A week before the debut of Stargate Atlantis's fifth season I spent some time talking with the intelligent and funny Robert Picardo, who plays the new expedition commander Richard Woolsey. Picardo is well known not only for Woolsey, introduced in the seventh season of Stargate SG-1, but as the holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager and as Dr. Richard on China Beach (among many, many other roles). For an image gallery of Robert Picardo past and present, click here.
So let's talk about Richard Woolsey. Is more of his back-story being fleshed out now that he's going to be getting regular screen time?
I knew he came from a legal background, but I myself have discovered this season that he was the chief counsel for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that he worked at a major New York boutique litigation firm on appeals cases, that he has a very strong legal background and multiple law degrees -- I found that out when I unpacked his belongings in his new office. You discover what the writers are thinking often by those off-handed lines and props. I also discovered that my biggest emotional connection was with my Yorkie that I shared with my ex-wife -- we had no children, and then in the divorce, she got the dog. So I don't think he has a lot of emotional connections back home, which enables him to pick up at this stage of life and relocate hundreds of millions of light-years away.
Hmm, didn't that happen to Kathryn Janeway?
I think so, yeah. I have had more than one scene after the director says "Cut" where I say, "Gosh, I'm Captain Janeway!" [laughs] You know, where I sit in the briefing room and field everybody's report and I make my decision. It's good to be the king, I have to tell you, after being the guy who was reporting all the time -- who wasn't even human. It's a nice change to be someone who assesses the situation, the danger, measures it against what they know about protocol, and makes the call.
The flip side is, the background you just described is jobs that are very time-intensive, without much room for another life.
I think he's -- in fact, an episode that we're about to shoot -- I think it's the second one after we're back from our mini-hiatus -- is sort of a quasi-romance relationship for him, and I don't want to give the story away because it's pretty cool, but to be a guy in middle life like that it's fun as an actor to get to play scenes like that again that I thought -- well, I guess I thought China Beach was the last time around, and a couple of times in Voyager. But now I get to dust off the "flirting muscle" again.
You had some romantic entanglements on Voyager.
Yes I did. In fact according to my fellow male castmates I get to kiss more girls than anyone else over the seven years. Apparently they were counting. [laughs] I'm going to see a lot of them for dinner Monday night, so I'll quiz them on it again. We have a sort of a Voyager Men's Night, where the guys get together, we try to do it a couple times a year -- and this time the special guest invitee is Kate Mulgrew [Janeway], who's in town for a few days before she starts rehearsing her next Broadway show [Equus]. We had Men's Night last time at Jeri Ryan [Seven of Nine]'s restaurant, so she was there too. So you have to be a powerful woman to guest star at the Voyager Men's Night [laughs]. I think that applies to all three women from our regular cast.
Is Robert Duncan McNeill [Voyager's Tom Paris] directing any episodes of Atlantis?
I was talking with Robby this morning, he's having a spectacularly successful career as a producer/director. He's on staff on Chuck right now. He also directed the pilot of Samantha Who? last year. Roxanne Dawson [B'Elanna Torres on Voyager] is on staff as a supervising producer/director on Cold Case. So a couple of my colleagues have had the good sense to get out of being in front of the camera. Unfortunately it hasn't spread to all of us!
Is moving behind the camera something you've thought about?
I trained to direct. I actually started on China Beach, and then the show didn't run long enough for me to get my shot. And then I went through the training process again on Voyager and directed a couple of episodes, very successfully ["Alter Ego" (3x14) and "One Small Step" (6x08)]. It just -- it wasn't my first love.
I said to my wife, "I set out to be an actor because I love acting." I didn't want to get at that stage in my life where I'm going to make the more sensible career choice -- or I'm going to continue to pursue my passion. So I thought about that for a few days and I erred on the side of passion. I've been around the block a few times. Although in recent years it seems like I've been around the science fiction block, I've been in other neighborhoods as well.
There was a week earlier this year where I saw you on Atlantis, on an SG-1 rerun, and then on Smallville, and I thought, he's taking over the genre!
[laughs] It's a combination of things. It's not just that sci-fi fans are loyal, and that they often watch a number of sci-fi shows, and they like to see actors that they know from one series pop up on another. It's partly that. But you also have to remember that those same writer/producers that may have started out on Star Trek, they've all spread out and they're working extremely successfully, sometimes in science fiction and often in other genres. It's amazing to me how adaptable your skills from writing Star Trek are to "procedural" shows, [laughs] because ultimately Star Trek is a procedural show, set in the future, in a way. So I think that a lot of the same discipline that make you a successful Star Trek writer serves you well in other genres.
I'm very proud of people like [Voyager writer/story editor/producer] Bryan Fuller, who created Pushing Daisies, he was one of our regular writers. [Writer/producer] Ron Moore, who did Battlestar Galactica. [Writer/producer] Brannon Braga is now working on 24. [Writer/producer/director] Kenneth Biller directed me in the Smallville ["Quest" (7x19)] -- that's why I popped up in that, because he wanted me to do that role. So a lot of those friendships you forge over those years with your colleagues on a particular show, hopefully you have an opportunity to work with them again.