Beware of SPOILERS for Stargate Atlantis Season Five in the interview below!
Has it really been almost six years since Robert Picardo walked on to the scenes as NID Agent Richard Woolsey? A familiar face in the science fiction world, Picardo’s character introduced a friction between Stargate Command and Washington initially, but eventually would grow to become a great advocate for the Stargate programs.
GateWorld talks with Picardo about his fifth season stint as commander of Atlantis base and whether or not this made sense for the character. He also introduces his family of pets. We talk about the legacy of both Stargate and Star Trek, and his current projects both on screen and with the Planetary Society.
GateWorld’s interview with Bob runs about 48 minutes, and is available in both video and audio formats. It is also transcribed below. For the audio version you can listen online at your leisure, or download it to your MP3 player.
GateWorld: So Bob, another series is done and out. What’s it’s like to have your life semi back to normal?
Robert Picardo: Well, I loved my commuting to Vancouver. It’s a beautiful city. It was great fun to work on the show, really nice crew, great cast, so last year was a dream. I really enjoyed it. But it’s also nice to be back at home, more regularly with my family, cooking in my kitchen.
GW: And in your basement I understand, with sweets?
RP: Cooking with sweets in my basement?
GW: You’re making sweets in your basement, according to your Wikipedia.
RP: Sweets in my basement …
GW: [It] said you are a lover of sweets and you wanted to, when your acting is done, start a sweets shop. Is that a lie?
RP: I think it’s a lie! [Laughter] Wikipedia said that?
GW: Wikipedia said that!
RP: Well, that’s what happens when you have an online dictionary that anybody can define you on, there’s bound to be some bad info. I think I like sweets. I have no desire to make sweets. We should correct the Wikipedia thing right away!
I like to cook, I definitely cook a lot. I love to make homemade pizza and all sorts of things, but sweets, no. Love to eat sweets, but don’t make them. So Wikipedia, you can’t be completely perfect, but you’re doing very well.
GW: OK! [Laughter] You said you enjoyed the commute to Vancouver?
RP: In that I enjoyed being in Vancouver.
GW: I was gonna say!
RP: Nobody really enjoys taking a plane a couple of times a week, necessarily. But it’s still a manageable trip; it’s not too long a flight. And as I said, it was a very pleasant place to work, so I enjoyed the experience of working in Vancouver. You’re right the travel itself got a little old.
GW: When they offered you the job did you specifically say, “I still want to live in LA, don’t put me up in an apartment in Vancouver?”
RP: No, because the idea was that Woolsey would not be in every episode, that he would be in I think 14 out of 20.
GW: That was their idea?
RP: That was their idea. I think by that time Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie had know me for five years, and they knew that I had never done a series out of town, and I think they were sensitive to the fact that I didn’t want to be out of town all the time. So that was the proposal they made and it ended up turning out great. I was never away more than three weeks at a time — at the longest — and most of the time I was gone 10-12 days.
GW: Did you expect the show to be done this soon?
RP: I expected going in that the fifth season would be the last season. That’s what I expected. I know how show business is, so I don’t assume anything.
While we were doing it there had been an uptick in the ratings and SCI FI seemed to be happy in the direction the show was going. The fan base seemed to have accepted Woolsey as a leader, against all odds, and I thought it had a shot at a sixth season. I think that the decision was made very precipitously, and I think that caught some of my fellow cast mates off guard a little.
GW: Yeah, I believe the word came out while they were shooting “Infection.” According to Andy Mikita, Joe came down to the set and laid the news, and everyone was just like, “Oh, man.”
RP: I missed that by just a few hours, because I remember I was informed by my driver Larry, who had just picked me up at Vancouver airport because I had just come in that day.
The news broke on the set probably while I was in-flight, and so I got the word and then Joe very kindly gave me a personal call late that afternoon at the hotel so that I would hear from him. But, of course, you know, the transportation department and the wardrobe department — if you want to know everything about any production, you don’t have to go to the production office!
My first choice is usually wardrobe, and then make-up and then transport. [Dog barks] That’s my dog barking in the background, I apologize. SHUT UP! Thank you.
GW: Hey guys!
RP: Let’s introduce the dogs. Here’s little Lola. Lola’s a rescue. She’s kind of a mutt. We know that she’s three different dogs in one, we don’t know quite what three dogs, she looks kind of like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, don’t you think? Or a Taco Bell pitch girl.
She’s a very sweet animal, a good licker, a very good licker.
