The great Scottish actor Robert Carlyle was standing more or less by himself at the party after Sci Fi Channel’s upfront song and dance last week (March 16). I’m a fan of many of his projects - Hamish Macbeth; Begbie in Trainspotting; The Full Monty and his early, epic U.K. TV appearance as a football fan turned deranged killer in Robbie Coltrane’s Cracker.
I’m also a Stargate follower, still slightly shocked Carlyle was cast in Stargate Universe, the next series in the franchise, now in production in Vancouver.
Last Friday, Sci Fi aired a 30-second promo for SGUduring the finale of Battlestar Galactica. A boyish-looking Carlyle is seen a couple of times, seeming quite concerned (and looking a bit guilty) amid screaming chaos. Other people’s voices are heard saying “we’re not supposed to be here” and “there’s not a chance in hell that we’re going to be able to escape this” and “we’re all going to die out here.”
You can also pick out Lou Diamond Phillips. Otherwise it’s very imagistic, a darkened room filled with panicked people, lit by the blue glow of a stargate’s event horizon. (A shimmering puddle.)
I asked Carlyle about his character and the show and how it was all going.
He said the producers hope to keep the core audiences of Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis and introduce them to “something different.”
Something a bit more of a “character piece,” in his words.
Caution to readers:
There are a couple of plot spoilers ahead.
Skip past the next, asterisked-off section to avoid reading them.
“I play a guy called Dr. Nicholas Rush,” Carlyle said with his familiar, crisp Scottish accent. “A scientist. A driven kind of man. You’re never sure what motives this guy has. Never.
“At the beginning of the show, Rush has transported a team through a stargate to what they believe is another world. In fact, when they get there, they realize they’re actually on another ship, a space ship, a massive spaceship. Which has been floating through the universe for hundreds of thousands of years, launched by the Ancients long ago,” he said, using Stargate terminology adeptly. “Unmanned, picking up information, gathering data.
“So once they get there — and they’re relieved to get there because they have a very tricky situation to get there — Rush then tells them: ‘You can’t go back. You can never go home.’
“Then things start to get really, really tense. A battle for leadership takes place on the ship. We have three deaths in the first three hours. A suicide in episode five, I think.
“This is a hearty band,” he continued. “They’re literally billions of light years away, on the very far side of the universe. And the thought of that is quite terrifying. So it has to be character driven. This piece will stand and fall on the characters, for sure.”
OK, that’s the end of any potential spoilers.
Carlyle said the first three hours are about finished, and that scripts are being written on the fly. “As soon as you finish a scene another one comes into your hand.”
The Stargate franchise - which teams MGM with “powers that be” Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper - is a TV- and movie-making machine. Two made-for-DVD movies that followed Stargate: SG-1’s run will air on Sci Fi Channel on back to back Friday nights: Stargate: Ark of Truth on March 27 and Stargate: Continuum on April 3. Stargate Atlantis was canceled after five seasons but an SGA movie is in the works.
“The producers, particularly Brad Wright and Robert Cooper, these guys are the main reason why I’m here,” Carlyle said.
“They explained it extremely well when they got in contact with me at first. The first thing I said was: ‘Why do you want me in it?’ The way they put it was very interesting: They said they wanted someone who can ‘make unattractive things seem quite attractive.’ I said: ‘I’m your man.’ ”
Others in the cast include Justin Louis, “who’s another terrific actor,” he continued. “Lou Diamond Phillips is in there as well. David Blue, a good young actor. And there’s a couple of youngsters, a guy called Brian J. Smith, who’s working out extremely well, and a girl called Elyse Levesque, she’s actually from Vancouver, a wonderful young actress, the first thing she’s ever done.”
It’s a nice mix of youth and leadership and trying to fight for survival and leadership aboard this craft for the next 20 episodes.”
The obvious question is: what is Robert Carlyle doing in a Sci Fi Channel series?
“I’m very happy to be here, that’s all I can say,” he said. “I’ve done an awful lot of nitty-gritty type of stuff in my career over the last 15-20 years or so and I felt it was time for a change. I wanted something different. When I came out to Los Angeles about a year ago, I talked to various television people with various ideas. I put it out that I was looking for something that was going to interest me. And I was very fortunate, three or four things came in. This one, for me, was by far and away the best.”
The former Bond villain said he has time during the year to do other projects that come up. There are also lifestyle reasons to be based in Vancouver during production periods. He has three small children - ages 3, 5 and 7 - who live in Glasgow, Scotland, who’ll come over and camp out with us there. It gives me more time to be a dad at the weekend.”
Last plug for the show: Carlyle says within the first hour, you’ll be hooked.