Posts Tagged ‘Robert Picardo’

Stargate Atlantis’ David Hewlett – The Deconstructed Man

January 19, 2010

Stargate Atlantis' Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett). Photo copyright of the Syfy Channel

Stargate Atlantis‘ swan song fifth season proved to be one heck of a ride for the show’s resident genius, Dr. Rodney McKay. Having been buried alive together with some of his colleagues at the end of season four, he and his teammates were eventually found alive in Search and Rescue. Soon after in The Shrine, McKay contracted a deadly virus that temporarily robbed him of his intellect as well as memories and almost killed him, while in Tracker, the scientist wound up off-world with Ronon and trying to track down a Runner who was hellbent on eluding them. By mid-season, McKay was playing host to Stargate SG-1‘s Dr. Daniel Jackson, who visited Atlantis in the two-part First Contact and The Lost Tribe. McKay was not exactly thrilled with Jackson’s arrival, as his alter ego, actor David Hewlett, explains. 

“The dynamic between Daniel [Michael Shanks] and McKay is not a particularly friendly one,” says Hewlett. “He shows up on Atlantis to do some more research, and my character is not happy because McKay then gets stuck taking him around the city while dismissing Daniel’s theories about various things and then ending being horribly wrong on many occasions. The two of them eventually get pulled off to another planet where they meet an armor-clad race, and then get to become a bit of an armor-clad race themselves. 

“It was terrific to have Shanks on the show,” continues the actor, ‘and fun, too, as I got to sort of pick his brain because he did this [Stargate] for so long. As for our scenes together, well, we both talk incredibly fast, and I’m not used to lines being picked up so quickly and thrown back at me in such a way, because Michael adds in these cool little character-related things. The guy is amazing. I don’t know how he does it, and not only that, but he gets younger every time I see him. Actually, the whole SG-1 cast is on some kind of reverse aging process, whereas I’m on an advanced aging process. By the time we finish this conversation I’ll have aged 10 years,” he jokes. 

Not doing too good in "Search and Rescue." Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel

“As I mentioned, Michael and I ended up in those armor-clad suits for a period of time. All I can say is, I now have a new respect for those people at Comic-Con who dress up as Storm Troopers [from Star Wars]; I don’t know how they stand it because you sweat buckets in an outfit like that. That’s what happened to me in that spacesuit. Of course, Michael glowed and was in a really good mood,” teases Hewlett. “Again, we had a ball. There’s some fantastic back and forth banter when Daniel and McKay get together, if I do say so myself. You’ve got that great sense of McKay being up against someone who’s as smart as he is and knows as much as he does, so there’s a lot of attitude being exchanged.” 

At the start of Atlantis‘ fourth year, Rodney McKay thought for sure he was next in line to take over command of Atlantis after the loss of Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) to the Replicators. His ego took quite a beating when, in fact, Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) got the job. In the fifth season, he and the rest of the base personnel had to get used to yet another change in leadership when International Oversight Authority (IOA) member Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) replaced Carter. In Hewlett’s eyes, his character saw a number of similarities between himself and Woolsey. 

“Woolsey is a bureaucrat in the same way that McKay took a professional type of approach to the entire Stargate program,” says the actor. “Woolsey’s background is government, diplomacy, the IOA, etc., whereas McKay’s is very much academic. So in a way, Woolsey has had similar growing pains to those that my character initially had. First of all, he’s learning to like these people on Atlantis, which he never expected. Woolsey is also getting his nose out of books and regulations and into the real world. So it’s neat to watch him go through that, and, again, because McKay has been through it as well, he’s more disdainful of it than, perhaps, others are. I think you tend to jump on people for making the same mistakes as you and having the same weaknesses as you. McKay is like, ‘My God, doesn’t Woolsey realize that you can’t live your life with your nose in books.’ Of course, it’s taken my character five years to figure that out, which is rather amusing. 

Rodney McKay, helping to save the universe - again! Photo copyright of the Syfy Channel

“One of the things I really like about Atlantis and Stargate as a whole is that sense of humor. Sci-Fi can be incredibly dry and dark, and what we have here, which really helps, is that underlying sense of humor. There’s almost, not a winking at the camera, but a realistic humorous response to certain situations. I think there was a lot of that on our show, and Robert Picardo was the ideal person to bring that out. For example, our conference room scenes became hilarious because there was so much going on. I mean, Joe Flanigan [Colonel John Sheppard] had his sense of humor, I had my uptight McKay stuff, and Robert added a whole other level to it. As a result, the directors had to occasionally rein us in a bit so that it didn’t turn into an all-out comedy, like Scrubs in Space,” laughs Hewlett. “So it was definitely a pleasure to have Robert around, and he enjoyed himself, too. As new people came onto the show you got a new lease on your performance because you got caught up in their own excitement about the work.” 

