sci-fi does well, because it can do almost anything. It’s an incredibly flexible format. You can reinvent it in any way you want.
CinemaSpy: One of the keys to Sheppard has been playing off the “boss” of the mission. You’ve got another new boss in Season 5. How is that going to change things for you?
Joe Flanigan: I’ve been introducing that as our “hot new female lead, Robert Picardo [playing Richard Woolsey].” He is interesting because – Robert and I discussed it – we were expecting an adversarial relationship, and it didn’t really work out that way. It was strangely constructive, and that’s generally something I’ve always told the writers we should avoid. People should not get along in shows, they should always not get along because it’s more interesting to watch. We found an interesting moderate form of that which is that he is a little bit of a peacock, and he likes the protocol, he likes to be able to be the person in charge, but in truth when you close the doors he has a certain level of humility and he comes to you for advice because he knows he doesn’t quite know what the hell he is doing. So we’ve had these scenes where it’s kind of a nice relationship. It’s not all that different from the relationship that me and Carter [Amanda Tapping] had. But what I like about Robert’s character clearly has these personality flaws that are fun to watch. Amanda’s perfect. On-screen and off-screen, she’s unflappable and imperturbable. I tried desperately to crack her and I couldn’t.
Question: Robert may have been misadvertised a little bit. You’re not the first person today that’s talked about having a fairly good relationship with him on the show.
Joe Flanigan: The fictional relationship? Yeah. ‘Cause we all hate him in person. [laughs] No, he’s an absolutely great guy. I was having drinks with him last night. It’s an interesting thing and to be honest with you it’s probably smart because if he came in too bombastically, you’ve got already this super-cohesive team, they’d probably take him down. And he has to have some of the sympathy of the audience. There’s only so much you can do in that regard. It would be fun to have a so-called antagonist of the bureaucratic sense. We do need some bureaucrat in there messing with us. We’re missing that.
Question: It’s kind of his role, isn’t it?
Joe Flanigan: Well, a lot of times you introduce these characters and they become acceptable characters. But we need a loathsome bureaucratic personality. There’s so many of them, why can’t we just get one on our show?
Question: Speaking of different characters, everyone always says that there’s something between Sheppard and Teyla. Last season I noticed a spark between you and Jill Wagner’s character, the traveler. Did you notice that, too, and are they going to develop that more this season?
Joe Flanigan: Well, she’s supposed to come back and she’s doing another show. So I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to get her back during our shooting schedule. So what we’ve done is we reinvented that character. Well, we haven’t reinvented it. What we’ve done is she and her group come back, but it’s going to be a different girl that is part of that group. From my understanding, the last I heard, it was going to be Nicki Aycox who is a really good actress. You lose good actors a lot of times. They’ve got other jobs to go to.
Question: That’s too bad, because there was a nice banter between the two characters.
Joe Flanigan: Oh, I thought it was fun. It was a lot of fun. She’s going to do really well. Jill’s great; a lot of fun to work with.
Question: What has you excited about the arc that they’ve created this season?
Joe Flanigan: I think we’ve been emphasizing a lot of action, and I think that I’m always a proponent of action. In fact, I’m proposing that we do a big action episode with no dialogue. Where I’m basically stuck in some world and I’m on my own and there’s nobody to talk to anyway. So you’re stuck and you’re fighting for your life against another beast-like thing.
CinemaSpy: It seems to me that Sheppard would talk to himself in that situation.
Joe Flanigan: Well, he may, but he probably would occasionally talk to himself but the emphasis would be primarily action, action, action, action. Which would be a nice counter to all these high concept, super sci-fi like things. The truth is, it’s funny, our show airs on Action Network, and a number of people that are action fans like our show. Which is a funny little side branch that there are not that many action TV shows. There’s not that many action-adventure TV shows; they are cost prohibitive. So we’re one of the few pretty decent . . . I was watching one – unnamed – show, high visibility network show, and I was astounded at how bad the action was. It was abysmal. The coverage, the quality of the stunts.
CinemaSpy: What show did you say that was?
Joe Flanigan: I’m not going to say. [pause] But I was astounded. Then I thought to myself, “We have definitely one of the better action-adventure shows on the air.” I like action-adventure, and I’ve also really learned to like sci-fi. ‘Cause I didn’t watch sci-fi TV, and now I watch sci-fi TV. So action. I’m all about action. And I think, also, action is great to reach out to mainstream viewers. ‘Cause I’m a little bit simple when I watch TV, and if somebody’s sitting there talking to me, trying to explain something, I generally turn the channel. But if somebody is getting the crap beaten out of them and trying to survive, I’m like, “[giggle] He’s getting his ass kicked. Look at that.”
CinemaSpy: On that note, is Sheppard ever going to learn to get the upper hand on his sparring partners?
Joe Flanigan: No. He can’t compete with Teyla. Is that who you’re talking about?
CinemaSpy: You have some run-ins with Ronon, too.
Joe Flanigan: Yeah, but they’re kind of the martial arts angle.
