From Atlantis to the Stone Age: An interview with Gary Jones

Gary Jones never stops. When he’s not playing Chief Master Sergeant Harriman in ‘Stargate SG-1’ or ‘Stargate: Atlantis’, he’s busy working in films, on writing scripts, or following a full schedule of convention appearances, entertaining fans in the US, Germany and UK. During an appearance at a Level 3 Convention, he takes time out to chat to Carole Gordon about the continuing success of the ‘Stargate’ franchise, the development of his character and how he’s currently developing a project about a caveboy in Stone Age Britain . . .

Many characters on long-running TV shows start out as unnamed figures and remain nameless throughout the show’s run. Gary Jones’s character on ‘Stargate SG1’, now heading for its tenth year, has the pivotal role of the person who opens the gate and closes the iris. Initially known simply as ‘Technician’, he was affectionately dubbed ‘Chevron Guy’ by fans after his regular refrain, counting off as the Stargate’s chevrons engaged.

Then, as the character and the show gained in popularity, he became Sergeant Walter Davis. That is, until his name suddenly changed in Season 7 to Walter Harriman. Why remains one of the mysteries of the universe, even to the actor playing him. “I have no idea,” says Jones. “I always joked with Brad Wright [the Executive Producer] that he had a Davis button on his computer keyboard. If he ran out of names, he just hit ‘Davis’! Everything’s Davis, right. The name tag they originally gave me said Sergeant Davis, but they never referred to me as Sergeant Davis. It was either ‘Technician’ or ‘Hey you’. Next thing I know, they gave me the name ‘Norman Davis’, then it becomes Walter Davis, then it becomes Norman Walter Davis, then it’s Walter Harriman. Don’t ask me why!”

Jones is brimming with enthusiasm for the up-coming Season 10. “Words can’t describe it,” he says with a grin. “But I’ll try to use as many words as possible! It’s just unbelievable. Somebody just asked me, ‘Did I ever think that it would go for nine years?’ You’d never think that in a million years. I just lucked into this gig that just keeps on going.” Things have definitely changed for his character in nine seasons, particularly over the relationship Walter has with the incumbent General – now Landry, previously O’Neill and before that, with George Hammond. “My feeling is that when I was with General Hammond, I didn’t really have a relationship. They hadn’t written one. It was only when Richard became a General that he was around the base more and he, for his own kind of amusement, just said, ‘Well, I want to have more of a relationship with Walter and make him like a Radar O’Reilly kind of character in that he knows what’s happening at the gate, he knows everything that’s going on.’

So by the time General Landry takes over, Walter is working with his third General. He knows how the SGC runs and is able to advise him. “That,” Jones says, “coupled with the fact that they’ve just given me way more to do with General Landry, I’m around the base more and just doing other stuff, you can just see the progression of the relationship. And it’s funny because it’s just as a result of being there for nine years, for being there for that length of time.”

He suggests, with tongue firmly in cheek, what he would like to see happen to Walter in Season 10. “He’s killed and never brought back – just kidding!” Then he bursts out laughing before continuing with a more serious view of his character’s future.

“All I can say is, I am chuffed with whatever they give me because they always give me great stuff. You have got to remember in Season 9 they spent all this time introducing Ben Browder, introducing Beau Bridges, then you’ve got to work in Teal’c, and Carter and Daniel Jackson and all these other new aliens so they can’t really spend a lot of time on my character.”

Jones would love to see a running story about Walter to flesh him out more, but is pragmatic about it happening.

“It’s not like I’m not ambitious or wouldn’t love that,” he says, “but I’m realistic about what they already have to work with and all the stuff they have to get across.”

But he still harbours a wish for Walter to finally go though that gate!

“Oh, I would love Walter to go, wouldn’t it be great for Walter to go through the gate? Can you imagine being the guy that stares at the gate for nine years and never goes through? It’s kind of like flying in the flight simulator as opposed to actually taking off in the plane!”

With a new set of actors on the show, Jones agrees that there are differences to the show now, following on from what he calls the ‘Richard Dean Anderson years’.