After the disastrous end to his budding relationship with Katie Brown (Brenda James) in season four’s Quarantine, Dr. McKay was decidedly cautious when it came to further romantic entanglements. Lucky for him, he chose to take another chance at love and, in the fifth season, became involved with Dr. Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite). They go on their first official date in the season five episode Brain Storm, but, naturally, things do not go quite as planned. 

“Prior to this, McKay and Jennifer had had a beer together, but this is the first time they go somewhere as a couple,” says Hewlett. “My character has to attend a presentation with all these famous astrophysicists who are basically his peers and did their doctorates at the same time as he did. Not surprisingly, McKay gets as prickly as he gets. Meanwhile, poor Keller has shown up for some champagne and a couple of little sandwiches, and all hell breaks loose. The experiment that is being shown goes horribly wrong and my character has to save the day. I think it’s a great payoff to a number of things that had already been established on the series, and to top it off, Jewel and I got to do some actual romantic stuff, which was fun. 

Trying to put on a brave face. Photo copyright of the Syfy Channel

“We had a great guest-cast in Brain Storm, which included Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was an advisor to God knows how many presidents. Not only is he a genius, but he’s hilarious, too. He and Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who’s in this episode as well, are friends and Bill is just as funny. Their banter was amazing. Nye is an improv master, except you actually learn something when he speaks. so it was like a dream come true for a nerd like me. We also had Dave Foley [Malcolm Tunney], who’s a super-nerd himself. He’s a Sci-Fi fan and knows a lot about this sort of stuff. So it was this amazing combination of some of the world’s smartest people all in the same room. As a result, I didn’t say much. I tended to keep pretty quiet and retiring in-between scenes.” 

Besides The Shrine and Brain Storm, another season five Atlantis story that the actor especially enjoyed shooting is Remnants, in which McKay and Dr. Zelenka (David Nykl) discover an alien device that uses  an unusual method to communicate with select members of the Atlantis team. 

“This is kind of a creepy episode and one that really throws people off,” says Hewlett. “David Nykl and I had a number of scenes together, and it was neat because we were playing a very different type of dynamic between Zelenka and McKay. My big joke was that Robert Picardo’s character got to see this beautiful Australian woman as his vision, while McKay got Zelenka. I was like, ‘Can he [David Nykl] at least wear some nice lip gloss or something else to sexy his character up a bit?'” says the actor with a laugh. 

McKay senses something is not quite right here. Photo copyright of the Syfy Channel

“We had fun messing with the usual dynamic of McKay’s and Zelenka’s relationship, and, of course, there was lots of bantering back and forth with the two of them. When in doubt, McKay just talks, as does Hewlett in a lot of cases. It’s that horrible mix between the two, otherwise known as McKaylett.” 

While filming season five of Atlantis, the cast and crew were told that the show would, unfortunately, not be returning for a sixth year. In the show’s finale, Enemy at the Gate, our heroes fly the entire city of Atlantis to Earth to help defend the planet against an attack by a rogue Wraith hive ship. While this was the last episode to air, it was not, in fact, the last one to be shot. That distinction goes to Vegas, an alternate universe story involving a series of Wraith killings in the city that never sleeps. 

“I’m generally not a fan of alternate reality stories because they can easily feel like a cop-out, but I really wanted Vegas to be our final episode,” notes Hewlett. “We knew that Atlantis was cancelled and I thought it would be a daring and original way to end the series. Of course, they [the producers/writers] would have had to figure out how to get Teyla [Rachel Luttrell] and Ronon [Jason Momoa] into the story. They could have had the role that I wanted – exotic dancer at a casino. That was my first suggestion for McKay, partly just so I could actually go to Las Vegas, but also to showcase my pole dancing talents,” chuckles the actor. 

Things were not looking too good for poor Rodney in "The Shrine." Photo copyright of the Syfy Channel

It was way back in season five of Stargate SG-1 that Dr. Rodney McKay first arrived on the scene in the episode 48 Hours. Little did anyone, let alone Hewlett, know that he along with the fans would become better acquainted with the character over the next eight years. 

“That was a lot of hair ago on SG-1. I don’t know if I actually lost the hair or if I’ve just expanded so that it looks like I’ve got less hair,” jokes the actor. “It’s weird because McKay seems like a different guy now. I think what happened in Atlantis is that we began to see the cracks in the character’s armor. He came into SG-1, I feel, fully protected. McKay had sort of inch-thick armor around him, which made him incredibly prickly from the very beginning. And it’s not so much that he warmed on Atlantis, but rather he cracked a bit. 

