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David Hewlett on 'Stargate Universe' and the Future of the Sci-Fi Franchise

by Mike Moody, posted Apr 4th 2011 4:00PM
david hewlett stargate universeSmart, geeky, passionate and verbose -- not only could that description suit 'Stargate Atlantis''s science wiz Rodney McKay, it also fits the actor who played him, nerd-for-hire David Hewlett.

Two years after viewers waved goodbye to McKay and Hewlett in the 'Atlantis' series finale, the fan-friendly genre actor is resurrecting his most famous role tonight with a guest spot on Syfy's 'Stargate Universe' (Mon., April 4, 10PM ET).

We got a chance to chat with Hewlett about bringing McKay back to 'Stargate,' a franchise that's in danger of disappearing from the TV landscape after the recent cancellation of 'SGU.'

Hewlett, who blogs about his work and life for Syfy's Blastr site, offered his thoughts about the future of 'Stargate' and what it was like playing McKay on 'SGU,' a show he said exists in "a different world when compared to the other 'Stargate's." The actor also briefed us on the status of his in-the-works pet TV project, 'Starcrossed,' which he described as 'Galaxy Quest' meets '30 Rock.'

TV Squad: In your first blog for Blastr, you wrote that you were "Stargate's biggest fan for life." It must have been pretty easy for you to say yes when the 'SGU' producers asked you to bring back McKay for a guest-starring role.
David Hewlett: Yeah, that's it. I had so much fun [playing McKay]. I always felt sorry for everyone else on the show ['Stargate Atlantis']. I would say, "Well I got the best character!" I think the writers enjoyed writing McKay, and you could tell. And the issue with 'SGU' is that it was such a different world when compared to the other 'Stargates.' I could bounce back and forth between 'SG-1' and 'SGA,' but 'SGU' was a very different world. I was obviously concerned that, you know, you didn't want McKay to show up and not be McKay unless there was a good reason for that. I think, as ['SGU' co-creator] Brad [Wright] said when I got there, was that he was happy that he could sort of bridge those worlds without really breaking the rules of either of them, which I think was an important thing.

It's so difficult, because McKay wouldn't survive in an 'SGU' world, for the most part. I mean, he'd be killed, basically! And I know Brad said he had a hard time trying to figure out how to bring McKay back, but I'm really glad he did, and it's too bad that the show's not going to continue, but I wasn't gonna be turning that down in a hurry.

david hewlett stargate universeAlmost every time I write about 'SGU,' I read a number of comments from certain 'Stargate' fans complaining about how the show is too different from 'Atlantis' and 'SG-1.' What's your take on how the franchise has evolved with 'SGU'?
That's such a difficult one, because it's so weird to be an actor on 'SG-1' and 'Atlantis' and then see 'SGU' happen, and then getting a chance to become part of that. It was interesting to watch the progression, because 'SG-1' had a very unique flavor to it. 'SG-1' was a unique phenomenon, and then 'Atlantis' came on and we were definitely a spinoff. I always liked to call us a compliment to the 'SG-1' show, and I think that worked really well. I think we bolstered each other's ratings, and I think the fans were happy because they got more of the same but different, if that makes sense. I always felt that the biggest problem that 'SGU' had was the 'Stargate' in front of it. If it had just been called 'Universe,' it could have stood on its own as its own show with its own tone.

I think the biggest detriment they had was that people came from watching 'Atlantis' expecting more of the same from 'SGU,' and it was a really different change of direction. And it's beautifully done ... I think the problem they came up against was that they had a very strong existing fan base for something that was, I think, lighter. You know, I used to call us the "Disney of science fiction." I didn't mean that as a put-down -- what I meant was that we were the kind of science fiction that families sat down and watched together. We had kids and parents and grandparents and the neighbors come by all to watch our show. That's an amazing thing in this day and age. But 'SGU' is definitely an adult show for an adult audience, and it was a much darker show. So obviously the people who want to sit down wither their family, you know, they can't do that with 'SGU.' But that unto itself opens up a whole other audience. It's just unfortunate that they hadn't had a chance to really spread their wings and become their own show. But I think that's the danger when you play with the tone of a franchise like this.