“There’s more jokes, the scripts themselves are actually funnier, that’s what I find anyway. Not to the point where they are slapstick or anything. Richard Dean’s character was kind of droll and sarcastic. It was his show, so he had all the best lines. When Richard Dean left, they took all those lines and they just divvied them up, so everybody now gets funny one-liners or little funny scenes, because it’s like starting fresh.”

And, of course, Richard Dean Anderson was well-known for ad-libbing his lines, which Jones corroborates.

“He ad-libbed tons and, if he thought something was funnier he would just change it. But I find that for any comedy stuff the writers write really funny stuff within the context of the genre, keeping in mind that it’s action adventure sci-fi, drama essentially, but then of course life is not all action adventure – there’s comedy in there. They never overdo it, and it’s written just perfectly. My job, if they give me any funny lines, is to make sure I don’t overplay it, that I don’t chew the scenery, just treat it like my other dialogue.”

Jones is astonished to realise that he had, at that time, appeared in more than 90 episodes, with the hundredth likely to be reached in the new season. With so many episodes under Walter’s belt, how did he keep the character interesting for himself and for the viewers?

“Again, it’s the writers, it’s not really me. I have my own way of delivering a line or putting a spin on something but it’s so kind of concentrated, the amount of time that Walter is in an episode that I just try to give each little thing its own little moment. But most of my relationship is with the General. I have just kind of taken what they have mentioned, like the Radar O’Reilly thing, and tried not to overdo it, not tried to imitate Radar, but just have fun with it.”

Fans have picked up on similarities between Walter and Radar O’Reilly, a character in the long-running series ‘MASH’, who always managed to predict what the officers needed before they issued an order. Jones confirms that this was a deliberate connection.

“Yeah, everyone has picked that up and the writers just kind of ran with it. It’s not blatant but everybody gets enough of it that they go, ‘Oh he’s so much like Radar.’ Especially due to the way they would shoot it where I would suddenly appear at a doorway, ‘Where did he come from?’ In other words, I knew what was going to happen before it even happened so I just showed up. Richard Dean again was very much responsible for that kind of thing. I think he just wanted the chance to do some funny stuff, some comedy.”

These scenes also gave Jones the chance to show the producers, and particularly Richard Dean Anderson, what he could bring to the table in terms of playing comedy.

“My background is comedy for fifteen to twenty years. I’ve been in Vancouver almost twenty years; for nine of those years, I’ve been on ‘Stargate’ but that’s like once every couple of weeks. For the most part, I’m known in Vancouver as a comedian or a comedic actor so he [RDA] kind of played to those strengths.”

Walter has also shown up in the ‘Stargate SG-1’ spin-off, ‘Stargate: Atlantis’, in the episode ‘Critical Mass’. Was this a different experience to working on the SG-1 set? There is, Jones says, a welcoming and totally comfortable environment because many of the crew have also worked on ‘SG-1’.

“When you work on the set you are either working with Martin Wood, Andy Mikita or Peter deLuise so you are already comfortable working with the director – you know the guys. So whenever you go on ‘Atlantis’, it’s like, ‘Oh I know these guys!’ And I know the crew.”

Not only that, but Paul McGillion (who plays Carson Beckett on ‘Stargate: Atlantis’ and who earlier played the young Ernest Littlefield in the ‘SG-1’ episode ‘Torment of Tantalus’) is an old Vancouver buddy.

“He’s hilarious,” Jones grins. “Such a funny, funny guy. I love hanging out with him.”

Gary is enthusiastic about the idea of crossovers between the two shows and thinks they add an extra layer of believability to the ‘Stargate’ universe.

“It’s so cool doing crossovers, because you are trying to create a believable world and the minute you cross over somebody that’s so established into another world that you are trying to get people to believe in, they can’t help but go, ‘Well, Walter is there’, so it lends to the credibility of the world and that’s what I think crossovers are fantastic for.”

Behind the scenes, Jones has also contributed to the DVD commentaries. But, he says, he doesn’t prepare for these in advance, for a very good reason – he has no idea ahead of time which episodes he will be seeing and discussing!