“I’ve always said that the neat thing about McKay is that he’s unlike the other characters. You’re learning about them as you go along, whereas with my character it’s as if you’re deconstructing him. We already knew what McKay was like, and later on we got figure out why he’s like that. After five seasons, we’d deconstructed him enough to roughly know what his deep dark secrets are, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a few more,” laughs Hewlett. “So as a character he did evolve. McKay’s own personality finally began to shine though, which was a real joy for me to play.” 

Steve Eramo 

As noted above, all photos copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!

Robert Picardo – Learning Curve

June 2, 2009
Robert Picardo as Stargate Atlantis' Richard Woolsey. Photo by F. Scott Schafer and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Robert Picardo as Stargate Atlantis' Richard Woolsey. Photo by F. Scott Schafer and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

From Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years to Dr. Richard on China Beach and Star Trek: Voyager‘s Holographic Doctor, Robert Picardo has carved out a niche for himself playing a host of diverse, interesting and believable characters on TV as well as in feature film and the theater. The actor’s small screen credits also include Richard Woolsey, a bureaucrat who made his debut in the Stargate SG-1 story Heroes, Part 2. His negative report on Stargate Command made him some enemies at the SGC, but Woolsey subsequently redeemed himself by following his conscience and not protocol. Still, our heroes on Stargate Atlantis were apprehensive when in the fifth season he was placed in charge of the Ancients city. Once again, though, Woolsey made some decisions that eventually earned him the respect and trust of those around him.

“My character started out on Atlantis as the jerk we remembered him being, but he quickly realized that he needed to toss out the rulebook,” notes Picardo. “There’s a story early on in season five called Ghost in the Machine, which is Woolsey’s first really heroic episode involving a Cuban Missile Crisis-type scenario where he stares down the enemy, and the enemy blinks first when calling his bluff. It’s a really nice, charged scene, and what I enjoyed about it when we shot it is that even though he’s completely poker-faced in this time of crisis, when it’s over you can see that Woolsey had nearly pooped his pants,” jokes the actor. “That huge exhalation of relief after the fact is what helps define him. This is the first time he has succeeded in pulling something like this off, and that, to me, is what made his development far more interesting because you see him brick by brick build himself into a leader.

Mr. Woolsey stares down the enemy in "Ghost in the Machine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Mr. Woolsey stares down the enemy in "Ghost in the Machine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“The real acting challenge with a character like this is just to keep the integrity of what you’ve done before. Every actor likes to be liked. It’s easier to try to be liked as a human being as opposed to keep that mask up that puts some people off. I’ve played characters that, as an actor, you initially don’t like, but then grow to like despite that first impression. Whatever led to them having that sort of arrogant or officious and intimidating veneer, you come to see cracks in it and realize that there is some kind of neurotic motivating force that makes them act in such a way. Then you will learn to ‘laugh’ at that and enjoy the dramatic tension between their behavior and what’s behind it.

“I think that’s what appeals to the viewers about someone like Woolsey. He’s not just the completely well-adjusted ass he wants to be, do you know what I mean? My character has a certain desire to relate better to people, and, ultimately, his most redeeming quality is that he passionately believes in being a good leader. He wants that more than anything else, but he doesn’t know how to do it. Woolsey is learning, however, and as I’ve said, viewers see him wanting to grow into a leader, which I feel really redeems him. I can’t suddenly turn my character into this intrepid, steely guy; it wouldn’t make sense. I can, though, turn him into someone who can fool the enemy into thinking he’s intrepid and steely, and that’s the cool part of this job.”

Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) and Woolsey in the season five episode "The Seed." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) and Woolsey in the season five episode "The Seed." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Of all the people who Woolsey is now responsible for, the first one to befriend him is Teyla (Rachel Luttrell). “The confession by my character to her in Broken Ties of how much he loved his dog is a really sweet moment,” says Picardo. “It actually reminds me a little bit of The Doctor and Kes [Jennifer Lien] early on in Voyager where he was sort of a puffed up, closed off guy making small confessions of his burgeoning humanity to his coworker. That’s something he would never do with the rest of the crew,but he seems to be able to let Kes in on these little things and take her in as his confidant.

“That scene in Atlantis reminded me of that because it’s a whole trust issue,” continues the actor. “Teyla could have gone off and ridiculed him to the others. She could have said, ‘This idiot told me how much he loved his dog, and that he not only lost his wife [in a divorce], but he couldn’t even hold onto a dog.’ However, I think Woolsey senses immediately in Teyla that she’s the most open and what-you-see-is-what-you-get of all the crew, so he chooses to confide in her. Later, when she has to rush off on a mission, she entrusts her baby to him to hand off to her husband, and he’s never held a baby before. That was very adept of the writers to kind of open the door to the audience getting to know Woolsey in a different way and accept him together with the fact that he’s occasionally going to rub people the wrong way because that kind of conflict is fun. It’s also common [dramatic] fodder and has ongoing story possibilities.”

