Interview: Garrett Wang & Robert Duncan McNeill On Tuvix, Lizard Babies, & ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Podcasting

Garrett Wang & Robert Duncan McNeill - The Delta Flyers interview

Star Trek: Voyager’s Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) and Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris) have launched their own podcast, The Delta Flyers, where they’re making their way through every Voyager episode in chronological order. The podcast is a lot of fun, and comes with bonus content for Patreon contributors that includes guest stars, extra segments, plus video of the two actors as they record, and even as they watch the actual episodes.

The two actors were incredibly generous with their time, so we split the extended interview into a few parts. The first part of the freewheeling conversation, in which McNeill insisted I call him Robbie (“If you call me Robert, I’ll think I’m in trouble”), focuses on the The Delta Flyers. (Read part two here.)

Garrett, you had already been doing a Deep Space Nine podcast before this with Aron [Eisenberg]. So what made you decide to (a) plunge back in and (b) ask Robbie to be your partner?

Garrett Wang: When I did Alpha Quadrant with Aron, that was because “Evel Dick”—Big Brother season eight winner—came to me and said, “Hey, you want to do a Discovery recap show?”  Then halfway through it, Aron was like, “No one really wants to hear us talk about Discovery, we should be talking about DS9 and Voyager.” And I said, “To be perfectly honest, Aron, a Voyager recap show has been my idea for many years before this, and I would rather Alpha Quadrant not review Voyager episodes.” To which he protested. And finally, I gave in to him. But then obviously some drama happened, and everything separated.

And the impetus honestly, was The 7th Rule. Ryan Husk called me up and said, “Can you come on our show? And review the Voyager pilot?” And I thought they were just reviewing all the pilot episodes of all its different Trek incarnations. And he said, “No, we’ve decided that we’re going to recap all the Voyager episodes.” I go, “Ah, then I will not be coming onto your show then.”

It was Megan, my significant other who said, “You should ask Robbie.” And I have thought about Robbie, but Robbie’s literally always working as a director, so he really doesn’t have much time. So once the pandemic hit, I pitched it to him, and he was game, and it’s been pretty fun so far.

Robbie, what was your reaction when Garrett brought you the idea?

Robbie McNeill: Even when we were filming Voyager he used to talk about, “We should have a talk show like The Tonight Show. You and I can do an interview show because we have a banter and our comedy sensibilities can come out when we’re together.”  And back then he said, “Our production company should be called McWang Productions with a…” What was it?  Instead of an Irishman, a leprechaun, it was like a fortune—.

Garrett Wang:  I said that on our letterhead we’ll have a logo. Our logo will be a leprechaun straddling a pot of not gold—but a pot of fortune cookies. [both laugh]

Robbie McNeill: So I wasn’t surprised when he brought up the idea because we’ve talked about it before. But the pandemic gives us all this time on our hands, and the other part is, we both know that the fans are getting conventions canceled left and right, so being able to offer something that’s different and fun, and even have the opportunity to engage with us directly at some level.

Garrett Wang:  And the timing really was perfect because it is the 25th anniversary of Voyager and it’s just so sad that all these events have been canceled. Next Gen did their big celebration for their 25th and 30th, and we really got shortchanged.

So up until this podcast, when was the last time each of you has watched Voyager episodes?

Robbie McNeill: I had talked to Seth MacFarlane about directing on The Orville and Seth had mentioned a few episodes of Voyager that he really loved. And he was modeling the tone of The Orville after some of those episodes. So I went back and started watching them in 2017. “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which I directed, was one of the ones he mentioned. “Body and Soul,” I think was another one. A few others. And I just went down a rabbit hole and watched probably a dozen or more episodes when I was talking to Seth.

Garrett Wang: I’ve been splitting my time between the U.S. and Canada in the last five years, and Canada’s version of the SyFy channel is Space. When I’m up in Canada and channel surfing, if I see Voyager is on Space, I will always stop and I’ll watch the episode, so I’ve definitely seen them more frequently than Robbie has.

