Robert Picardo, who joins the regular cast of SCI FI Channel’s original series Stargate Atlantis in the coming fifth season, told SCI FI Wire that he initially had doubts about playing the new base commander. (Spoilers ahead!)
“When I got the phone call, there was a little voice going, ‘Wait a minute,'” Picardo said in an interview on the show’s set in Vancouver, Canada, last week. “You’ve set this guy up as kind of an annoyance, a bit of a prig. And now suddenly he’s the guy in charge?”
The new guy in charge–taking over from the beloved previous commander, Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping)–is Picardo’s Richard Woolsey, the craven bureaucrat well known to fans of Atlantis and its predecessor series, Stargate SG-1.
Woolsey’s role up until now has been to butt heads with the other characters and to second-guess their decisions. “He knows the military rule book,” Picardo said. “He knows all the rules about protocol and eliminating collateral damage and acceptable losses and all that. But he doesn’t make decisions. He just comes in and tells you how you screwed up.”
To date, Woolsey has been played largely to comic effect. It makes him an odd choice for command in a genre in which the leader is typically someone like Capt. Kirk. “I thought, if the writers are choosing to do this, it’s for the exact reason to put someone in charge who’s not a born leader and to see how he develops and how he’s accepted,” Picardo said.
A lot of Woolsey’s screen time in the new season is devoted to learning that things are different when you’re in the big chair. “From the very first episode I’m featured in, Woolsey learns that he cannot simply go by the rule book,” Picardo said. At the end of the first episode, Picardo said, Woolsey tells Sheppard (Joe Flanigan): “I’ve basically violated five different protocols already in my first crisis.”
Taking command doesn’t mean Woolsey will give up his role as comic relief entirely. “We’ve had some fun with him not understanding where anything is on the base,” Picardo said. “He doesn’t understand the ancient technology, so he’s the guy who can’t figure out how the doors open and close. He can’t remember where the cafeteria is.
So there’s a little fish-out-of-water fun for a guy who’s used to being in a business suit and now suddenly is millions of light-years away, wearing a different outfit in a whole new world, doing a whole new job.” Stargate Atlantis’ fifth season kicks off in July.