Robert Picardo spent seven years as the holographic Doctor on Star Trek Voyager. The part, which grew to be a breakout role on the show, is just one of many memorable roles for the veteran actor who will soon be seen as a regular on Stargate Atlantis which premieres its 5th season this week. In an exclusive interview with TrekMovie, Picardo talks about his roles on Voyager, Atlantis and more.
TrekMovie.com: Your Stargate character Richard Woolsey has evolved over time and started as a heavy and foil to Richard Dean Anderson on SG-1. You have spoken about how The Doctor on Voyager grew on people over time and the same has happened with Woolsey. Did you work with the Stargate writers on that character arc and evolution?
Robert Picardo: Oh, no. The writers at Stargate have very much their own ideas and plans for the character. I think what ended up helping me is when I did the first guest star the writers and producers, specifically Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, just decided they kind of liked me and kind of wanted me to hang around. The luckiest aspect was they introduced me as a heavy and then they thought about how to bring me back and they made the decision to make me kind of an unwitting heavy for the evil senator played by Ronnie Cox. And once I realized I was being manipulated, the audience was shown I had the best intentions. And then after that in subsequent episodes, for example "The Scourge", you got to see that my character even had the beginnings of some humorous foibles too. He was really great in a conference room, but you put him in a real situation and he just wasn’t cut out for it. There is a funny moment in "The Scourge" when Woolsey is hightailing it from these insect creatures and he outruns everybody else to save his ass. I think there is a certain inherent fun with taking a bureaucrat and putting him in a real situation.
Picardo’s Woolsey out of his element in "The Scourge"
TrekMovie.com: A lot of your fellow Trek stars have appeared in the Stargate franchise over the years in, mostly one-off roles. What is about you or your character that got them calling you back so often?
Robert Picardo That is hard to answer. I think when they tweak the character in all sorts of directions–when you throw me the ball I will run with it. I also think that he is a great conflict character. It is a science expedition with a military support group. So the original primary leader was a civilian scientist, the secondary leader was the military guy. Now you got a guy who is coming in there and is not qualified in either area and he is telling both what to do. There is a lot of conflict there, there is certain humorous possibilities in it because he is not an easy guy to get along with but he has the self awareness that he rubs people the wrong way. And there is the overarching dramatic possibility that he has never been called upon to lead. He has only evaluated other people’s leadership and now he has to step up to the plate.
TrekMovie.com: When one looks back at your career you can see that you have played a lot of authority figures and a lot of stiff, or bureaucratic as you put it, characters. Is that something that you seek out? And how do you differentiate Woolsey from the rest of your bureaucrat past.
Robert Picardo: First of all, when you hair starts jumping off your head in your mid 20s you know that you have bureaucrats in your future. [laughs] I think that my stock in trade as an actor has been playing what is often called ‘the guy you love to hate.’ Which is the character that makes an initial bad impression. This goes back to the gym coach on The Wonder Years. You don’t like him because he can be gruff or authoritative or arrogant or overbearing or a windbag or whatever, but there are neuroses or foibles to the character that let the audience have a window into understanding what made him the way he is. And they start to develop an affection for that. You are holding a mirror up to weaknesses in people that motivate their unpleasant behavior and that strikes a chord with the audience. This guy means well, he just doesn’t know how to stop being a jerk. Like The Doctor on Star Trek with his huffy attitude, he had an exterior that alienated a lot of people. I think one secret to these characters is that they don’t feel they are appreciated enough. They are really trying to do the right thing. They have this expertise and because they don’t have the most gracious personality skills people judge them and don’t really appreciate what they don’t do.
Picardo as Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years
Robert Picardo: (continuing) Regarding Woolsey and what makes him different, well first of all he is not a hologram [laughs]. I think that Woolsey’s past that we know of, he has a very strong academic background and with government think tanks and also having his own passion and commitment being used and being burned, he would be pre-disposed to being cautious and careful of anything like that form happening again. So when he receives the counsel of the military higher ups and the science higher ups, everything is going to be called into question because he is the one responsible for the decision.
