Erick Avari Reminisces on Stargate: 15th Anniversary Edition

Roland Emmerich's groundbreaking film gets a Blu-ray special edition this week

Roland Emmerich's franchise spawning mega-epic Stargate is coming to Blu-ray today! The film launched three television series and two movies. Now, its galaxy of fans can celebrate its 15th anniversary with an all-new hi-def special edition disc! The film, written and directed by Roland Emmerich, boasts a critically-acclaimed ensemble cast that includes three-time Emmy winner James Spader, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Kurt Russell and two-time Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou.

The Stargate [WS] [15th Anniversary Edition] [Extended Cut] [Blu-ray] contains both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film for the first time ever in a newly remastered 1080P High Definition 16 x 9 Widescreen transfer with English 7.1 DTS-MA Audio and four hours of mind-blowing special features including three new featurettes, a never-before-seen gag reel, an interactive trivia track and more! The Blu-ray was made available on October 27, 2009, timed to coincide with the new television series Stargate Universe coming to SyFy this fall!

In honor of this fantastic new release, we caught up with actor Erick Avari, who plays Masuf in the film, as well as having reprised the role for several episodes of Stargate SG-1. Here is what he had to say about this legendary sci-fi film:

Erick, watching this film fifteen years later, it doesn't look like you've aged a day. What's your secret?

Erick Avari: Well, I can tell you this much. It has nothing to do with diet or exercise.

Do you have your own personal Stargate?

Erick Avari: No, but that would be nice. I will tell you what my secret is. It's called make-up. I was only 42 when I shot this film. And they needed me too look much older. They said, "We can spend a half hour in the make-up chair." Which we did every single day. In fact, there is a very funny story about this. Towards the end of our shoot in Yuma, Arizona, where we were shooting all of the exteriors, we were getting ready to shoot the big charge down the hill. There were fifteen hundred extras and several explosions. It was a huge set-up. We were all placed over the crest of the Dunes. We had to wait there until the explosives were set up and the Dunes were swept free of all the track left by the people that them up. We had to get rid of all of that. A lot of the extras were Spanish speaking. So we had an interpreter on the set. He was translating, and he told all of the extras to run towards the camera on the word action. On action, I would say my line and then lead the charge. We would all run down the hill at the cameras. What he failed to point out was that there were six cameras lined up at the bottom of the hill. It was a long set-up process, and the extras were getting restless and tired. It was extremely hot. I was trying to entertain them, because I knew it was vital to keep their energy levels up. This was the big charge. This was the pay off. It would look pretty lame if people were straggling down the hill rather than charging down with full-bloodied screams and the like. At one point, I bet anyone ten dollars that they wouldn't beat me down the hill. Even though I had a lead on them. These guys took it to heart, because they thought I was much older than I actually was. We started the charge, and I went flying down this hill that turned out to be a lot steeper than I had anticipated. Once I got going, there was no holding back. I used to be a sprinter in high school, and this exasperated the problem even further. I was flying. It didn't hurt having fifteen hundred screaming people behind you adding to that adrenaline rush. I was going a lot faster than I had any business going. I pulled a hamstring. Halfway down the hill, I heard various people yelling, "Cut, cut, cut!!!!" The explosives didn't go off. There was nothing to be done, We couldn't have stopped even if we wanted to. We made it down the hill. I came limping down towards the end. I got medical attention right away. Someone went to Dean Devlin, the producer, and said, "Erick's pulled a hamstring!" Without missing a beat, Dean said, "Good! He'll run slower next time!" (Laughs). I was running like a forty year old instead of a sixty year old. The second time around I didn't have to act. That was really me hobbling down that hill.

So when we see that scene, you're actually in quite a bit of pain.

Erick Avari: No, they cut that particular scene. The reason they cut it was because all the extras starting running towards the six different cameras. They looked like they were deserting me. (Laughs) Before the explosives went off, they had to do it all over again. That was a very expensive cut. But the final scene came out pretty great in the end.

Talking about the extras. I've read many times that they used mannequins as extras to save money. Because fifteen years ago, they didn't have the CGI technology to pencil in a huge crowd.

Erick Avari: The mannequins were dispersed one to every thirty extras. Every once in a while you would find yourself talking or looking at a mannequin dressed in Egyptian garb (laughs). They did that to fill it out. Though, they did have some CGI effects in the film. The village was partially CGI. In reality, they'd only built one street. It was mammoth in size. And the detail was amazing. But that street was built in Yuma, and then they CGI'd all the other streets to make it look like an entire village. Just as they had done with the pyramids. They built the base of the pyramid about twenty feet high, then they CGI'd in the top. There was actually a fare amount of CGI involved with the production. It just wasn't to the extent of what we can do today.

Not if you're throwing mannequins in there, anyway. At the time you were filming Stargate, did you suspect that it would become such a phenomenon that is still running today?

Erick Avari: I know! How many series has this thing spawned? Three? And two movies. Fans across the world love it. I love that it has become an international phenomenon. It's not just national. It is worldwide. I think it is a universal story, and it's wonderful to have fans from across the world. It is very humbling. This was my second studio movie. Certainly, I had never done anything like this before. And I don't think I will do anything like it ever again. It was a very unique shoot. It was huge. On every level. I had a strong feeling that this would do something in regards to box office business. I thought that it would have an appeal. But that's what I thought about my first big Hollywood movie. And I was wrong on that one. (Laughs) I was a little cynical. There was a big, strong feeling that this movie was going to be quite something. That it was going to be quite special.

