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Teal'c Cuts Loose : The Ultimate Christopher Judge Interview
One of the coolest things about writing Sci Fi Pi for the last five years is seeing the way that Sci Fi stars have been finding it easier and easier to travel to this side of the globe. Thanks, of course to the burgeoning world of Sci Fi conventions in Australia - companies like The Hub Productions, Supanova, First Contact, Culture Shock and Armageddon - it's no longer a case of 'if' a major Sci Fi star will come out to Australia, but 'when. For fans of Christopher Judge, meeting him in person is quite the experience. Vibrant, relaxed and jovial, he's nothing like the Teal'c we know and love from Stargate: SG1. I had a long chat with him and he gave a great interview on his 2008 trip to Australia. It's in two parts (Part Two is linked below). BTW - did you see Christopher in The Dark Knight Rises? Of course you did!
Christopher Judge is instantly recognisable to Sci Fi fans. For ten years, his role as Teal'c on Stargate SG-1 has resonated with audiences the world over. But Christopher Judge the actor is no stoic Jaffa warrior - in fact, the reality could not be further from the truth. Larger than life, quick to laugh and quick witted, he brings an air of enthusiasm to everything he does. On a recent trip to the Southern Hemisphere as a guest of First Contact Conventions, he stopped for a moment in between a whirlwind visit to Sydney and Wellington to have a heart-to-heart chat with SCI FI PI. He talked about pretty much everything you could imagine, from his darkest fears, the highs (and lows) of Stargate, his experience as a writer, the two new Stargate films, his upcoming new series, Rage of Angels, all the way to golf with the kids. Surprisingly candid and approachable, this is the first part of an epic two part (possibly even three part) interview with 'the world's most recognisable black man', Christopher Judge. Grab a cup of coffee, and read on. Christopher Judge today. An actor reflects.
You're renowned for not quite being the macho man portrayed on screen. Tell us all your fears - starting from heights and moving to Polar Bears. Let me put it this way - anything that can be encompassed by my senses - I'm generally afraid of. People have a misconception about heights, and about flying - I'm not afraid of flying, just of crashing. And Nature - I grew up in LA - I didn't even see a possum until I went to college. You see dogs and cats in LA - that's it. Maybe the odd lizard. For someone who hasn't spent a lot of time around nature - is it abnormal to be afraid of bears? (laughs) I think my fears are well within reason. I think the worst one is that I'm claustrophobic. That does it rear its head at certain times. How do you find out you're claustrophobic? Very quickly! Ever since I was in a kid, whenever I was enclosed places or when there's a lot of people in my proximity - I break out in hives and cold sweats. Start to get a little woozy. So, when it comes to wild animals, coming to Australia provides a unique challenge. I went to the zoo - and they gave me the opportunity - and Australians won't think much of this - but they let me get up close and personal to a Koala bear. We of course have this misconception that there this cute and cuddly creatures, but they'll rip you apart! (laughs) So I had this one particular koala bear that was determined to pounce on me. And I though 'oh isn't that cute' and reached out and the keeper literally came and tackled me. 'No no no no no! You do NOT want them to jump on you!' (laughs) For some reason I don't have a fear of snakes or anything like that. As long as it doesn't scurry, I'm not afraid of it. Christopher Judge and Ben Browder discuss whose name comes first in the opening credits. It all seems perfectly straightforward and sensible. You also have a reputation for practical joking - let us hear some truth behind the 'true' stories. There is one about you vomiting on Richard Dean Anderson, which sounds like a stretch. I don't know where these things come from! I mean no! I might've mashed up some chips with some water and done stuff like that... (laughs) Sooo it didn't come out your mouth? No no. But I'm really good at getting those really soft chocolate chip cookies and mixing them up so they look like poo. I'm good with stuff like that. I'll put et around people's toilets or smear it on their bowl. (laughs). I'll 'penny lock' people into their trailers. Most doors don't shut tight, so you can jam pennies in it, so you can lock them in, even if the lock's on the inside. I've been doing that since college though! (laughs) Who gets the angriest out of all the jokees? It kinda depends (laughs) I have a bad habit - if someone has important scenes and stuff, that's when I'm at my most bored. Shanks has told me off on set many times, many times. Especially long takes - it's never Teal'c who has the dialogue, so I'm stuck sitting there for hours, listening to these people talk. That's generally when I cut up. And oh, Shanks'll just explode! (laughs) and that makes it even funnier to me!!
(Ironically) Of course he's managed to cut down his on-set drinking by now! (laughs) Actually, in all seriousness, we're very professional on set when it comes to things like that. The only time we got sauced on set was the final day of the series, and that was so we wouldn't end up like blubbering idiots. So everyone came to my trailer. We had the drivers go out and get beer and wine and scotch so we started, I guess right after lunch and it was just a weepfest the entire time. That, I think, anyone can understand. Do you ever have sense memories of touching your forehead and then realising nothing's there? Well, you know, that the tattoos became so advanced at the end that I would forget that I had them on, and I'd leave with them and go home! And it'd be my kids who'd be 'er... daddy!' (laughs) so it was always the other war! Especially, I'm not someone who takes their work home with them so when I'm out and people are pointing or staring I totally forget that I have a job that's on TV. Christopher Judge. An action figure reflects. Is there anything more annoying than being asked to say the word... (Christopher replies, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head, saying the word at the same time as the question is asked) 'indeed?' (laughs!) Yes. Not getting a regular cheque! (laughs loudly) You know I've always had a dislike for actors who complain about their lack of privacy. There are tons of places, no matter where you go, to be unobserved. Or to just blend in. Heck, if the mailman walked around with six people around him - he's gonna get attention. You never hear about people like Harrison Ford complaining about the media following him, because they choose not to do it. You can't play both ends and have your publicist call the press and say 'so and so's gonna be eating dinner at The Ivy' and then want to complain about it when photographers turn up. It's one of the paradoxes of entertainment. You seem to have worked that line pretty well. Ten years of standing around not saying much and working out at the gym for six months in the year has paid off handsomely. Definitely. Really Baal, you peed in my coffee?