TrekMovie.com: Your role on Voyager went through one of the larger arcs of any Trek character, certainly on Voyager itself. Was that something you worked hard to make happen or did it happen naturally.
Robert Picardo: Once we got into the third or fourth episode writers who were pitching the show got a sense of The Doctor’s possibilities, and so they got a lot of stories pitched for me. But also I went frequently to the writer’s office – Brannon Braga does a great impersonation of me hiding in the bushes outside the writer’s office so when he came out for a smoke I would jump him and say ‘you know Brannon I was thinking, dot dot dot’. In retrospect the best suggestion I made was how The Doctor related to Seven of Nine. I was quite concerned when Kes left the show because her character was The Doctor’s confidant and he revealed himself in a way to her that he didn’t with anyone else. I was concerned that The Doctor would no longer have his sounding board. When I mentioned this to Brannon he asked that I come up with a way I could related to the new character, so I went off and thought about it and decided to turn the dynamic around. Because Kes had basically tutored The Doctor in his developing humanity, I thought wouldn’t be wonderful if The Doctor thought he was more suited than a human to teach Seven how to reclaim her humanity. So I proposed the whole thing of the role playing and the social appropriateness lessons. I didn’t know they would carry that arc for four years. And the logical conclusion of that became, of course, the ‘My Fair Lady’ episode ["Someone To Watch Over Me"] where the teacher falls in love with his pupil. Not only did I have great friendships as an actor on the show, but The Doctor developed ways to relate to all of the characters. So I agree with you that the writers gave me a great arc and it remained fun over the course of the seven years.
The Doctor teaches Seven to dance in "Someone To Watch Over M"
TrekMovie.com: I have seen survey data that showed that fans ranked The Doctor as the second favorite character on Voyager behind Janeway, even a bit a head of Seven of Nine…
Robert Picardo: Well I used to tell Jeri [Ryan] that I had the best butt on the show [laughs] so maybe it is that. I really think that what made the character have the potential to delight the fans was because he didn’t have to act stalwart, brave and true in the Starfleet straightjacket of courageous behavior. What was fun about The Doctor because he was designed for one specific purpose, whenever he was out of his element he didn’t have to act according to the Starfleet code of behavior. He could be cowardly, he could be reluctant, he could be just pissy and it was fun to play all those negative qualities and make the audience laugh and when the chips are down to rise to your better self. I guess what I am saying is that he had the capacity to be more surprising in his responses than some of the other characters and that is just by the design of the show. I think the other actor’s in the show envied, in a gracious way, that they could give me all these silly storylines or dramatic storylines.
TrekMovie.com: It has been 7 years since Voyager has returned from the Delta Quadrant and returned to Earth. Where do you see The Doctor seven years after his return?
Robert Picardo: I think of him lecturing at Starfleet Academy and traveling all over the galaxy for guest speakerships. He is a major proponent of hologram rights. He has written several treatises on Holopology, which of course is the study of hologram culture and art. I think he has been a guest soloist with the San Francisco Symphony singing some of his favorite arias. I would like to think he and Seven have gotten together for the occasional, um, warm reminiscence. Remember The Doctor doesn’t age, so I figure after ten or twelve years The Doctor is starting to look good.
Picardo as The Doctor in the Voyager finale "Endgame"
TrekMovie.com: If you had a chance to work with a Trek actor who has (or hasn’t yet) worked on Stargate before…if they came to you and said ‘what Trek actor would you love to play off of’, who would you pick?
Robert Picardo: That is a great question. Frankly, I am very close friends with Ethan Phillips and we have a great rapport. I have mentioned to the producers different actors that I like from other shows as well, like Greg Itzin who played the evil president on 24 to such acclaim. He and I are pals and I would love to see him appear on the show. Garret Wang would be fun. Robbie McNeill and Roxann Dawson are pretty much full time director producers now and Tim [Russ] has a steady gig, but it would be great to work with them again, and certainly with Kate [Mulgrew].