CinemaSpy: The true training is with Teyla?
Joe Flanigan: I tend to be more of the Harrison Ford vein. [mimics drawing a pistol] “Blam!” That’s pretty much where my skills come in. I have a sloppier, more improvisational approach to winning battles. They are not well choreographed. It’s funny, because [James Bamford], our stunt coordinator, we talked about that. At the beginning of the show he was like, “This guy’s going to be like . . .” and I thought, I don’t think that is the character. I think the character is more regular guy in extraordinary circumstances who just feels like he’s flying by the seat of his pants and he’ll be lucky if he pulls this thing off. As opposed to that [martial artist] guy. It’s fun to have those characters on the show, but I just thought my character is not going to be like that. Chances are in his off time he won’t be sparring, he’ll be drinking beer.
CinemaSpy: Playing golf.
Joe Flanigan: Or playing golf. Yes.
Question: You mentioned getting into the genre now that you’re doing this. What are some of the other genre shows that you enjoy?
Joe Flanigan: Well, I don’t watch a lot of TV. But I like to buy DVDs and watch various shows. It’s really a great way to watch shows. I think a lot of people are realising that. When you watch DVDs, you can watch them right through. I like Entourage. I really liked Deadwood. I would love to do a western. Westerns are also very cost prohibitive. But I would say I watch movies, mostly. And there is some really good television. I don’t watch reality television because it scares me. It frightens me to the depths of my soul.
Joe Flanigan: Because they are real. Real people scare me. I want fabricated people. [pause] No, because I find it unnerving to know so much about people. I’m probably a lone voice in the whole thing. I’m not a big fan of reality television; there’s very little I’ve ever watched. Love documentaries. I just watched Surfwise last night, very interesting, about the Paskowitz family. Interesting. I love documentaries. But for some reason the reality shows strike me as . . . trash. They are, I’m not saying there’s not some interesting ones. And I won’t watch American Idol because the truth is I’m sure I’d get addicted. And I don’t have time for addictions right now.
CinemaSpy: You talked about the action-adventure aspect of the show being one of its popular elements. What other things appeal to people?
Joe Flanigan: I have very specific beliefs. The show is successful because of the chemistry of characters and because I don’t think the show takes itself too seriously. I think that’s really important. I think you can take yourself seriously, and you can say all sorts of profound things and everything can be really dramatic, but you’d better be awfully good. And the odds are you’re better off doing a $150 million science fiction movie that’s serious, but when you’re doing a 44-minute television show for $3 million, then you have to know what your limitations are, and if you come off as very serious and pretentious, and it comes off instead as being, well, pretentious, then I think you lose people. Also, my favourite shows, movies, and TV shows were always – I loved Rockford Files as a kid, I loved all those guys where they were having fun. They’re good guys and they are having fun. For some reason over the last ten years it seems like Hollywood executives have fallen in love with bad people, edgy dark characters because that’s cool. So what they’ve done is they’ve created tonnes of these shows and they’ve all failed. Almost all of them have failed. Even if you go to the Sopranos, the dark character is a good guy. You can call him dark all you want, but the truth is he’s a good guy. And a lot of the shows I’ve seen some very well-known showrunners put up, the characters are just not likable. I think we’re lucky we have likable characters and we also have fun, you see us having fun, we’re making fun of the genre a little bit, we’re making fun of ourselves. Knowing when the adventure is urgent and when it’s kind of funny is important. Comedy and humour are probably the saving grace for us. It allows us to keep going, I think.
CinemaSpy: So if your character is not the best fighter, if he’s not a guy like Jason [Momoa’s] character, where does your character’s inner strength come from? What is it that keeps him going? What is it that drives him if he’s a little irreverent.
Joe Flanigan: [taps his holster]
CinemaSpy: Beyond that.
Joe Flanigan: He’s a good fighter, but truthfully, there’s always somebody stronger. Surviving. [laughs] He wants to live. Remember, most of those situations he’s in, he’s about to die. You’ve got your survival instinct, you also protect other people. The dynamic is always about the team, right? Anytime one of the team members is in trouble, everybody gives up everything they’re doing to go find that and they never give up doing it. That’s a really important thing, that whole loyalty aspect is something that plays very strongly with the audiences. It’s something they really enjoy watching. I think there is a deep sense of loyalty in the character, for sure. It’s a quality I admire. Loyalty is . . . [pause] I sound serious.
Question: Every year they seem to get you in the makeup chair for something.
Joe Flanigan: Some prosthetic?
Question: It’s provided some really good episodes like that one with Todd where you age was amazing. Have you had that this year again?
