An Interview with Robert Picardo at the Galileo 7 Convention

Goslar, Germany - January 2-4, 1998
by Torsten Karsch

Robert Picardo and Friend

Robert Picardo, George Takei, John de Lancie and Richard Arnold were the guests of the first Galileo 7 convention in Goslar, Germany early this year. The American guests especially enjoyed the medieval town; many buildings there are more than 1000 years old. Bob was there with his wife and his two daughters. It was a smaller convention (about 400 visitors per day), which made it very comfortable. You could meet the stars in the hallways, there was a lot of contact between the visitors and the actors (that's not usual over here). The young organizers did a tremendous job with their first convention.

Bob started his panel with a couple of lines in German - his pronunciation is really great. That immediately established a link between him and the crowd. He was a very interesting and entertaining guest, and we all had a lot of fun with him. Bob always seemed to be in a good mood and that didn't change during our interview. He even supported the organizers by doing an autograph session in a big furniture store, to help them to finance the convention.

I compiled the most interesting questions from both our interview and his panels:

Q: How did you get the role of "Voyager's" holographic doctor?

A: "When I first auditioned for 'Voyager,' I was interested in the role of Neelix. I read the script and the Doctor was a very small part and I thought not terribly interesting. So I thought it would be better to go after the funniest character in the show, which was the part of Neelix. So I prepared that part, my agent said Mr. Picardo does not want to audition for the Doctor, he does rather want to audition for Neelix. I wanted to play the role of Neelix which I thought was the funniest character of the show. Because no one told me that the makeup would take 3 hours, they don't tell you that, in the script it says a humanoid 'Neelix.' They don't tell you how much makeup you wear. I auditioned for Neelix and I auditioned quite well. It was up to Ethan Phillips, myself and another actor. So I came this close, this close to wasting 4000 hours of my life sitting in a chair having people glue featherbeds to my face. Aren't you happy for me?

"It so happened that Ethan Phillips and I are old friends. I've known him some 17 or 18 years and I did not know, until after I lost the part of Neelix, I did not know that he was my competition, because I was doing a play at that time and they arranged my audition at a special time. When I found out that I did not get the part of Neelix - the producers said to my agent we've gone with another actor but we would very much like to hear him read for the Doctor. And I said to my agent, 'I don't get the joke of the Doctor, I don't understand what's supposed to be funny about him, but I'll give it a try.' And I went in and I auditioned for it only one time. It's very unusual in a major TV show, usually you have 3 or 4 or even 5 audition sessions, but I only had one for the Doctor. And I convinced them because I made them laugh. What I did was I added a line which is a classic Doctor McCoy joke at end of my audition. The final line in the script was 'I believe someone has failed to terminate my program' and I looked around the room and I said 'I'm a doctor not a nightlight!'"

Q: Did you have an idea how successful the role of the Doctor would become?

Robert Picardo and Friend

A: "When I did not win the role of Neelix and they asked me to audition for the Doctor I was quite disappointed. I thought the Doctor was the worst role in the show. He was the smallest part in the pilot, the character was described as colorless and humorless and I thought that does not sound like fun. When I got the part and began to work on the show and shoot the pilot I told all my friends I was cast in the new 'Star Trek,' which was a good job because they last a long time and it's good to put my children through college, but I said I have to tell you I have the worst role in the show. I told everyone that, I thought I would be the least popular character. So the fact that the character became so popular took me completely by surprise."

Q: Do you think it was your doing that it became so successful?

A: "I certainly could not take credit for that. We have wonderful writers who understand, they must have known that the artificial intelligence characters, the character that stands outside humanity and comments on humanity in the tradition of Spock, Data - and, I suppose, Odo - are traditionally very popular characters. So they probably knew that they had interesting things to write for me. I had no idea. I do think that it is one of those wonderful situations where the combination of the writers and their contribution and what I bring to the role as an actor has worked very well together. When I do something they like, they notice and they write to my strengths as an actor. So when they found that I could be funny when they gave me a funny line, a dry joke, then they started to write them. And similarly, if as an actor I had an idea they would listen to me. I have had quite a few jokes that have made it into the show that I have suggested, but we go through a very strict procedure with the writers, where we call them on the phone, tell them the line and days before we shoot it, they say yes or no. It's very rare that it happens shortly before we shoot it, because they have a very strong idea of what they want in the show and they don't want the actors changing it. So I think it's a happy outcome between the writing and what I bring as a performer."

