Christopher Heyerdahl is one of the pillars of the Sci Fi acting community. Some fans may not know him (some!) but everyone has seen his work, at one time or another, be it on Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, Supernatural, Twilight, Smallville,The Chronicles of Riddick, Andromeda and of course Sanctuary, where he plays not one, but two characters - the loyal Bigfoot, and the dark and dangerous John Druitt.
We managed to scrape into a small wedge in Christopher's busy schedule to have a chat with the man who created the likes of Todd the Wraith and talk to him about what he and Amanda Tapping get up to on the set of Sanctuary, what it's like being related to a famous explorer, what he thinks of the status of Stargate: Extinction and where you should go should you be in the market for a bicycle next time you're in British Columbia.
A classically trained stage actor with years of experience, he has gravitated towards the world of televised Science Fiction with aplomb, bringing gravity, levity and a striking physicality to a multitude of roles.
A man dedicated to his craft, but also dedicated to enjoying himself, Heyerdahl is happy to open up to reveal the inner workings of true character, a true character actor, and genuine, bona fide Sci Fi star. Grab a cup of coffee, maybe a biscuit or two, and read on!
One of the more interesting 'facts' one can read about you on the internet is that you were once a league hockey player. Is this true?
I don't know how that started. That's absolute bullshit. It seems to cling like something nasty and smelly on one show. i can't seem to fling it off. This year alone I've done two hundred, three hundred interviews, but it went out again throughout the press in Canada that I had played for the Ottawa Senators. They're still upset with me that I turned them down and started a professional acting career!
Here's an interesting question for you. Is it true you have a little figurine of Hettinger from The Peacekeeper (the 1997 Dolph Lundgren film) that you kiss for luck?
I do have a mini-bust, from another Dolph Lundgren film, called The Silent Trigger. Not a great title, but it was originally called 'The Algonquin Goodbye'. Nothing silent about that trigger. In one of the scenes I was in an elevator - it was a long CG shot, part model, made with a long shot and a fake me. So I've got my fake mini bust. I don't sleep with it any more.
It's probably best to touch someone else's bust when you're sleeping.
I couldn't agree more!
On the set of Stargate: Atlantis, 'handgina' at the ready.
Your voice is quite distinctive, especially for characters like Todd the Wraith in Stargate Atlantis and Bigfoot in Sanctuary. Do they come from the 'same place' if you will, or do you create them from scratch?
They're in no way related. The thought process of each character is so completely different. The thing is about the voices is that they're both 'treated'. There's a little tweak on both sides. All the Wraith are tweaked, and my voice as Todd was slightly different from the other actors because I'm starting off with a deeper voice and I had years and years and years of wonderful Sundays and tedious others training with all sorts of voice coaches here in Vancouver and Bamff and Stratford and England. So I was doing mainly theatre, with the occasional survival gig here and there.
You did 21 Jump St as one of your first gigs, I believe?
Yeah yeah. First or second thing I did. But then I didn't touch it for years. Danger Bay was my first thing ever. 21 Jump St was really the beginning of 'Hollywood North', when Vancouver hit the big time as a shooting location. Not long after I hit the road for higher theatrical climes as opposed to television climes.
But yeah. Bigfoot is much more 'earth' based. The fact that he has a 68 inch chest, I try to pitch the quality of the voice differently to Todd, who has a 16 inch chest.
People just seem to love Todd
He's a loveable guy, isn't he?
A bit of biff on the set of Sanctuary with director Martin Wood.
When you were first asked to play a 'space vampire' what goes through your head? What's the essence of life-sucking alien from another galaxy?
The essence is the last human being that he fed on! I think with any of these characters, the space vampire stuff, we know that, I don't have to play that, it's obvious, it's there. The fun thing with the character, he was a proud and noble Wraith of great age, great wisdom. A leader of thousands and millions of Wraith for the last 10,000 years. The trick was trying to bring a sense of agelessness or 'age-fulness', that was my main focus. It's quite easy when you're dealing with characters so old to make them a bit bored when they're dealing with 35 year-old human beings, like John Sheppard.
That was the essence of your character in Twilight: New Moon - bored.
Yeah! He is actually bored with people. Todd is still interested in the new kid in town and how he can help him survive another 10,000 years.
This idea of 'hanging around' is also prevalent in your character of John Druitt on Sanctuary, who seems to be getting more and more interesting as the series progresses. Are there favourite Druitt moments for you?
Oh lots! Whenever he pops in he's always doing something interesting, he doesn't hang around for long and then he's off doing something equally daredevil off camera. In season two he has to deal with some really heavy stuff. In 'Eulogy' there's a really interesting scene between Druitt and Magnus - they've been together, off and on, for 120 years, and that scene - it's just as much about what is unsaid as what is said.
I love the sword fight between Ashley and Druitt with the double blades and the claws. That was a lot of fun to shoot. We actually had a couple of weeks to prepare for that.
Ever the professional, Todd goes over his lines at Bridge Studios, home of all things Stargate-y, Wraith-y and Ancient-y.
It's been reported that you had input into the creation of the character of Todd the Wraith and also John Druitt. Druitt seems to be a man with a streak of evil he can never escape. What's your approach to him?