Joe Flanigan: No, I haven’t. I’m okay with that, it never really bothers me, but every actor who goes through it seems to dread it. Rachel had to do it this year with “The Queen”, and remember she’s breastfeeding. She’s like, “I’m going to have these prosthetics and I’ve got to go breastfeed my child and I look like a monster.” She was really upset about it and they were like, “We’ll make some gloves and maybe a hood for you.” I just thought it was hilarious. I was giving her a hard time. I was like, “No, your child is going to be permanently scarred. You’ll be lucky if he ever wants milk again.” She’s like, “That’s not funny!” I was like, “Well. . . . There are a lot of psychiatrists who can pick up the detritus of this whole tragedy.” But she said that he did remarkably well and breastfed during that whole thing and I said, “Of course, he was starving. It’s latent. It pops up twenty years later. It’s a very destructive form.” It was a lot of fun. It was a really difficult issue for her, understandably. Anytime it’s difficult for somebody we have fun.
Question: We’ve heard there’s an interesting dream sequence between the two of you this season. What’s that about?
Joe Flanigan: Yeah, there is a dream sequence. With a surprise guest star in that dream sequence. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s good. I’ve seen the dailies, but I kind of wait until things are pretty polished to look at the final cut. Because if I watch every cut, it’s like, “Why did they do that?” Sometimes it’s just best to wait for some effects and music to kick in. I think I’m about to die, or something, and I have a dream sequence.
CinemaSpy: What have been some of the other highlights of what you’ve done on Season 5 so far?
Joe Flanigan: I got a new skateboard. My other one fell apart. As far as this season goes with the show, it seems like they’ve got me and Jason working together more, which is always good because that means we’re going to probably do some action. We did one episode where McKay [David Hewlett] loses his, he goes – call it senile, but there’s no real term for it because it is fictional disease. It’s a very good episode. It’s nice to do character pieces with some character development. If you watch the show you’ll realise that a lot of times we’re engaged with some exterior problem on a level where you’re constantly engaged with something and you don’t have time for character development. So when you do get a script that has that it’s kind of nice. And I think everybody did a really amazing job. Everybody has really great moments in that episode.
Space Daddy, GateWorld talks with Joe Flanigan
The first of Joe’s interviews with GateWorld.net, dated December 2004, right after the first 10 episode had been aired, before the “The Eye” premiere in January 2005. However, shooting for the whole first season had been done by the time of the interview. GateWorld’s audio interview with Joe Flanigan is available in MP3 audio format for easy listening (check the original source for the audio file), and is about 31 minutes long. It is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: This is David Read for GateWorld.net. I’m on the phone with Joe Flanigan, Major John Sheppard on Stargate Atlantis. How are you doing, Joe?
Joe Flanigan: I’m doing very good!
GW: Glad to have you with us! Joe, can you tell us about the moment you found out you had won the role of John Sheppard?
JF: Well, there wasn’t exactly a specific moment that I can recall, but it happened within a 24-hour time frame. What happened is my manager was at the Golden Globes, and one of his clients had won a Golden Globe. And the president of MGM Television went up to congratulate him and in the course of this conversation he said, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve got this new series I’m starting and I can’t find my lead guy. Do you know anybody that fits this description?” And he said, “Actually, I do, and why don’t you meet with him tomorrow morning?”
And so I met with him the following morning and it was pretty much a done deal. It happened much more quickly than most auditions come together. It came together really fast. It was relatively painless. We didn’t go through one of these long, lengthy negotiations. It was really nice. It was the type of experience you hope to have.
GW: Rachel [Luttrell, “Teyla Emmagan”] said she went through five or six auditions.
JF: She did, and I was there with her, because I read for her. After that I read with all the other actors who were auditioning for the parts. And, yes, they took her through a much more painful process, so she deserves more.
GW: Right. What was it that they were looking for that MGM just said, “Wow, we’ve got the guy right here?”
JF: You know, it’s hard for me to objectively tell you what it is. But I would probably say that it might be a mix of lightness, a little sarcasm without a little cynicism. It was a fine balance. I knew what they were going for, so for me it was relatively simple. They explained it very well and I knew exactly what they wanted, and it wasn’t very far from a few characters that I’ve played before. So to me it was relatively easy to do that. I guess that’s what they wanted, because they hired me.
GW: Rainbow’s screen test — in some of his dialogue he talks about how Sheppard went back and disobeyed orders from a superior officer, and went back and saved a couple of fallen comrades. But that’s not necessarily canon because it was a screen test, and we didn’t know really much about it. I was wanting to know if you knew, specifically, why Sheppard was so at odds with Sumner, in terms of recognition of authority.
JF: Well, it actually does — it goes back to that specific event, and it is for disobeying direct orders. That’s the back-story. The back-story is, in Afghanistan, there was a situation where a couple of his comrades needed rescuing, and that was a direct — the order was not to rescue them. Sheppard does, and consequently he’s sent unceremoniously to a different post in the Antarctic.
GW: Right, to McMurdo.
JF: Yeah. No! Was it McMurdo, is that where it was? You may know more than me. All I know was it was a big ice thing …
GW: Basically for latrine duty!
JF: You’re right! That’s a good one! [Laughter]
GW: I have to tell you, my dad is a helicopter pilot, and he was absolutely tickled to find out that there was a helicopter pilot leadingAtlantis. He thought that was so cool.
