From the hard-nosed Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years to the unforgettable Emergency Medical Hologram on Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Picardo is a known face on almost any television in the world. His talents are as diverse as his roles. GateWorld is proud to present Stargate fans with a video interview with the man behind SG-1’s Richard Woolsey.
Thus far Picardo has appeared in four episodes of Stargate SG-1 (three have aired). In our interview we focus on minor plot spoilers known thus far for “The Scourge,” the upcoming episode of Season Nine that will prominently feature Picardo’s character. If you want to know nothing about this episode ahead of time, turn back now.
Picardo spoke at a brunch at Paramount Pictures and then met with us immediately following — on his birthday! In the end, union regulations denied us from shooting on the Paramount lot. Nevertheless, we parked our tripod a block away from 5555 Melrose Ave. in downtown Hollywood and chatted there.
GateWorld’s video interview with Robert Picardo runs about 10 minutes, and is transcribed below. It’s also available in audio format for your listening convenience!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net this is David Read and I’m here with one of my idols for a long time, Mr. Robert Picardo. Bob, it is a pleasure to be here with you.
Robert Picardo: Thank you, David, it is a pleasure to be here with you.
GW: You’ve been blessed with some extraordinary roles over the course of your career: Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years, obviously the E.M.H. on Star Trek. What was it about Agent Woolsey and Stargate SG-1 that made you want to add them to your tapestry?
RP: Well, the fact that they called me on the phone and said that they wanted me to do it had a lot do with it. [Laughter] The Stargate producers very much like having actors who are identifiable to their predominantly science fiction audience so, understandably, they’ve made offers to other Star Trek actors in the past. I read the first script and I seemed like, kind of, a bad guy — but he seemed to be at least an honorably-intentioned bad guy. He meant well.
The fact that he was a difficult and prickly personality and gave so much trouble to the beloved Stargate regulars … It would’ve been a drag to have to come in and perform except that the members of that cast were so welcoming to me and so happy to have me on the show that they didn’t confuse my character with me the person. Everyone was very gracious. I had a great time doing it.
Producers Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie are also fans of mine, as I am of their work. And they seem to enjoy having me back. The character has become more layered and considerably more sympathetic than his first appearance.
GW: Now you’ve already shot “The Scourge,” which has not aired.
RP: Yes, I’ve shot “The Scourge.”
GW: What we know of it is that Woolsey joins a delegation off-world and while there you get into a big of a bug problem?
RP: Yes, a bit of a bug problem.
GW: Now last time we spoke you said you were looking forward to flexing your acting muscles for this episode. Did you, and what else can you tell us about it from Woolsey’s perspective?
RP: I used that awful expression? “Flexing my acting muscles?”
GW: Well, I did.
RP: Amazing how badly we sound when people repeat our words back to us. That’s why you should never do interviews. Don’t ever do interviews because what they do is they turn your words against you. They make you sound sillier than you really are! Although in my case I have a good deal of silliness that I have to lay claim to.
But, yes, I did flex my acting muscles. I thought I meant my action muscles because there’s a certain amount of action in this script. We are on the run on the planet, avoiding these, in a sort of a “Starship Troopers” scenario, trying to save ourselves from these ferocious, flesh-eating bugs. So there’s a lot of running around.
It was fun to be part of the A-plot this time instead of just the sitting-on-a-couch-in-the-President’s-office B plot. So I had a good deal of time.
Again, Michael and Amanda and Chris and Ben are just great to hang out with. We had a lot of fun together and they’re a really cool cast. We had an eating scene and Chris decided to try to crack us up with innovative and interesting ways to eat a corn dog. [Laughter] And I have to tell you, he really put his heart and soul into it.
GW: Woolsey’s constant argument has always been that a secret program such as the Stargate Program needs to have civilian oversight in order for it to function properly and be obedient to the will and needs of the people. Do you agree with that, personally?
RP: Yes, I do. I think that, in principle, that the military has to be responsive to the populace. There’s always the chance that certain rogue elements in the military can really encourage us to pursue a course of action that may not be in the benefit of our population at large, may not even be legal in the eyes of the world or the United Nations. I, of course, am making no reference to anything that is happing in the present day, although there’s certainly a great deal of discussion about that. We have to question, seriously, any time we choose to use military force.
There are a lot of questions that have to be answered an examined, and sometimes if the questions are examined and answered too quickly, and the intelligence we’ve gathered [is] shoddy, I think that very, very serious mistakes can be made. It does not mean in the least that I don’t completely support our troops and our military, because I admire and respect their passion to protect their country and the sacrifices that they make. I just think that oversight is extremely important and careful consideration.
GW: A lot of metaphorical for a lot of things that are going on right now. I’d like to ask you a question about Star Trek: Voyager, if you don’t mind. You occupied the majority of seven years as the Doctor on the show. In the four years since you’ve had time and reflection with your family, was the job worth it or do you feel that you sacrificed a lot?
RP: Well, I’m a pretty middle-class kind of actor. I like to go to work every day and I enjoy the routine of series television — assuming that you work on a show like Voyager where it was a great crew and a great cast. And it was a big family that I enjoyed being a part of. So it was a very pleasant experience.
There are weeks at a time where you might get scripts where your character doesn’t carry the ball or doesn’t have anything especially interesting to do. But over the course of the seven years I have nothing but appreciation for my character’s great arc. Arguably, I had the best role of the series because I got to change so much. I started as such a blank slate and a reasonably two-dimensional character who was not even human, but aspired to certain things. I had the popular outsider role that Brent Spiner had in Next Generation and —
RP: — and Jeri also had on Voyager, as well. Is that what you mean, Seven of Nine? Those characters that are outside of humanity but aspire to be part of it or understand it, dating back to Spock as the first outsider. Those are the classic Star Trek roles and they have the best writing.
What was really wonderful about the Doctor was that he didn’t go to Starfleet Academy. He didn’t have to be a hero. He didn’t have to be good at anything outside his dedicated area of expertise. He could be cowardly, he could be foolish, he could be a windbag, he could be a know-it-all. I really had great comic potential there that I could mine.
GW: You were very hopeful that Woolsey would actually get to expand outside of his box of being just the “hatchet guy,” like you said.
GW: Besides the action in “The Scourge,” did you get to grow in that as well?
RP: Joe Mallozzi told me when he first mentioned the script to me that he thought we could have a little bit of fun tweaking Woolsey’s character, and I think he did. And I certainly did.
There’s some humorous moments in it. There’s some moments where we see a character who’s reasonably unflappable and has a very fixed world view and what he’s supposed to accomplish in that situation. Suddenly all that goes out the window, and it’s a very threatening situation. He has his moments of, shall we say, barely controlled panic. [Laughter]
GW: Great. Should be a delight to watch
RP: Well, I hope so. I really enjoy working on Stargate and we’ll see more of Woolsey’s barely controlled panic in the future.
GW: Bob, Thank you very much.
RP: Thanks. My pleasure.