Interview With Robert Picardo & Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate Atlantis on Sci Fi Channel – Part 1 of 3

by Jason the TVaholic on July 9, 2008

in Interviews, TV Talk

Last week, Robert Picardo and executive producer Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate Atlantis took questions from various online media outlets via conference call. It turned out to be quite the marathon call. The NBC Universal rep that was on the line, who has been part of hundreds of calls like this, said it was the longest call she could ever remember. It lasted just over 90 minutes.

I was just getting on the line at the 60-minute mark when the NBCU rep asked the moderator how many more calls were in the queue and if Robert and Joseph could answer a few more questions. They said they could and it went on for another half hour.

So, I took the line and asked three questions, as to be kind to the rest of the people waiting to get a chance to talk with them and because they were gracious enough to stick around long after the call was scheduled to be over. And, thanks to all who sent in questions. Even though I couldn’t ask all of them, I think you will find over the course of the call that someone asked many of them.

Due to the length of the interview, I decided that I would break it up into three parts and post Part 1 today, Part 2 tomorrow and Part 3 on Friday, otherwise known as the day that the fifth season of Stargate Atlantis premieres on Sci Fi. Thus, keeping you from just scrolling forever trying to read it all. As per usual, this is the full transcript minus the pleasantries and all the thank you for doing the calls, etc. Cause you don’t really need to read that 20 plus times. Now on with Part 1 of the Robert Picardo and Joseph Mallozzi interview. Enjoy!

Interview With Robert Picardo and Executive Producer Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate Atlantis

Robert Picardo as Woolsey - Stargate Atlantis Season 5 - Photo CR Eike Schroter/Sci FiQuestion: I’m anticipating this hotly discussed script, “Whispers.” It’s got a horror tinge and I was wondering if you could elaborate?

Joseph Mallozzi: Okay. You know, I’ve always been a big fan of horror and one of the things that – you know, one of the great things about Stargate is that we can do, you know, such a variety of different types of stories.

I mean, we do our funny episodes. We do our serious episodes, the off world episodes, the, you know, ship based episode. And, you know, I just realized that we’ve never really done a horror episode.

And we’ve done monster movies but never really kind of a scare fest. So I mean, you know, I – you know, I pitched stuff to the guys and they really liked the idea.

And, you know, I spoke to Will about it and he’s like yeah – Will Waring, who is, you know, our Director who directed the episode and he’s also a big fan of horror movies.

So, you know, we actually did a little mini horror movie for the episode, “Whispers.” What we did, you know, Joe Flannigan and Paul McGillion — two of our regulars — joined a team of – an all female team on an off world adventure.

I mean, one of the things about just, you know, TV, (office) episodic television in general is, you know, at the end of the day you kind of know that your heroes are going to come out of it in one piece, more or less, unless you happen to be, you know, Carson Beckett (in “Sunday”) or, you know, what have you.

So I thought I was important to add this all female team for kind of two reasons. One, with Amanda leaving, I thought there was kind of a gender imbalance in the show that I kind of wanted to address by bringing in, or at least introducing some potentially recurring female characters.

And two, you know, have the audience invest in characters that, you know, you don’t really know whether they’re going to survive or not. And, you know, it was just really a fun episode.

I mean, right now – I mean, I went by a couple of days ago and Mark Savelo, our VFX Supervisor, he was just showing me some of the temps on the visual effects and, you know, I’m – you know, gosh I hope it’s not one of these episodes that angry parents, you know, write the network about.

But, you know, I – you know, hopefully, you know, it’ll be an atypical episode and, you know, I’m hoping that people will enjoy it – especially fans of the horror genre.

Question: Can you tell us kind of – I know you can’t reveal everything, but kind of in general what’s coming up story wise and for the teams this new season, and how it’s going to be different from previous seasons?