JF: It was also the funnest part to shoot.
GW: Really, to do the flying sequence?
JF: Yeah, that was a blast.
GW: Are you a science fiction fan?
JF: You know, it’s interesting. I’ve been asked that question a lot, and I’ve always said, “No, I’m not really a science fiction fan.” In contrast to the avid science fiction fan, I never considered myself a science fiction fan. But when a lot of people asked me what my favorite movies were, and TV shows, I found myself actually listing, predominantly, science fiction shows. And I realized that really I was a science fiction fan, but for some reason I didn’t see myself like that.
GW: Like, did you define it as something else and like, “Hmm. Maybe I am!”
JF: You know, I defined it as something that was … For one, I missed a lot of the Star Trek craze. And so I pictured Trekkies, people who knew all the details of every show and everything. I, instead, found myself really into things like “Blade Runner” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and a number of other things like that. And in the process I realized that I was a science fiction fan, from a slightly different nature. And now I’m actually a newly converted science fiction fan.
GW: Do your boys get into Atlantis?
JF: My little boys?
JF: Oh. You know, one’s four and a half and one’s two.
GW: Oh, OK. A little too young!
JF: The four and a half year-old, he likes it quite a bit. I’m somewhat selective about which to let him see.
GW: Oh, of course, yeah. There were a couple of those that were …
JF: Because sometimes he’s not quite sure. When I go to work and I walk out the door and jump in the van, he thinks that I actually go out into space and kill bad guys. And the sad thing is I don’t want to dissuade him from that because that’s a fairly heroic thing for a son to think his father does. And pretty soon he won’t have such high opinions of his father … so I want it to last for as long as possible!
GW: So from his point of view Atlantis is real!
JF: Well, he’s been to set. It’s very interesting. I’m fascinated with what actually takes place in his little mind, because I don’t know what he knows is real and what is fiction. He knows there’s work and he knows there’s an actual set. And I’m not sure he knows what’s real and what isn’t.
GW: Well, that should be interesting, to see him grow up with the series in the coming years.
JF: It will be, yeah.
GW: One year of shooting has been completed already. Is the experience, as a whole, different than what you imagined when you first started?
GW: It is?
GW: OK. Have you stopped to think, “Oh, God! What have I gotten myself into?”
JF: Um, yes! [Laughter] I have thought that on a few occasions, but that’s nothing unusual because I’ve thought that on a lot of projects. Science fiction tends to focus on special effects, on sets, on gadgetry and very technical jargon that I’m not used to with my previous projects.
And so I was a little taken back by that on a few occasions, because it became clear to me that we had this big, expensive set that had to be seen, and I had come from the tradition of shooting one-hour dramas where the sets were not that important. What they did is they primarily did close-ups and they dealt with interpersonal tensions and all those types of things. And it was a different animal. It was a little harder to get used to, in that regard.
But then when you see all the pieces put together it was really entertaining. And then I pretty much surrendered to it, and it’s been a lot of fun.
GW: What is your favorite show from this year?
JF: I think, so far, my favorite show is probably “The Storm” and “The Eye,” the two-hour — then the second part being particularly good, which is “The Eye.” And “The Eye” will actually air in January when we return. That’s really good. “Underground” was also really good.
And then we have a few more that are coming up that are really a lot of fun. The more action there is, to me, the better the episode. So I can’t get enough action. I’m always asking for more action. And action is expensive, so you have to be somewhat careful about how much action you can feasibly put into an episode.
And also action is time consuming. So you have a 50-page script, and it’s kind of broken down — or 44 pages, roughly, is what a script is — a minute a page, roughly, if it’s dialogue. But if 10 of those pages are action, you’re probably talking about a much slower pace then a minute a page. So you have all these variables.
But the reason I like action is because we do air all over the world and I think it’s something everybody can relate to. More importantly, I have a lot of fun doing it.
GW: Yeah, “The Eye” — we’ve seen some preview shots for “The Eye.” You definitely get a lot of physical workout in that episode. We’re looking forward for that here in the U.S. We haven’t got it yet though.
JF: That’s the only exercise I actually get!
GW: What is your most poignant memory from this past year? What first comes to mind out of the entire year?
JF: I would say, I think it was the second episode we shot, or the third episode, called “Thirty Eight Minutes.” I was on the floor for eight days shooting the episode, and I had a bug on me. And it was this big, classic, ugly bug that looked, you know, completely phony. It hurt like hell, and I was on my back. And I thought, “Well, I don’t know what the producers are doing but there’s something very sadistic about this.” Because, I mean, I actually die in the episode. I don’t know, we’re getting off to a rocky start here!
And I just thought that it was very funny, sitting there, lying on my back for eight days with a bug on my neck. And you hear people saying things like, “Oh, put more blood on the bug!” It became clear to me that I was actually fully immersed in the science fiction genre at that point. That was a funny moment.
GW: When they pulled that thing off that was absolutely — it grossed me out, and I’ve seen a lot of gory stuff.
