Note: This interview was conducted before the show returned from hiatus.
It’s been well publicised that you were a fan of the series before you landed the part of Eli. In your opinion, now that Universe is ten episodes in, does it fit with the franchise or do you see it as a separate entity to SG-1 and Atlantis?
That’s a complicated question for me. I definitely feel like it’s a part of that world – going into it, it was important for me to do two things. One, that it’s not isolating any fans from before, but then also two, that it pushes the envelope. I think that’s the idea that Brad [Wright] and Robert [Cooper] had. As much as we love the past shows and as much as we admire the fans of the past shows, we didn’t want to do the exact same thing, because there’s only so many times you can do the same thing again before it gets boring. We wanted to take the world, take the fans, take the story and make them grow. We wanted to bring in more than just 1.6 million fans from Atlantis, we wanted to bring in more than just the problem-of-the-week type stories. And you have to – television and film these days is about trying new things and pushing the envelope. Having seen the ones so far, and I’ve probably seen one through ten, that’s what they show us, they’ve gone further than what I expected when we were filming it. So I absolutely think that we’re a part of the franchise, but at the same time, I like to think that we’re a distinct entity in that franchise because we are taking risks that may not have happened before.
It’s drawn a lot of praise for being darker and more mature than previous series.
Yeah, you have to be, with the way that TV and film works these days. I don’t know if it’s because of reality television or what, but viewers are a lot more fly-on-the-wall, they want to see more realistic things, and they want to feel more connected to the characters. So in order to do that you can’t have everything be happy and joyous and solved at the end of the week; you have to carry on from episode to episode. So if you apply that to Stargate, you’re either going to have that or the show’s going to go off the air.
It’s funny you should say that viewers are more like flies on the wall, given that your character, Eli, sort of breaks the fourth wall by his nature. Would you agree that he represents the fans?
Oh, 100 per cent. Well I hope he does. That was always the plan, that Eli represents… it’s not just the audience, but all fans, especially fans of film and television. Myself as well. And having a device like the Kino really helps with that because it allows you to break the fourth wall. He can kind of do an Office, and look directly into the camera and speak to the audience directly, which you wouldn’t normally be able to experience. At first I was a little bit worried about that, I was worried about how it would come off, but then we started doing it more, and I realised that it’s a great device that allows Eli to be even more the heart and the mind of the audience, and express what they’re thinking and guide them through the show directly. So it’s great, but it’s a lot of pressure to represent the entire fan base!
How much input do you have into the character? You said he represents you as well just now, so how much David Blue is in Eli Wallace?
Let me start with the first part – they’re really great about having an open door policy if I want to come and talk to them and express ideas. And there’s definitely been a few times along the way where I’ve brought something up, they’ve considered it and been very nice, and allowed it to go into the character. Especially as an actor, you get the breakdown of the character off the bat, and it’s not necessarily including everything – you just take what you think the character is – and as you go, you’ll get a script and go “Oh, I didn’t realise that” and you just have to add it in from there on. But as far as myself and the character go, as much as my cast mates love to tease me that I am Eli, in that I’m a film fan and a sci-fi fan… the truth is that I actually quote way more than Eli does. I’m not as huge a Planet Of The Apes fan as he is, but we’re generally very different. I’m a little bit more socially adept than Eli is, I’m a bit more confident. I am not as smart. But when you boil it down to the TV/Film aspect of it and the sci-fi aspect of it, it’s as much a part of me as it is the character.
We spoke to [producer] Robert C Cooper the other day, and he told us that the show doesn’t have an overarching story for the whole series. Do you prefer this as a storytelling environment or would you prefer a more rigid structure?
I’m surprised to hear him say that because for me, being stuck on the ship and trying to get home is the long-term story, but I guess maybe he doesn’t consider it that way. What was the second part of the question?
Does it give you much freedom to experiment with the story, or would you prefer a more rigid structure?
Well, I definitely do like that we don’t have a problem and then solve it by the end of the episode all of the time. I like that there are certain aspects that carry through because I feel that’s the driving force that allows you… I love shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who or whatever where there are pieces of something that are hinted at, but not dealt with for a while, and I really enjoy that because it keeps me invested in the show rather than it being something that I just sit down to watch. It keeps me going “Oh God, why do I have to wait until next week?” So I hope that they continue to do that in the coming seasons – I hope there are coming seasons – because I think that’s what will draw in the old audience and the new audience. As far as experimenting with the character, that’s very much in the writers’ hands. I show up with the script, I’m a very curious person as a fan and I’m always going up to them and saying “What does this mean? What’s going to happen? Why are we doing this?” And they never answer me. But as long as they continue to keep taking the risks that they have then the show will continue to grow in the way it has, which I love, honestly.
A few outlets have described the characters of the show as onions, in every episode you peel back another layer…
Oh, I like that. Claim it! Claim that you wrote it, I won’t tell anyone.
Does Eli have any big surprises or reveals on the way? It was sort of hinted at with his mother…
Oh yeah, absolutely. There are many layers, I think that’s why we were able to get so many actors – I’m not going to pat myself on the back and say like myself – but actors like Robert Carlyle, Ming Na, and the guest stars like Reiko Aylesworth and what have you… I won’t ruin anything for you, but it’s great stuff, and a lot of people had been worried about certain characters – that’s the problem with an ensemble drama, it takes a while to get to know people, like the onions, and there’s some beautiful, beautiful stuff. Like, heart wrenching stuff. And I don’t think that we would have been able to attract the calibre of actor that we’ve attracted to the show if the characters weren’t complicated like onions, which sounds funny. Because you don’t want to display caricature, you don’t want to play a stock cookie-cutter character, you want to be more complicated and as the series progresses, we learn much, much more as we go. But there’s still quite a lot to learn, as someone who’s done 20 of them, and I keep wanting to see the scripts for next season, but I can’t!
Next: Pacing, plotlines and progression…