Was it a mistake or not? I don't know, I don't think so. They certainly did a great job with it. I mean, my God, the acting, the writing, the effects ... it's gorgeous. It's an absolutely gorgeous show. But the problem, I think, is that it didn't bring enough from the original 'Stargate' franchise. I think they were aiming for more of a 'Battlestar' type audience, and 'Battlestar' had the same issue, where it was a very, very highly acclaimed show ... but it didn't hit the numbers. I think when you go for dark and edgy you lose out what's certainly not the sexiest demographic in the world for TV by network standards, but certainly a powerful one. The shows that allow for the communal activity of sitting down and watching television are incredibly powerful franchises, and that, to me, is what viewers got out of 'Stargate: SG-1' and 'Atlantis.'

You mentioned the 'SGU' cancellation. It seems like the future of 'Stargate' is up in the air right now. How do you feel about a world without 'Stargate,' and do you think the franchise will bounce back?
I think 'Stargate' is the perfect franchise to apply to the multi-platform thing. I know they were trying to get games going and stuff, but it was a victim, I think, to the big shake-up at MGM. But I don't think this is the last that we'll see of 'Stargate.' It would seem very foolish to me to let it go that easily. At the very least, I would hope to see some kind of movies, whether they're 'SGU' movies or 'Atlantis' movies or 'SG-1,' but if I was to guess, it would maybe be an amalgamation of the three.

I spoke to ['Stargate Universe' cast member] David Blue several months ago, and he had great things to say about working with you.
You sound surprised!

david hewlett stargate universe[Laughs] I didn't mean to! David said that you were one of the reasons he wanted to do 'Stargate.' What was it like working with him, and was there a bit of passing of the torch going on there?
The Eli character is very different than McKay. He's a smart nerd, but it's a very different type of character, and I love him and I love the way David does it. David had sort of reached out a couple of times before to say hi, and it was really fun -- I got to sit and chat with him and scheme and plot like I like to do. I loved it, and I really enjoyed being back. It was really quite sad to see it over. And the other guy it was nice to see was Justin (Louis Ferreira), who plays Everett. We grew up together. We were both young actors in Toronto fighting for parts and stuff, so it was nice to reconnect with him. Now we're no longer running around in bars, were actually family men now, so it was interesting to see how we've grown up and compare notes.

You also got to reconnect with 'Stargate Atlantis' vet Robert Picardo again for Monday's episode.
We never stopped. I think I'm just going to adopt that guy!

That's funny, because onscreen, I always thought that Woolsey and McKay had a bit of a strained relationship. Has their relationship evolved since we last saw them together?
Well we can actually carry on a conversation without screaming at each other now, which is probably a good thing. It was weird because Woolsey was such an 'SG-1' character, and he was so embroiled in the politics of 'SG-1,' that when he came to 'Atlantis' I was not convinced. But he showed up and, strangely, he fit in so well by not fitting in... So, yeah, he just showed up playing this complete dick, and I thought, "Well, how's this going to work, how do we do this? We've got two assholes in the same scene all the time?" But it worked, because with Woolsey, all of a sudden McKay was fighting authority in his own feeble way. It helped me add even more layers to McKay, so it was a welcome addition, and it was really nice to go back [to 'Stargate'] with him.

Going in as a guest star to a franchise that I've been a part of for years, Picardo was great to have there. I felt like I had an ally. I felt like he had my back, but it turned out I didn't really need that. But just from a moral support standpoint it was nice -– it's nice to go anywhere with Picardo, actually.

Can you tell me about how 'Starcrossed' was originally conceived and what the status of that is now?
'Starcrossed' is in talks right now. We are in the process of trying to make it happen again. It's been sitting there festering for a long time. Basically, it's about time to get it happening, and thankfully Syfy are helping us as much as they possibly can, so we'll see what happens. Obviously I don't have anything official on that, but that's up to them to say "yay" or "nay" eventually. But they are certainly making it possible for me to continue working on it, which is fantastic, because I love this idea. We basically wanted to do 'Galaxy Quest' meets '30 Rock,' almost a fantastical comedy take on something that is so out of this world already, which is science fiction.