And then there’s Buddy. Here comes Bud from off camera. Buddy is perhaps the fattest Chihuahua on record! We read that a Chihuahua is supposed to be nine pounds. Buddy is pushing 15! So he’s kind of the Jackie Gleason of Chihuahuas. He used to go to the tall and fat Chihuahua shop when he buys a collar. He’s a very sweet animal, and we love him very much, and he’s also a very good licker!
GW: You said earlier on that you and Joe have a fondness for dogs.
RP: Yes, we do. We do have a fondness for dogs. Joe has, I believe, four now.
GW: Yeah, I know.
RP: They’re beautiful. He’s a real purebred dog. Buddy’s a purebred, but Lola is definitely a mutt. But they’re very good animals, they came to Vancouver a couple of times.
GW: Really, you brought them? You put them under the seat in front of you?
RP: Yes, actually when they came up together Buddy got to fly in the cabin, and Lola had to be in pressurized cargo because she’s a bit of a barker.
GW: They had to put her out.
RP: Yes. And of course the day we flew home, I believe we were detained at the airport for a time because apparently there’s someone on the No-Fly list who has a similar name to me, minus one vowel.
GW: You’re kidding!
RP: So I kept saying “Is the guy who’s not supposed to be flying on the plane, was he on Star Trek too? Because if you want to confirm my identity you can turn on the Spike channel at two o’clock. It’s a great way to know who I am!” But apparently Homeland Security either doesn’t watch SCI FI or they just won’t admit it.
GW: They just don’t have a sense of humor about it.
RP: And I understand that security is not something you can have a sense of humor about. Hey, how about that plane landing yesterday?
GW: Yes, I know the US Airways plane in New York.
RP: Oh my God, that pilot, what a hero.
GW: It’s incredible.
RP: What a hero, what an inspiring story. Really, he is the Tom Paris of US Airways, Intrepid.
GW: Who do you keep in touch with from the Voyager cast? Robbie [Duncan McNeill], Jeri [Ryan]?
RP: I talked to Robbie yesterday, very good friends with Robbie. Talked with Ethan Phillips today, very close with him. With Tim [Russ], with Kate [Mulgrew] certainly. I see Kate whenever I go east, because Kate lives in New York now. I saw Roxanne [Dawson] probably six, seven months ago. I’m a little out of touch with Jeri. Jeri got married, had a baby. I haven’t seen Jeri in about a year and a half.
GW: Second child now, wow. Good for her.
RP: Yeah. Who did I leave out … Garrett [Wong]. I saw Garrett as recently as two weeks ago, there was the memorial service for Majel Roddenberry, who was a very, very lovely woman.
GW: She passed away? I didn’t know that. I had no clue.
RP: Yes. She passed away I think December 18th. There was a lovely memorial at Forest Lawn for her, and I saw many of my old companions from the other franchise, we call it now, because this is a Stargate Web site we’re speaking on, so I refer to my old job as “the other franchise.”
GW: You know, I’m still waiting for you and Jeri to get your act together and record an album.
RP: That would be great.
GW: Because it was so good. You know, “Someone To Watch Over Me,” I first put it in, it first aired on UPN I thought “What the heck is this?” I fell in love with ‘The Doctor falling in love with Seven’ story.
RP: It was a very sweet story. That was one of those episodes where I read “The Doctor starts singing ‘You are my Sunshine,’ and I went, “Oh God, how am I gonna pull this off! This is gonna be …”
And then of course we had to pre-record it, and I heard Jeri sing, and I went, “Oh, she has a sweet voice.” We sang our little harmony and all that, and I was still unconvinced. Then we shot the scene, and remember Robbie McNeill directed that episode beautifully, and I just thought he really captured that moment. That quintessential moment between two friends, two colleagues, a sort of teacher-student relationship. When something else happens, there’s a little glimmer of something happening in my eye.
GW: When he’s watching her sing, and it’s like, “Oh boy!”
RP: I know!
GW: This is not a computer program anymore. This is a person.
RP: No, not a computer program anymore, he’s sweet on his student. It was a very nice episode.
I just worked with Robbie again, although as a producer. He’s the Supervising Producer on Chuck, so I worked on that a couple of weeks ago, which was great fun. I really enjoy that show.
GW: I haven’t seen that but I’ve heard it’s really good.
RP: Zack Levi. Funny guy. Also another sci-fi giant, Adam Baldwin, from Firefly is in it. He’s terrific. It was really a nice experience. So I enjoyed it. Buddy’s getting a little restless, Buddy want to talks a little about him. Do you have a question for Buddy?