Star Trek: Voyager "Someone to Watch Over Me"

The Doctor (Robert Picardo) teaching Seven (Jeri Ryan) to dance in “Someone to Watch Over Me,” directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

You’ve both expressed some discomfort watching yourselves, especially in those early episodes. How has it been to sit and watch yourself?

Robbie McNeill: I felt like oftentimes my performance was a little stiffer than I remember. So for me, it’s been a little challenging. Sometimes I’m very critical of my performance, sometimes I’m very critical of the character and the writing of that character. But there’s also a lot of really nice moments that I’m discovering that I hadn’t seen in many years. It’s kind of a mixed bag.

Garrett Wang:  I also have always been a very self-critical watcher of my own performances. Because of the frenetic pace of the episodic world back in the 90s, especially on Star Trek, we didn’t have rehearsals; we literally got the script sometimes the night before we were filming. Once we got on set, we would do a rehearsal just for the camera crew and the sound and to figure out how to light that particular scene. But it wasn’t for the actors to hone our acting, it was just for the crew.

So after that one quick rehearsal, we’d come back and we’d have to shoot it, we’d get one to three takes. And I find that when you have a lack of rehearsal like that, it’s very difficult to hit the right pacing. So when I’m rewatching myself, especially in the first season, I find there are certain lines that I deliver that were way too quick. And there are other lines that should’ve been faster, delivered with a little bit more intensity, a little bit more energy. And then other times, I’m just like, ‘Wow, slow down, you’re racing through this. You’re not an announcer at an auction, where you have to go through and just get all that information out in a very short amount of time. There’s nobody sitting there with a stopwatch timing you.’

Robbie, you’ve talked on the podcast about how at the begininng, Tom Paris was kind of creepy with women and he wasn’t “likable”— you use that word a lot. How did you feel about that at the time?

Robbie McNeill: I was at a place in my life and career… I’d just had my second kid. I had come from a very pretty thin year as an actor the year before. I’d been doing an off-Broadway play, where I was making a few hundred dollars a week and trying to support a family of four on that.

I knew what Star Trek was because I’d guest-starred on Next Gen. I knew the possibility of a long run, and I knew that I really wanted that long run and an opportunity to maybe direct, and all the things that Star Trek brought with it. So my biggest focus that first season was: Don’t get fired. Whatever they say, do it.

I guess kind of selfishly I was just making sure I was a good team player, and so it didn’t occur to me to push back creatively the first season. I really wanted to keep that job. So I just did not critique or question anything they wrote because I was there to do whatever they wanted. But I think that if I had not been in maybe–desperate’s a strong word, but ‘desperate-close’—if I did not have demands that required me to play ball, I might have said, “Wait a minute, you know what? I don’t want to play this guy this way and I don’t like this.”

I think eventually that character grew into something I was really proud of and very happy with. But early on, I felt like he was a little misguided. But maybe that’s part of the journey, too. He grew into someone who was a true adult and truly heroic in a lot of ways, and a good guy. And he grew into that, someplace that was kind of broken and needed some work. I think the story worked in the end.

Lt. Stadi and Tom Paris, in "Caretaker"

Lt. Stadi “Do you always fly at women at warp speed, Mr. Paris?”
Paris: “Only when they’re in visual range.” (from “Caretaker”)

As you look ahead to the other episodes you’re going to talk about, are there any that you’re either really looking forward to talking about—or dreading?

Garrett Wang:  We’re about to do our recap of “Faces” and Robbie knows the actor that played Durst in that episode [Brian Markinson], whose face gets removed and put onto a Vidiian—he played the Vidiian as well. We’re going to have him join us on the entire recap. I really feel that adds a lot of value to the podcast, when you bring in people for the entire time, not just for a quick phoner, like when I was listening to the Office Ladies. They would call up Rainn Wilson for like, two minutes [in high-pitched Office Ladies voice]: “Hey Rainn, great to see you, what’s going on? Oh, you’re doing your own podcast? That’s great. Oh cool, do you remember that one scene? Okay, thanks a lot, bye.” And two minutes later, he’s gone.

