Interview With Stargate Universe’s Brian J Smith
Actor, Brian J Smith has been leading a prominent career as an American actor,having just finished his first prominent role as the character of Lieutenant Matthew Scott on Syfy’s Stargate Universe for the show’s two seasons.The actor also recently featured on Syfy’s recent movie, Red Faction Origins, which is based on the actual video game franchise as the character of Jake Mason.This particular movie took place after the events of Guerrilla and before the events of the upcoming Armageddon game.
With SGU having concluded its run just a couple of months ago and Smith being kind enough to participate in an interview with us,we discuss the actor’s experience in portraying the character of Matthew Scott,his frank perspective on the factors which resulted in SGU’s cancellation as well as Smith’s thoughts on the suitability of Gauntlet as a series finale to SGU.The actor also reflects on the development of his young Lieutenant Scott and the slightly different hopes which he had for the extent of his character’s development.
Smith also discusses how working on the show influenced his acting career as well as his professional life,reflects on some of his favourite moments working on SGU, and his final message to fans,with the show having drawn to a close.
The actor also reflects on his experience working on Red Factions Origins and contrasts the experience of working on the Red Faction franchise to the Stargate franchise.
Abbas Karimjee:Were you a fan of Science fiction prior to being appointed the role of Lt Scott and how familiar were you with the Stargate franchise,in particular?
Brian J Smith:Wasn’t a huge fan of science fiction,just dabbled when I was a kid.And I think I had heard about Stargate before but I hadn’t watched any full episodes.But I’d say Sci-Fi is my favourite genre to work in,right now.Kitchen sinks are pretty boring after running from aliens for two years.
AK:How did you relate to the character of Lt Scott?
BJS:He was new at what he was doing and so was I.I think we also both felt that we had something to prove.
AK:What was the most challenging aspect of playing Scott and how did you cope with this challenge?
BJS:One of the biggest challenges was the post-lunch sugar coma.They fed us very well on that set,and I learned to pace myself during Season 2.Every day there were these massive cakes,it was crazy.
AK: Science fiction fans have been known for their passion for genre entertainment.What initial concerns did you have from this and how would you describe your overall interaction with the fandom.
BJS:I didn’t have any concerns about it initially because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.Ignorance is bliss,I guess.That being said I enjoyed most of the interactions I had with Stargate fans particularly those who embraced SGU and were supportive of us from the beginning.I think SGU fans felt very protective of the show,like they had to stand up for it and they even stood up for us,which is no easy feat when some dude dressed as a Gauold or Wraith or whatever is waving a staff at you and telling you that you have terrible taste.
AK:Back in December,Syfy announced that SGU’S second season would be its last.What was your reaction when you discovered that the series had been cancelled and in your view,what were some of the primary reasons for which SGU was unable to attract the audience needed for the series to continue?What was your perspective on the decision of the producers to have SGU take the Stargate franchise in a new direction,with a strong emphasis on character relationships and how do you think this affected the presence of long time Stargate fans?
BJS: Well, I was really sad,of course,but Brad Wright and the rest of the producers seemed pretty confident that we’d be back,and they worked their tails off for months to make it happen.But good intentions and hard work don’t always add up to dollars, and in the end money walks.And actually I think we did have a pretty sizable audience and I think we did do a good job of grabbing them.It’s too bad that not enough of them owned Neilson boxes.SGU fans are always asking what they can do to keep science fiction shows like this alive.My advice would be to sign up for the Neilson program.I would also suggest buying DVD’s but we all know how expensive those damn things are,and I sure wouldn’t buy a DVD set when I can watch the whole thing pretty much for free on Netflix or even on youtube.And I’m sure some people were upset that SGU took the franchise in a new direction, but those of us involved were excited by the challenge and ultimately found it very fulfilling to work on the material we were getting.And when I look back on episodes like Time,Human,Twin Destinies,Common Descent I feel that we did work to do be proud of.Different strokes for different folks.
AK:Throughout the second season,Lt Scott was forced to face various unique challenges in terms of his relationship with Chloe who was dealing the effects of her encounter with the aliens,having to deal with Colonel Young’s poor leadership as well as maintaining a relationship with his son on Earth.
What are your thoughts on the suitability of the character’s development over the course of the show?How satisfied were you with this development and had SGU continued,which character dynamics would you have liked to see explored and how would you have liked for his function to have evolved?
BJS:I just wanted Scott to have a more defined and inclusive role in what happened in the story,and I actually think most of the cast felt that way about their own characters at some point.It’s not about screen-time or stuff like that,but I think we could have explored the unique talents of the crew and really put those talents to use so that if something happened to someone, their death wouldn’t just have sentimental value but would actually be crippling to the mission.I’m not saying he should save the day every time,but I always wondered what his critical contribution was and I think fans did too.I remember once at a convention or something some guy came up and was like,“I don’t think you’re a bad actor, but I don’t get Scott.He doesn’t do anything useful.”I can’t say I disagree.I don’t think emotional impact is enough. They really did a bang up job handling the death of Riley and making his death and the way he died important in the unraveling of Colonel Young.I always had the uneasy feeling that if Scott died,sure the crew would be sad for a few episodes, but ultimately there wasn’t anything that he was doing that fifteen other people couldn’t do just as well, if not better.It wouldn’t have affected the course of the mission.And yeah, looking back on it,I’d consider that to be a problem.But I was confident going into Season 3 that this would start to shift, but as you know we nevergot to explore it further.I honestly thought the show went out with a whimper,and it’s a shame because there was so much left undone.