TrekMovie.com: Have you been keeping up with all the news with Trek and the new big movie?
Robert Picardo: I joke with my friends, now that I am jumping franchises, that I waited until Star Trek was hot again. I stuck with it during the lean years and now that it is hot again I have, of course, jumped ship to join Stargate. Now that JJ Abrams is going revive the franchise and give it a new lease on life it is a bad time to be moving down the block…. I am the first Star Trek actor, beyond those playing guest spots, to sort of move into the neighborhood full time. I wonder if that will affect how the die-hard Stargate fans, the fans that feel that one franchise is superior to the other. I wonder if they will feel that it is slumming taking a Star Trek actor in and giving him gainful employment. I hope not but you never know.
TrekMovie.com: Well they accepted Ben Browder and Claudia Black…
Robert Picardo: Oh yeah, and they came from Farscape. So they are willing to accept a franchise hopper if they work hard and keep their nose clean. That is what I am banking on.
Picardo leads the team for the fifth season of Stargate Atlantis
The fifth season of SGA kicks off Friday July 11th on the Sci-Fi Channel
I just knew Robert Picardo would be a great star after seeing him act on “China Beach”.
Hes a great guy, and I cant wait to see more of Stargate.
Great interview, Anthony! As you know, I’ve been waiting a while for this one, lol! And you got it in three days before SGA S5 kicks off. Nice! :-D
The Doctor is definitely my favorite character from VOY, and Picardo is my favorite regular actor from any of the shows… which is odd considering VOY is actually my least favorite Trek show. But Bob is so awesome, he beats out the regular actors from the better shows. :-D
I have seen practically everything Bob has done, including all the Joe Dante films he was in (The Howling remains one of my favorite movies of all time). I’ve even seen most of his SG-1 and SGA episodes, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of either show. Heck, I’ve even seen some of his more obscure movies, like Frame Up and Samantha. Oh, and I have my own page dedicated to his film and TV work (http://www.angelfire.com/stars3/rpicardo/), although it hasn’t been updated in a while. So, yeah, I’m a huuuuuuuge Bob Picardo fan. He’s great. :)
Again, awesome job, Anthony!
Does anyone remember the annoying neighbor he played on Home Improvement? He was a butcher (a non-holographic butcher) who really got on Tim’s nerves.
Anyway, Picardo is great. Who could forget the immortal Coach Cutlip?
Great to see him getting further success after VGR!
Can’t forget Innerspace where he played the cowboy with Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan.
Thank you for a delightful interview.
one of the Very few saving Graces of Voyager, before Kes left.
Anyone remember the film ‘The Expolorers’?
Picardo’s alien in that will always be memorable to me. Brilliant stuff.
5. Craig — InnerSpace was a great movie and had one of my favorite Picardo performances. The scenes where he’s supposed to be Martin Short in disguise was hilarious (though I can’t remember how it came about — I must watch it again!)
8. M-BETA — I am not a fan of Explorers (no “The”), but I agree, his alien (Wak) was very memorable. FYI, he also played Wak’s father in the movie, as well as a movie-in-a-movie character called Starkiller.
I still remember Picardo as the voice and prototype of the Johnny Cab in “Total Recall”. I asked him at convention once and he, a little bit annoyed, admitted it.
10. Andy Patterson — Why would he need to admit it? He was credited in the role. :-P
I wonder why a was annoyed by that… who doesn’t love the Johnnycab? :-(
Just proves that Picardo can do comedy
Robert is one of Trek best actors and I am very much looking forward to seeing him as a regular on Atlantis. A question for Anthony. Are you going to be following the new season of Atlantis the same way that BSG has been?
I feel like Stargate has become the Law & Order of Sci-fi. Something that almost happened with Star Trek starting with Voyager.
Bob Picardo is awesome. And it was great that he was in FIRST CONTACT, too.
Bob Picardo and Dick Miller were always two Joe Dante regulars – Gremlins 2 was a classic performance, garbage man in The Burbs
Anyone remember him as the slimy (literally) female swamp-witch in Legend with Tom Cruise?
