Stargate Universe: Brian J Smith interview

Brian J Smith, Stargate Universe's Matthew Scott, talks about the back end of season one, the early work on season two, and the appearance of aliens...

As Stargate Universe heads towards the end of its successful first season, the man behind Matthew Scott, Mr Brian J Smith, was kind enough to give us a call and talk about how the show is panning out. Here’s what happened…

How is the shoot for season two coming along?

Season two’s going great. I think we just finished our second episode, and moving into a really fun third episode. We start next week. It’s great. I’m really excited about what to do in this year. They sat down and told us where they want to go with this season and it’s really, really, really exciting. I certainly did not predict that it was going to go in the direction that it looks like it’s going to go. It was really a shocker for all of us.

Sounds great! How was Robert Carlyle as a director?

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Oh! He was a fantastic director. He’s an actor, so he gets it. He understands what you’re going through as an actor and the fears you may have about the scene or yourself. He creates an atmosphere where you feel safe and you feel loved, and that you can’t really do anything wrong, which is the best kind of way to work because you’re not censoring yourself.

He was great, he would come up to us and give us notes that were so smart and so human and so actable.

The episode he had to work on, was a beautiful episode and a very intimate episode but also one that’s setting up a lot of stuff that’s going to be a major problem down the road. So, it was a big responsibility for him, but it was kind of funny to watch him having to wear two hats. He’ll be standing there in costume trying to hit his mark and act the scene out and then have to yell cut [laughs] and go talk to the DP and figure out what shot to do next and stuff like that.

It was a trip, but he was fantastic. He really hit it out of the park and did a great job.

Now that Robert Carlyle has had a shot in the director’s chair, do you think more of the cast will give it a go?

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I don’t know. I wonder if Louis Ferreira would be interested in directing. I certainly don’t think those of us like me or David (Blue) or Jamil (Smith) or Elyse (Levesque), the younger ones.

Directing a television episode is no joke and it’s incredibly difficult and especially when you’re acting in it as well. Maybe season twelve? [laughs] I think then we might know enough to be ready.

I think Bobby was the one who was just right at that sweet spot, who was really ready to take this on because it’s probably one of the most frightening and awesome responsibilities, to direct a show for one episode. It’s crazy.

Were you a fan of the original series before coming to the show?

I had never really watched them. I knew about them and I had seem them spoofed in South Park [laughs] and I was like, “What show is that? I haven’t seen that!” [laughs] So, once I got the job, and I realised I should probably start looking at what these other shows are.

It was a little bit jolting because they were so different from my idea of Stargate having worked on Stargate Universe. I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is absolutely nothing like what we’re doing here at all.”

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I will say, I quite enjoyed SG-1. I’m a very big fan of SG-1. I especially love Ben Browder. I thought he did fantastic work in that. I think David Hewlett is a comedic genius. I think he’s great. So, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff there to like.

Have you had much interaction with the fans thus far?

Well, I joined Twitter last year. I’m really glad I did, because it’s great to have that contact with the fans. It’s great to be able to answer questions and sometimes put certain rumours, concerns and things to rest before they become a big thing.

And also I went a convention up in Birmingham. One of the Chevrons… I believe it was Chevron 7.4. And that was a blast, I love, love, love doing the conventions. I think I’m doing a few more here in the States and doing one in Canada in April. I love it.

I love getting to talk to people face to face. There’s something so impersonal about the Internet. I think ultimately it’s dehumanising in a way. It’s great to see people face to face and get to discuss the show.

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How do you feel about the fans’ reactions from before the show started compare with now, after they’ve seen what Stargate Universe is like?

Y’know, it’s such an odd thing. We definitely have our own set of fans, we definitely have a very unique group of people and it’s a very interesting mix of some people who are curious who have never seen Stargate before, but who feel like the stakes are high and the characters are interesting and that the look of it is compelling.

And there’s also some people who really enjoyed the previous Stargates. So, those are our fans and those are the people that we love and that we’re concerned about and the rest of them we just don’t give a crap [laughs] Nah, I’m just kidding.

It’s a crazy world. Who knows why people watch a television series. I don’t know why I do. Sometimes something just clicks and in a way fan reaction and all that stuff? It’s none of our business. For me, it certainly isn’t.

