A Few Delicious Moments with David Nykl, Star of Stargate: Atlantis
November 4, 2011 1 Comment
The first thing that hit me when a lively David Nykl bounded onstage at the Vulcan Events AWAY MISSION: ORLANDO convention was just how adorable the guy is in person! Although I’d attended several Stargate conventions in Vancouver, I’d never had the opportunity of actually meeting Nykl before last Saturday, and was really only familiar with his television persona. But from the moment he bounced out from behind the curtain like a happy puppy and started engaging his audience it was easy to understand why my Twitter followers were agog with excitement when I told them that I was hoping to chat with Nykl for SciFi4Me.com.
The Czech Canadian actor Nykl is perhaps best known to sci fi fans for playing Dr. Radek Zelenka on STARGATE ATLANTIS. As the scientist from the Czech Republic and a member of Earth’s multinational expedition to the Ancient city of Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy, the character of Zelenka was only supposed to be a one-time appearance in SGA’s season 1 episode “Thirty-Eight Minutes”. However, Nykl’s engaging performance and onscreen chemistry with the other cast members resulted in his character eventually appearing in approximately half of SGA’s episodes each season. In 2005 Nykl was nominated for a Leo Award in the category “Dramatic Series: Best Supporting Performance by a Male” for his portrayal of Zelenka.
I was delighted when I could finally meet this charming actor, albeit in the convention’s noisy autograph room, where he was gracious enough to answer my questions about portraying Radek on SGA, and how he felt about plans for an ATLANTIS movie not coming to fruition. Here’s a link to a brief audio clip of his replies.
Some excerpts from Nykl’s stage presentation follow, including news about his recent film projects and comments about his work on ATLANTIS:
“Our last episode of STARGATE ATLANTIS filmed three years ago, can you believe it? I was back there (in Vancouver) at an audition about four months ago and I saw them carting off bits and pieces of the set, and my heart just sank! Everything’s being sold now, everything’s on eBay. I had a fan send me an email saying “I’ve got your glasses!” Bits and pieces of our soul, sold on eBay. (laughs)
On his current projects: I just wrapped on a wonderful Canadian independent film called the KLAPSTOCK SYNDROME. I play the psychiatrist on that one. It’s about a fellow who has hallucinations of a cameraman following him around all the time that only he can see, and at the end of the movie it actually turns out that he’s a character in a movie, and he’s trying to explain to folks that he’s the star of a movie! It’s a very funny little project.
I’ve been promoting this film I did last year called THE BEAST OF BOTTOMLESS LAKE. It’s a story about cryptozoologists up in the interior of BC. A lot of people don’t know this, but in the Western province of British Columbia, inland, we’ve got Canada’s only desert. It’s called the Okanagan, and there’s a lake that runs through the Okanagan, one of the deepest lakes in Canada. It’s long been believed that there’s a “Nessie”, a Loch Ness-like creature that lives there, called the “Ogopogo”. And the Ogopogo is much like all the other “cryptids”, a plesosaur or something like that. That’s what it’s assumed to be. Of course there’s never been any credible sightings. It’s a movie where we’re kind of like a Scooby-Doo outfit that goes up there to go check it out.
I’ve also done a couple of episodes of a show called FRINGE. It’s fun, it’s really, really, really fun, there’s a lot of sci fi coming up in Vancouver. Between that and EUREKA, that’s another great one that got cancelled! What are they thinking? Right? (laughs) That was a terrific show to work on as well, with Colin and all those folks.
It’s an actor’s life for me! You live audition to audition. It’s kind of like being unemployed! (laughs) Or gainfully unemployed. (grins)
On his appearance on SANCTUARY: I have appeared on SANCTUARY, thank you, yes, but it was a “blink and you’ll miss me” sort of a thing! It was an ep called “Kush” (in S01 E05, directed by Martin Wood), where we were up in the mountains and I was one of the pilots of an ill-fated flight. If you’re a pilot on SANCTUARY I don’t think you’re going to go too far… (audience laughter) Yeah, it’s another one of those “pool of blood” characters…”
On Zelenka and the accent: When the character of Zelenka first came out they were looking for an Eastern European and it was assumed that it was going to be Russian. So the character came out as being “Dr. Karpov”. When I got the part I told them that I was Czech, I was born in Prague, and we do speak Czech at home, so they rewrote the character name for Zelenka.
The thing about shows in space is that everybody speaks English. (chuckles) And if we’re going to be an international team with international people from all over the world, let’s represent other cultures. With Paul (McGillion) being Scottish and David (Hewlett) being Canadian…yeah, talk about another culture! (laughs) and my character.
I kind of hoped they would always play that up more, that it was an international team of scientists. So that was kind of an effort on my behalf to bring another language other than English into it. So most of my mutterings are genuine, they’re real Czech, and they’re real cusswords. (audience laughter) It’s for real! Teaching the world how to swear in Czech one episode at a time is what I’m doing!
And here’s the biggest irony, the show was sold to the Czech Republic, and they dubbed me! They dubbed me! (audience laughter) I don’t know what they do when I start swearing in Czech; if they bleep that out or what they do. It’s quite funny!
In the episode “Letters from Pegasus” there was an entire paragraph of Czech. That was what we call a “bottle show”. A bottle show is one where they’ve got so much footage that they’ve shot that they never used, basically a recycled show. It’s (one of) those shows where a character goes, ‘Hmm, I remember when…”, and then they have some clips from the past. That’s how producers save money, they don’t have to film that stuff because they already have it.
So our bottle show was “Letters from Pegasus” in Season 1. They wanted to re-use the footage of the City of Atlantis coming up through the water, because they used it in the pilot and they spent a whack of cash on that! They just wanted to see that thing go up again. So “Letters from Pegasus” was a video letter home describing our experiences in the Pegasus galaxy, and mine was a paragraph about the city rising. In the background underneath my voice was this epic shot of the city rising.
Well, they realized, why describe something that people are seeing? A rule of screenwriting is: don’t tell something that people are looking at. So they came up with the idea of doing it in Czech. They gave me the paragraph, and I translated it at home. We got there for the first shot, at 6:00 in the morning, (we were) right away thrown into it. And there was some talk that the network was a little nervous about having a character on a mainstream television show speak in a foreign language. They just didn’t like that.
But the director (Mario Azzopardi) said, ‘Ah, no, we’ve got to do it!’ So what we did was, we came in, we filmed the version in Czech, and they said make sure you have an English version ready. So just to be sure, I had memorized both versions, a whole page of dialogue. They set up the camera, I filmed the monologue in Czech, one take, and I’m getting ready to go again because we never just do one take, it’s always done over and over again.
And they said well, that’s good, and wrapped up the camera – and left! And that was the director’s version of forcing the editor’s hand, so that he couldn’t use the English version, because there was only a Czech version available! Oh, directors can be very crafty! By picking certain shots and only filming it a certain way so that it has to be used that way. So that’s the longest spiel of Czech that I have in the show.”
Writer’s Note: I’d also like to send a shout-out and my thanks to Twitter follower Nayari (@nayari09) for submitting her questions for Nykl during the convention – David sends you big hug!