AK:What are your thoughts on the SGU’S series finale, Gauntlet? How well of an ending do you think it served for SGU and the Stargate franchise,in general?
BJS:Like I’ve said before -it worked as a brilliant season finale,probably one of the best season finales you’re likely to see.But it’s probably the most insulting series finale in the history of science fiction,especially to our fans who had invested in this journey and deserved a better ending than putting the crew to sleep and stranding Destiny in space forever.Nobody is to blame,it’s just the way the cards fell.Well,a lot of people are going after SyFy,but SyFy is a business and not an artist sanctuary.They work for Diet Coke and Downy, and when Neilson tells Ronald MacDonald that not enough people are watching his new fish filet commercial in between acts of SGU he’s going to take his business elsewhere.That’s the way it’s always been,unless you’re HBO.But I can understand now why some fans and even networks are continually wary about getting involved in long-arc storytelling in science fiction because those stories rarely get finished.I know the guys had an ending planned out.We just didn’t make it to the finish line.
AK:Brad Wright recently reported at a Vancouver convention that SGU would not return for the planned TV movie,which would wrap up the storyline.
What was your reaction when you discovered this and why do you think the movie was not approved?Are there any additional details which you knew about the movie,which you would be able to share?Had the film been approved, what kind of conclusion would you hope would be in store for the crew of destiny and for Scott ?
BJS:I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news.It had been months since we wrapped the TV show,and the further away you get from the wrap date the less your chances are of going further.But we all immediately started emailing and calling each other,trying to find some closure. I wasn’t privy to the specifics as to why the bottom fell out. I would have loved to see where the background radiation story was going.I thought it was a promising idea because it brought up a lot of questions regarding science and religion,big questions, and that’s the kind of science fiction that really turns me on. I didn’t have any specific hopes for Scott.I think the writers knew where they were taking him eventually and I just enjoyed the ride.
AK: Reflecting on your experience on SGU, what were some of your favourite moments working on the show,either onscreen or off-screen?
BJS: Location shoots.Getting up early in the morning and driving with my coffee and my dog out to some beautiful place near a mountain or a river and doing a good day’s work out in nature.The stuff we did in New Mexico was the most fun I’ve ever had,and I get pretty nostalgic thinking about it now.It seems like it was forever ago and I miss that sense of going on a field trip with your closest friends and doing what you love to do.
AK:How has SGU affected both your career as well as your personal life,in terms of living in Vancouver and the friendships you formed?
BJS:Lots of memories,way too many.Maybe I should write a book.That’s what I’ll walk away with most,all those little moments in between set-ups,during lunch,traveling somewhere.
We had way too much fun,and man those two years went by way too fast.Maybe that’s the best thing I learned from the show-don’t take these kinds of experiences for granted, because they are rare and they are over in the blink of an eye.One day someone is cutting your hair for free or playing a prank on you or asking if you’re gonna eat the rest of your fries (that was usually Jamil), and the next day you’re schlepping around town going from audition to audition in the pouring rain. But hey, that’s the life I signed up for, and you’re always chasing after those kind of moments. That’s why you do it. You just can’t let it break your heart.
AK:Stargate Universe took the franchise in a bold,notable focus on character relationships and the ongoing issue of survival.In retrospect,how do you think the show and the character of Scott,in particular will be remembered as?
BJS: I don’t know.It’ll be different for everyone.I hope people look back on it as a high-quality, well-shot,well-written,well-acted show that had the balls to take itself seriously.Cute and quirky and light is very mode right now and that seems to be the way to create a hit, but I ultimately, in the long run, respect shows that don’t go for the easy laugh or the cheap effect.I think time will be kind to SGU.
AK:With Stargate having drawn to a close,what message would you like to covey to fans?
BJS:Just heartfelt thanks.You guys are troupers.
AK:You starred as the character of Jake on Syfy’s Red Faction Origin aired on Syfy last month.Could you please describe how the role of Jake was different from your previous roles,such as that of Lt Scott?Also,in terms of production, how would you compare working on a TV show of an established franchise,such as Stargate to working on a movie,such as Red Factions,which is also a part of a great franchise?Which do you prefer?
BJS: Well, SGU had the disadvantage of fan expectation.The only expectation regarding Red Faction was that it would suck.So people were actually surprised that some thought went into Red Faction and that we tried to tell a good story and not just blow stuff up.That being said,Stargate had lots of financial heft behind it, and I guess that’s the benefit of coming out of an established franchise.But Red Faction was an experiment and we shot that film on a very tight budget.Michael Nankin is the single best director I’ve ever worked with,and watching him create what he created with very little resources was a real lesson in directing.Directing is easy when you get unlimited takes,months of prep time,millions of dollars for special effects.Spielberg would have had a nervous breakdown.Michael Bay would have cried.The challenges he had to overcome were unbelievable.There was a medic on set who gave him the Bulgarian equivalent of Thera-Flu when he was getting a cold and he was actually fighting to stay awake all day.He somehow got through it, but that should give you some idea of what he was up against.And he also approached the story in an emotional way every single day,he was fully invested,which really isn’t easy to do when the set is falling apart and one of your actors is so ill that they can’t work and you’re running on five hours of sleep and the set medic has basically drugged you.He’s a real-life bad-ass.He taught me that who you choose to be when you’re faced with the impossible defines you.
AK:What upcoming projects are you working on which you would like to share with viewers?
BJS:I’m enjoying a much-needed break right now.It’s been a crazy couple of years,so I’m taking this time to get back in touch and get inspired again.Time to re-fill the well and find out who I am as a guy,not just an actor