Like his predecessors, Woolsey occasionally strays beyond the Atlantis city limits to offer off-world support to his people. In the Atlantis mid-year two-parter First Contact and The Lost Tribe, he ends up in a tight spot when the Daedalus is commandeered by Todd the Wraith (Christopher Heyerdahl), who believes that he and his people have been betrayed by the humans. For Picardo, this resulted in some additional, and welcome, acting challenges.

Colonel Steven Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi) and Woolsey assess the situation onboard the Daedalus in "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Colonel Steven Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi) and Woolsey assess the situation onboard the Daedalus in "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“In this instance, Woolsey faces another life-and-death situation where once again I tried to keep the integrity of the character intact,” he says. “There’s a point where it looks as though he’s about to be fed upon by the Wraith, and I did my best to create some genuine fear of being in that moment, rather than the sort of unwavering resolve that we might see from Colonel Sheppard [Joe Flanigan]. I don’t know how the scene was cut together in the episode, but I thought it was both scary and funny at the same time.

“With this two-parter there are some other amusing moments where my character, who also wants to build himself up into a great Barack Obama-style elocutionist, looks for a way to raise everyone’s spirits by saying here’s what’s important about what we’re doing right now. So Woolsey is trying to learn how to recognize the moment and rally the troops through these inspiring speeches, which, of course, he can’t do. If you remember, when he first arrives in Atlantis, he doesn’t make any type of speech, and Sheppard [jokingly] says, ‘Good speech, very inspiring.’ The show’s writers play upon that a couple of other times later on in the season where Woolsey recognizes that public speaking isn’t one of his gifts and he’s trying to learn how to do it. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. And in The Lost Tribe it’s not even that he fails, but rather that he’s cut off by Todd, who’s like, ‘Shut up and let’s get down to business.’

Woolsey and Dr. Keller (Jewel Staite) take up arms to help Ronon (Jason Momoa) take on Todd and his fellow Wraith in "The Lost Tribe." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Woolsey and Dr. Keller (Jewel Staite) take up arms to help Ronon (Jason Momoa) take on Todd and his fellow Wraith in "The Lost Tribe." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“So I think the writers definitely kept weaving the threads of Woolsey’s growth as a leader throughout season five of Atlantis. Another episode I think was a nice surprise for viewers was our clip show – and I hate to call it that –  Inquisition, because Woolsey’s legal skills end up saving the day. If you saw the episode, you know that our main group are held against their will and put on trial for supposed war crimes. When my character finds out that this is more or less a kangaroo court and his people have no possibility of getting a fair trial, he goes in and uses his legal skills to outwit the lawmakers on this planet. But he can’t do it by playing fair. Woolsey basically has to play as dirty as they did, so I thought that was a great story.”

On Voyager, Picardo’s holographic alter ego had more than one chance to engage in a romantic encounter. Woolsey is given the same opportunity in the season five Atlantis episode Remnants, but as is often the case on the show, all is not as it seems.

Richard Woolsey prepares himself for court in "Inquistion." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Richard Woolsey prepares himself for court in "Inquisition." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“My character meets an attractive woman, Dr. Vanessa Conrad, who seems very interested in him, which I think throws him a bit because he’s been divorced for some time and leading a very work-oriented life,” explains Picardo. “His initial response to her is that of a man who hasn’t been flirted with by a woman for so long that he doesn’t even recognize it when it happens. Anna Galvin, the actress who played Dr. Conrad, was absolutely delightful, and it turns out that there’s a surprise about her character, who also has a secret agenda. As a result, the story ends up being about something else, but it gave me the opportunity for some humorous moments because of another plot twist where it looks like Woolsey has an imaginary friend. So there’s a certain amount of concern that he’s losing his marbles,” chuckles the actor.

“The other interesting aspect of my character’s involvement in this story is that he is having his leadership evaluated in the same way that has evaluated others. A representative from the IOA [International Oversight Authority] has been sent to evaluate his leadership of Atlantis thus far, so the shoe is on the other foot and he appears to be having some kind of mental breakdown at the same time. Woolsey’s story line is one of three unfolding in this particular episode. There’s a whole different plot involving Sheppard that is very dark and dramatic, and another with Dr. McKay [David Hewlett] and Dr. Zelenka [David Nykl]. And what’s really wonderful about this story is that at the end, the three separate plots that seem totally unrelated are suddenly linked in an unusual way.