Well it’s great seeing Robert on Atlantis. He is a great actor and im realy looking forward to seeing Atlantis on friday. I Think Atlantis now has a Great set of actors on the show and with Fellow star trek allum From enterprise being the bad guy it will be great. The best of both worlds Of star trek and stargate atlantis.Thank you Anthoney for a great interview and as always we look forward to future intervies with all the other trek and stargate stars.
Ah yes, and who can forget Bobby’s best performance, as a tree in a play at Washington Elementary School.
What great range he demonstrated. He didn’t have any speaking lines, but whenever the lead actors walked by him, you just knew that someday he would be a big star!
Well he was…I guess,….. suddenly reminded of something in the midst of being there for something else. He seemed a little bit like “oh yeah…I did that…why are you bringing that up at a Trek convention?” I didn’t know he was given credit for that. One thing I’ll say about Picardo is he was very professional the whole weekend of the convention. He seemed to be taking a leadership position and taking on things that were above and beyond the call of his outlined duties for the convention. I talk about Barbara Luna all the time about how she is at convention, and how she’s the template for how it’s done but he deserves honorable mention in the male category.
Glad to see a former Star Trek actor becoming a regular on another TV show. He is very funny and I always enjoyed him on Voyager. It would be great if some of the Voyager crew visited him on Atlantis.
I know John Billingsley, Marina Sirtis and Conner Trineer have been in Star Gate but what other ST actors? BTW – The SG1 episode with Billingsley is one of my favorite.
Joleane blalock was on a sg1 episode i believe she played a female jaffa.
oh. reneee. or odo. Can’t spell his last name did a couple of episodes on sg1.
Colm meaney played on several episodes of Atlantis as a geni leader.
The entire Star Gate Franchise has been handled so weel over the last 11 years. Very few duds compared to week after week of mostly retread garbage on Voyager.
I am very happy for this fine actor and person. I am sure that the excellent Atlantis writers will figure out how to best use hist talents in a entertaining way!
Best of luck.
#14 All part of their evil plan, no doubt! :) Or, maybe it’s more along the CSI route… Coming next spring, STARGATE: N.I.D.
Picardo is an actors’ actor, no doubt. Who wouldn’t be glad to have him involved in a project. Thanks for this kind of interview, Anthony. What I really appreciate is that you do these without promoting TrekMovie in the way that many media do interviews now… the “gee whiz, look at me, I’m interviewing someone exclusively, and I’m so smart” attitude. Thanks for a great interview….
Perhaps you can talk to Picardo again as the season nears the end of filming. It will be interesting to see how the writers determine what track Woolsey goes forward on. I’m concerned a bit that the characters of Woolsey and McKay may have just a bit too much overlap.
Never saw an episode. Is it any good?? And if so do I have to catch up from Episode 1 or could I pick it up right now??
Actually, Jolene Blalock was on two SG-1 episodes: “Birthright” (Season 7) and “Sacrifices” (Season 8).
Rene Auberjonois only did one SG-1 episode: “The Other Side” (Season 4).
Colm Meaney was in three Atlantis episodes playing the Genii Leader: “Underground” and “The Storm” (Season 1), and “Coup D’etat” (Season 2).
There was also John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek). He played Colonel Frank Simmons on SG-1 for five episodes from Season 5 to Season 6.
Armin Shimerman was in one SG-1 episode: “The Nox” (Season 1).
And Dwight Schultz (Reg Barclay from Star Trek) was in one SG-1 episode: “The Gamekeeper” (Season 2).
Nice interview. Thou I do have one critisism:
“A lot of your fellow Trek stars have appeared in the Stargate franchise over the years in one-off roles.”
Dunno if the writer of the article/interview watches Stargate a whole lot, but the character of “Michael” in Atlantis, is played by ENTERPRISE regular Connor Trinnear. Robert Picardo is not the first Trek actor to switch franchise. Connor still shows up from time to time being a menace to the team in Atlantis. In fact, the current storyline very much conerns his character. Looking forward to season 5 of Atlantis.