GW: Um, what’s it like living in this great home?
RP: Well, what is it like? Buddy’s been on a diet, so he’s a little cranky. [Laughter] Whenever you’re eating something that looks good to him, and frankly everything looks better than his “Royal Hawaiian Chihuahua Food” — which is very good Chihuahua food — don’t get me wrong, but he gives you what I call, “The Angry Elvis” look, where he curls his lip up “Whatcha got there? Whatcha have in there? Hmm. I wouldn’t mind trying!”
GW: Do you have to keep the dogs separate when they eat? How do you deal with that?
RP: We have to pick the cat food up because Buddy will eat all of the cat food, anything other than his food. But he’s a little chubby, and we want Buddy to have a good, long healthy life, so we’re trying to get him to drop a couple of pounds.
GW: You and I on the Midway were talking about “Life Line.” You shared a story credit on that, I believe. Another marvelous episode.
RP: Oh yes. I forgot we were on the Midway together, I was that slow. Yes, “Life Line” was another good show, dealing with another one of those key relationships in life. We’ve just talked about “Someone To Watch Over Me” being about a teacher falling for his student, Lifeline was a father-son drama through the prism of an engineer and his artificial intelligence offspring. A good story.
GW: It sounds very cute when you put it that way. [Laughter]
RP: Well, that’s the art of the pitch! The art of the Hollywood pitch. “Think about this story .. a father and son except Dad is an engineer and the little guy is a computer program. What do you think? A program that can learn and adapt, and yell back.”
GW: How was the day to day goings on at Stargate different from the other sci-fi shows that you’ve been on? Was it easier?
RP: Oh no, definitely easier. There was a sort of a relaxed kind of “seat of the pants” feeling that I really enjoyed on Stargate. That you could be a little loose and have an idea and ask to tweak the line and all that, and it was pretty much taken in stride.
Remember … “Remember.” You know better than I do – Stargate is contemporary and Star Trek is set in the future, there are more rules that have been established in the Star Trek canon for language and for avoiding present day colloquialisms as much as possible, things like that. You don’t want to ever set Star Trek in the immediate present as far as expressions and stuff like that go.
GW: “Get the picture.” “Come again?”
RP: So I understand why they were quite specific about lines being as they were written. But having had that experience for seven years it was nice to be on a show that was a nice transition to feel like things were a little more easy going, and if I ad-libbed a joke I actually got thanked for it rather than called on the carpet. “We phone all our jokes in seven days in advance. That’s how we do spontaneous here. If you have a spontaneous idea please call us the previous Tuesday.” [Laughter]
GW: It wasn’t that bad, it couldn’t have been!
RP: No, but if you had an idea on the set you had to call the office. There was a change, and the best you got really was permission to shoot it two different ways.
GW: “We’ll try it.”
RP: They really wanted to see it the way they wrote it, and more often than not they were right that the way they wrote it was the better way to go. But I learned the protocol, and if I had jokes that I wanted to suggest I called three or four days in advance. The great thing is they magically appeared in the blue pages when you got the rewrites, suddenly, there’s an asterisk. “Ooh, there’s your joke.”
GW: What a machine Star Trek had to have been. I mean, it was technically going on for at least seven or eight years by the time that you were brought in, but in some ways so much of it was established 25 years before. That must have been such a monster step, putting your shoes into the cement of this new show, yet …
RP: It has its plus’s and it’s minuses. The plus side, of course, is that the fan base is there, waiting for your show to premiere, and if you do your job they’re very anxious to do theirs and watch it.
If they embrace the show there’s a nice feeling there, that you’ve been accepted and the show will have a life. So that’s the upside, having that history and that kind of responsibility, if you will, of a long standing franchise, or “canon,” that you do have to obey.
Then also the fans complain. One of the problems with the last series Enterprise, because it was a prequel, was there was a certain amount of complaints that they were violating the canon of Star Trek.
GW: “This Enterprise was never mentioned!” “Well, it’s not a Federation ship.” Ohh!” Nitpickers unite.
Does Stargate … We keep on going back to this Stargate! Does Stargate‘s cancellation allow you to do more guest starring roles than you had a chance to do while you were on the show? A chance to play more diverse characters? How are you looking at this? I’m sure you’re trying to find positives in the cancellation.