Robbie McNeill: I think the only episode that I’m—I’m not dreading, but it’s gonna be interesting—is “Threshold.” I am so proud that I have one of the most hated episodes of all of Star Trek. The reason I think it’s so hated is because of the writing and the story elements—not what I did, I hope.

That IS what it is, for sure.

Robbie McNeill: Yeah. I never hear from people like, “Oh, you were a horrible actor in that episode.” I just hear how much they hate the episode because it’s crazytown.

Garrett Wang:  Robbie, I don’t think they hate it, man. I think it’s just the ending that’s so bizarre, that disturbs people. The fact that you have lizard babies with Janeway at the end. It’s like, ‘Really? Yeah, they’re lizards. And now they have children?’

Until recently, I didn’t know that you really took a lot of pride in that, but it’s true. I mean, you had to act the progressive stages from human to full lizard. That’s definitely a feat in and of itself. And then you’re proud of that.

Robbie McNeill:  I was proud of it. It was very theatrical, and I loved working in the makeup. As an actor? I actually really loved doing that episode. But when I was acting—I haven’t acted in a long time—it didn’t serve me to go, “Oh, this story doesn’t make sense.” If I started breaking down my confidence and my commitment to a story, as an actor, I would start losing confidence in what I was doing. I always looked at a script like, ‘All right, they wrote it, it must be true, like this character would do this.’ It’s my job not to figure out why they wouldn’t do this, or why the story doesn’t work. My job as an actor was to figure out, ‘In what circumstance would my character do this? How desperate would he have to be to kidnap the captain?’ That’s my job.

Garrett Wang:  As he was getting closer and closer to the full lizard, and they had all that prosthetic makeup on him, I remember walking into the trailer and seeing him. Honestly, he looked like a burn victim. And it was hard for me to even look at Robbie when he had that stuff on. It was just so jarring. It was like, ‘I don’t want to see you this way, my friend. I want you to be your regular self.’ [Robbie laughs]

Robert Duncan McNeill in "Threshold"

Robert Duncan McNeill getting closer to “full lizard” in “Threshold”

It’s a dopey episode, but I think you did an amazing job. You conveyed a lot of intensity and anger and confusion.

Robbie McNeill: Cool. Yeah, it was fun. That’s the only one I’m not looking forward to. But I feel like the fans are going to not want to hear me say, “Oh, I liked it. I had fun.” Nobody wants to hear this episode that they all hate…

Garrett Wang:  I’m gonna disagree with you that on that one, Robbie. I think everybody who is now following Delta Flyers, they probably marked that on their calendar already. Like, ‘This is the “Threshold” day of release. We’re all going to listen to it at 12:01 am on Monday.’ That’s what I’m thinking.

I’m gonna back you up on that. Another one I’m sure they want you guys to talk about, because it’s one of the most polarizing episodes of the show… what’s your stance on “Tuvix”?

Garrett Wang: The polarizing part is, some people think that Janeway basically murdered Tuvix, right? I don’t even think about that. I just think about how amazing that guest star was [Tom Wright]. I love that man off camera. He had class. He was graceful. He was talented. He had a great voice. I had a mini man-crush on that guy when he shows up. Literally, the last day of filming, I think I almost started crying. I remember he was leaving, I was like, “Well, wait a minute! Here’s my number. Maybe you want to go grab a drink or something?” I’m straight man, but I was still reaching for straws to keep contact with this man because I thought, ‘Oh, he did SUCH a great job, I LOVE this guy!’

And then I was thinking [in dejected tone], ‘Oh, Tim’s coming back next week.’ [Both laugh.] ‘Why do we have to have Tim come back? Can’t we just keep this guy? Pleeeeeease?’

I love that episode. I don’t get into the politics of “Janeway should have let that guy live,” you know? But if you let Tuvix live, then you’ve just killed Tuvok AND Neelix. You’ve killed TWO individuals now, right? That’s a tough decision for Janeway to make, but I think she made the right one.

Tom Wright as Tuvix

Tom Wright as Tuvix

Would you consider having Tom or other guests on the podcast, and have you approached people? Like cast members, directors, writers… 

Robbie McNeill: We’ve talked to Dan Curry, we’ve got Brian Markinson coming up in a couple of days.