Joseph: Well it – this is Joe again. You know, in previous seasons – I mean, you know, season one was set up and season two was (telling). And season three, I think, you know, we’re stepping out and exploring more, you know, sort of a variety of stories.

Throughout those first three seasons, though, we were always I guess securing resources with, you know, SG-1 – be it a series or the movies and, you know, as a result I guess it taught you – because of the time constriction, we weren’t able to really sit back and I think plan out the season quite as concisely as we could have which is what we did in season four.

We realized okay, you know, there is – there was an imbalance in, you know, some of the stories being told. I mean, there were a lot of McKay stories but one of the things we set out to do in season four that we did in season five as well was, you know, give each character a story and then, you know, a spotlight and really focus on them, and give them a chance to really step up.

And, you know, we did that again – you know, we did that once again in season five. And where in season four we wanted to deal with some of the, you know, our standing villains.

We kicked off the Wraith/Replicator war. We got rid of the Replicators. We weakened the Wraith and now season five is kind of a step forward in a couple of ways.

One, in a big picture way we are introducing a couple of new races. We’re suggesting that with the Wraith weakened in the Pegasus Galaxy, there are a number of civilizations that are basically standing up and assuming power.

So I mean, in a big, you know, big picture way that’s what we’re doing. In another big picture way we get a – we have a new commander on the Atlantis expedition with Carter leaving.

You know, what we said in season four was, you know, with the threats that Atlantis is facing — especially with regard to Wraith — you know, the military essentially flexed their muscles and wanted to exert some influence over the Atlantis expedition.

So Carter was appointed as a compromised candidate. In season five, with — as we said — the Wraith, you know, back on their heels the (IOA) in turn flexed its muscles and they appoint Richard Woolsey as the new interim leader of the Atlantis expedition.

And that will be a big and – you know, a big change and frankly, it’s been a great change. You know, we’ve been big Bob Picardo fans for years and, you know, what started off as a – as, you know, a couple of episodes in “Heroes” and through a recurring role which eventually when the opportunity presented itself, I mean, there was no hesitation.

We said, you know, if Bob can do it, you know, we would love to have him on the show and Bob was kind enough to, you know, make time for us I guess.

Robert Picardo: This is very interesting for me to listen to as well because I find out, you know, all the secret things that the Executive Producer has in store. I was a little worried momentarily when he mentioned – when he made reference to a bit of a gender imbalance.

I thought that by Episode 20 perhaps he’d be given full reign to (pull) the feminine side – at least that he’d be, you know, cross-dressing on the base. But I’m happy to hear that that’s not in the planning.

Questioner: I look forward to seeing you in the new role – or bigger role, I guess, is the word.

Robert: Well thank you. I appreciate that. I’m looking forward to seeing how the, you know, the dedicated fans of the show accept the new leader who is not nearly as cute as the previous two.

Joseph: Some fans may argue differently. Sorry.

Question: How did you get mixed up with these guys on this level? Was it as simple as them asking and you saying yes?

Robert: Yes, they – I think they have a tradition of using actors from the other franchise, the name of which I dare not speak, as some casting. Many of my colleagues from the different Star Trek shows have been guest stars.

And I think that they either last from one to four episodes. In fact, I think around the fourth time they asked me back, I was flipping to the end of the script to see if I was killed yet.

But I managed to outlast them all and, you know, it’s been a lot of fun working with both casts, and with the Writer/Producers. They’ve really built the character from his initial impression of being kind of a hardnosed, you know, a vicious blame layer.

I call the characters that are coming to find out who has screwed up and whose head is going to roll in his initial appearance. And in “Heroes: Part 2,” they really fleshed him out.

And although he still has kind of insufficient people skills perhaps to be a leader, he’s developing them now that he’s assumed command. I think there’s something inherently interesting in the Monday morning quarterback, the guy who, you know, sits in the – at one end of the briefing room and tells everyone, you know, what they should’ve done and how they’ve screwed up.

