BY: Frazier Moore
NEW YORK – Whether in Yankee Stadium or the Land of Oz, getting home is an all-consuming mission.
But not on ‘Stargate Universe.’ Not for Dr. Nicholas Rush. It seems he would rather probe the far reaches of science while stranded in a rattletrap spaceship billions of light years from home.
As played by Robert Carlyle, Rush is at the core of “SGU,” a meditative thriller premiering recently on the Syfy network and watched by more than 2 million viewers. Airing Friday at 9 p.m. EDT, it builds on the mythology of the 1994 film ‘Stargate’ and follow up series ‘Stargate SG-1’ and ‘Stargate Atlantis.’
The titular Stargates represent a perilous but potentially lifesaving transport system for the voyagers. Found throughout the universe (but don’t expect Mapquest to show you where), each is an imposing, ring-like portal stretched with a permeable membrane that allows the brave or brash to pass through and emerge who-knows-where, like in a hopscotch game spread across the cosmos.
The Stargates offer a chance at connect-the-dots salvation. Or maybe doom.
Rush, the brilliant scientist, just wants to figure it all out. Home definitely isn’t where his heart is, which puts him in regular conflict with his fellow journeyers, played by co-stars Ming-Na, Elyse Levesque, Lou Diamond Phillips, David Blue, Alaina Huffman, Louis Ferreira, Jamil Walker Smith and Brian J. Smith.
“This ship, coming here, was my destiny,” Rush declares. “My life’s work was to be here.”
Rush is a loner, who may or may not be trustworthy. Who may be operating on sound scientific motives or, instead, in a defiant display of hubris.
“He’s very isolated, very much on his own,” Carlyle says. “He only goes to people if he needs them.” And they don’t like his neediness any more than he does.
Rush leaves viewers delightfully confused: Is this the one guy on board who, despite the others’ pushback, has a handle on their crisis? Or is he a narcissistic suicidal scoundrel? Viewers don’t know, and they feel for him and doubt him at the same time.
When he was sought for the role, Carlyle says he was told, “We’re looking for someone who can make dislikable things seem quick likable.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m potentially your man.'”
No wonder. In person, the Scottish-born actor is warm and outgoing and passionate about his work. A compact man with large soulful eyes and a soothing brogue, he sports the scruffy, shaggy look of his character. (What’s the point of good grooming in outer space?)
Before “SGU,” the 48-year-old Carlyle was already acclaimed for his off-center characterizations. In Danny Boyle’s 1996 film “Trainspotting,” he played a raving psychotic. A year later in “The Full Monty,” he was one among the down-on-their-luck steelworkers who dropped their drawers to strike it rich.
He was the gay lover of a Catholic priest in the film “Priest.” And in the TV miniseries, “Hitler: The Rise of Evil,” he was twitchy, wild-eyed and ruthlessly shrewd in reconciling that despot’s magnetism and depravity.
Last fall, he starred in the ’24’ TV movie as a former special-ops buddy of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in seclusion in Africa caring for orphaned children.
Not surprisingly, Carlyle welcomed the role of Dr. Rush, a man who doesn’t want to come back — even if he can conjure how.
“There are people who spend time in jail or on a desert island and don’t want to come back,” Carlyle notes. “That’s massive! I thought there’s got to be great drama in that.”
But as he started shooting the series, Rush remained almost as much a mystery to him as he’s been to the audience. That’s just how Carlyle likes it.
Shooting his 1991 breakthrough film role, “Riff-Riff,” he was never privy to a full script, just each day’s pages from director Ken Loach.
“That’s the way I started — which I love,” Carlyle says. “When the actor reads a script, they instantly go to the end: ‘What happens to ME?’… I don’t want to know what happens to me! I don’t want to know whether I live or die.
“I’ve tried to use that technique through my career, and on this show, strangely enough, I’ve actually been able to. I said to the guys, ‘Don’t tell me where Rush is going! Tell me a bit of back-story — that’s important, because I’ve lived it. But don’t tell me what’s going to happen.’
“The rest of the cast, they want to know. But I play each scene as it is, day by day by day.”
And if a given day calls for him to slip through a Stargate, you can bet he’s as surprised by what he finds on the other side as you are.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.