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Interview: Robert Picardo


Dr. Richard

Robert Picardo as Dr. Richard in 'China Beach.'


I credit [episode director] Andy Mikita, one of the regular directors on then SG-1 and now Atlantis -- he was so welcoming and easygoing in a very intense day with a lot to get done, and very interesting shots he had planned where, without a cut, we would do a time-cut without doing a real cut in film. Which means it would start on one person talking to me on the other side of the table and the camera would come around to me, and by the time it panned around again there was another person sitting in the chair. And what that means you've got actors who trying to silently slip in and out of a chair behind the camera without making any noise, so you ruin the soundtrack and have to loop it all, and without getting your finger to go in front of a lighting instrument to create a shadow while you're standing up or sitting down or crawling in or whatever you're doing.

It was a complicated and difficult day, and what struck me is that while Andy was working at a tremendous clip, he was still kind and easygoing. And the cast -- the entire cast who I met treated me great. Remember, actors who have been on a show a long time, they like to come in, do their part, and leave. They don't like to be sitting in their trailer while some guest star is they guy who -- everything is revolving around you that day, because you can only come that one day. So they might be sitting in their trailer longer than they normally would because the scheduling has been done to benefit someone else. I just was struck by how great the entire cast was to me, how friendly. It was a delightful experience to kind of tumble into.

So I had a great time and then it was over, and I assumed that was it. Because when you come in to play a guy who's got no charm [laughs], just a kind of a functionary, you don't expect him to be brought back. It never crossed my mind he'd be brought back again.

That's what David Hewlett thought. His character was created on SG-1 like yours, and no one was more surprised than him when McKay was brought back.

Well, look at that. What can I say, it pays to be annoying.

You've got episodes coming up with Michael Shanks again.

Oh yeah, he's great, he's great fun. I love his character. And of course, the two of them together, talking -- I was a fast talker, on Voyager. But I cede the competition to those guys [laughs]. I don't know that, even in my prime, when I could talk really fast, I could keep pace with them, but now I know I cannot.

You were a regular on China Beach (1988-1991), Voyager (1995-2001), and now Atlantis.

Right. There's the oddball omission. Years ago, I had the distinction of being in the first cable sitcom with nudity, called Steambath. I think it's probably fallen off my resume over the years. It was based on the Bruce Jay Friedman play, where after you die you go into a large steam bath and God is a Puerto Rican bath attendant [produced Off Broadway in 1970 with Hector Elizondo and Anthony Perkins, and then as a TV movie for PBS in 1973 with José Pérez]. It was very much late 60s and early 70s. The series aired on Showtime [in 1983], and I think we did six episodes, and I played the protagonist, the ad exec who'd died suddenly and is now reviewing his life.

I'm impressed, I did not know that.

Well you know what, I'd completely forgotten about it until just now [laughs]. I had to sign a nudity clause -- of course, it was the women who were flashing their boobs under their towels, and the guys were pretty much off the hook.

Anyone else interesting in that, do you remember?

We had great guest stars. I remember Dick Shawn guest starred, Alex Rocco, Peter Scolari did one. But in the regular cast, other than José Pérez, who did it on PBS with Bill Bixby and Valerie Perrine -- he reprised his role. It had a very small cast of regulars, there were only four of us, I think. Rita Taggart was in it, an old friend of mine, but no stars that you would remember. What was interesting in terms of my own career was, I wore a toupee and a towel. That was my outfit.

And you were recurring cast on Wonder Years, Alice, The Lyon's Den --

Yes, and L. A. Law, I don't remember what else. Home Improvement.

And you've guest starred on everything from Kojak to Smallville. Is it more fun to be a guest star, or a regular?

Look, any actor who tells you it's not a good thing to have a steady job -- is not welcome in his own house, I think. I do enjoy the family aspect of being on a series, that when you go to work, everybody knows you and you get to know everybody in the crew, and you have that kind of camaraderie and easy laughs that you only get from hanging around the same group of people for 14 hours a day [laughs].

But I also like the surprise of different experiences playing different roles, that's one of the things that appeals to me as an actor. So it is fun to come in with a major guest star role, and be the sort of instant problem-solver. It's nice to have both experiences. And I also love continue working on stage and doing regular plays or musicals.

I try to do independent films -- it's harder to get studio films when you only have a hiatus of a few months. But I just starred in a horror independent called Sensored. I don't know if you've seen our web site, we have a creepy trailer if you want to see me playing a very evil dude.

You've mostly managed to avoid major prosthetics. I was thinking about that when you were in First Contact, alongside Ethan Phillips without all his Neelix makeup. Though you did have plenty of prosthetics on Legend.

Yeah, I did a few early on -- I did The Howling, I did Legend, I did Explorers -- which was the most spectacularly uncomfortable of all of them. So I put in my time in the early prosthetics. And I remember when I was cast in Voyager there was a palpable sense of disappointment among the makeup department that they didn't get to glue rubber to my face!

One other question: I know you sing, and Voyager's EMH sang. Does Woolsey sing?

Only alone in the shower. [laughs] I have actually -- I don't know whether it will happen or not, but I have pitched the writers a tiny, tiny little wink, just a gentle little wink at my other identity in the other franchise, in an upcoming show. I desperately hope we get to do it. It's so subtle, you'll probably have to see the show twice to pick up on it. I'm hoping it's going to happen -- but it has nothing to do with singing.

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