Garrett Wang:  We just released the Bob Picardo one a couple days ago.

Robbie McNeill: Robert Beltran’s been on the show.

[Editor’s note: The guests, so far, have been for Patreon listeners only, but their first episode with Dan Curry has been made available to all.]

Kate Mulgrew has expressed interest. We definitely want to have other actors and other behind-the-scenes people. We’ve talked about Dennis Madalone, our stunt coordinator for all those years. There’s a lot of people and they could come on our show more than once, and have a lot to say.

Garrett Wang:  Wherever it makes sense. I want to try to get Nan Dutton, the original casting director that cast all of us series regulars. I would like to get Brannon Braga; any of the writers would be wonderful. But then beyond that, I don’t have an issue bringing in some of the guys that were camera crew.

Hey Robbie, do you remember—what’s his name? One dolly grip that was so amazing. We had him for like a year and a half, two years.

Robbie McNeill: George Santo Pietro. George is awesome, he helped me on my first short film.

Star Trek fans love the writers, we love the tech people in addition to actors. So I’m glad you guys are thinking that way. You’ve also had some pretty amazing guest stars. Would you try to get Michael McKean or Sarah Silverman, Ed Begley, Jr., or Kurtwood Smith, any of those people?

Garrett Wang:  Oh my gosh, that’d be great. Do you have contact with Sarah Silverman, Robbie?

Robbie McNeill: I know a couple of friends of hers but I didn’t stay in touch with her. But she’d be hilarious.

Garrett Wang:  Jason Alexander will be fun if we could grab him. Andy Dick. That would be an interesting grab as well. Who’s the guitarist from Rage Against the Machine? Tom Morello. Huge Star Trek fan, [he’d] be good too. Robbie, maybe we can get Seth [MacFarlane], interview his butt about his love of Star Trek.

Sarah Silverman as Rain Robinson in “Future’s End”

When I interviewed Kate Mulgrew, Garrett, she sort of called you out, saying that you’ve been—“dining out for years” was her expression—on an impression of her? Did you ever do that for her on set?

Garrett Wang:  No. She didn’t hear about it until we were at the Museum of Television and Radio, Voyager was being honored that night. There was a Q&A with the entire cast, and the very first question from the audience was this one fan, and he says [doing fan voice], “Yeah, this question’s for Garrett. I know that you do an impersonation of Captain Janeway.” And right when he said that, I sideways glance at Kate, and she kind of gave me the eye, and I was then looking at the fan going, ‘Please don’t say anything else, please.’ And he was like, “Could you please do the impression for us now?” And I look over at Kate and I just knew she was like [in Kate voice], ‘Yeah. Go ahead. Try it. Just see. Let me see what you’re gonna go with.’

So I stood up, and I did it. And she grabs the microphone, she goes, “I don’t sound like that.” She goes [in Kate voice], “That’s not how I sound.” And I said, “Yes it is.” And she says, “No it isn’t.” It was funny little playfulness there. But that was the first time she ever heard me do [it].

So now even though I’ve been dining on that, like she says, for many years, I’ve been dining on more of a parody. And so now my ultimate goal in 2020 is to get all the little layers and tiny nuances of when her voice becomes more gentle. It’s not as harsh-sounding when it pitches higher. I really want to try to get it down to where people are going to be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s REALLY good.”

To this day, the only person who I’ve heard do a spot-on, cannot-tell-the-difference-between-her-voice-and-the- impersonator, is Nancy Hower [Samantha Wildman]. Nancy and I became friends when she was filming the show. And one day she left a message on my voicemail in Kate’s voice. She said [in Nancy-doing-Kate voice], “Garrett, it’s Kate. I’m just—I don’t understand, why did you do this?” She was complaining about something to me. And I’m listening to this going, ‘Oh my god, what did I just do? Oh my god!’ I’m listening, and I can’t even recall the incident that Kate’s talking about, what is she talking about? And at the very end, Nancy stops the voice. She goes, “It’s Nancy. Just kidding. Bye.” And she hangs up.