#5 – “Howdy Big Jack!”
Just a mention that in addition to all that acting Mr. Picardo is also an active member of The Planetary Society.
I’ve seen him at some of the meetings and he is always very enthusiastic about the events.
Love Picardo on both SG and VOY.
It just occurred to me: Voyager (which I like but don’t love) gets a lot of hack for formulaic plots with technobabble solutions.
Now I’ve seen just about every SG Atlantis episode ever made and it seems to me that a lot of them are somewhat formulaic. Atlantis team gets in big trouble, there’s a tense countdown to disaster, Rodney gripes & moans, and then saves the day just in the nick of time, with… wait for it now… a technobabble solution.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Atlantis and often find it more entertaining than Voyager. I wonder why? My first thought: the characters on Atlantis are allowed to develop more than VOY’s character’s ever were. Anyone out there agree with me? Discuss.
– The good old doctor looks pretty good in the new uniform..! :- )
For me The Doctor was one of the few redeeming things about Train Wreck: Voyager. I’m looking forward to seeing him in SGA Season 5. Ironically here in Vancouver where it’s made we’re still seeing Season 3!
But I loved SG-1. It often had that seat of the pants, “planet of the week” action/adventure feeling that TOS did so well but the spin-offs never quite captured. I think of SG-1 as the true spiritual successor to TOS.
great interview. not a big SG fan… just couldn’t get into it… but you can’t deny the succes its won over the years… 11 years of SG and now 5 of Atlantis… obviously ALOT of people are watching. Makes me think I should reconsider.
+ congrats Anthony on landing the interview… this Website has come along way over the last 2 years…. with startrek.com gone… this is the site I check daily. Congrats.
glad you like it LodownX
we plan on doing more and more of these retrospective interviews. I have added a poll to ask fans if they prefer interviews with actors (like this Picardo interview) or with writer/producers (like the recent Ron Moore interview)
Picardo is just the type of guy I imagined him to be. Down to earth normal type of person. Someone that can laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously. I really wish I could meet with him someday. I’m really looking forward to seeing him full time in SG-Atlantis. I’m just finishing up Season 3 on DVD, and I don’t watch episodic TV, just wait for it on DVD. So it’ll be another year before I get to see it.
I enjoy them both.
#28 – Thanks I have seen all those episodes.
I love the way he thought out a future for the Doctor. It’s always nice to know when former Trek actors still have a fondness for their characters and haven’t tried to leave “all that” in the past.
Excuse me Anthony can you answer my question from #13. Thank you.
He’s a nice guy.
Saw him at a Trek con and he and E. Phillips were great.
Hey Anthony. Forget the poll on which one of Writers and actors. Just do as many as you can and we will all be happy.We all love the Interviews you are doing and feel free to interview everyone. But could you get an interview of spock himself. lenord Nimoy. Would love to get his take on the new movie and his thoughts on where the franchise is going.Please try.
funny you should say that mike
not sure we will give it the BSG treatment.
Ok Anthony thank you, anyone else interested?
Robert Picardo was the best, most talented actor of any of the ST TV series, and he sounds like a great guy as well. Good luck to him.
Robert Picardo is awesome! He was one of the main guests/performers at the Vegas Creation con on the 40th anniversary. Wish I got his autograph. He was hilarious and he did songs where he made up lyrics regarding trek and stargate and made the audience laugh a lot. Also he was at the Star Trek The Experience party and did more performing for all of us. And he also did a wonderful little skit with Ethan Phillips too! He did so much more for all the fans than the BIG STARS do! Which makes him a BIGGER star in my book!
Sadly he is also a THEME PARK ATTRACTION RIDE being the star of the 4d Borg attraction at the Vegas Hilton…..Closing down Sept 1st…
I just booked a flight to go one more time the third week in august. Couldnt afford the convention also this year….How would you like to be a theme park ride and then get closed down? Poor Doctor!
I will Drink IN Quarks Bar in honor of you Mr. Picardo! And all the great staff and actors at the Experience!