RP: It’s very nice to have a steady job. There’s no doubt about it. I was disappointed when the show wasn’t picked up. But as I said the upside is “spend more time at home.” I have been able to guest star in more things, I have been able to do independent film projects.
GW: I want to talk about Sensored.
RP: And two just since Stargate ended, but I did a lead in a film right before Stargate began. I literally left Sensored and within 48 hours I was on camera for Atlantis.
One of the great things about being an actor is that you lead many vicarious lives. You get to play a number of different characters. If you are lucky enough to work in all media, and go from theatre to television to movies or whatever, you get also the different rehearsal process involved.
Creating a role on stage is a very different animal than creating it on film, and creating a role in an ongoing series is a very different animal than creating on film or on stage. It’s the challenges of working in the different media and working on very different characters is what, I think, what an actor’s lifeblood is. So yes, there is an upside to not having steady employment. The downside is you don’t have steady employment!
GW: Right! Exactly. I remember Jack Black saying, and I’m sure he didn’t originate it, but “If you get one in 20 auditions you’re doing pretty good.” So you must be doing pretty well! [Laughter]
RP: It is definitely, it’s a numbers game.
GW: At this point in your life what kind of projects do you look out for in wanting to do, and which ones do you stay away from? Is there anything you won’t do at this point? Be it work with a certain person, or a certain character that you won’t play?
RP: I’m very interested in doing a theatre role. I haven’t had a major stage role now in a little over two years, that’s something I’d like to look out for. I was offered a musical six weeks ago, and it was a supporting character and the show was funny. I just always have to weigh the amount of time and whether I think that there’s something in particular that I can bring to that role.
GW: Is it worth it? Yeah.
RP: I really would love to do a play in the near future. I’ve enjoyed doing these sort of quirky roles in independent films. I’ve done two horror movies recently, one of which we wanted to talk about, Sensored, which I will be doing the voice over work and the looping in the next 10 days. I’m very excited about that.
I saw virtually the final cut of the film, I think the director tweaked it a couple more minutes after I the one I saw, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I play a very interesting character.
GW: Yeah, I children’s storybook author, I believe, named Wade?
RP: A children’s storybook author, whose day job is being a coercive techniques expert for the CIA.
GW: Oh really?
RP: He has someone in his suburban basement that he is basically controlling and trying to brain wash and, in effect, torturing in subtle ways. Then part way into the story you start to wonder whether Wade really is a coercive techniques expert for the CIA or just thinks he is …
GW: This is the way that he’s convinced himself that this is OK.
RP: Yeah. And at the same time he’s writing children’s books. It’s that odd neighbor down the street that in the sweater vest who has someone strapped to a table in his basement! My favorite log line I made up for the film is “If Hannibal Lector worked at your local Jamba Juice…” Anyway, it’s a cool role for me!
GW: Very cool! Did someone offer you this, or was this something you said, “I want that!”
RP: A wonderful casting director named Jeff Passero, who had cast me in the last play I did that I just mentioned, over two years ago, which was a very demanding Arthur Miller play called “Broken Glass.” He recommended me to the filmmakers.
They knew of my work primarily from Star Trek, but it was really his commitment that I was the right guy. I had a long phone conference with the director and the producer, but never even met them before I went up to start. It was risky. It was risking 18 days of my life, about three weeks of total immersion.
GW: Well, if you fall in love with a script, take that chance!
RP: Absolutely take a chance. I knew I was about to start Stargate. The fact a small budgeted movie and all that, it was just like going to acting camp. I literally lived in the house where most of the movie takes place, in a little kind of a mother-in-law apartment in the basement. So it was like total immersion film-making.
In walking into the bathroom I’d walk past the make up table. I brought myself a used exercise bike so the moment the 12 hour shooting day was over I could work out, take a shower, eat and go to bed, and then get up and do it all again the next day. So it was full-time work.
GW: Now you’re not a method actor, are you?
RP: I think most American actors study Method acting and Stanislavsky-inspired school of acting, so it’s I think all Americans are trained in that tradition.
However I was very impressed when I was an acting student with a wonderful actress named Estelle Parsons when she came and lectured at my theatre school “Circle in the Square” in New York. She called herself a “text actress.” I said, “Well, what does that mean?” She said “I read the text carefully, I comb it for clues, but my main job as an actor is to figure out how my character fits into the whole, and how best to serve the text.” And I loved that description.
GW: “It’s not about me, it’s about the story.”
RP: It’s about the story. It’s about exploring the words and finding out how your entire character functions in the story, what he wants. It’s basically asking the same questions, but starting with the larger picture and digging in, rather than starting with yourself as an actor and kind of working out.