Although you have brought things to the show and the character - you're not just a 'pretty face', so to speak. Thank you. I think that working with the calibre of actors, from our regulars to our guest stars, it's always been recognised. I'm fortunate, that the majority of fans, especially when they see that I'm so different from the character, realise that it took a lot of work and that it didn't just happen by happenstance, and I was very, very fortunate. In the beginning of the show there were conversations between the producers and I about how much we should know, how much we should know about Goa'uld technology. At first, Teal'c would give very long-winded explanations of things, and I said to them maybe he should have more mystery, to which they agreed and asked how do we do that? - have him talk less! (laughs) so that worked out really well. The easy part for me, the enviable position to be in because you say so little is that every thing you say is important. People will stop and listen. But what of the way you spoke? When the series began, there was no template for the way Teal'c looked like, or the history of the Jaffa nation. What level of input did you have? When it came to saying 'jaf-faaah' as opposed to 'jaffer' - who decided that that was the way you spoke? Yeah. They just let me run with it. Early on we established that the human characters didn't have to pronounce things like the aliens, so whenever I got the chance to get a new word and put my spin on it, I would. Even my speech, and I hate to say it, but iambic pentameter, the long short short, that's definitely what it was based in and I started really elongating the long syllables. The way I spoke, a lot of it came from Mario Azzopardi, who directed the pilot. When we did our first read through - this crazy man from Malta - he goes "I love, I absolutely love what you're doing with the character - but - he sounds too fucking human! (laughs loudly). And I said "do you have any suggestions Mario?" "Let's go have a couple of drinks and then you go sleep on it!" (laughs) okaaay. I tried a bunch of different things, and eventually settled on what it became. But a lot of the times things are a bit like that. Take for example, I mean - the zats - the zat'n'ikatel - basically what Jonathan Glasser did was throw a bunch of letters together. I went up to his office and asked him - how do you want this pronounced? And he says "I don't know, it's your weapon!" And I said 'anything?' However you think it should sound!" So that's where zat'n'ikatel came from. So if someone's watching Stargate for the first time, you're the only one they should listen to when it comes to things like the pronunciation of "Goa'uld". Exactly! (laughs) And the thing is I became the resident historian - any time a new word came up they'd say 'go ask Chris how to say it! (laughs) pffft - you know I'm from LA, right? (laughs)
But now of course, you have the experience of being a Sci Fi writer - where they expect you to know stuff that you're making up as you go along! Fans will know that you worked on several episodes as a writer, specifically with Jaffa storylines, but this has given you many opportunities, including your new show, Rage of Angels. I was kind of a cut-up the first five years, and I think I was having too good a time. Brad Wright and I were always very good friends and he knew that I always wanted to go more the writer/producer route and he said to me 'why don't you get serious and write something?' anything? well, come in with a couple of pitches and we'll see what you've got. We'd always had pitches for shows about Amazons, but they always seemed a bit like Wonder Woman type of thing, so I came up with concept of these women under one particular God who so wanted warriors that he would kill off the children until he got a boy - which lead to one of their princesses spiriting their children away and so on. The way a normal story is written - you pitch an idea, if the writers like it, then they all sit in a room and they break the story. Break the beats, break the acts, break everything. And then you basically write the dialogue. I asked Brad - 'would you mind if I didn't do that, because I would really like a real assessment if I have a future in this or not'. And he said 'sure'. So I actually turned it in early. Then we went on summer hiatus and I didn't hear anything from Brad or Martin Wood, who I'd also given a copy to, and also to John Smith. And nothing. So I'm just sitting there thinking 'guess I'm an actor'... SG-1 Final Seasons = Hair = Happy. Then on the Saturday before we were to go back to work, there were three messages on my phone. And they swear they didn't talk. Brad, Martin and John each saying how much they enjoyed it, blah blah blah. Structurally, Brad definitely fixed that, but for the most part, we pretty much shot what I wrote, which I learned is not the way it always happens. As a writer, especially as a TV writer or film writer, you can't be 'married' to the work or take it personally. The whole thing, I really owe to Brad Wright. Even Rage of Angels. We were at Martin Wood's wedding, we had gone outside for a smoke - well I was smoking - and he said, 'if this show ever ends, what are you gonna do?'. And I said 'I'd really like to star in an hour drama, not a sitcom, and have it be viable'. And he said 'you know you're going to have to write it yourself - no network is out looking for that'. And I said 'yeah, I kinda figured that'. So the week of the 200th episode, that's when we learned we were cancelled. Four days later I had written Rage of Angels.
It's been described as 'Touched By An Angel Meets 300' - is this accurate? It's more 'Constantine'. 'Punched By An Angel'! (laughs) Yeah! Right! Touched by an Angel has a lot of feelgood stuff in there, Rage is pretty dark. My goal is to generally offend everyone that watches it, because that will get people talking to each other. I think that as a people we are so sorely in need of that. The other day I was down in Wellington at a convention and we were sitting on stage with all the writers, actors and voice people and I wanted to start to talk about politics and religion and the state of the world, and a number of people said 'oh no, you can't talk politics' and I said 'that's what's wrong with the world - no one talks politics and religion!'. You have these islands of different cultures and beliefs that even when they get together they can't talk about their differences because that doesn't make for polite dinner conversation. Isn't it time to not be polite any more? Because polite ain't workin'! (laughs) Rage of Angels - it's going to be (laughs) it's going to be a shit storm. END OF PART 1 For PART TWO of this interview, please click here.