Interview: Robert Carlyle - SciFiNow

Interview: Robert Carlyle

We talk to one of Britain’s finest actors about his role on Stargate Universe.

Now in his second year of playing Dr Nicholas Rush on Syfy’s Stargate Universe, we’re still finding it hard to believe that Robert Carlyle joined the show. Not because we think it’s bad, but because we never expected him to appear on a Stargate series. He has, however, proved to be the strongest card in a solid hand, as we discussed with him.

Are you a big sci-fi fan?
I had always enjoyed good science fiction, what I would think was good science fiction. 2001 is a great movie. A classic. I love the first Alien film, the first of the three – that’s a great movie as well. So that world has always interested me but I had never been involved in it until now.

Was that because you weren’t interested in getting involved or that just the right part hadn’t come along?
Like a lot of these things, I’ve played a lot of my career like that. I don’t plan anything really; I don’t structure it in any kind of way. When my agent and manager put this to me at first, I said, “No. I’m not interested in that at all,” because, to be honest, I’d seen the previous shows and it just wasn’t my thing at all. And they said, “Well maybe you should listen to these guys, there’s something interesting here.” So I said, “Okay.” They sent me through a premise, and I was interested in the premise – the idea that nobody could come back – that was the first thing. And then when I spoke to Brad Wright and Robert Cooper [executive producers], they told the idea that Rush particularly does not want to come back, that he’s got nothing else to go back for, that he feels that floating around in this rusty old bucket up there is a worthwhile thing to do, and I just thought, “I like this guy. What’s going on in there?” [points to head]. There are so many whys then. A lot of whys to ask, and that will keep me going for a while.

What’s the most difficult thing about playing this character for you?
The technical difficulties would be the technical stuff that he has to say; when you’re talking about ‘wormholes’ and ‘solar flares’ and the time stuff, to me I don’t know what I am talking about – it’s like Shakespeare, trying to get that into my head. So that’s a wee bit difficult. But in terms of the acting, it’s very important to walk a particular line with Rush because you don’t want to completely alienate the audience and it’s very, very easy to do that with a character like Rush. They think, “Well, I don’t like this guy, and I don’t like at all what he is up to. It’s dishonest.” All of that. So he has to have good reasons for what he does, and I think that’s the strength in the character that Brad Wright and Robert Cooper have set in place, is that yes, maybe it’s a bit distasteful but he’s right. So that’s makes it okay.

Does having so many stage-trained actors – Lou Diamond Phillips, Ming-Na, Brian J Smith, Louis Ferreira, Jamil Walker Smith – affect the dynamic when you’re performing scenes?
I think it does, aye it does. When Brad Wright and Robert Cooper came to me at first, the first thing I said was that I was really flattered, “but why the fuck do you want me?” That was my question. And there was a silence, because I don’t think anybody had reacted to a job offer with them like that before. They laughed and said an interesting thing, they said, “Well, that question is the reason we want you to come and do it.” What I understood by the end of our conversation was that if it wasn’t going to be me, it was going to be someone like me, that kind of actor. They wanted someone who was going to shake it up a bit I guess. So therefore, when they had me there in place, Louis was then only too happy to come and join, as did various other actors who then came.

That must be flattering to you?
It’s a lovely thing, it really is. That’s something that you would obviously have to talk to them about, but I feel it, and it’s a nice thing.

Do you see yourself staying with the show for the duration? Or is there going to be a point where you think Rush can’t possibly go on being this conflicted character?
Enough’s enough? I think the answers are yes and yes. I think I can continue for a bit, but there will obviously come a point where I’ve played it and I’ve done it. I’ll know when that time is there.

It’s an incredible character.
It’s a fantastic character. And I’m glad you think that, because you say these kind of things in interviews and you think, “Well, you’re just saying that because you’re promoting the show,” but Rush is, without a doubt, for me one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever played. He’s nothing if not pragmatic. It doesn’t matter about individual sacrifice to him, if the mission or the greater good is satisfied. And that idea of ‘the greater good’ and this mindset that he’s got, how he can justify everything and anything, and you never know whether he’s telling the truth. I love that.

Do you find that a lot more fans now want to talk to you about Stargate?
Yes certainly, definitely about Stargate. Launching the show last year was an interesting one, but what was certainly interesting after that was that there was an awful lot of internet stuff. Not that I’ll look at that – I don’t even have a computer – but David [Blue] obviously knows a lot about that kind of stuff, so he would be telling us about what people would be saying on blogs. I was always at pains to point out that you’re talking about a kid with a computer giving his opinion, don’t take it to heart. But what was lovely about the panel this year at Comic-Con was the reaction we got when we walked in, because if there was any lingering doubts about did the Stargate audience like this new show, I think that was put to bed there and then.