“What do I want? What do I need? How am I going to get it? What are my obstacles? How do I feel about being stopped by those?” Instead of the starting point being your gut, it’s like looking at the whole and working your way inside it.
That appeals to me more as an actor and always has. It doesn’t mean I don’t use method acting exercises, and some of the things I studied when I’m having trouble with a particular … especially in theatre work, with reaching a particular moment, finding a way to something. You fall back on that, on all of those techniques.
GW: I think a great recent example is Heath Ledger playing the Joker, and how it’s rumored that he got inside that character’s head and lost himself in it. When you approach a character like Wade Milton for Sensored, do you ever ask yourself, “Hmm, maybe I’ll take this too far.”?
RP: There’s some very disturbing things I have to do in the movie, and it was very upsetting to me to do them, to be part of them. I took great care of my fellow actors, because there are at least three actors that I am doing terrible things to in the movie.
So, my goal as a performer was to watch out for their safety as much as possible. We’re simulating some dangerous things, and there’s a certain amount of danger in simulating them. So I was very careful, and that was the way I made myself feel better as Bob the person doing this, was to make sure that they were safe, and I, in between takes, comforted them as much as possible, which means I completely broke character between takes.
That was the only way I could get through it. Had I tried to stay in it, A, I wouldn’t have felt as safe with regard to them, and B, it might have become too difficult. Too much.
The Arthur Miller play “Broken Glass,” when I was doing that, just as another example. My character is so troubled that he is making himself physically ill. The way that he’s led his life, he’s so blocked in certain ways that he’s developing heart symptoms. He’s a heart attack about to happen.
And working on that play, I literally would come home and feel sick from trying to simulate the way that character starved himself off from breathing. When he got upset he would stop breathing, almost, and I had to have two heart attacks in the second act of the play!
GW: And that was a journey you’d have to go down every night!
RP: Yes, but curiously but once we were performing it, the feeling of sickness that I took on went away. When I went through the whole arc of the performance in a night, went through the whole journey and got it over, then I felt cleansed leaving the theatre.
It was really in rehearsal depending on what part of the play you were working on, you were kind of blocked. That point in the character’s journey you kind of when home with all that baggage and I didn’t find that as much when I was in performance.
GW: When can we expect to see Sensored? You told us it was filmed with the Red Camera, so it’s got some stuff to do.
RP: It was the first feature to complete principle photography with the Red Camera, the amazing new 4k digital camera that has a great filmic look. There’s been a movie that’s already premiered with the Red that must have shot after ours, but we finished principle [photography] about 11 months ago.
The movie has been picture locked about a month now. The sound design and the score is just finishing up. I’m expecting the movie to be delivered in the next four weeks. Thereafter, they have a distribution offer from one of the “major small” companies, which I won’t name because it isn’t set yet. They got the offer on the strength of the trailer and how cool it is, and pending the quality of the whole movie they have that offer to weigh versus others. But I am very optimistic the movie will not just get a DVD release, but will have a feature release
GW: Theatrical release [date?] You don’t know?
RP: No, don’t know yet. But I will break the story here on GateWorld! Alright?
GW: OK! I look forward to it. I’m not kissing your ass here, I was very impressed when I saw the trailer. I didn’t know what to expect, I logged onto the Web site, the noise in the background was a little irritating, but once we got past that to the trailer, I was blown away.
RP: Thank you! I encourage your watchers to go to www.SensoredTheMovie.com. Also, I’m doing something fun on the Internet elsewhere. I’m playing in some sketch comedy pieces on a website called www.AcmeBrandComedy.com.
Right now I’m playing an Italian gigolo named Alphonso who gives advice to the lovelorn who is very self involved. It’s great fun, so I encourage your viewers. In fact maybe you’ll even link to AcmeBrandComedy.
They took a short hiatus, they were premiering a new piece of comedy every day of the week for about six to seven weeks prior to their holiday break. If you type in “Ask Alphonso,” you’ll find five different vignettes of me as the Italian gigolo who thinks he knows everything about women and is very proud of his organ. It’s a little off-color, but I think if you’re over 12 or 13 it’s OK.
GW: Has the economy made it more difficult to find work recently?
RP: There are at least two independent films that I was going to do where they said, “Well we’re going to get started in a couple of months,” and then you never hear from them again. Some things are falling apart because of interruptions in the financial pipeline. So yes, I think that’s true.