JF: It was — I mean people, like I said, it’s remarkable. These guys are really good at what they do. Because if you saw the bug, I mean, we were joking about it. We thought they should take the ACME label off. We thought it was phony and ridiculous, but by the time they got finished with the special effects it looked like a good one. So, you know. What you experience there in reality and what you obviously see on screen are two very different things.
GW: Very different. Right.
JF: Oh, yeah.
GW: Do you have a wish list for Sheppard in year two?
JF: Actually, I don’t so much think in terms of a wish list for the character as I do for the show, because they’re kind of inextricable. I think about Sheppard and the show. I don’t just think about Sheppard — I think they’re just intertwined.
And what I’d like to see the show do, and I think where the show’s going to go, is that the city of Atlantis is essentially the size of Manhattan, and it’s empty. So we get to explore the city, which is really exciting, and there are endless discoveries to make.
And the city actually has a potential. It has a higher cosmic purpose, and it will slowly come to life and fulfill the higher purpose of why Atlantis was built and why it was moved. And I think that’s going to be exciting, but it really requires us incrementally building the mythology of our show — which will take a few seasons. And then these pieces will fall together and it will become a fairly sophisticated mythology — a self-sustaining mythology. And then, I think, that’s what I wish for. I think that’s where we’re headed, and I don’t think it’s too optimistic to think that this’ll happen.
GW: Have you had discussions with the producers to that end?
JF: Yeah, I have! And it’s pretty exciting. We have so many options that it’s really exciting. And the great thing about science fiction is that you really have no limitations. When people said, “Oh, you’re going off to do this new science fiction show” — it’s really exciting. I had a couple fellow actors that were telling me how exciting it was and how much they wanted to do it, and one of their reasons was there are no limitations. You take any idea, it can be explored. You’re not even constrained by the time-space continuum! So it is exciting.
GW: The only limit really is the human mind to come up with this stuff.
JF: That’s exactly … well, the human mind and, of course, that nagging budget issue.
GW: [Laughter] That’s right!
JF: That’s the other one. That’s our time-space continuum.
GW: Do you feel Sheppard is compared to O’Neill too often?
JF: You know, before we actually aired we were compared all the time. And now, after the show’s aired, I never get asked that question anymore.
JF: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I take that as a good sign. And there’s no doubt that when they went off to write this new series that they wanted a male lead character who, potentially, had the ability to lead a group of people through all sorts of adventures. And they like Richard Dean Anderson quite a bit, but they didn’t want a Richard Dean Anderson copy. That was a question that I think was the most asked question as we led up to our premiere, and then since the premiere nobody has asked me that question.
GW: Well, I’m sorry. [Laughter] I can take it back!
JF: Well no, I mean, you’re more than welcome to ask that question. But actually I was just saying that it hasn’t been asked anymore and I just take that as a sign that people are accepting the characters as their own characters. And listen, I think he’s a great character — I don’t think that it would be a bad thing for the character. They are really fundamentally different characters.
I think that the primary difference is that Sheppard really is, by nature, an optimist. He does believe in things. He does believe that people will do the right thing, if given the opportunity, and he does believe that things will work out. And I think that that may be the difference between the two characters, more than anything.
GW: Well, it seems to me that one of the hallmarks of Stargate is sarcasm and making fun of science fiction while science fiction is being brought to the screen.
JF: Yes, yes.
GW: And a leading man presenting that would definitely have to have some of those qualities. So that’s where I think they’re in common, but other than that, two totally different people.
JF: Yes, and you know what, I wouldn’t even want to do the show unless that was there. That, to me, is the single greatest strength of Stargate and Stargate Atlantis, is that ability to constantly — you know, a little wink of the eye to the audience. It is. We are having fun with the genre, yet we aren’t making fun of the genre. We’re twisting it and we’re having fun with it, but not enough to mock the material.
And when you said, “What were they looking for in the character,” that was an important part of it, was the ability to put sarcasm into the character without mocking the material. I just think that’s the best part of the show. We get to talk about Star Trek, even talk about MacGyver. I mean, and to me that’s the future of television — it may be self-referential, but it makes for great television.
GW: Are you pleased with Atlantis‘ ratings?
JF: Oh yes, very much.
GW: Are you surprised by them or was it something you were expecting?
JF: I am surprised by them. I had done a number of pilots and things for — and I’ve learned not necessarily to lower my expectations, but I’ve learned to extend my expectations. It’s very hard to know what’s going to succeed and what isn’t going to succeed, and I just simply extended my expectations. It’s hard to extend it, but I put them in a somewhat safe place so I wouldn’t be disappointed in case things didn’t go well.
And I was surprised our numbers were massive. I really expected to always be coat-tailing SG-1, and instead our numbers have been stronger. So I can’t imagine asking for anything more in that regard.
GW: Statistically, people have been saying that Atlantis has actually been helping SG-1 to get higher ratings.
JF: Well, there’s a lot of theories, and when you get on set and you talk to the guys on SG-1 and the guys on Atlantis, it’s the source of a lot of competition. People have a lot of fun with theorizing, you know, which show is supporting the other show!