Q: You can do a lot with your face....

A: "I do have a very expressive face and a very big face, because I have no hair on it, my face is huge. I have the ability to make very strong faces, we call it mugging in America. But I also have the ability as an actor to surprise the audience by having a small moment right after a very big one and I think that fools the audience. I think that is what catches the audience off guard and I think that that's what they like the most about the Doctor. If I simply made a lot of faces all the time I think the audience would get bored with that."

Q: Did you have an idea what it would be like to be a part of the "Star Trek" universe, with all the fans, conventions and the like?

A: "I heard about the wonderful travel opportunities we had, but again I didn't know that the character would be this popular and I would get as many offers as I do. I get a lot of offers to go to a lot of different places which is very flattering. But I was told... Armin Shimerman became my first real friend from one of the other shows, he taught me, he schooled me what the experience what be like. He prepared me and that was helpful. And as I said I'm very grateful to have this wonderful opportunity. It's a pleasure to meet the fans, they are by and large very respectful and very excited to hear what I have to say. And the fact that I was in Germany just a year and a half ago and this many people come to see me again, I hope to be back in Germany again. I hope that continues and that I will have the opportunity to come to Germany regularly. I enjoy very much coming and even though I don't speak very much I speak enough that I enjoy it in particular to come in contact."

Q: What are the other projects you're currently working on?

A: "I have worked many times with Joe Dante (Gremlins 2, Innerspace, The Howling). Joe Dante is shooting a movie now called Small Soldiers and I will play a small part in that. I will arrange around my 'Star Trek' schedule. It's very hard to take anything that's more than a day or two of other work, because we don't know more than a week in advance what our schedule will be. When we're shooting one episode we don't know our work schedule for the next month, whether we work every day, whether we work one day, because they're still busy writing it. So it's hard to plan something in advance. If I get offered a nice part I would ask the producer to make arrangements for me but other than that small role I don't have anything on the horizon. Although I am doing some voice-over: I'm narrating a documentary about cloning for the Learning Channel and I'm also doing a video game in a week or two that will benefit the Planetary Society."

Q: What was it like to work with the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" on Star Trek: First Contact?

A: "Well, I worked with them very briefly so I can say the experience was brief. I worked about 2.5 hours on the movie and I already knew Jonathan Frakes, because Jonathan had directed two very successful 'Voyager' episodes. One that featured my character a great deal was called 'Projections.' In fact that episode is what convinced the heads of Paramount studios to give Jonathan the movie. That was the piece of film that he directed that won him the movie. So Jonathan was especially gracious to be saying that I helped him in some way to get the movie. Foolish, but it was very nice from him to say.

Robert Picardo Auctioneering

"The idea that my character would be in the movie originated from a wonderful, wonderful man... Me! In the process of writing the movie I went to Rick Berman's office and I said to him 'At the end of the last movie 'Generations' you destroyed the Enterprise,' and he said 'yes.' I said 'So you have to have a brand new Enterprise,' and he said 'yes.' And I said 'Why is it that Voyager has more advanced technology than the Enterprise?' He said 'what do you mean?' I said 'How come that we've got this holographic doctor program and the Enterprise doesn't? I'm not trying to pad out my part. I'm simply watching out for your logic.' And he laughed and said 'Well, why would all these holographic doctors look alike?' I said 'It's a computer program, why not? It's cost effective.' He said it was a good idea. And then I proceeded to speak to every other person. I spoke to Brannon Braga and Ron Moore who were writing the script. I spoke to Jonathan Frakes, I mentioned the same wonderful idea to everyone. And, lo and behold, they decided to put me in the movie."

