Gary Jones is a talented improv, stage, and screen actor best known for his performance as Walter Harriman on Stargate: SG-1.
You were a member of Toronto’s Second City Improv Company. How did your perspective on performance change between your first appearance with them and your last?
A lot of actors say that improv is the scariest discipline because you’re not handed a script and a character. You have to provide those yourself.
But before i took improv classes, I hadn’t done any acting. Zero. So improv was the only thing I knew.
In a way it made it more difficult for me to go the other way and stick to lines because I would want to change them all the time.
I started out taking improv classes with Second City and was having fun just goofing around, unaware that they kept an eye out for potential performers.
So after taking three levels of improv training they plucked me out of their workshop system and put me directly into their National Touring Company. I was stunned.
I was also 26 which was late in the game. Never had any drama training. But I took to it and eventually lived out the cliche of ‘quitting my day job’ in advertising and marketing.
I was with them for twoyears when, true to life in the arts, I was making no money. Told them I was quitting. They told me not to because they were sending a troupe to Vancouver to work for 6 months at Expo 86. I thought, “Why the hell not?” So, I packed up and headed west.
I improvised for the duration of the fair and the when that needed I stayed and moved onto performing with Vancouver Theatresports. I was a MainStage player for 15 years and made my name there. Can’t thank them enough for giving me that opportunity.
I met other improvisers and became friends with them and one of them, Shawn Macdonald and I wrote a play together that won a Vancouver Jessie Award Best Play of 1994.
It was amazing because improvising is writing but writing on your feet in the moment as opposed to taking your time to write a script.
So I guess that improvising was my style of writing that I learned and it’s really served me well.
Are there any improv skills you apply to everyday interactions?
Yes, I can think outside the box. Improv helps with problem-solving in loads of areas. It helps in auditions because sometimes the casting person will ask me to try it differently and thanks to improv, I have no problem doing that.
Is it difficult to adjust your performance style when you go from stage to film or from film to stage?
It was at first because TV and film require a much smaller amount of projection whereas stage acting needs to reach the back row.
If you perform in a theatre capacity on TV you can look insane. Plus, a hugely bad actor.
Your character’s name on Stargate progressed through four or five different evolutions throughout the show and he becomes quite prescient in later seasons. Does the “Walter” portion of the name have any throwback reference to “Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly” from M*A*S*H?
Gary Jones: I have no idea. it was in the episode called ‘2010’ where Richard Dean Anderson (RDA) just called me “Walter” out of the blue, mid-scene.
My name wasn’t Walter and I’d never heard the name Walter being mentioned or considered up until it came out of his mouth.
But I do remember that the script supervisor went up to him after the scene and said, “Uh, Rick, just to let you know, Gary’s character’s name isn’t Walter.” Rick said, “Well, it is now.”
So, there you go. The star of the showed Christened me and the rest was history.
A lot has been made of the welcoming environment created by “Stargate” cast members. What were your initial interactions with them like?
I don’t think anybody really knew who I was because I was just named “Technician.”
To be honest, the first of the lead cast to sort of embrace me in any way was Amanda (Tapping). She and I found out that we’d both been in comedy troupes in Toronto and we even had a common friend. She’s so lovely and has been like that ever since.
The other guys are all a laugh.
What is the most bizarre thing you have ever seen a fellow Stargate cast member do between takes?
Nothing really bizarre, to be honest. They mostly kept to themselves but did mess around a lot. Chris Judge’s farts between takes were the stuff of legend.
Where were you when you found out about the passing of Don Davis and what was your reaction? Could you share a story from behind the scenes that illustrates his nature?
No-one could believe that Don had died. He was this workhorse who looked like he’d go on forever.
Loved that guy.
He used to tell me about his life and without trying to be funny, he’d have me crying laughing.
The first time we met on-set, we shook hands and I think he fused two of the knuckles in my right hand. Jesus Christ, he was strong. He once told me that he’d get up around 6:00 am and do 500 push-ups every morning. His arms were like Seabiscuit’s hind legs.
He crushed my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Don S. Davis and I’m 235 pounds of rompin’ stompin’ Missouri bullshit.” Hilarious.
What do you think of the drive to revive Stargate for a fourth in-canon series?
Brilliant. The new stuff makes me and rest of the original cast “old school.”
How would your life be different if you had never been part of the Stargate franchise?
I would not have traveled the world as I have appearing at cons.
And I wouldn’t have the great friendships I have.
I met so many awesome people on that show. Hard to list all of them but here’s a crack in no particular order: RDA, Paul McGillion, Peter DeLuise, Andy Mikita, Martin Wood, Amanda Tapping, Paul Brown (Legends Memorabilia), Don Davis, Barry Fredericks (costumes), Brad Wright, Joe Malozzi, Damian Kindler… huge list.
No doubt they’re all saying the same thing about me.
Let’s say Stargate returns and we discover the SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe teams are all somehow trapped on Destiny and you are tasked with writing a pilot in which your character devises and carries out a rescue that results in saving all but one major character. What does the story look like and who doesn’t make it out alive?
Gary Jones: I would kill off Paul McGillion’s character (I think he’s Irish) because then he’d be able to rag on me for the rest of my days.
He’d love that!