Ronon (Jason Momoa) and Woolsey in a scene from the fifth season story "The Prodigal." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Ronon (Jason Momoa) and Woolsey in a scene from the fifth season story "The Prodigal." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“So there’s a lot going on, and this episode was terrific fun to shoot. [Executive producer] Joe Mallozzi wrote a really good script, and it’s wonderful for my character because the audience sees stuff with him that they haven’t as yet seen. It’s also great to see a middle-aged bald guy hit on by an attractive woman. This woman clearly looks beyond Woolsey’s soul, which she finds very attractive. It’s one of those hey-this-might-still-happen-to-me-type fantasies with guys everywhere,” he says smiling.

Unfortunately, Richard Woolsey’s TV tenure was cut short when Atlantis was not renewed for a sixth season. A made-for-DVD Atlantis movie is in the works, and in the meantime Picardo’s schedule has been as busy as ever. Along with guest-spots on Chuck, Pushing Daises and Castle, the actor has completed work on four feature films, Chasing the Green, Confined, Trail of Blood and Sensored. He has also been collaborating with noted writer/director Travis Oates, who also runs the Acme Theatre, on a new Internet venture.

Robert Picardo and Paul McGillion (Dr. Carson Beckett) during the closing scene of Atlantis' finale "Enemy at the Gate." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Robert Picardo and Paul McGillion (Dr. Carson Beckett) during the closing scene of Atlantis' finale "Enemy at the Gate." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“It’s called The B Team, which is basically about CSI forensic examiners who aren’t quite as good,” jokes Picardo. “We’re going to be shooting vignettes and put them up on the Acme Comedy Theatre website in the hopes we can sell a semi-improvised comedy show. I love the character we’ve developed for me in our little staff of investigators, so I would watch for The B Team to start showing up in the not-so-distant future.”

Steve Eramo

As stated above, photos by Eike Schroter and F. Scott Schafer and courtesy of/copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!

Andy Mikita – The Direct Approach

May 26, 2009
Director Andy Mikita hard at work on the Stargate Atlantis season five episode "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Director Andy Mikita hard at work on the Stargate Atlantis season five episode "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

As a longtme member of the Stargate family, Andy Mikita has lent his creative talents to directing as well as helping produce dozens of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis stories. He kicked off the fifth season of Atlantis directing the opener, Search and Rescue, followed by The Daedalus Variations and The Shrine, in which one of our heroes almost met his maker. Mikita barely had time to catch his breath before he began prepping to direct the mid-season two-parter First Contact and The Lost Tribe, which guest-starred SG-1‘s Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson.

“First off, I want to say how great to was to have Michael on the show,” enthuses Mikita. “He just brings so much to the table and the chemistry between his character and David Hewlett’s [Dr. Rodney McKay] was phenomenal. We shot both these episodes, which were written by [Atlantis executive producer] Martin Gero, together, and he did some of the directing as well. Martin did the lion’s share of the scenes with Michael and David, including the one where the little Asgard alien came out of the spacesuit. So it was a really sensible approach to shooting these stories. We were able to divide the schedule between Martin and myself, which kept us on track financially and time-wise. Because Martin is also a director I felt completely confident in his execution of things, and I really enjoyed all the work he did.

“Probably the biggest challenge with First Contact and The Lost Tribe was making sure that the spacesuits were going to be functional as well as believable and have the desired impact. Real kudos go to our art department and model shop for designing and constructing some incredible suits. They had qualities of a lot of different ideas in there. Also, Iron Man was just coming out at the time we were building these suits, and while we didn’t want there to be obvious comparisons to the movie, I will say that we went straight out and copied the inside-of-the-helmet shots. In The Lost Tribe, specifically, we did close-ups of Michael and David when they were wearing the suits and we literally put in an inside-the-helmet point of view using VFX [visual effects] graphics.

“The VFX team did an amazing bit of work, and I thought the effects in both these episodes were incredible, especially in First Contact where the aliens in their spacesuits came out of their ship and entered Atlantis. The whole concept that Martin came up with involving the transport bubble that allowed the aliens to move through multiple surfaces was really clever and extremely well-executed by the VFX guys. With that, you got another sense, again, of the size of Atlantis, and the concept of finding Janus’ [Gildart Jackson] secret lab was quite compelling. It was a fun episode, or episodes, to shoot and I’m very pleased with how they turned out.”

Mikita confers with Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) on the set of "Search and Rescue." Photo by Eile Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Mikita confers with Amanda Tapping (Colonel Samantha Carter) on the set of "Search and Rescue." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Mikita’s next episode, The Prodigal, sees the return of the human/Wraith hybrid Michael (Connor Trinneer), who comes to Atlantis to execute yet another insidious plan. “This was a tremendous action-packed story with some great fight sequences choreographed by Bam Bam [stunt coordinator James Bamford],” says the director. “The Michael/Ronon [Jason Momoa] fight was really cool and culminated with Ronon actually going over the Atlantis Gate Room balcony. Then there was the big penultimate fight on the rooftop with Michael versus Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] and Teyla [Rachel Luttrell]. That was a tough sequence to shoot. We were fairly limited as far as how large in scope we could build that [rooftop] set piece. To help sell that idea, we used a large projection screen so we could see off into the background and the moonlit sky. Then there was the big sort of helicopter shot that shows the very top spire of the city and just how high up our heroes are when they’re fighting. That was another impressive VFX sequence.

