Interview: Gates McFadden Talks Podcasting, Ghost Candle, And Beverly’s Big Secret In ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Star Trek: The Next Generation star Gates McFadden was our guest in the latest All Access Star Trek podcast where she talked to co-hosts Laurie Ulster and Anthony Pascale about her podcast (Gates McFadden InvestiGates: Who Do You Think You Are?) which recently launched its second season with guest William Shatner. We also talked about her time on TNG and reprising her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher for the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard. If you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to the full podcast, we have pulled out some of the highlights in an edited (and shortened) transcript.

Laurie: In season two you have expanded to talk to more Star Trek celebrities that weren’t your longtime friends, how did that change your approach?  

Gates:  There’s a part of me that is excited because I want to get to know them, like Tawny Newsome. We had clicked when we met in person, we’d only met a couple of times, but she just was dazzling to me. She was so open and funny and smart. And the same thing with Jack Quaid. I think the only one that was tricky was Anson Mount. And we both laughed really hard about it when I saw him a few weeks ago, I said, “I don’t know what happened.” There are just times you’re talking to somebody in your life and you’re like, “Wait, why did I ask that question?” That was dumb.”

Anthony: You mentioned Anson and a couple of others, who else is coming up this season? 

Gates: Jack Quaid, who is totally charming and lovely, is next week. And then I have Rosalind Chao, and she’s just fabulous. I’m doing the sound editing on her and what a lovely, talented woman, really. Also, I am doing Terry Matalas and Ed Speleers, who I call Teddy. And then, of course, the fabulous Alexander Siddig, who is so interesting, so charming. The actors on these shows are really wonderful. They’re interesting people. So I am just doing my best trying to get them engaged in conversations they want to have. And it is of course harder when you don’t really know somebody super well. But it’s also interesting. Anson is going to be at the end. If we can get it together, I do want to sort of try to do another podcast, because he does podcasts and so we both have had experiences where they just don’t go well, and we thought that would be hilarious to do a podcast talking about what doesn’t go well on a podcast. So we might do that.

Anthony: So the subject of the infamous ghost candle [from TNG’s “Sub Rosa“] has come up a couple of times this season already. You joked about it with Tawny but in your latest episode with Kate Mulgrew, she didn’t know anything about it. Did explaining it to her bring back all those memories?

Gates: No, I think it’s just fun. What’s great is how my evolution on the episode has been. Because I do now think it’s hilarious. And that’s great, why not think it’s hilarious instead of being concerned? It’s turned out to be this cult thing. You know, you just have to laugh at yourself and laugh at what’s gone on and I just can’t get upset by something like that. So it was fun to explain it to her. And she laughed. I mean, it’s funny. So why wouldn’t anybody? It’s crazy.

Gates McFadden as Beverly Crusher (with ghost candle) in “Sub Rosa”

Laurie: You and Kate also talked about how Next Generation never really explored the single mom-and-son relationship properly. Do you feel like that itch is getting scratched on Picard this season?

Gates: I think certainly a lot more, that’s for sure. Crusher and her son have been working on bringing health services and medicine to people on sort of lost planets. And that shows something that’s a bonding experience and skills that they’re working together. So that’s great. One of the things that happens is when you’re on a show with a lot of male characters, the male writers want to explore parenting and the lack of or having it. And mothers, if there are a bunch of women writers, they’re going to have a different experience about motherhood. I talk to my son practically every day… That sort of thing is not always present in a lot of the sci-fi things because if there are more male writers, it’s going to be from a more male parenting point of view, usually. I know that [Picard showrunner] Terry [Matalas] was very open and we talked about it and so I know that they tried to make sure it showed there was a bond and we had done a lot together. But again, the series is not called “Crusher,” it’s called “Picard,” so there’s a reason.

Anthony: Terry has also said there is more to Crusher than just this family dynamic. Like in the latest episode [“No Win Scenario”], she is the one putting it all together. So for this season do you see Crusher’s story as more about the family side, or more about doing what she does best, being a doctor and scientist? 

Gates:  I think it is Crusher doing what she does best, but I actually think it’s pretty balanced. I think there are a lot of things that are just who she is as a woman. I feel that at least she’s got a much, much deeper character than I ever was given on TNG, or certainly in the movies.

