Friday, August 21, 2009

Exclusive Robert Picardo Interview: Part 1

Picture 1: Robert Picardo as Stargate Atlantis's new leader, Richard Woolsey, and Paul McGillion as Beckett
Picture 2: Robert Picardo as the Doctor and his creator Lewis Zimmerman and Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi in the Voyager episode ''Life Line.''

An acting veteran with a career that spans more than 30 years and covers over 40 movies for both television and the big screen, as well as appearances in over 80 television series; Robert Picardo is well known for his roles on China Beach as Doctor Dick Richards and on The Wonder Years as Coach Cutlip. A stage actor first, Mr. Picardo once shared the theatre stage with the great Jack Lemmon, Danny Aiello and Diane Keaton amongst others.

Nowadays, he is more widely known to Science-Fiction fans as the Doctor on Star Trek Voyager and as Richard Wolsey on the Stargate series.

It was a complete honor for me to interview Mr. Picardo during the 2009 Star Trek Convention, as I am a great fan of his, and also because the Doctor is one of my favourite Star Trek characters ever.

In the first part of this interview, I wanted to talk about what he liked the most as an actor, what his feelings were on the subject of being part of both Star Trek and Stargate, and how he found the Doctor’s voice as a writer in both the Star Trek: Voyager episode called ''Life Line'' and in his very funny book: The Hologram’s Handbook.

Inside Trekker : You’ve had a very diverse career. You’ve acted in plays, movies, TV series – and you’ve also done some voice acting in animated movies and video games. Which medium do you like the most? What makes you the happiest?

RP: I think probably I’ve had the most fun working on stage. The actor is most in control when you’re working live. Even though you develop your performance under the supervision of a director, every night you are responsible for recreating your performance; so that, I think, is really the most exciting, especially for someone who started as a stage actor. However, it’s a great joy to work in all media and I love doing what I’m doing, which is everything. I like to do theatre work; I like to work on film and television, and I also like to do animation, as well. They all have different challenges and their different rewards. So I like it all. It’s good to be busy!

IT: You’ve been in two of the biggest and longest-running Sci-Fi franchises of all time – as the Doctor on Star Trek [Voyager] and Richard Woolsey on Stargate. How do you feel about being part of two huge franchises?

RP: I am proud to be the only actor who’s played a starring role in both of the major franchises. I am happy that the characters were distinct and different, and I’m really particularly happy that the Stargate fans accepted me – not only as a different character, if they were familiar with my work on Star Trek, but that they also grew to accept me as a leader. Because my character was pretty much introduced as a bad guy… or you thought he was a bad guy, then it turned out he was a just an obnoxious guy who meant well… and then he slowly, you know, they gave him some comic foibles and all that, but he was never meant to be a leader. He was someone who evaluated the leadership of others. He was like a think-tank person or a briefing room person who was all theory but no execution. [laughs] ''Here’s what you should have done.'' So the fact that the audience grew to accept me as a leader, I was proud of, because that was a difficult transition, I think, to take the character through.

IT: And you were a great leader. I loved you, actually.

RP: Thank you! Well, I’m happy to hear that because he’s not by nature a brave individual. We had established that. Also, he’s not very much of a people person; he doesn’t have very good interpersonal skills. He had to learn an awful lot, but mostly he had to learn to trust his senior officers. And he had to trust his own instincts and willingness to put the rulebook down and go with his gut, which was the hardest thing, I think, for him to do because he’s a very intellectual person.

IT: You have a writing credit on a season 6 episode (of Star Trek Voyager) called ''Life Line'', and you wrote The Hologram’s Handbook. How hard or easy was it for you to write that book in the Doctor’s voice?

RP: [Laughs] Well, I don’t have the discipline to sit down really to write scripts or to write a long-form book. But I loved playing that character and I missed him as the show was ending and that’s one of the reasons why I had the idea. But also, I thought of funny situations and ideas that we had never dealt with on the series. It really came out of the episode ''Message in a Bottle'' where I’m bragging to Andy Dick’s character, EMH Mark II, that I’ve had sexual experiences and I said to the writers: When did I have them? [laughs] When did it? How did this happen? The audience saw me first activated on Voyager and then they’ve been keeping in touch with me every week. When did all this stuff happen? No one had any answers for me, so I went and decided to write my own back story to different things that had come up on the show that I wanted to know [laughs], you know, what the background was. So it started just as humorous anecdotes.
And then I also have always been amused by all the psychology self-help books that are at supermarket checkout counters and all that. So it’s really a satire of the self-help book. It’s a ''if you’re smarter than everyone else that you have to work with, it’s how to get along with inferiors.'' So it was mostly just for fun. And my friend Jeff Yagher, who’s a wonderful actor and sculptor and cartoonist, he did the cartoons for the book. And we had been working together – he was guest starring on Voyager – and the idea developed for us to do something together, so he would do the art for the book and I would write the chapters. So that was also a fun way to collaborate with him and help him pay for his wedding.

IT: I read that [The Hologram’s Handbook]. It was a great book. I enjoyed it very much, and I even got the audio book

RP: Thank you! The audio book – it’s fun to hear me doing it, I think, because, you know, you get to hear the old windbag himself again if you miss him.

IT: Yes, I do miss him.

RP: Thank you! About the episode, one of my favourite plays is I Never Sang for My Father, so I thought it would be interesting to sort of borrow the structure of that play. It’s all about the disappointments from both directions – parents toward children and children toward parents. Parents, you know, ''why aren’t you what I’d hoped you’d be?'' And children’s point of view is ''why can’t you accept me for what I am, and why don’t you love me as I am, and look at what I can do and look what my strengths are?'' So, it was basically a father-child drama adapted for a programmer and a hologram.
The interview continues in part 2.

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