Q: Can you tell us the true reason why Jennifer Lien left the show?

A: "It's difficult. Well, it is difficult to explain, because I don't fully understand. Brannon Braga has said that they ran out of ideas how to develop her character. If you noticed the last season that she's on, they seemed to be uncertain as to which direction to take her. She breaks up with Neelix but not really, we don't see it happen. You see her hair change, so she looks less like a child and more like a woman. They tried different things with the way she looked and different storylines. The episode 'Warlord' where she was wonderful, she was possessed by the spirit of a male warrior. And I was very shocked and sad just to hear that they were not going to bring her back. For two reasons: First of all I'm really very fond of Jennifer. We had a good time together and we had a friendship. And secondly - and selfishly - I think that my best scenes on the show were always with her. The scenes about the Doctor wanting to get a name and wanting to extend himself beyond his original capabilities. All of those intimate discussions were held with her character. Because I trusted her and I admired her and she was the most emotionally open character on the crew. So I felt safe talking to her. It was a very interesting notion of the writers to pair the Doctor, who is the most fuzzy and awkward, he is the most carefully hidden and pretentious, stuffy character, with Kes who is the most open, caring, concerned. She functions very much like Deanna Troi, like a counselor.

"So I was very disappointed. I don't fully understand the reasons; I suspect part of the decision is from the new UPN Network. Whenever the ratings slide for a show as they had gone down - we premiered with excellent ratings and every year they slipped a bit and the network was concerned. And because 'Star Trek' - and forgive me, ladies - the audience in America is primarily young men. But that's not entirely my fault. So the solution came from the network executives who wear suits every day and make a lot of money. Always whenever a show is losing its ratings and the audience is primarily men, the solution is to put, what we call in America, a new bimbo. I think that Jeri Ryan is a wonderful actress and I think it's a wonderful character. I'm not commenting on her specifically, I'm commenting on the notion of the executives: 'must get a Baywatch girl.' That's the solution and sadly in this case our ratings have gone up, but I think that is in credit to Jeri Ryan's talent as well as her beauty and the fact that they have created an interesting character.

"What is interesting about Seven of Nine is that she still has a certain danger about her. We are not entirely certain now that we have severed her connection to the Collective - whether she will remain an ally, a trusted member of the crew, or whether she might turn on us and take the ship over and help the Borg assimilate us. There is a certain amount of danger built in that which is quite exciting and we've done some shows that call her allegiance into question. There are wonderful scenes that we have in store for you next year - or this year if you rent the tapes. You're in for a treat because the scenes particularly with Captain Janeway are very exciting. Kate (Mulgrew) is doing the best work of her entire time on the show this season. She's doing terrific acting and particularly with Seven of Nine. So even though those of us in the cast who were concerned that we were following such a Baywatch solution to our problem, we have to admit that at least the ratings are good, the writing is very good this year and that Jeri is not only a lovely person to work with but she is also quite talented. The character is very interesting. So I think you're going to be quite pleased when you see the episodes with Seven of Nine, and not just the young men!"

Q: Could you tell us more about Seven of Nine?

A: "I would be delighted. Seven of Nine looks like a walking Playboy centerfold. She has a perfect body. And of course the doctor as you know, has designed a costume that she wears. It's supposed to be a special medical suit to help regenerate her skin, because she's no longer a Borg. So the doctor clearly has some experience in designing for Las Vegas, she looks very much like a showgirl. Jeri Ryan, the actress who plays Seven of Nine, is a very sweet girl and fun to work with. And I have recently completed a very large episode with her. Our ratings have gone up significantly in the United States, because she is such a talked-about character and because the contour of her body is so exciting. Before Seven of Nine I believed I had the best butt on the show... unfortunately, I had to surrender. She has probably the best one I have ever seen."


Report © 1998 by Torsten Karsch. Photos © 1998 by Tschiponnique Skupin. All Rights Reserved. Reproduced on the Official Robert Picardo Home Page with permission of the author and photographer.

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