What we're working on right now is obviously making it financially viable for whoever wants to get involved [to produce it] and that may involve traditional television and it will certainly be involving a lot of web stuff. Basically we're just out there right now hustling for some money and some actual written commitments from people. If Syfy hadn't been so good as to let us run with this again, I don't know what we would do, because it definitely wouldn't happen. They'd be a fantastic [home for the show], and again, you know, they haven't committed to anything, but we're certainly talking to them about it. We would love that to happen, because obviously they are the absolutely perfect place for us to be doing something like this. As soon as there's an official announcement from them, then I can go into the gory details.

One more 'Stargate' question: McKay is a fan favorite. Why do you think fans connect with him so well?
I can't speak for the fans, but I can speak for me ... I think if I wasn't working on these shows I would be a fan of this stuff. I grew up watching 'Doctor Who' and buying all the books and the dolls and that kind of stuff. I love that stuff, so I feel like I'm paid to do what I would be paying to do! But for McKay, I always feel like there's a little bit of McKay in everybody. Everybody wants to be the guy who has the answers and who isn't afraid to admit that he's a genius, social niceties be damned! I mean I love science fiction because it takes me out of this world. And with McKay, he's the scientist who has spent his entire life reading about this stuff and now he's getting to live it. In a way that's what all of us want. We've done the reading, we've done the research, we've done the dreaming, and we want to be McKay -- we want to be the guy who saves the day because we know all this stuff. We want all this nerd-dom to pay off. And McKay is the resulting image, he's the iconic figure of the nerd who's done his homework and now he gets to go off and save the universe.

I know you probably can't talk about this a lot, but I have to ask: What can you tell me about your role and your experience working on the 'Planet of the Apes' prequel, 'Caesar: Rise of the Apes?'
Yeah, that should be coming out soon, in August I believe. It was unbelievable. I preface all of this by saying they make you sign these huge non-disclosures ... but I got to read the script, and I have what I think is a really interesting part. I really hope that it sticks to the script. A film of that size has to go through so many people, but Rupert Wyatt, the director, is amazing. It's just so great to see an indie film director who is all about the acting and the characters directing a movie that you'd think is just a giant special effects spectacle thing. And if they stick to the script that I read and that we shot, I think it'll be fantastic. It's an action movie with a heart and a soul, and I so miss that these days.

UPDATE: Read our recap of Monday's episode of 'SGU,' 'Seizure.

Watch a sneak peek of tonight's episode
of 'Stargate Universe,' 'Seizure':

'Stargate Universe' airs Mondays at 10PM ET on Syfy.

Follow @mikemoody on Twitter.

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Ady Morandi

The old campaign that was on dgz.ro/stargate-universe now moved to http://www.sg-u.com/
Trully, on a counter-strike website a page to the campaign was not looking quite good.
We have now even a youtube video at this adress: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KePzRujyC70
Watch the video, but is necesarly to join the website and vote there. And of course, spread this to any forum, website or blog, everywhere, so other get to know what u know: this campaign.

Thank's and i expect all with us.
First 3 active users on forum will be rewarded with "vip" rang.

July 31 2011 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Black Adder

The problem with SGU wasn't that it was 'darker' then SG1 or Atlantis. The problem was that it was plain boring. The last few episodes where pretty good but up to that it was a snooze fest with attempts of soap opera.

June 02 2011 at 10:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ady Morandi

Now, there is a chance to save SGU, join official website of the campaign: http://www.dgz.ro/stargate-universe, vote there, and by all means and social sites find on campaign page, share it, for a hope that we will see a 3rd season. Let's save it togeter, all fans arround the world.