I’ve noticed kind of across the board things are being pushed off into the future and indefinitely postponed. And also with what’s happening with my union there’s a certain amount of uncertainty.
GW: Oh, the Screen Actor’s Guild. That’s ongoing.
RP: It’s a bit of an iffy time. It’s a good time, I think if you are interested in sweets, to open a sweet shop in your basement, and had the Robert Picardo that apparently on Wikipedia’s page is interested in making his own sweets and selling them, now would be a good time to be that guy.
GW: Bob, if you could go back and spend time with any of the previous roles that you’ve done which would you go back and spend more time with? Which would you choose to go back and revisit? Not just Woolsey, because we’ve got the movie coming out.
RP: Right. Woolsey will have a future. It’s interesting, there was a time during Voyager when we thought, “Well maybe the characters will have a future life.” I never really thought that the mantle of the Star Trek movie franchise would fall around Voyager. I didn’t think the show was popular enough.
However, there was some talk that they would start combining the casts. At least do one film where they would pluck the more popular characters from two or three of the different installments of the franchise and make that kind of a “special forces” type thing.
So there was a time when we entertained the notion that those characters may live again. Now I think if you want to see the Doctor on Star Trek you’ve got to go see Star Trek The Experience in Vegas, which, I understand, has left the Vegas Hilton and has found a new home on the old strip.
GW: It’s back in service again?
RP: It’ll reopen in the spring around the time the movie’s coming.
GW: I went and saw it last February. Man, that was cool.
RP: It was cool and I was sorry to see it go, but apparently it will live again. But that’s probably your best shot of seeing me. Seeing the Doctor.
GW: We were talking to you several years ago just down the street from the Paramount lot. On your birthday! “I think Star Trek will rise again.” And it certainly did. You were right about that.
RP: Oh yeah. Star Trek is going to be back. It’s not only good for Star Trek as a brand name. I always think that when an icon of science fiction kind of comes back it’s like when Batman comes back and you go, “How great!”
The legend has been reinvented and it’s got a whole new audience. Batman is as hot, or hotter, than he’s ever been. It doesn’t take anything away from the other Batmans and the success of Star Trek [XI] doesn’t take anything away from the other installments, the other moves, all the other characters. It’s a good thing for everybody.
GW: Do you think it was good that Atlantis ended its series run and is now doing DVD movies or do you think it’s too early to speculate on that?
RP: It’s too early to say. I am confident they will make the first movie. They’ve made the announcement. They haven’t picked a time yet. None of the actors have been contacted yet, but I believe that they intend to do it. And I believe even the SCI FI Channel has made some sort of …
GW: I think they’re going to run it.
RP: I do believe it will happen. I hope it’s a great success. It would be wonderful if, once or twice a year, you could be a Stargate fan watching Stargate Universe and get your weekly fix of new Stargate, but you could still keep abreast of the other Stargate branches with yearly installments.
The SG-1 movies have been wildly successful, way beyond the studio expectations. I hope that that bodes well for Atlantis.
GW: When Amanda Tapping moved on to Sanctuary …
RP: Good for her!
GW: You know, 11 years with Carter? Good for her. None of us can blame her!
RP: No. And she’s got a hit, too! Good for her!
GW: Exactly! Shooting with the Red Camera!
RP: Yes, and why do you think that happened? Why is Sanctuary shooting on the Red Camera? I think the Red Camera should make me a spokesperson. If you’re out there and you have anything to do with the manufacture of the Red Camera you may want to call me because I am very responsible for the success of your product. Not so much with making sweets with my basement. [Laughter] But if you check Wikipedia and Robert Picardo on the Red Camera, I think we go together.
GW: When she did move on that was obviously a void. The leader of Atlantis. And I remember Joe [Mallozzi] setting it up on his blog saying we’re going to make an announcement soon. I turned to Darren, who also runs GateWorld, and I said, “They’ve got Bob Picardo. They’ve got to.”
Despite the fact that at that point, and I still do to a certain extent. If you look at “Heroes,” and only “Heroes,” that character was not designed to lead Atlantis. He was given much more of a soul in “Inauguration” and when he came back in Seasons Eight and Nine they added depth to the guy. He wasn’t exactly the “leader” type. He was the hatchet guy, like you put it. When you got that offer to come in and lead the team did any of that occur to you? Did any of that run through your mind?