Anthony: On the red carpet, you and I talked about Beverly in the movies and how if Picard treated the character in the same way you would have turned it down. Did you ever talk to [TNG TV/movies executive producer] Rick Berman about you felt about it? That makes me want to hear Rick on your podcast. Would you do something like that?  

Gates: I don’t know, because first of all, I didn’t have a clue how difficult producing the television series really is, at that time. And I now am in awe of someone like Rick Berman, who produced as much as he did. It’s an enormous responsibility. He was doing 50,000 different things at the same time, so far be it for me to complain about to him about, “Gee, why didn’t you do this?” Yes, they knew that I was unhappy with my role, that it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it was. And I made that clear, but studios make choices. Writers make choices. I may not like those choices, which often I didn’t like those choices, but that’s part of the situation. So you have to make the best of it.

So I wanted to be careful this time that I didn’t get myself into something where I’d be disappointed that the part was hardly there. It’s also hard when you have so many actors who all want a great story. So my hat’s off to Terry, because he balanced it extremely well over the ten episodes. You have some episodes where you have a small part; some characters aren’t in other episodes. I’m very, very happy with how Crusher was treated. Yes, I could have seen other things, but so could everyone else. [laughs] So you make choices. I think it’s an incredibly tight ten episodes. I took my hat off to Terry. I think the story is a really exciting story.

Laurie: Fans are still debating Dr. Crusher’s decision not to tell Picard about Jack, which came up in Beverly’s big confrontation scene with Jean-Luc in last week’s episode. When Terry first pitched the idea of you having a son you didn’t tell Picard about, how did you feel about that, and what kind of discussions did you have about it?

Gates: Well, we obviously had a discussion. I said it’s not cool if she’s blamed as a selfish woman who just wanted the baby for herself. I absolutely would not have done it if it had been that. I can’t fully talk about this, though, until after more episodes happen. The thing is, it’s tricky because there were certain things that they couldn’t talk about because they get revealed later. It’s going to be a discussion. Some people are going to say Crusher did wrong. Other people are going to say she did right. I think controversy is good in that situation. They’re identifying with the character.

Would I, Gates McFadden, not tell a father if I got pregnant? Of course I’d tell the father. But there’s no Jean-Luc Picard in my life. There’s no person who’s been going around the galaxy and doing all this stuff. It’s an imagined situation and he’s an imaginary character, as is Crusher. So I think people have to just wait and see. It was difficult in the discussions, because obviously, again, the show is called Picard. But, let’s see what happens at the end. That’s when it’s more interesting to discuss because then other things will be clearer. I think that Crusher goes by instinct a lot. And I think she had a very strong instinct. So she was trying to protect the child. But that’s all I’ll say.

Patrick Stewart as Picard and Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher in “Seventeen Seconds”

Gates McFadden InvestiGates: Who Do You Think You Are? is available Apple and other popular podcasting apps. More info at the official site.

Listen to the full interview

All Access Star Trek is also available at Apple and other podcasting apps. You can listen to the full interview below (starting at 11:48).

The third and final season of Picard premiered on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and Latin America, and on February 17 Paramount+ in Europe and elsewhere, with new episodes of the 10-episode-long season available to stream weekly. It also debuted on Friday, Feb. 17 internationally on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.

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Yeeeeeah Jack is enhanced…

Renaissance of Dr Crusher is a sight to behold, glad we are seeing more of her…more power to her, glad we have finally seen stronger authentic female characters in PIC and SNW

McFadden has been phenomenal this season. I’ve always loved Crusher and it’s great to see her not only back but so involved in the story. It’s very much about her as it is Picard for obvious reasons.

And yes it sounds like there is even more to Jack but that’s not a surprise given his weird visions and Changelings are chasing him down lol. Some really great stuff we haven’t seen in Trek in decades and I’m here for it all!

Perhaps Jack is the best and Perfect “Picard” clone from this Nemesis Clone Program and they want their Toy back perhaps to use him as Puppet for other things. Because Picard’s face and name has still strong Weight inside Starfleet and Allies

That sickbay scene is well lit and shot. Why can’t the rest of the ship be as well lit?