GW: Are there any qualities about SG-1 that you hope Atlantis will take on as it matures and gets older?
JF: You know, it’s hard for me to answer that, because, I mean, what I want is a long-term, loyal fan base. Why they have a long-term, loyal fan base? I couldn’t even tell you. I’m sure there’s different reasons for different people. I can’t think of anything. What I just want is characters that are three-dimensional, and multi-faceted, entertaining.
And you know, I think a lot of entertainment — I go to just as much entertainment as anybody else — I don’t like watching movies or TV shows where you can’t root for your heroes, because your heroes aren’t that great of people. And so, I think that I like rooting for people if I like those characters, so I want characters that people find redeeming and entertaining. And if SG-1 has that then I want it, too.
I can’t think of anything really that SG-1 has that — I just think we’re such a different show. I haven’t really thought of it that way. Let’s put it this way: I really haven’t thought about it. But I would like us to get back to Earth.
GW: Oh, yeah, and that’s going to be happening. The producers have been saying that you’re not going to be Stargate: Voyager forever.
JF: No! That’s exactly right. Battlestar Atlantis?
GW: [Laughter] Yeah, that’s right! What interpersonal relationships between Sheppard and the others would you like to see strengthened in the coming years?
JF: Well, I think that what I’d like to see is — and I think some of our better episodes have been when there’s a real nemesis for Sheppard. I think that it makes for a good show.
GW: Like Kolya.
JF: Yes. And I mean a really powerful one that has a long-term, multi-episode life that’s a real threat. I think that that makes for a really good show, and it’s also fun to work against. The more obstacles there are for your character, the more fun it is to take that character around. So I’d like to see some, you know, real obstacles by way of a real nemesis.
GW: Our forum in particular really embraced the “Steve” Wraith, and it really took off with you playing against him and him being in the cell for so long. Was that a good experience as a villain that Sheppard just didn’t take seriously?
JF: You know, actually that was funny. We talked a lot about that scene, because Brad [Wright], our producer, loved the name “Steve.” And I thought, and I really believe this firmly, that “Bob” was a much better name. And so we sat around and argued about this. I was like, “Oh, Bob’s so much better!” “No, Steve’s better.” And literally we talked like this for quite a long time. He said, “Nope, we’re going with Steve.”
So we went with Steve, and the reaction to it was kind of crazy. People went nuts for the guy. But what was interesting was that scene, when we shot it, was right during the Abu Ghraib prison problem. And we were sitting there in our uniforms, with our flags — we all have our country’s flag — and I thought that we had to be really sensitive about this, that people would draw a comparison. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t; and chances are some will and some won’t.
So it actually took us in a direction that turned out to be kind of interesting, which was kind of more of a sympathetic approach to the prisoner. And sure enough, people were really sad to watch the guy die.
GW: Well, they just thought he was so short-lived! Like he could’ve went on for so much longer.
JF: He could have! We’ll there’ll be more Wraith to come.
GW: Right. Isn’t there like another Wraith that you name?
JF: Yes, there is. There is.
GW: Well, it’s interesting that Weir made the comment about the Geneva Convention, and I think it was you that said, “Well, if the Wraith were at the Geneva Convention the Wraith would’ve tried to eat everyone.”
JF: That’s right! It’s a thinly-veiled comment of today’s current topics, right?
GW: Right. And that’s what sci-fi does so well.
JF: It really does.
GW: Do you feel the writers will take Sheppard and Teyla’s relationship the distance, or is this just something temporary?
JF: Well, I think they just have to be really careful. I think this urgency that the team has in these episodes has to be paramount, and that when they start getting into romantic thinking — in some ways, it doesn’t seem appropriate. And yet at the same time, it’s also real life. People in the middle of war have relationships.
So, it’s done, it just has to be done in a way appropriate to the context and what the situation is. Our situation’s fairly dire, so dilly-dallying around, liking various people and flirting with them, in some ways, I think deludes the urgency of our show. So we’re going to do it but we’re going to do it in a way that I think will satisfy both groups.
GW: OK. Will Sheppard ever get to make use of your skateboarding skills?
JF: God, I hope so! I keep telling them. I say — no, the surfing! I said, “You know, we’re able to get a vast, giant ocean. I think we have some massive waves here. I think it would make a great episode.” They kindly nod their heads and they say, “Poor kid just misses Malibu.”
GW: Well it’s not every day that the lead man can skateboard around the lot all the time. And I just thought that would be a really cool little addition.
JF: You know what, I feel deeply attached to that thing. I love it. I love getting around on that thing.
GW: I have to say that’s a beautiful board that you have. I’ve never seen one quite like that.
JF: I contacted the guy at the company and I told him that we’re spending a lot of time — people are asking a lot of questions about it, so he sent me up a new board.
GW: Oh, really?
GW: Awesome! Totally cool.
JF: I know!