RP: Oh, absolutely. I said to Joe on the phone, “I don’t quite see how. I’d love to work on the show. I love doing the show, but the way we’ve set him up it’s going to be hard to remain true to what you’ve [created].” But after I hung up the phone I thought, “But what a fun challenge for an actor. To take someone who is completely a theory guy, a conference room guy, and try to put him in a real situation and have him try to build himself into a leader.”
We’ve got an awful lot of people, especially in this economy, starting new careers in their fifties. Why not Richard Woolsey? He was not a very nice guy. For example, let’s put it this way. My tie, incidentally which Bill Nye gave me, it says “Beneficial insects control pests and provide food for other critters such as songbirds.” That’s what it says inside my tie, which features beneficial insects. I propose to you that Richard Woolsey turned out to be a beneficial insect.
You never thought it — when you saw him in “The Scourge” when he was running away from all those digital bugs that he, himself, was a bit of a digital bug himself. And he turned out to be beneficial to the other critters on Atlantis.
GW: Well, I’m sure Joe and Paul were thinking, “This is an arc that we could do with this season. Let’s put this guy in and in the first couple of episodes, make him look like, ‘OK. Sheppard and the team are really going to have a hard time with this guy.'”
As the series goes on it comes to bat for them once or twice and it makes more sense that Shen Xiaoyi is now where he used to stand. And now he’s doing one of these numbers that [he used to do with Hammond]. “This is not as easy as I thought.”
RP: As you know in all science fiction there are a lot of opinions out there and you have a lot of blogs. One of them was very kind to me personally as an actor but said that — I don’t remember exactly what the quote was — but it’s been fun this season watching the journey of Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey developing into a leader. “It’s been a fun ride, if somewhat unbelievable.” [Laughter] It was a little backhanded. They didn’t quite believe that that guy turned into a leader, but they still liked watching me create that arc. Frankly, if that’s the worst thing I can live with it.
GW: It ain’t too bad. At least they tried something bold. They put a guy in there who would not have necessarily been everyone’s first pick.
RP: M-hmm. Absolutely. We just came out of eight years of having bureaucrats running the military and saying, “Let’s fight this war.” You realize that bureaucrats running the military is not always such a good thing. That was another lesson we could re-examine with the ascendancy of Richard Woolsey.
GW: About Season Five, what do you think were some of this year’s best shows from your perspective? Which met your expectations and which ones did you personally feel bombed or didn’t do so well?
RP: That’s tough to say. First of all it was great fun to see my friend Bill Nye on “Brain Storm.” That was a fun show for an “off-Atlantis” show. That was great fun. [A] lot of humor in it, and of course great surprises in the casting.
Having Neil deGrasse Tyson in it. All that was just wonderful. And I felt proud because Bill is my pal. I remember talking to Martin Gero and say, “Sure! I’m sure he’d love to do the show.” I was happy to see that work. He got me this felt tie, too. He’s a big sci-fi fan.
I also thought that Robert Cooper’s show just turned out great, “Vegas.” It was an extremely moody, very well-shot show. Very cool. I know it took some extra time and a few extra bucks to make it, but I thought it really was worthwhile.
I personally loved the episode “Remnants.” It was great. It was really great the way the three stories that were completely unrelated all dovetailed. I thought it was very clever. I personally loved what I was given to do. I’m the only person who hears that cute lady in the room. That gave me some nice comic opportunities but also had a nice emotional punch at the end.
That was probably my favorite one personally to do. I love carrying some humorous moments in the middle of basically sci-fi action drama. It’s fun to do the lighter moments. If I had any regrets I really wish I’d had more scenes with Ronon. I thought it would be great fun because we’re natural opposites and I thought that would be cool to do more stuff with him.
I thought it would be fun to do some sort of a bottle show with Dr. McKay. I think that he could bring out some of Woolsey’s more annoying characteristics. They could really get on each other’s nerves, too. And I also thought it would be great fun to do a show with Joe [Flanigan] where he and I were kind of isolated together, and we make discoveries about each other that we don’t — professional colleagues that really don’t know each other at all, personally, and have one of those things where you discover things that are unexpected about each other.
To an extent that’s what “Inquisition” was. I thought for a clip show “Inquisition” was very w — I’m afraid to say “Well-crafted.” Because when I say “well-crafted” in an interview and I got so busted. I clearly do not know what “well-crated” is. I’m abandoning the expression “well-crafted,” because a guy like me who’s been in enough well-crafted television, I should recognize what well crafted is and since I don’t I think I won’t use “well-crafted” anymore.