“Obviously, staging a fight on a ledge or precipice like that is pretty tricky. For instance, when Michael throws Sheppard down the ledge and he’s left dangling, the first time we shot that, the Sheppard stunt double went right over the edge of the set. If that was real life, he would have been a goner. After that, we were joking around and saying, ‘Well, that’s it. Michael wins the fight, the series is over.’ Also tricky to shoot were the scenes in which Major Lorne [Kavan Smith] and Woolsey [Robert Picardo] run afoul of Michael’s stun bubble and we had to choreograph their falls. We had a fantastic Woolsey stunt double who looked so much like Robert that at times if you were standing a little bit away from him, you couldn’t tell the difference between him and Robert. And the stunt double did such an amazing job on the fall as well. This was a real highlight episode for me to shoot and definitely one of my favorites from season five.

“Something else I thought was really cool with The Prodigal was how [Atlantis executive producer] Carl Binder, who wrote this episode, gave the character of Amelia Banks a much more significant role. We got to see her as more of an active participant in the story as opposed to just being a technician when she and Ronon take on one of the hybrid guards. The actress who plays Banks [Sharon Taylor] is quite proficient at martial arts, so she got to show off some of her skills onscreen and I think the fans picked up on that.”

The director along with the Atlantis cast and crew spent a little over a week  last August trying to keep cool while filming inside a very hot Wraith set for the fifth season episode Infection. “We had a fairly limited Wraith set, so as our characters were walking through the ship, we were basically reusing the same set over and over again,” explains Mikita. “So we had to move things around as well as relight and redress the sections in order to make it feel like we were constantly on the move and create a sense that it was a much larger space than it actually was.

David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay) hangs around with Mikita during the filming of season five's "The Shrine." Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay) hangs around with Mikita during the filming of season five's "The Shrine." Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

“Then, of course, there’s the fact that in our story, the gene therapy that Dr. Keller has been developing really isn’t working as well as we hoped, so we come across these new gruesome creatures onboard the Wraith ship. They were based somewhat on the Spoils of War [season four] creatures where we saw the birthing sequence of the Wraith warriors. In this episode, we took it a step further and, as a result of the gene therapy, the Wraith lost their ability to feed with their hands. So they basically became flesh-eating monsters and needed to eat using their hands and teeth and ingesting the way we humans do. So that was another challange to make the attacks from these monsters scary and, again, believable, and I feel we achieved both to a great extent.”

In mid-September 2008, Mikita took on the job of directing the 100th episode of Atlantis, Enemy at the Gate, which, ironically, was also the show’s season/series finale. “I was absolutely honored to be given that opportunity,” he recalls. “At the same time, it was kind of a daunting responsibility, given that the episode was shooting at the same time as Rob Cooper’s [Atlantis co-creator/executive producer] Vegas. That was a big hallmark episode as well in that it was a real departure type of story that takes place in an alternate reality, so a great deal of attention was going to that one, too.

“By the time we got around to Enemy at the Gate, we had to be very careful because we didn’t have any extra money or time to shoot it,” continues the director. “We couldn’t make it any bigger or splashier than any other story we had previously done, but we did want to make a really good, solid, conventional Atlantis episode with the stakes essentially being that the Wraith are attacking Earth. The highlight for me was having Amanda Tapping [Colonel Samantha Carter] back, which was just sensational. It was a very proud moment for the cast and crew to have made it to the 100th episode mark, but also a very bittersweet time because we’d had so much fun for five years and now the series was coming to an end.”

Director Andy Mikita. Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Director Andy Mikita. Photo courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel

Although his time on Atlantis may have ended, Mikita still remains very much a part of the Stargate franchise and has already begun his involvement in the second spin-off, Stargate Universe. “I’m hoping I can take what I’ve learned from SG-1 and Atlantis and apply it to whatever new challenges I’m given on Universe,” he says. “We’re approaching that show from quite a different perspective stylistically, so that should help me grow even further as a director for sure.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, photos by Eike Schroter and courtesy of and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!

Jason Momoa – At Home On Atlantis

April 14, 2009
Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis. Photo by Matthias Clamer and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis. Photo by Matthias Clamer and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

Some people say it’s the clothes that make the man. In the case of actor Jason Momoa, his dreadlocks are what first come to mind when you think of his Stargate Atlantis alter ego of Ronon Dex. After seven years, he was longing to shed his dreads, especially after they started to become a pain in the neck, quite literally. Unfortunately, because of his work on Atlantis, that was not an option, so a compromise was struck. The actor had his hair cut, but that meant wearing a wig as Ronon, which still had its drawbacks.