GW: Do you hope to cross over into SG-1 in the future, for like an episode or two?
JF: Yeah, I do, and vice versa. And I think that will happen, but it won’t be like this open avenue between the two shows. I don’t think it can be. I think you have to be really careful about that.
GW: Do you plan to stay on board Atlantis for as long as the show lasts?
JF: I don’t know how long it’ll last!
GW: Ain’t that the truth!
JF: If we’re looking at 35 years from now if you ask me that question, I’ll have a different answer! I plan to definitely stay on board for us to develop a solid, syndicated package, which is 80 to a hundred episodes. And I really want to get the show to those numbers. And after that, then we’ll take it one step at a time.
GW: Right. You’ve signed on for six years, is that correct?
JF: You know, I saw that, and I said to myself, “I don’t remember that. I’d better go look at that again.” Maybe I should hire you as my agent.
GW: [Laughter] Well, Joe, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.
JF: You bet.
GW: And we definitely look forward to talking with you in the years to come.
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Where We Left Off, GateWorld talks with Joe Flanigan
Conventions are hectic events for everyone, but for celebrities it can be madness! GateWorld fell prey to actor Joe Flanigan‘s busy schedule at Creation Vancouver 2009 when we were forced to cut our last interview short. So we were delighted to be able to polish off our discussion in this second segment, recorded at Creation Chicago 2009.
If you haven’t read the previous interview, we suggest you do so first!
In this segment, Joe discusses the reduction in DVD sales, waiting to hear word from MGM and Bridge about an Atlantis movie go-ahead, and getting a chance to build some memories with his three young boys. He also discusses a new project he and a writing partner are undertaking!
This interview runs 12 minutes and is available in audio. It’s also transcribed below!
GateWorld: Last time we talked with you, we were in Vancouver. It was kind of rushed. We had a chance to talk briefly about the cancellation.
Joe Flanigan: Was that the last time?
GW: We talked about the cancellation, briefly talked about “Vegas.” Obviously nothing has changed since the DVDs have been kind of put on hold while the economy is in recession. Were you aware of that? That they’ve been basically saddled until …
JF: We get slightly different stories. It’s hard to tell. I don’t know. I think that obviously there is a slump in the DVD market, without a doubt. That can always be a contributing factor. I don’t know. I know MGM says that it has something to do with that but, man …
GW: They do want it to happen.
JF: I think they want it to happen. It’s hard to tell. Who knows? When the show was canceled we were told the movie was green-lit and we were going to shoot it quickly. That’s been almost a year, so …
GW: And before a big economic falloff, too. Rob Cooper [Robert C. Cooper] recently said in an interview that, that was the big contributing factor and that MGM wants to hold on until things kind of start moving in the other way. And who knows when that’s going to be. I would think that the home DVD market would be booming because no one’s going out anymore.
JF: Well, I did speak with somebody specifically at MGM about that and they said, “The SG-1 movies did well.” And that SyFy wanted to be part of this and so what they tried to do is they did it with Caprica. And I think we sold something on the tune of 500,000 units and Caprica only sold 35,000 units. And MGM …
GW: Really? Ark of Truth and Continuum totaled?
JF: I think so. MGM was reading that as a disastrous downturn in the DVD market. But I was telling them I don’t think that’s a good economic model at all. Because I don’t think Caprica has any brand recognition like Stargate does. Nor do I think they have an existing fan base like Stargate does.
So, I urge them to reconsider that model because I don’t think that’s an accurate model of the DVD market. There may be a 15 to 20 percent drop in sales because of what’s going on, but it’s not going to be anywhere close to that. But that’s the model they’re looking at. So the way they see it, I think, is not good. Now, if the new show comes out and does well … I don’t know how that would affect the movies.
GW: What do you think about Stargate Universe? Have you talked with the folks who are developing it?
JF: No. I didn’t talk to anybody. Not a single person. I’m in touch with all the cast members. But no, I have not talked to anybody so I have no idea about any of it. I’ve got great respect for Robert Carlyle and those guys. I’m sure they’re working awfully hard and I really hope it works out. I really do.
GW: In the meantime you’ve been doing some guest spots. You’ve doneWarehouse 13.
JF: Ah, yeah.
GW: It’s doing very well.
JF: Yeah, it’s doing pretty well. That was really for fun. And I had fun. And then I looked at it and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m not doing anything in this episode.” You know? [Laughter] I’m not used to not doing anything in an episode. But they’re a really fun group of people and I really enjoyed working with them. And I think the show is doing well.
GW: Not having Atlantis day to day, obviously you have the opportunity to devote more time to family. You have a third son now, are they happy to see you more?
JF: He claims he’s my son. I feed him. He only gets two meals a day though.
GW: Is it nice to be home more?
JF: I love it. One of my kids was having some difficulty in school last year. I was gone a lot. Since I’ve been home, he hasn’t had any of those problems so I’d like to think that that helps.
