Close Up With Robert Picardo

Robert Picardo is no stranger to science fiction television, having spent seven years playing the holographic Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. He first made an impact on the Stargate universe back in Stargate SG-1’s seventh season, when Woolsey arrived at Stargate Command in the wake of Janet Fraiser’s death. It’s fair to say that the character didn’t endear himself to the SG-1 team – but Picardo obviously made himself popular with the show’s producers, because it wasn’t long before the one-off character was back for more. And from that point on, Richard Woolsey was on the road to character recovery.

“I’ve enjoyed not only playing the character but the experience of working with both casts,” says the actor, taking a break during the filming of episode five of the new season. “The writer-producers have treated me very nicely and I think rather amazingly they’ve rehabilitated a character that was originally introduced, not so much as a villain, but as an unpleasant bureaucrat. I think the producers kind of liked me,” Picardo laughs, “and they thought, ‘Well this guy’s not so bad, why don’t we try to bring him back?’ So my next appearance, they rehabilitated him quite a bit by making him a guy that may rub people the wrong way and may be annoying, but at least he means well. He has a high ethical standard and thinks that secret military operations really need to have civilian oversight to stop them spinning out of control. And when he found out that he was being manipulated by the evil senator Kinsey, he provided evidence against Kinsey at extreme risk to himself – career-wise and probably also health-wise! So he’s shown a certain courage and backbone.”

 That’s certainly the sort of person needed to take over the complicated task of running Atlantis. And, though Woolsey may find it a smooth ride, at least to begin with, Picardo feels that he’s determined to get it right.

“What I find interesting about this challenge as an actor is I guess the same challenge that Woolsey is experiencing as a character,” he explains. “He is reinventing himself. After years of being a conference room guy, someone who has a great legal mind, a lot of legal training, and knows a lot about military protocol – he knows enough to evaluate anyone else’s command, but he’s never had to make those decisions himself. So it’s fun to take the guy who can so easily come in and evaluate you and suddenly put the mantle of power around him and say, ‘Okay, what are you going to do now? How are you going to handle the same challenges that you used to critique other people over?’ The whole notion of a middle aged man completely trying to reinvent himself is something that I think audiences will find interesting to watch, and I certainly find interesting as an actor to play. It’ll be an interesting evolution.”

There is also, of course, the little matter of Woolsey’s personal – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say impersonal – interactions with the crew. He’s never gone out of his way to make his relationships with colleagues run smoothly, but surely now that he’ll be working with them all far more closely, some adjustments will have to be made?

“I had some chats with Joe Mallozzi. We had got a little comic mileage, especially in the two part episode I did with Richard Dean Anderson, where Woolsey is afraid in a dangerous situation. And I said, ‘Well, we certainly won’t be able to mine that territory for comedy any more. We can’t look to the new leader being afraid to lead,’” he laughs. “But I think we can still find some comic possibilities in his bad people skills. He doesn’t have an easy way of getting on with other people – he can be a little brusque and arrogant. What I find interesting is that he’s aware of his limitations and he wants to work to change them. There was a wonderful moment I had with Amanda Tapping’s character last season. I’m brought into evaluate her character, and I say, ‘It’s been brought to my attention that I can sometimes rub people the wrong way.’ She just looks at me and lets the comment hang, until about four or five eggs are dripping off my face! So he has an awareness that people don’t find him easy to get along with, and he wants to work on that too. That’s part of him building himself into a leader. I love the idea that he wants to leave the boardroom and enter the command room, and I hope that they’ll put him in missions later in the season. In anticipation of that, I chatted to the writers about whether or not he might try to train himself, first physically, and then with regard to weapons and combat, and then try to get some basic boot camp training that he never had because of the career he’d chosen. So I think there could be all sorts of fun possibilities!”

Of course, the reality of command is far different to the theory that Woolsey has learned, and Picardo reveals that this is one of the first truths that the character has to confront in his new role.

“The very first episode that I’m featured in is the second episode of season five, called ‘The Seed.’ Woolsey has to handle his first crisis – which I of course won’t give away. He is immediately amazed at his own behavior, that he chooses to break protocol and not follow the by-the-book way of dealing with the security threat that the base is facing. He turns away from that and makes some riskier choices in order to try to save one of our endangered crew members. The book clearly states, ‘restore security with minimum collateral damage,’ which means sacrifice the one life for the good of the many. He doesn’t do that, and I think he’s kind of shocked by himself. There’s a quite nice scene that I have with Joe Flanigan at the end where he confesses to Sheppard that if he can’t trust the rules that he’s supposed to follow, he doesn’t know whether or not he can really do this. He’s a theorist that’s put in a real situation, and he doesn’t know how much of the theory that he’s memorized he can truly trust to guide his decisions. That’s a major step for his character right off the bat. The Woolsey that you saw in the alternate time line at the end of season four is the guy before he faced this kind of crisis and finds out that he cannot lead effectively the way he thought he would.”

All in all, Picardo says he’s having great fun settling into his new role.

“It’s been great so far. We’re only on the fifth episode right now and I appear in four of the first five. So I’ve been having a fun time getting to know my fellow cast members and, of course, the crew. And we’re getting some comedic moments out of the fact that Woolsey is the new guy, who doesn’t know the base very well. He doesn’t know how things work or his way around. So there’s some things with him getting a little bit lost and with him not knowing how to get the doors open,” he laughs, “so we have been having some nice humorous moments, which I’m happy about. We’re also learning more about his back story. He’s divorced, obviously married to his work and he doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. He seems a little lonely in his new position. So I think they’re getting some things lined up for later on, with people trying to get him to socialize a little bit. To let his hair down if you’ll excuse the irony of that image!”

Interview  courtesy of the Official Stargate Website