And I was like, ‘Oh, you! I’ll get you, you rascally rabbit.’ And that was the best Janeway I ever heard. If you don’t mind, Robbie, I’m going to reach out to Nancy and have her come on and I want her to do the Janeway voice on the podcast.

Nancy Hower as Samantha Wildman

Nancy Hower as Samantha Wildman with the real Kate Mulgrew as Janeway

Obviously we don’t know when things are going to open up and Robbie will be directing 7,000 TV episodes again, but do you think you’ll be able to keep going once things do? Will you have the time?

Robbie McNeill: Yeah, I think so. This is a great opportunity to figure out what our format is and get comfortable with it. We also have a great team of people that work on this, including my partner Rebecca Sims, and Megan, and Jessey. I think we’ve got our routine down now and enough support that we can continue it even if I have to just do it on the weekends on a day off or something.

Garrett Wang: It’s not something that we’re going to abandon ship or in any way, shape, or form. I’m not going to let Robbie do that if I have to fly my ass up to Vancouver or whatever, to be next to him to do this. I’ll do that. I don’t care. It’s gonna happen.

Listen to The Delta Flyers

New episodes come out every Monday. The full video version of their first episode is below.

 

Subscribe to The Delta Flyers wherever you get your podcasts, and become a Patreon subscriber here, with options and bonus content for monthly contributions of $3, $5, or $15. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Read part two of our interview, where we dig deeper into their time on Voyager, missed opportunities with Chakotay and Neelix, and that famous fire on the Voyager bridge.


Keep up with all the interviews at TrekMovie.com.

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That’s pretty cool, but I will be surprised if they make it through every single episode. That’s a very, very long time.

Absolutely loved Robert’s acting in Threshold. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the wacky science and the lizard babies (and them obviously having a way home), the episode would be a classic.
The intensive body horror is really something and Robert just nailed the performance.

I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but it sounds a lot of fun. There are plenty of really good Star Trek podcasts on Spotify. Voyager is my second favorite Trek series after TNG.

I wish someone had/would given these awesome actors an equally awesome script. They deserved way better than what they got.

CBS is currently in talks regarding a Tuvix themed spin-off – stay tuned!

Well, what can I say. Threshold was a lot of shit, indeed because of the ending and the reset button. AT that point you just wonder what you did just watch and why.

Tuvix on the other hand, I love this episode. Yes, Janeway’s decision is polarising, but I can understand her decision. Nonetheless, Tuvix was a very cool character.

Either way, great interview!

That was really interesting. I thought Tom Paris was rather a jerk during the first couple of years of the show, but he became SO much better as time went on. It’s so validating to realize that the actor who portrayed him thought the same thing. :-)

I’ve read so much about how Bill Shatner insisted on this, or Leonard Nimoy insisted on that during the TOS years that it never occurred to me that Robert Duncan McNeill felt that he couldn’t question the way his character was written. I’m so glad to hear that perspective; it makes so many things clearer.

I don’t usually listen to podcasts — I much prefer to read, because listening takes so much longer for the same amount of content — but I might make an exception for these guys.

And yeah, I think Janeway made the right decision in “Tuvix,” too. Tuvix didn’t have the right to destroy two other people’s lives to continue his own. I thought it was a fabulous episode with a really interesting moral dilemma. And Mulgrew was fabulous, really giving us a sense of how difficult it was for Janeway to have to do this.

Isn’t Andy Dick in prison?

No he is not :) He’s on Cameo and really spends a lot of time making those. Bought two for two Newsradio fans and worth every penny. Hopefully he can stay out of trouble and get his career back on track.

At the point of the interview where Wang did his usual “throwing Rick Berman under the bus” shtick, I would have liked to see the interviewer call him to task on his history of verbally attacking Berman, Bragga, Mulgrew and others. He’s been given a free pass for far too long from the soft-peddling Star Trek fan site press regarding his past behavior and his delusions of grandeur — my opinion!

In this interview, he made it sound like Rick Berman wasn’t allowed to stand on a part of the set that Wang stood on for a TV interview, and then indirectly suggested that Rick Berman behaved like a coward with the fire on the set. That’s just wrong — my opinion.