There’s not doubt about it. Being around for their birthdays and being around for a lot of little memories are pretty priceless, so I’m enjoying that a lot. I’ve also gotten reconnected with a lot of friends in my neighborhood that I don’t really ever get to spend a lot of time with. I actually have a life. It’s actually really fantastic. I really enjoy it.
GW: Are you actively auditioning in L.A.?
JF: Well, not a lot. Things are pretty slow in Hollywood. Things are pretty slow. I mean, there’s always certain type of work if you want to do that but my parameters have gotten a little tight and I don’t know whether I am going to be able to stick to those parameters, but I really wanted to stay in Los Angeles. And shows are now shooting all over the place, from Mexico City to Detroit to Providence, and it creates a real quandary for me. It really does.
GW: It’s not easy to uproot your family. You’ve done that with Stargate.
JF: Yeah but also to compound that, if you go off to do one of these shows you just don’t know how long it will last, too. So you can’t really uproot your family. You could be told one day “Don’t come to set, the show’s over.” And then you’re moving out of your place in Mexico City. And so it puts a strain on things. That’s kind of where I’m at. I’m having a good time though, awfully good time.
GW: But of course we’ll hopefully see you back in Vancouver when they do say “Yes, let’s do the movie.”
JF: Your guess is probably as good as mine. You probably have … I could call and ask flat-out. Maybe I’ll get an answer, I have no idea. [Laughter] I have no idea. I’m surprised they’re not doing a movie. But that could reveal just how little cash they have right now. I mean, they may be on vapors. I’ve been hearing that for so many years, though, that MGM is teetering on the precipice. You just, I don’t know …
GW: But you’re in Chicago today to talk and meet with a bunch of people who have loved your contributions over the past few years. What is it like to be with the fans? What is it like to hang out? I remember the first time you ever did a convention. Up on stage, “Holy cow! There’s a few people in here.” What is it like now?
JF: It’s nice to know that people are still enjoying the show. I feel really grateful that people still like the show. It’s also unusual. I have a lot of friends who are actors and they’ve done shows and shows that have lasted for a while. They just don’t have the fan base. And it’s pretty cool. I mean, it really is. It’s really a special thing that you have such loyalty.
I just hope that we can create another platform that they can follow. And I’ve been talking to SyFy about it and we’d like to come up with something and see if we can shift the audience over to a different show. Give them something that they’d like to watch. I hope it works out.
GW: We’ll be keeping an eye out for that. Show’s been wrapped up for over a year now.
GW: You’ve built a lot of relationships, a lot of friendships. Which do you find are standing the test of time through the work load? Who do you find you’re staying in touch with the most?
JF: Cast. And then certain crew members that have come through L.A. They stay with me or I take them surfing. We had our stunt guy down there the other week.
GW: BAMBAM [James Bamford]?
JF: Actually it wasn’t BAMBAM, I was Todd Scott. And really anybody who passes through town that wants to hook up. I unfortunately have not talked to any of the producers and the writers at all. I don’t think they really made any attempt to reach any of us.
GW: The new show’s got to be keeping them busy.
JF: Maybe, yeah. But that’s a little weird. Because you’re like, “I’ve just spent five years with everyone.” And then suddenly you don’t hear from them at all. So it’s weird.
GW: David’s [Hewlett] down in L.A. right now, isn’t he?
JF: David might be back in Vancouver already.
GW: Jason is still in L.A.
JF: Jason is in Los Angeles. It’s the thing I miss the most, going to work and saying “Hi” to everybody. It was a tight-knit group of people. We had a lot of fun on set. Set was fun.
GW: Aside from dwelling on the past work, where do you want to go next? Where would you like to see yourself next? Aside from Lamborghinis and a pepperoni pizza and all the toppings and things like that. Where do you want to see your career go?
JF: Well, I think that we are making a push definitely toward action. That’s just a venue that I like.
GW: Being physical?
JF: I like being physical and I like watching action, also. [Laughter] If there is a gravity that’s drawing us, it’d be toward the likes of the “Indiana Jones” and things like that. Trying to find that type of action-adventure and inject it into television again. Which is very difficult because of the price parameters that you have for television. But with the new technology there may be a way to do it.
And I know that Sanctuary is being looked at as possibly a watershed TV show in terms of how effects-heavy it is and how little money they make the show for. It’s pretty impressive, what they do. So, it’ll be interesting to see if that’s a whole new angle that they go to. And if so, I think it opens up a lot of possibilities.
GW: What about writing? Do you write, star, produce? The whole gamut?
JF: Yes, I actually have been writing with a partner in Los Angeles right now. I find it difficult. Because I find that I have not only a limited attention span [Laughter], I like to be around people. I like to shoot the s***. If I find myself alone — if I have to go down into a room and write, I will figure out how first to clean out the closet, check on the refrigerator, figure out what repairs in the house need to be done. I cannot sit down by myself and write.
And I realized that my mind works much better when I’m bouncing ideas with people. And I think that I like being around people and I don’t like being alone that much. So I’ll have to figure that out.
Interview by David Read.
Transcript by Kerenza Harris.