“My dreads were giving me neck problems, so I wanted to cut them off,” says Momoa, sitting down in the Atlantis make-up trailer, having finished his working day. “The writers were going to write it into the episode, but one of the gentleman at the network didn’t want me to lose the dreads because he didn’t think I could be Ronon without them. I’m an actor, and I don’t need my hair in order to do my job as an actor. So this [fifth] year I’m wearing a wig,” referring to the man-made hairpiece being removed from the top of his head. “Of course, these fake dreads weigh five or six pounds; they’re heavier than my real ones. What are you going to do,” he jokes.

It was in the Atlantis second season episode Runner that Ronon Dex, and his dreads, became a part of the Stargate universe. In it, he was befriended by Colonel John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) and Teyla (Rachel Luttrell), who offered him a safe haven in Atlantis. A former military officer in the Satedan army, Ronon’s home world had been invaded by the Wraith. Captured during battle, he was fitted with a tracking device and spent the next seven years being hunted as sport by the enemy. Ronon was forced to keep his distance from other people or risk their planets being culled by the Wraith. So he had his doubts that his time in Atlantis and as a member of Sheppard’s off-world team would last long. Well, he was wrong.

“Each year it just becomes more and more obvious to Ronon that Atlantis is his home and that he’s comfortable being there,” notes Momoa. “That became even clearer to him after the story this year [Broken Ties] where he experiences that huge change. Relationship-wise, this season we picked up on my character kind of liking Dr. Keller [Jewel Staite], and you get a glimpse into his jealous side because McKay [David Hewlett] feels the same way about her. And as we know, Ronon doesn’t like to lose. We don’t get to touch on that too much, though, which is a bummer because it would have been nice to see him rub it in McKay’s nose just a little bit,” chuckles the actor. “We have one tiny scene in the episode we’re currently shooting [Infection], but that’s it.

“At least we get to see the softer side, I guess you could call it, of my character,” he continues, “just like we saw his darker side in Broken Ties. Now I would have liked to have seen that continue a little longer. I wanted him to stay evil for maybe a couple of episodes, but they [the producers] decided to resolve the issue by the end of the story, which didn’t leave time for a great deal of angst. You did, however, get to see a lot of his vulnerability and him having raw power. That was probably the strongest Ronon has ever been, being all cracked out on that [Wraith] enzyme. Then his friends took that away from him, and he subsequently begs to be killed.

“As an actor, I had the opportunity to go to a couple of places I’d never been before, and that was so much fun. You don’t get to do something like that on most TV shows, or for that matter in real life. For Ronon, it was like being on heroin times 10, and since it’s a make-believe drug, you can really go with it because who knows what it does to you. That was neat. So there’s been plenty of stuff and a lot of new colors for me to play this year as far as Ronon is concerned.”

When Ronon first came to Atlantis, Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) was in charge of the expedition from Earth. When she became a prisoner of the Replicators, Stargate SG-1‘s Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) took over those responsibilities. In Atlantis‘ fifth season, the colonel was reassigned by Earth Command, and International Oversight Authority (IOA) representative Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) arrived in the Pegasus galaxy to take his turn in the responsibility seat.

“Woolsey has been good for my character in a shake-up sort of way,” says Momoa. “I mean, Ronon has a problem with authority in general. The reason he and Sheppard get along so well is because of mutual respect. He’ll loosely do what the colonel asks just because he trusts him and knows that Sheppard will watch his back. As for any outside authority, Ronon isn’t thrilled with it. He’s treated Woolsey like he treated Weir and Carter when he initially met them, and I think episode after episode they’ve become friendlier and friendlier. Woolsey treats Ronon with a lot of respect and their relationship is one of boss and employee. He doesn’t really understand Woolsey, but that’s OK because it’s what makes things interesting between them.”

Ronon pitches in to help save his colleague Rodney McKay's life in season five's "The Shrine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

Ronon pitches in to help save his colleague Rodney McKay's life in season five's "The Shrine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

Speaking of relationships, is Momoa pleased with how the one between his character and Jewel Staite’s has been written? “Absolutely,” he says. “I like that he’s fighting over someone who he might not necessarily like in a romantic sort of way. It’s not clear if he likes her because McKay likes her. It’s left to the audience to figure things out. Again, it’s nice, but I don’t think he should be with Keller. It was fun to have a couple of stories this season where there could have been something with them, but ultimately, no one wants to see Ronon with a woman. It’s like Samson losing his hair, you know? Once Ronon gets involved in a relationship he’ll lose his ‘powers’ if you will. That’s the way I’ve always thought of it. Having said that, there’s an episode towards the end of the season where you see another potential love interest for my character.”