Masuf has lived on in the television series. How exciting was that for you to reprise the character, and do you think he'll pop up in Stargate Universe soon?

Erick Avari: They have not talked with me about that. No. I think it's wonderful that he has lived on. One of the things about coming back is that we didn't hold onto the language. It would have been next to impossible to learn basic Egyptian on a daily basis, and come up with dialogue. They would have to subtitle that. It wouldn't be practical. That was a change from the movie to the TV series. It was quite a significant change, as far as I was concerned. What it did was give me a lot more freedom with the character. I felt a lot looser on the set. Where as, on the set of the movie we were improving so much. It was Roland Emmerich. He kept a very playful sense on the set. I am truly amazed at how he pulled this off. It was only his third movie. And it was a budget that was way bigger than he'd ever worked with before. He never let that get to him, or hamper his sense of fun. He had a willingness to depart from the script. He would come to me with new ideas and different bits of dialogue. I would panic. Because for me it was a three step process. I had to figure out what I was going to say. Then I had to run to the Egyptologist, who was on set nearly every single day with his computer. We are talking fifteen years ago. Computers were pretty ancient and slow. He'd get on there, and after ten or fifteen minutes of research, he would come up with dialogue that sounded like something that had come out of a cat. There were all of these vowel sounds. That made the lines really difficult to say with a straight face. The next step was to get these words in my mouth so that it sounded like a langue I spoke on a daily basis, with inflections and rhythm, and tempo. That was the big challenge on the movie for me. And the Egyptian speaking cast. It was a gas. It was one of those opportunities you don't come across everyday in Hollywood. That's for sure. For an actor, it was a ball.

Jaye Davidson was just coming off The Crying Game when he made Stargate, and he's been pretty elusive ever since. What was it like working with him on set?

Erick Avari: I don't want to talk about Jaye. I think there were other issues that went into his seclusion besides acting issues. I think he was having some personal problems that got in the way of him pursuing this business any further. I think it's a shame. He had enormous talent and great potential. I think he chose to not pursue the business. I am not sure what happened with him. He came in on the very tail end of this shoot. He had not gone through all of the Yuma, Arizona shooting experience, which to me was a real bonding experience for the cast and the crew. The adversity. The heat. We were running into temperatures that were 120 degrees plus in the shade. There was more flu on that set than a flock of geese migrating south. It was just a tremendous experience. And Roland always kept a light demeanor on the set. That was really something special. A lot of it translates from the top down. He brought a sense of playfulness and fun. He brought a relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to creativity. I think those are the things that you see on the screen. And that is no small task given the circumstances we were in. When Jaye came in, it was the last two weeks of the shoot. We were shooting in Long Beach, in a hanger where the old Spruce Goose was housed. By that stage, it's possible that he felt a little left out of the group dynamic. He was a little bit aloof. And I will leave it at that.

There are some great documentaries on this new Blu-ray DVD. Did this act as a reunion for you and Emmerich and Devlin, and the rest of the cast?

Erick Avari: Yes, but it has been piecemeal. We haven't all sat in a room together. We have done that individually. Its great to see it all come together again. It has the feeling of a reunion. It rekindled some old sparks. Hell, I feel forty-two years old again.

One of the coolest things on this new disc is the inclusion of a gag reel, because we don't often see bloopers on sci-fi or horror films? Do you enjoy looking back and watching those? Or are they a little embarrassing fifteen years down the road. I think this is all stuff that hasn't been seen since you shot it.

Erick Avari: I think the gag reel is great. All too often, as an actor, when you are trying to be professional at all times, and something like that happens to mess up the shot, you tend to berate yourself. Because you just cost the production quite a bit of money. That's what it comes down to. Each take is money. Especially on a big set like that. Where there are thousands of people on the clock. You are fighting daylight. As an actor, you are always very conscious of being perfect at all times. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Once you are removed from the situation, and its not costing the production anything, you can sit and laugh about it. Now I have no embarrassment about it after the fact. I think it's a lot of fun. Actually, I have not seen the features on the Blu-ray disc because I don't own a Blu-ray player yet. I have certainly been shamed into it. I am going to go buy one right now.

Did you have a favorite scene from the film that you'd like historians to look back upon when studying your career?

Erick Avari: I think the candy bar eating scene. When I first meet the exploration team. That was my audition scene. It was just so much fun. There are so many levels that I was playing on as an actor. It was delicious, to mix metaphors. Roland allowed me to make a meal of that scene, so it was a lot of fun.

Have you seen 2012 yet?

Erick Avari: No, but I am excited to see it. I don't get out much, Paulington. Heavens. But it is certainly high on my priority list. I would love to see it. Again, I think Emmerich has a very special ability as a director to create an environment on a set that is conducive to creativity. I think that is a very special quality. He is a director I would love to work with again. And this time, I won't need any make-up. (Laughs)

The Stargate [WS] [15th Anniversary Edition] [Extended Cut] [Blu-ray] is in stores now!

Cinemark Movie Club
B. Alan Orange