The character of Richard Woolsey has come a very long way since his first appearance in Stargate SG-1‘s seventh season episode ‘Heroes pt 2′. In fact, he’s almost become accepted by the inhabitants of Atlantis, having leapt in at the deep end to take over command of the City at the beginning of season five. But let’s face it, he’s still a bit of a straight-laced, by-the-book stick-in-the-mud. Certainly not the sort of man you’d expect to lose his head over (or heart to) a pretty woman. But that’s exactly the situation Woolsey’s faced with in ‘Remnants’. And, because this is Stargate Atlantis, this can’t be a straight-forward tale of attraction. Oh no – there has to be something kooky going on!
“There were layers to the episode that made it very interesting for me to play as an actor,â€ says Robert Picardo, recalling his work on ‘Remnants’, written by Joseph Mallozzi. “First of all, there was a certain amount of comedy – the set up is that Richard Woolsey meets an attractive, relatively age-appropriate female who seems to be flirting with him, and awakening a side of his life that has probably been dormant since his divorce. He’s kind of piqued by her interest, and flirts back. Then it’s discovered that there is no record of her on the base and in fact he starts to question whether or not he’s imagining her. At that point, she reveals that only he can see her,â€ he laughs, “and then slowly unfolds the reason why – that she is basically an interface for an artificial intelligence that is evaluating him.â€
This unconventional first contact comes at a particularly trying time for Woolsey, who is also being evaluated from another angle. Ambassador Shen Xiayoi (Tamlyn Tomita) of the IOA is visiting Atlantis to assess his ability to command, and with a very specific agenda in mind, because she wants the post herself. It’s an interesting chance for viewers to see how Woolsey will react when the tables are turned and the assessor becomes the assessed.
“It was interesting to see the former evaluator turned commander have his own command evaluated by his successor,â€ Picardo agrees. “That was a very interesting twist – a classic ‘shoe is on the other foot’ situation for a guy who could be quite arrogant and prickly himself when he came in to tell other people what they should have done.â€
Coping with such an evaluation became doubly difficult for Woolsey when he found himself having to deal with the overtures of a representative from an alien civilization – whom no one else could see. Picardo was very clear from the outset that he wanted to get as much appropriate comedy from these moments as possible, and he wasn’t worried that doing so would diminish the character.
“I think that the audience has embraced some of Woolsey’s humorous moments as a way of encouraging some affection for a character that wasn’t very cuddly when he was first introduced,â€ the actor explains. “It’s a way of showing a slightly neurotic underbelly that makes his brusque exterior more palatable. You see the chinks in the armour, so to speak. The humorous moments allow the audience to like him, accept him and root for him to be more of a regular guy. I tried never to go too far in this episode, so that you wouldn’t believe the seriousness of the situation – I didn’t want it to become too silly. I think Woolsey has credibility as a leader, but he still has some comic foibles that stem from the fact that he’s a bit of an outsider, he’s a little lonely, and the technology of Atlantis is still so new to him. We’ve found some comic potential in several things and with this, it’s nice to see him in a bumbling flirtation with an attractive woman, and him starting to doubt his sanity and trying to cover that up – his ‘I’m hearing voices and seeing imaginary people moments’.â€
These moments do indeed provide some outright hilarity at the expense of Woolsey, as he tries to avoid letting on to his staff that he’s being visited by an artificial intelligence interface none of them can see. Working out how to show this struggle was something that the actor discussed with director Will Waring prior to filming.
“I told Will that I wanted to demonstrate, for the audience, that it was very hard to ignore [her],â€ he explains. “Before he figures out what’s going on, Woolsey is distracted by the voice and presence of the artificial intelligence character, but he knows that no one else can see her. So he’s trying to fight the reflex reaction of hearing a voice and turning your face and answering something that no one else can see. You have to resist that reflexive impulse. I wanted to play those moments, and we ad-libbed a few words here and there. He starts to say something to the person no one else can see, and then he tries to change what he was about to say into something else. And I think that those are the moments that worked out to good effect.â€
Woolsey has certainly come a long way since his early days as the arrogant, occasionally unpleasant character on Stargate SG-1, and Picardo confesses that he would have been happy to carry on playing him for at least one more season.
“I was disappointed and surprised that Atlantis wouldn’t go a sixth season,â€ he candidly admits. “The ratings seemed to be ticking up and the audience seemed to have basically accepted Woolsey’s assumption of command, so I thought we would run another year. But conversely, I’m also happy to hear that there are plans to make a direct to video movie. I know it’s been very successful for Stargate SG-1, and hopefully the Atlantis movie will also be successful and there’ll be a desire for more. So I’m looking forward to reconvening with the cast in late April or May, I think that’s the current thinking, and doing the movie.â€
Meanwhile, of course, as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, Picardo has been hard at work on a variety of different projects. One he is particularly enthusiastic about is a horror/thriller movie called Sensored, in which he stars as Wade Mixon, a troubled Children’s fiction writer.
“They’ve had the first test screening and the movie looks great,â€ Picardo says enthusiastically. “They’re doing the score and sound design now.â€
News article courtesy of the official Stargate Website