“Absolutely, zero preparation! The deal is, I go in, I don’t know what episodes are going to be shown. About a week ago, I did three commentaries with Peter deLuise, one ‘Stargate SG-1’ and two ‘Atlantis’. I said to Peter, ‘Why are you getting me down, are you <b>sure</b>? Two ‘Atlantis’ – I’m not even in them!’ He goes, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter, just come down and have a laugh.’ I feel that my strength in being part of a commentary is to throw in ad-libs, take it somewhere that Peter might not take it and that’s what he appreciates too.”

Jones says he gets great feedback from fans who have enjoyed the commentaries that he and Peter deLuise have done together.

“We are very comfortable with each other,” Jones says, “and have a certain style of doing them. It’s just great.”

In addition to working on ‘Stargate’, doing DVD commentaries and travelling the world for public appearances, Jones is also working on other projects, including a recent movie by Vancouver-based independent film-maker, Ann Marie Fleming, called ‘French Guy’.

“That was about this woman who has a brain operation, she has cancer of the brain, and they let her out of the hospital too early, before she is fully recovered. She kind of goes a bit nutty and she ends up accidentally mutilating a young guy that she picks up on the beach. There’s a lot of blood in it, a lot of blood.”

When Jones auditioned for the movie, he didn’t know of Ann Marie Fleming or how well-known she was, until friends put him straight.

“I said to people, ‘I’ve got this part in this film with this Ann Marie er.. .’ And they go, ‘Ann Marie Fleming? You’re in an Ann Marie Fleming film?’ ‘Yeah!’ and they’re like ‘Oh my god!’ She’s a very cool film-maker.”

The film is deceptive, looking initially as though it will be a standard rom-com until, Jones says, it “just goes off the rails”.

“I’m her best friend that she’s in love with, she’s living in my apartment. I come back from holidays; I started out as a heterosexual man, I come back with a boyfriend. I’m like this uptight stockbroker and I meet a man, I come back, suddenly I’m gay! And through the course of the film I discover what she’s done with this other young guy, and she ends up killing me. I get brutally stabbed, blood everywhere!”

With his writing partner, Richard Side, Jones is also developing a cartoon book by Raymond Briggs (author of ‘The Snowman’) into an animated series. Called ‘Ug, Caveboy Genius of the Stone Age: In Search of Soft Trousers’, the story revolves around a cave-boy inventor.

“As soon as I saw ‘In Search of Soft Trousers’, I was like, ‘I have to work on this!’ All he [Ug] wants to do is make his Stone Age life nicer, softer, warmer. He’s trying to invent things just to make it so it’s not so hellishly stone-ridden. And it drives his mum nuts because she just wants him to be a Stone Age kid and throw rocks at things and run and chase. But he comes up with all these concepts that we would understand as incredibly modern concepts, like the wheel, but they don’t go quite the way he thinks they are going to go.”

Back on the subject of ‘Stargate, Jones is delighted with the addition of Claudia Black and her character, Vala Mal Doran, to several Season 9 episodes.

“She’s fantastic, great,” Jones says with enthusiasm. “She’s a really good actor, she’s gorgeous and funny and just – what can you say? The relationship between her and Daniel is just so funny. She’s great!”

At that time, Jones had not heard the news that Claudia Black would be returning in Season 10 and that she would be joining the regular cast.

“As a regular? Really?” he asks, with surprise and obvious pleasure. “Wow, see, I didn’t even know that!” He pauses for a moment, before asking with a broad grin, “Hey, am <b>I</b> back?!”

Fans of ‘”Stargate SG-1’ and the no-longer-nameless Chevron Guy will be hoping that the answer to that is a resounding “Yes!”

Biography: Gary Jones was born in Swansea on 4 January 1958. He moved to Canada in 1972, settling in Vancouver in 1986. He is married and has three children.

Further information at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0428104/

Level 3 Conventions: Information about Level 3 Conventions can be found at: http://www.l3conventions.co.uk/

© Carole Gordon

January 2006

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