My approach to Druitt - he's a man in conflict, just like the rest of us. It's just that his conflict is so much greater. *(laughs)* He has a huge demon inside of him, it's an almost constant fight within him. It's always there. I think that's the cause of the unsettling quality that Druitt has to have. Just behind his eyes, he's constantly pushing back, controlling, leashing - the beast. To varying degrees of success. That I think is the unseen element that informs that character.
That sounds like a lot of fun to play.
It's great fun! The emotional stakes are so high, especially when he's around the woman he loves, that he can never put behind him. She's the woman who betrayed him, he's the man who betrayed her - the relationship is so rich. On the one hand he wants to grab her and make passionate love to her, and on the other, he wants to make her pay for her transgressions. It's a complex and screwed up relationship. They make an odd and fascinating pair.
Do you ever draw comparisons between the 'love affair' between Todd and John Sheppard and that between Helen Magnus and John Druitt?
Not until this moment! I think the difference is you're dealing with a love that was, and cannot ever be, between, just to clarify *(laughs)* between Helen and John. *(laughs)* With John and Todd, it's an acknowledgement of a worthy comrade and foe. It's complex, even though they both want the same thing, they're at odds. One is the great American military beast, and the other is the great Wraith military beast. Todd is far more intelligent than John, given that he's a 10,000 year old scientist, but he certainly appreciates John's instinctive intelligence, his fearless ways and also his honour. There's a bond that can only be made by two men who've spent time in prison!
A complex character, John Druitt is old enough to have been Jack the Ripper. A tough man to love.
Is it true that you're actually related to the famous explorer, Thor Heyerdahl?
He's my father's cousin.
This career that you have - some may consider the greatest of all possible lives - and others may see you as a man with a vagina on his hand…
Not any more! Those days are over! I was actually looking at the imdb page, and it keeps saying that Extinction is still coming - I don't know. It just goes to show you that the internet is not so reliable…
It will take an MGM executive standing on a mountain top with a megaphone screaming 'NO! STARGATE! EXTINCTION!' before the fans will let the hope die, though. It's a fond dream, devoutly to be wish'd.
I'd really like to play the character again. May my handgina once again be raised in anger!
But, back to question 'at hand'. If you've related to someone 'of note', be they Edmund Hillary, or Napoleon, do you feel like you have to 'live up', or overcome this kind of heritage? Is there a kind of competition within your soul, rather from without?
I guess would really depend if I was related to Hillary or Napoleon! On the one hand it's one thing to be related to Hillary, who's conquering self, and then Napoleon, who's conquering everyone else. For myself, Thor Heyerdahl has always been a great inspiration for me as a boy and a young man. Most people are familiar with the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition, even though he was exploring until the day he died.
There's a great story about a ship's captain, who saw the raft just after they had finished building it. He looked down at this little raft built out of reeds, obviously some kind of university project, so he goes down to talk to them, and asks them what they're doing, and they tell him (crossing 8000 ams across the Pacific) and he says, 'no no'. 'I've been a ship's captain for 35 years, you will die. If you go on this raft. Make no mistake, you will die. You can't do this.' To have people who should know tell you that you're going to lose your life doing this, and then to keep your vision, to keep your crew, to keep your own self belief - and then succeed. That's something that can inspire anyone's dream.
No matter what anyone says - keep going mate, because you just might make it to the other side. He was always an inspiration. I never felt his legacy held me back or was in any way negative.
As the loveable Bigfoot, complete with 68 inch chest.
You've been to Australia, I believe. Can you remember any surprises that you had? Tastes, smells, if you like, that linger?
Everything was duly tasty, I smelled many things and they smelled sweetly. I made it all the way to Tassie and I guess I was surprised by how many Aussies hadn't been there. It's an amazing place so filled with beauty, and quite a lot of interesting culture. I had some friends who'd moved over six months before, and was visiting them. I was surprised that the cliches were true - the Aussies were easy-going and friendly and thoughtful and generous. That was a very pleasant surprise.
The extended Stargate family has a reputation for having fun on set. Can you muck about when you're looking your boss (producer, sometime director and star, Amanda Tapping) square in the eye?
Absolutely! That's the great fun. When I'm looking at her straight in the 'on the boards', she's Amanda my acting partner, ready to play. The gloves are off. The great fun is to try to make Amanda giggle and make anyone else giggle. We always find the time in these long days to goof off. Martin Wood, who directs a lot of the shows is like that. Peter DeLuise, who also directs, is known for being a complete idiot. *(laughs)* We all have a good time. We're doing TV, we're living the dream, why make it too serious. As long as we make our day, we're fine.
When you're not 'on', what are you doing when you're 'off'?
I'm usually on two wheels. That's my thing. I ride to and from work on my bicycle.
is there a bike that you'd recommend to visitors touring about British Columbia?
There is a bike shop I'd recommend, Reckless Cycles, there's a fellow down there, Lars, who hand built the bike that I ride - a 'Rek Tek'. I just finished a two hour ride just before this interview. I have a couple of motorcycles and a Vespa. And no car.
Two wheels good, four wheels bad. Thank you very much for time!
And yes, Twilight: New Moon fans, here's one for you!
Catch Sanctuary on SCI FI, Thursdays at 8.30pm.
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