Since his seven seasons on Star Trek: Voyager wrapped up a decade ago, Robert Duncan McNeill has transitioned to TV directing and producing. In an exclusive FedCon interview with TrekMovie.com, Robbie explains how he would have done things differently on Voyager, and gives an update on the chances of his new show Chuck getting another season.
TrekMovie exclusive interview: Robert Duncan McNeill talks Voyager Chuck
TrekMovie: How are you finding FedCon?
Robert Duncan McNeill: It’s great! I was here, I think, twice before. It’s been a while. I always enjoy coming to the conventions. I haven’t been to many conventions lately. I kind of transitioned from acting to directing and producing, and so that’s what I’ve been doing.
TM: You started directing in Voyager; you directed twelve episodes. What was the motivation for you to do that transition?
RDM: If I think back to even when I was in high school, I wanted to be an actor but I was also very entrepreneurial. I started some acting classes where I was a teacher of kids, and I felt like they should have performances. So, I found a local bank that had an auditorium, and I had them give it to us for the kids to perform. So, I was directing and producing these little acting classes and plays for the kids. I guess I was always kind of entrepreneurial even though I wanted to be an actor. Once I was successful as an actor and was working, I got a little bored, got a little itchy. So, I started following other directors and learning about it.
TM: Was this during Voyager?
RDM: This was before Voyager. I was doing a show called Going to Extremes, and we shot it in Jamaica. So, I lived in Jamaica for nine months or so. Most of the other cast were single; I was married at the time, I already had a two-year-old. So, they were out partying and doing what you do in Jamaica. And, I wasn’t really doing much of that! So, I thought instead I would use my time to watch the directors there. That was in about ’92. That was the beginning of watching directors and learning about it, and then Star Trek Voyager started in ’94.
Robert Duncan McNeill at FedCon XX in Dusseldorf, German – April 29, 2011
TM: Now that you’ve had all the experience running Chuck, looking back on your time in Voyager, is there anything from a producer/director perspective that you might have done differently? Something that you might have changed about the way that it was run?
RDM: The way Voyager was run? Laughs maniacally Yes. I would have changed a lot, to be honest. I heard someone at the studio saying one time that the ship was the star of the show, and that the actors were really irrelevant, which I found offensive. I come from a place, being an actor, a) that I really value the actors’ process and the actors’ contribution a lot. Because if we don’t have dynamic performances and happy actors, and actors that feel like their really contributing, then who cares, you know?
TM: And, you don’t feel like that was the attitude on Voyager?
RDM: No. Not really. I think they did believe that the ship was the star. And the actors were there to wear uniforms and say their words. I like to produce from a place of real collaboration, and I want people to feel heard and valued. Certainly there should be a vision for the show that comes from one person, and that person on our show is Chris Feedak who created the show Chuck. It’s not my vision, I’m helping Chris to achieve his vision, but we’re all contributing. Our actors contribute, our camera department, everyone contributes. I like a happy workplace. I think it’s more productive. I think the workplace in Star Trek, generally, was not the most productive. It was not always encouraged to bring in something unexpected or do something interesting. It’s funny; on Chuck we improvise jokes. Every take we try something different. I find that process more interesting. I think the actors get more excited. I owe so much to Star Trek and to the
studio and to the producers that ran the show. Having said that, I also learned a lot of what not to do. I feel like I behave very differently.
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris – says as a producer he would have done many things differently on "Star Trek: Voyager"
TM: Was the decision to bring in genre actors and Star Trek actors to Chuck due to your influence?
RDM: We brought over a lot of Star Trek alumni to Chuck. Some of that is my influence. Some of that is just that Chris Fedak and John Schwartz are nerds themselves, and they are big fans of genre shows and movies. But, in terms of the crew, actually, I brought over a lot of crew from the Star Trek world: AD’s and visual effects, Dan Curry from visual effects. So, I work with a lot of people now that used to work on Star Trek. We often are commenting on the difference between how we work at Chuck and how things worked at Star Trek. It was very different.
TM: When will we know if Chuck will be renewed for another season?
RDM: I think it’ll be around the middle of May. I don’t know the exact date.
TM: Is everyone at Chuck waiting on pins and needles at this point to hear if it will be renewed?
RDM: It’s funny. We’ve been through this so many times. Chuck is always on the bubble. It’s funny this year, it feels different and I’m not sure why. In the past years there’s always been a sense that we haven’t quite done it all yet. There’s definitely a sense of feeling like that in terms of the mythology. Things come together in a very interesting way. I just finished cutting it on Wednesday, and that’ll be out in a couple of weeks. In terms of that kind of complexity, I think we all feel like all of the things that we’ve wanted to do we’ve really been able to do, which we couldn’t say in the years past. Not that a fifth season wouldn’t be incredibly exciting, and we could do a lot of fun things. But, I don’t know, this year there’s a different sense. I can’t explain it. It’s a resignation to “whatever will be will be”. In the past we’ve always felt like, “Come on, give us one more! We’ve got some really cool things that we want to do that we haven’t done!” This year I think there’s a real sense of, “we’ve done a lot of cool things.” We’ve done a lot of cool things that I think people didn’t imagine that show could be or could do, with the way the characters have grown and with the mythology.
Robbie shows off Chuck "Nerd Herd" Tee shirt at FedCon XX
More FedCon XX at TrekMovie
TrekMovie.com has full coverage of FedCon XX, with another interview to come.
Also check out:
- FedCon Day 1 report
- FedCon Day 2 report
- FedCon Day 3 report
- FedCon Day 4 report
- FedCon Video Sneak Peek of Star Trek Infinite Space