Now that he’s suddenly making the decisions himself, it’s a very interesting dynamic that has its own kind of built in dramatic tension. He’s not used to – you know, he’s used to evaluating others but not to having that responsibility rest solely on his own shoulders.

And in fact, we have an upcoming episode where his own new command will be evaluated by someone who’s taken over his old position. So there’s a lot of, I think, fun layers to explore this year.

Q: Yes. Are you drawn to Sci-Fi? Is there something about the genre that pulls you in or is this almost also sort of like all of the people that make Sci-Fi, they watch Sci-Fi and that puts you on their radar, and they know to reach out to you? Is it – or is it some combination of both?

Robert: I think it’s a combination of both. I’ve – working on Star Trek for — there I said it — for seven years, I really came to appreciate what it was about that kind of storytelling that developed such a loyal fan base – that, you know, the regular viewer of science fiction has the interest and the capacity to really imagine the future, to dream of a better one and to kind – and I think even to project themselves into the future in a certain way, that that’s part of their psyche and personal passion.

That’s why they watch this kind of program. And once I appreciated what it was about the storytelling that made it special and that made the fans so loyal, I really began to enjoy it and I think to flourish in it as an actor.

I really used my own imagination a lot and made a number of suggestions during my tenure on Star Trek. And – but also, I – because the fan base is so loyal, they like seeing an actor that they know from one show take on another role in another of their favorite shows.

So it does work both was. I can’t honestly say that I set out at the beginning of my career to spend, you know, ten years in a jumpsuit.

Questioner: Yeah.

Robert: But that’s – you know, it does keep you – it keeps you in the gym regularly as well.

Q: And last thing, one of the challenges that you had in Star Trek was making a holograph – a hologram real to people but it occurred to me this morning when I was thinking about this – isn’t that the challenge that you always face more or less with any character you do, just like right now?

Robert: Of course. You – every – when an actor gets a role, especially in series television where the – where he really is the part. He’s the – the audience never thinks of another actor playing that role. If they accept you in the role, then you are – they can’t separate the actor from the character.

But we always have to devote a lot of attention and imagination to what the character’s back-story is, where he comes from, what his education is, previous work experiences and his personal life, and all of that stuff that’s off camera that will help inform the part that’s on camera.

With Woolsey, his back-story was sort of slowly revealed through various guest appearances. It’s not like when I set out at Star Trek, I made all the decisions and just – and set on my journey with what I understood the writers wanted from that character.

And of course, it was different from any other character I played because when you’re playing a new technology that’s basically booted in the first – booted up in the first episode, you have no back-story.

So that was the challenge of that role because there was not – there was really nothing to depend on. It was starting, you know, with a clean slate and building it – building the character piece by piece.

So the – I have to tell you though after seven years as a hologram, I’m happy to be back playing human beings. It’s – I was afraid of getting out of practice. So I’m glad to be flesh and blood again, and to have the ability to, you know, to change and even to age.

Nobody wants to play – I’ve talked to Brent Spiner about this. You don’t want to play a character indefinitely who’s not supposed to age.

Question: With the first half of season five already on film, what would you say will be the turning point for viewers and ratings while continuing the second half and potentially a sixth season?

Joseph: The turning point? You know, I’m kind of hoping – it’s not so much a turning point but a build from last year’s strong finish. You know, I don’t recall off the top of my head what the numbers were but, you know, I know that, you know, “Last Man” — our season finale — finished very strongly.

And hopefully that’s something we can continue with the premiere: “Search and Rescue.” You know, and I’m sure some of you may have seen it along with the few thousand who happened to be cruising You Tube over the weekend or a couple of – last weekend.

And the reaction is – you know, was overwhelming, positive from what I saw. I think it’s awfully indicative of what’s to come this season, you know, a variety of, you know, action, character development, just, you know, hopefully what the fans have grown to love and really desire from the show.

