As part of our romance with SciFiNow (wait, what, you haven’t read the first issue of SciFiNow+ yet?), the world’s number one science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine have opened up their archives to allow us to bring you some classic coverage of our favourite shows. Over ten years ago in SciFiNow issue 33, the team spoke to creators Brad Wright, Robert C. Cooper and star Robert Carlyle about the forthcoming Stargate Universe. We hope you dig this blast from the dim and distant past.
“Pilots these days are high concept ideas that are essentially like movies that don’t have anywhere to go, and by episode six they don’t know what to do with it,” said Stargate Universe creator Robert C. Cooper, when we spoke to him about the upcoming show and its conceptual origins. His partner in crime, Brad Wright, agreed instantly. “Essentially we’ve learned from doing a lot of television that you need legs, and what you need to do is create a concept that has the potential of going forward a number of years and never back ourselves into a corner that you can’t get out of without cheating.”
When Cooper and Wright talk about television, it’s worth paying attention. The pair have, after all, been driving forces behind Stargate, arguably the most successful science-fiction
franchise in modern times, from the very beginning. They’ve guided the story as producers since the fourth season of SG-1, launched Atlantis, and now, they’re about to do it all over again with the exceptionally promising Universe, which in itself marks a different direction for the franchise as a whole.
Cooper and Wright are quick to dismiss any comparisons with shows such as Battlestar Galactica, however. “It’s still Stargate and while it’s darker in some ways, SG-1 and Atlantis were often quite dark.” Wright stressed somewhat defensively, prompting Cooper to disagree. “I think ‘dark’ is the wrong word. I think in some ways it’s more realistic. I think Stargate can’t get more contemporary – it always was contemporary – but what I think we struggled with often was because it was taking place on alien planets, we had people speaking in alien speak and in this case we’re dealing more with characters from Earth who get to speak in more contemporary ways. Maybe their issues and their flaws and challenges are, hopefully, more relatable and more contemporary to a broader audience.”
One of the chief reasons for the common association with the Peabody-award winning BSG has been the directorial style, which employs a lot of faux-documentary style shooting using handheld cameras by preference over dolly or crane-mounted devices. According to Cooper, audiences are taking the wrong nods, and he was influenced heavily by unlikely properties for a science-fiction venture.
“For me, my inspiration came from other shows as well, things like Firefly and, on a dramatic level, things like The Shield.”Robert C. Cooper
“Our DP [director of photography] for the first three episodes shot The Shield and that’s a show that shot in a very documentary style, trying to give you the sense of being dropped into a Southeast LA police station to give you that sense of realism. I think realistic is more the right word, than dark or edgy.”
Regardless of the visual style, or the genesis of the project, however, the central aspect of every Stargate series so far has been the titular device itself. As SG-1 and Atlantis matured, a balance began to be struck between planet-of-the-week episodes and character insights, one that the producers insist will be maintained with Universe, which they’ve already
described as being far more character driven from the off than its predecessors.
“In either SG-1 or Atlantis,” said Wright, “not every show was a going-through the-Stargate adventure. It just wasn’t. I would argue that the balance of episodes on this show when we go through a Stargate on an adventure is probably the same as the other two series. It’s too cool a storytelling device not to use.”
Indeed, the iconic device is the most recognisable symbol of the series, as well as its namesake. Destiny’s Stargate, however, will operate on a different basis to what audiences are used to.
“This Stargate is the coolest one of them all,” enthused Cooper, with Wright adding that it was a very, very old version of the device, a rotary dial version in fact. “It has a far more limited range than the Milky Way or Pegasus galaxies’ Stargates,” he continued. “For example, if Destiny is travelling through a galaxy, it can’t go anywhere in that galaxy; it can only go in a limited range. That’s why they put it on a ship, so that as it moves through the galaxy, it can move across it and explore Stargates that have been seeded by other ships prior to the launch of the Destiny who knows how long before?”
Dude, Where’s My Carlyle?
In as much as technology, wormhole travel, spaceships and camerawork are an integral part of Stargate, though, it’s the characters that truly make the series. In this, Universe seems to have struck gold with the dubious protagonist Dr. Nicholas Rush, played by Robert Carlyle. The producers had already suggested that each of the characters on the show are both heroes and villains rather than being one-dimensional (as was a criticism of previous series) when we spoke to Carlyle, who tended to agree.
“I think that that’s generally true. One of the things that Rush talks about a lot is the greater good, and what will serve the greater good. Therefore individuals can be sacrificed for the greater good. That is it and there is no way you can argue against that, as far as he’s concerned,” Carlyle elaborated. “His biggest nemesis on this show is Colonel Young, the commander of the ship… He can’t believe this guy will sacrifice people. By the end of the day Rush is saying, ‘Do you want to go home or not? We can’t have passengers aboard Destiny.’ I find that very, very interesting. They wanted someone who could make dislikable things quite likable, and that’s him. It takes big decisions like that, which may not necessarily be taken. Of course he says to Young, ‘Why should I listen to you? I’m not a soldier. We’ve ended up in this place and now you should be listening to me, because I’m the guy who can get you home.’ So he’s got a point.”
The role is perhaps an odd one for Carlyle, who has recently been making his name in major studio films such as 28 Weeks Later and The 51st State. The Glaswegian actor, however, isn’t as surprised as others are that he took the part. “I’ve made a career out of playing complex characters, I guess, and that’s what I love about the guy. He has had a bad time in his personal life – his wife died and he wasn’t there for her. This is the beginning of his problems and the deconstruction of this man.”
The psychological profile of Rush is certainly interesting, and Carlyle seems to think that to understand him, you have to understand his motivation and drive. “What happens to a guy who goes up there and doesn’t want to go home? It’s because he’s got nothing to go back to, to start. But number two, and probably more importantly, is the fact that the exploration of the universe, to him, is the greatest thing anyone can ever do; it’s the greatest gift to give your fellow human beings, to tell them what’s actually out there. So you can look at Rush as being quite heroic in one sense, but in the other way you go. Just get these people home!’ But he wants to keep exploring.”
Destiny travels the galaxy following another ship that seeds Stargates. For now, of course, we’re all playing the waiting game to see what will happen with this brave new world for Stargate. If you don’t take confidence from anything else in this preview, however, at least know that Robert Carlyle is completely sold on the show.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered some terrific stuff in my career, but the scripts for this, I have to say, are as good as anything I’ve been involved with.”
James Rundle and Edward Gross