But whatever an analogy for “well-crafted” is, you can fill in the blank. That’s what I thought “Inquisition” was for a clip-show. And the fact that Woolsey’s prior life as an attorney was what saved the day. I thought that was pretty funny.
GW: Well I thought it was interested in going in, “OK, here’s the episode where Woolsey shows that he’s no longer from the IOA’s perspective anymore.” He’s now a part of the team. And then we go into the scene and he says, “Now [that] I know what that court is like. I can play their game. I’m going to play hardball with them and I’m not necessarily going to make all the morally and ethically good decisions to get my team out of jail.”
RP: Right. No, he’s being strictly a political animal. Having seen that I think Woolsey is ready to run for governor of Illinois. I mean he’s going to be the commander of Stargate, but on a part time basis. Maybe two weeks a year. So the other fifty weeks a year he’s free to take some sort of other position.
GW: Tell us about working with the planetary society.
RP: I have been on the advisory board of the planetary society for about seven or eight years. I originally helped them with a fundraiser where I did some readings from Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” in honor of Mr. Bradbury who was there in attendance that night. With such others actors you may have heard of as the late Charlton Heston, John Rhys Davies, Tim Russ — some guy I guess who was on some show.
At that point, or shortly there after, Louis Friedman, one of the founders, along with Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, asked me to be on the advisory board, recognizing that my recognizably with the science fiction audience would be helpful to remind people that, “Hey, if you’re interested in science fiction maybe you’re interested in the real thing. If you like to dream about space exploration, well why not find out exactly what we’re doing now, and what we’re hopefully going to do during your lifetime?”
It sounded like something that was not only worthwhile, the mission of the Planetary Society — which I encourage all of you to go to their Web site, www.Planetary.org — and if you’re a Bob Picardo fan and you join the Planetary Society because of me, which is 25 bucks, then when you come up to me at a personal appearance I will say or do something wonderful. I will be very grateful. I have brought a number of people to the Planetary Society, according to people who come and tell me at conventions and whatnot.
GW: Were you aboard at the time of the Columbia disaster?
GW: How did that affect the group? It put a halt on space travel and scientific progress for a while.
RP: Oh absolutely. Yes, it was a terrible, terrible tragedy, and it did interrupt obviously the progression of the schedule of future shuttle missions for about 18 months, two years. You have so many successful missions in a row that there’s a tendency to forget the danger. It’s the same thing that happened when the Challenger exploded. that was the first time they carried a civilian on any of those shuttle missions.
We have so many great successes in our space program, and now that we’re not the only space program in town with other exciting missions that other countries are creating and sponsoring that there’s a tendency to forget how dangerous it can be.
But we realize that we stand on the shoulders of the talented and courageous people throughout the whole history of NASA, that have been part of that dream since Sputnik was launched, and you have to grieve for the tragedies but celebrate the tremendous successes.
I had the honor of hearing the new president of the Planetary Society, Jim Bell, who is the Imaging Director for Spirit in Opportunity, the two Mars rovers that have outlasted their original mission to the tune of four years of nine months. They have exceeded their warranty.
Jim Bell and my friend Bill Nye spoke locally in Pasadena at a benefit for the Planetary Society, which I was at this past Wednesday night. [I] had dinner with Jim after and we were talking about really the importance of how the Planetary Society, how it can continue to capture the imaginations of people who are just passionate about the future of spade travel.
It’s harder and harder, since the Internet, to get people to join important institutions like the Planetary Society. They’ll go to the Web site, they’ll check it out and they’ll look at the pictures, and go “This is really cool,” and then go on to the next thing. It’s a small amount of money. It’s a very important organization, and I encourage you to consider joining.
GW: What’s in store for you down the road? You’re watching your kids grow up, still auditioning. Still acting.
RP: Still auditioning. Looking for interesting and fun things to do for middle-aged bald guys. Although if you watch Ask Alphonso on the Internet you see that I still have a closet full of wigs that I can still pull out. [Laughter]
GW: Yeah I saw you with Ronon’s wig! That was great! That picture was up on MGM’s Stargate site. That was great. That was funny.
RP: I forgot about that.
GW: This little guy next to the big guy, little guy has a big long wig on.
RP: My dream would be to do either a play or a musical in the near future, continue working in film and television, and be at my kid’s college graduations.
GW: Long-term, you planning on staying in Southern California?
RP: I think so. California’s a very seductive place. I said to my wife, “I don’t know that I want to die in California because I’m afraid I won’t notice.”