In terms of standout episodes, you know, off the top of my head I mean, there are, I think – you know, I’m very happy with the first half. But of course, you know, one of the, you know, big episodes — sort of like last year — “Be All My Sins” was a big midseason two-parter – the second part of the midseason two-parter.

In a similar way, the midseason two-parter is going to be very big this year. It’s “First Contact” and “The Lost Tribe.” And of course, Daniel Jackson will be dropping in for an appearance and that’s going to be huge for a lot of the SG-1 fans who, you know, I’m sure have missed him and, you know, have been asking, you know, what the hell is taking so long for Daniel to come on over to, you know, the Pegasus Galaxy.

Well they get the chance in the midseason two-parter. And, you know, like last year’s “Be All My Sins Remembered,” it’s got – you know, it’s full of surprises and action, and, you know, spectacular visual effects and some really nice character moments, particularly with regard to McKay and Daniel Jackson who are two characters that really haven’t had a chance to sort of play off each other.

And they play off each other really, really well. I mean, you know, one of the things I said was these two guys — Hewlett and Shanks — are the fastest talking actors in Sci-Fi, you know, bar none.

And as a result I mean, Martin Gero wrote both scripts and they were almost like 60-page scripts which is – there are usually, you know, a 60-page script is usually long.

And I think “First Contact” was exactly to (top) and I’m not sure what “Lost Tribe” was – maybe a minute over. So, you know, a lot of rapid fire talk between the two. And you know, hopefully, you know, it’ll be an episode that the fans will love just as much as last year’s midseason two-parter.

Q: A question for Bob, if you don’t mind. You talk about character development and we’re going back to Woolsey – what adjustments will we see as Woolsey takes over as the new leader of the Atlantis expedition versus previous appearances where he was a little indecisive or trying to take control, et cetera? What adjustments will we see?

Robert: Well, the – Woolsey appears briefly at the end of the season opener, “Search and Rescue,” which is a very exciting, action-oriented episode. He comes in and rather abruptly relieves Carter of command with his – you know, with the – with his characteristic gruffness and lack, I think, of interpersonal skills.

So that’s your first experience of him. In the very next episode, which is called “The Seed,” he faces the first major crisis at his new command. It’s a very dramatic outing for the character. It’s – there’s not really much humor in that first one.

And he learns the lesson that he can’t simply follow the rulebook and do this job. I mean, he – by his own estimation, he’s broken protocol about five times in his first crisis.

And that puts him — at the end of the show — in a personal crisis because he’s always sort of defined himself as someone who knows the rulebook, evaluates others ability to live by it and now in his first series of, you know, crisis command decisions he’s broken his own, you know, his own commitment to protocol and – in order to save a beloved member of the crew.

So he learns and in so doing – and so having that conflict, I think he earns the respect or the beginning respect from Colonel Sheppard because he demonstrates a capacity that he hasn’t shown thus far.

The very next episode of “Broken Ties,” although there’s plenty of adventure in the A story, there’s also kind of a B story of Woolsey getting used to the technology of the base.

And he’s – you know, he’s the kind of guy who will end a briefing room meeting and tell everybody what to do. And then because they are – he’s a little late following everyone out the door, it’s because he’s collecting his notes.

Then he doesn’t know how to get out – he doesn’t know how to open the door. I mean, he’s running the base but he doesn’t know how to use the technology yet and literally can’t get out the door.

And there are two or three quite humorous moments, I think, throughout that episode. So that – and what was gratifying for me as the performer is that I shows right off the bat that the character has the gravity in the dramatic situations but they can also use, you know, his settling in and his own character (foils) to get some, you know, some comic moments as well.

Joseph: This is Joe actually. One thing I want to add with regard to those three comic beats – well the last one I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a last scene were we find Woolsey in his quarters.

It was actually pitched out by Bob at the beginning of the season and he said you know what I think would be great for the character? I would love to do this and, you know, we thought about it. I pitched it out in the room. I said, you know, Bob pitched this and everybody loved it, and we worked it into “Broken Ties.”