May 09 2011 at 6:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

actor david hewlett's first appearence on sg-1 was did not give a very good impression of his character . but his talent as an actor was and still is very good . he and samantha carter were at odds with each other to say the least in that episode when teal'c was stuck in the stargate's memory ..
on atalntis david's character dr.mckay gave a emmy winning performance in the episode when his sister came to atlantis to help him close the rift in space . i and a lot of other fans did criticise the early episodes of sgu and rightfully so , they were just soap operas . david has enough class and tact to avoid saying anything bad about sgu which is smart . i would like to add that sgu's cancellation was most likely due to the cost of the episodes as others have said . it seems that stargate has run its course and we fans are very dissapointed . todays shows are about werwolves and vampires , wrestling , and reality type ,and mid evil kings and there exploits . which
probably are not very expensive to make . trends change and maybe as others have said stargate may return with a cast of characters from all three of the series in one . it would have been great if sgu had the following of NCIS and CSI and LAW and ORDER . it did not .good-bye SGU you will be missed .david if the scripts had been made with you as lead scientist and colonel sheppard in charge of the icarus project then the show would have been a huge success . robert cooper and brad wright sure missed the boat on that decesion ! thoughts to ponder MGM .

April 19 2011 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sergeant Fuzzyboots

@Joshua Joers. It's interesting how you say SGU hasn't had enough comic relief, because that is the exact reason why I enjoy it more than any of the other SG franchises. SGU has balls. It has real depth to it. It's intelligent, serious and dark at times. After watching 3 seasons of SG-1, Col O'Neil eventually drove me nuts with his stupidity. I also remember watching the pilot of Stargate Atlantis with so much anticipation, only to be disappointed at how it seemed like so much "light fluff" (I never watched another episode BTW). I agree with you that it would have been more exciting to see the SGU team exploring new worlds and making new discoveries (especially since much of the first season seemed a bit soap-opera-ish), but overall I think this is the best Sci Fi series to have ever been shown on TV (IMHO). I congratulate the producers for daring to create something like SGU, and not just manufacturing a show to simply appeal to the mass market. It will be a real shame when this ends.

April 17 2011 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joshua Joers

Having watched all of the stargate episodes up to date the stargate atlantis and dr mckay being on the show was the main reason i kept watching it over and over again. I didnt like the way SGU started because it seemed so slow just getting to the point where the cool science part takes place. I think the show would have went alot better if they put less problems with the ship and more cool adventures to different planets finding new things. It seems like every episode had something to do with the ship going to die get blown out of the sky or something huge going on with the ship. There was no comic relief hardly at all in the show. However the one episode dr Mckay comes in you can tell he already was throwing some comic relief in there. With a show as serious as this one led on from the beginning people need a way to realize that fun can be derived from even the gloomiest of situations. I cant believe they are cancelling the show i just finished the newest episode and just started to get into it only to find out the show is getting cancelled. All they had to do to bring back numbers is just post an awesome comercial about some of the old team from atlantis and sg-1 to come back and help explore more ancient technology ... open up more things that the ship can do turn the whole dark and gloomy part of the show into something exciting .. give the crew a way to go back and forth to earth ... just like they did in sga where it took quite a few episodes before gate travel back and forth to earth was allowed. What this would do would turn the mood around being stuck on a ship to finding the end goal which is to see if there was some sort of life great enough to have created all of the universe. This would been a great task to see amanda tapping come back with david hewlett and even maybe the dr that mckay falls in love with so the people aboard destiny have a doctor. I think going this route would allow for all of the stargate atlantis fans to find a way to weekly watch these episodes i know i would. i hope they do come out with a new show or movies or something im running out of reruns to watch lol

April 15 2011 at 3:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joz Jonlin

I don't understand why people can't accept SGU as SGU in its own right. It's a great show with so much more potential that will be left unfinished. It will be a sad day without a version of Stargate on television.

April 09 2011 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sally Murphy

i hope david is right, and that there will be a combo movie of the three stargates!! i believe the most fans would be happy with this. here's hoping!!

April 05 2011 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


April 05 2011 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think SGA has a special place in fans' hearts because for seven seasons SG1 built up and led up to Atlantis as the legacy of the Ancients on Earth, and the means to the final victory over Anubis. After that, we were always going to be hooked on SGA, pretty much whatever they did with the show. And it didn't hurt that they went with larger-than-life.

The problem with SGU is they started with a fantastic premise--being aboard an Ancient seedship further from Earth than anyone's ever been--but didn't follow through on exploring the Ancient part. Too much drama and too little wonder.

April 04 2011 at 8:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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