My job begins and ends with the scene I’m working on that day. You know what I mean? I show up, I do my scenes, I work with the director to make it as good as we can. And then fifty other people take that work and put it together and dub it and sell it and distribute it and advertise it. It’s all none of my business, really. I’m an actor. People’s reactions? I’ve got nothing to do with it. [laughs]

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Having seen the trailer for the second half of season one, it’s obvious that aliens will be involved in upcoming episodes. Did it feel like a natural progression, or would you prefer to stick to the more character-based stories?

I won’t lie, when we were shooting that episode, I was worried. I kept asking Andy Mikita, who directed that episode, Space, “Andy, I don’t want to say alien. I don’t want to say the word alien. It just doesn’t feel like our show. Why can’t I say ‘those things’ or ‘that creature’ or whatever? We start saying the word alien and it just takes the show into a weird sci-fi thing that it hasn’t been so far.”

So we’re shooting it and there’s this poor guy in this green jumpsuit type thing with holes cut out for the eyes, and they’re gonna computer generate an alien on top. I’m like, “Oh my god, I hope this isn’t a big cheese-fest.”

When we saw the episode, when I finally got a copy of it, I was pretty blown away. I thought that they did such a good job with creating that alien and integrating it into the style of the show. It made sense, it felt like a part of the show, it felt like it could live in that universe and it just ups the stakes of the entire show from here on out times ten.

So, I was really, really surprised and happy and pleased at how those turned out.

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Your character already has a dark and complicated back-story, but will we see more of it in future episodes?

Yeah, I think so. Y’know, Scott doesn’t talk a lot about himself. I think of most of the characters he’s not going to sit down, unless you need it. He’s not going to tell you what he’s thinking about himself, or what he thinks about religion, or what he thinks about being a father. He holds a lot of that in, and he holds the cards really close.

There’s a very specific episode in the last half that comes to a head a little bit for him. Briefly, at least. Things that he thought he had dealt with come back and kick him in the ass. It happens to a lot of characters in that episode, of course, through the prism of a really great sci-fi set-up.

So, those elements are still there and they still inform who he is.

However, I would say about 70 percent of the last half of the season is more focused on where we’re going next. We know who we were in the past; we know who we are now. These next episodes are about taking us into the future, and trying to find some way to reconcile our lives with the situation we’re in.

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You’ve already worked with some stars in your early career: Peter Gallagher, Robert Carlyle, Bruce Davidson. Are there any actors you aspire to work with in the years ahead?

Yes, for sure, my god. There are a lot of young actors that I think are fantastic and it would be great to work with. One that always comes to mind is Ryan Gosling. I think he’s a fantastic actor. I think he’d be fun to work with. Gosh, who else?  I’m completely drawing a blank! [laughs]

Actually, Mary McDonnell. I’m a very big Battlestar fan. I’m so shocked that she didn’t get an Emmy for her performance in that show. For me, the Emmys have absolutely no legitimacy because what she did in that show, in my opinion, is some of the best acting you’re ever going to see in a television series. So layered, so committed, so emotional and just so good.

The fact that it got ignored by a group of people who profess to advance the artistic successes in our industry, it’s just so depressing to me. She was so good in that, and she, for sure, is someone I would love to work with.

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Would you say that it’s true that, when actors join sci-fi or fantasy shows, that there is a fear they will be tarred with that brush, unable to escape from the genre?

Yeah, I would say it’s not just a fear, it’s a very real thing that happens. It’s a very odd industry and a lot of time your body of work as an actor is what defines you.

The thing that excites me about SGU is that we are dealing with a lot of big, deep, human things and I can think of so many scenes and think, ‘I’m proud of that scene’ that have nothing to do with like, ‘Oh I had to do this complicated sequence that was later enhanced by CGI’. Y’know, it wasn’t about special effects, it was about a moment that was happening between two characters and there are so many of those in this show.

While I’m sure that there’s a lot people out there who want to see less of that and more of the crazy visual effects stuff, for me, as an actor, what’s going to keep me working are those moments that happen between me and another actor. And that’s what we’ve got here.

I don’t think anyone on this show is going to have to worry about being singled out as a sci-fi actor.

It’s the same thing that we saw with actors on Battlestar. So many of those have now moved on to do very traditional un-sci-fi type shows on TV and even film, and I think a lot of our cast will be able to do that too because we’re not talking to a guy in an alien costume. [laughs] There’s a humanity to the show that feels current and it’s going to serve us well later on.

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Brian J Smith, thank you very much!

Stargate Universe is showing on Sky1 and Sky1 HD.