One of the season five episodes that has both Ronon and Dr. McKay “competing” for Dr. Keller’s attentions is Tracker. In it, the physician is kidnapped while off-world by Kiryk (Mike Dopud), who, like Ronon, was turned into a runner by the Wraith. He needs Keller’s help to save the life of a little girl who was injured during a Wraith culling of her village and is not about to let either Ronon or McKay get in his way.

Tracker was fun because it was just me and David Hewlett, and working with him is always a pleasure as well as laughs and good times,” enthuses Momoa. “Our two characters are good together because they’re obviously brains and brawn, and now this year they’re fighting over Keller and it’s been great to feed off of that.

“I have to say, too, that Mike Dopud, who played Kiryk, does a terrific job in the episode. He’s a fantastic actor and we had such a good time working with him. Like Mike’s character, Ronon brought death upon an entire village because of the Wraith, so my character is able to relate to him on that level. However, they’re two testosterone-driven don’t-show-any-emotion guys, but they do share one tiny moment of understanding in the episode. I’m really pleased our writers did something like that, rather than having Ronon put the blinders on and have him just seeing red because this Runner took someone who he loves and respects. It would have been neat if they were able to bring back Mike’s character and have him and Ronon take on some Wraith together.”

Ronon and his teammates could have used someone like Kiryk to help them in the aforementioned Infection, where our heroes board a Wraith hive ship that, along with its crew, is suffering from a strange sickness. “In this episode, the Wraith we’re dealing with no longer have feeding openings on their hands,” explains Momoa. “So they have to eat using their mouths, and they have these really nasty, ugly faces and teeth, which we get to see. Ronon and the others are stuck on a hive ship with a bunch of freakin’ hulking eating machines, one of whom bites my character and gets his head blasted off. Our guys have to team up with Todd the Wraith [Christopher Heyerdahl]; they unfreeze him from stasis and he helps us.

“Andy Mikita is directing Infection and he’s one of my favorite directors. It’s very much a collaborative process with him. Sometimes it can be difficult to convey your ideas to a director, and Andy is really cool about it. I’ve always found him to be like a father figure. You can shoot the breeze with him. He’s very down-to-earth and that’s what I like about him.”

"Go ahead, make my day!" Ronon sets his sights on yet another bad guy in the season five episode "The Lost Tribe." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

"Go ahead, make my day!" Ronon sets his sights on yet another bad guy in the season five episode "The Lost Tribe." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright The Sci Fi Channel

No stranger to series TV, Momoa was a regular on Baywatch Hawaii and North Shore before being cast on Atlantis. It seems, though, that his time playing Ronon Dex has had the most impact on him and allowed him to further stretch himself as an actor.

“I’ve been with this role for four seasons, and at the end of my first year playing him I really began to grasp the character, so much so that now it’s easy to slip into,” he says. “As far as the action goes, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. I mean, I’ve been walking in these shoes for a long time, and I’m going to be a little sad when this show ends and I’m not playing Ronon. I’ve never really felt that way before. This is the hardest role I’ve ever had. There’s no way that I relate to most of the stuff he does, but I really like Ronon and I think the writers have done a good job with him. Sometimes it’s hard not having much to say as my character, but, hey, that’s Ronon, so I’ve had to let go of that.

“When it comes to the acting, I’ve learned a great deal on Atlantis. I get really nervous on-camera, so I’ve tried to relax and slow down. This season I’ve had the chance to go much deeper into this character and really experiment with him. Broken Ties was a huge breakthrough for me, especially when it came to the scenes where I cried. I find it very difficult to cry, and as an actor you have to look inside yourself as much as possible and be aware of your emotions. Thank God I got to work with [director] Ken Girotti on Broken Ties, who’s incredible. He got me to relax and would say to me, ‘You know you can do this.’ When you’re on-set and, for example, the lighting people are doing their thing, the camera guys are moving the camera into place, and someone from make-up is powdering your face, it’s hard to channel your emotions. It takes a lot of practice, and I’m not good at getting all emotional and crying.  Ken just came up to me and said, ‘Jason, you know what you want to do. You’re there, just relax.’

“When I heard Ken tell me to relax I thought, ‘OK, just breathe into your stomach and listen for a second to what he’s saying.’ When that one word [relax] hit me, it was just awesome. That’s where you think, ‘This is why I do what I do.’ I’ve had times in my career where I’ve been able to stretch myself acting-wise doing those types of scenes. Action helps that entire process because it throws you into that particular moment. As far as the acting, though, when you get to just perform and do your thing, that’s when you truly realize why you love your job so much.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photos are copyright The Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any fashion. Thanks!