So, you know, when you watch that moment just keep in mind that that was Bob’s idea.

Questioner: Oh cool. Well Bob, I have a friend of mine who is a reporter at a Knoxville newspaper and he just wanted me to compliment you – reach you back into your stellar career in Sci-Fi, on the Amazon Women on the Moon. (Steve) absolutely loves you in that role.

Robert: Well that’s very kind. That’s the kind of credit that normally leaps off someone’s resume. And I mean, leaps off and disappears.

Question: I have a question for each of you. I’ll start with Robert. Are you worried at all about the shoes that you have to fill with Amanda being such a loved part of Stargate?

Robert: Of course. In the same way that when I got my role on Voyager as the artificial intelligence character in that cast, I was concerned that I would be measured against Brent Spiner’s character because he’d been the android on the Next Generation and now I was the hologram on Voyager.

But nonetheless, there were – we were going to mime some of the same issues and storylines. And I thought he had done that so successfully and was so popular that I would inevitably be measured against him.

Fortunately in that case, I was defined by the writers and as much as I could by my own work as differently as I could be from him, and it turned out to be a non-issue, I think.

And I am – I not only am a fan of Amanda as a character on the show — I think her work is wonderful — I’m a huge fan of her personally. She is one of the loveliest people you will ever meet and work with.

So there’s a lot – both as an actor and as a character, there’s a lot – it’s a loaded situation to walk into. Fortunately, the rest of the cast has been very welcoming to me and also Amanda left, of course, for a spectacularly successful reason and that is to star in and produce her own new series for the Sci-Fi Channel.

So it was a very – although it’s daunting to replace such a popular character, I like to think that I’m not replacing her, that I’m simply – you know, that she’s moved on.

There’s always the hope that she’ll come back and make guest appearances on the show and that the, you know, that the audience will not only enjoy watching me in the role and develop it – to see a character who’s not really cut out to be a leader try to build himself into one.

Q: And Joe, I was wondering if you could talk about your favorite memory of Don Davis?

Joseph: You know, I – you know, it’s – you know, I’m sure you guys all heard the very – the heartbreaking news that Don passed away on Sunday and I just heard about it yesterday morning.

And last night I just stayed up and I wrote up a special blog entry for him, in his memory. You know, I don’t know if there’s a specific memory. I just – in this business – I mean, I’m sure all you guys know better than anyone that, you know, people come across great in sort of a public persona but when you actually sit down to meet them face-to-face, a lot of the time they’re not quite as, I guess, likeable and their on-screen personas.

With Don, you know, he was, you know – I think, you know, even – he had a bigger heart, was even nicer than the Hammond character that he played. You know, he was one of the first, you know, actors to warmly welcome me to the set way back in season four.

You know, we became friends. You know, I – over the course of my nine years of working on the show, I’d say that, you know, I’ve enjoyed working with a lot of, you know, prime people but I – but in all honesty, there are only three that I would be bold enough to call my friends at this point.

One was Chris Judge. The second is the guy who’s on the conference call with me today, Bob Picardo, and the third was Don. You know, he just – he was a very easygoing guy and, you know, I just – I guess one of the best memories I have of him is that the occasional (calm) that I attended.

And, you know, I’d see kind of the fans approach him with a certain amount of trepidation. You know, some fans were somewhat reticent to, I guess, come across as, you know, I guess fans and really impose on him.

But I mean, he was always incredibly welcoming and always very charmed, and charming to the fans. And, you know, when – you know, as I said in my blog, whenever fans would approach him, they would approach him as sort of, you know, being – in a sense that he was – you know, they were approaching General Hammond.

But once they got know him, they got to know really Don Davis who would be, you know, a very warm-hearted, incredibly self-deprecating man who, you know, sadly, you know, will be incredibly missed by, you know, not just obviously the fans but any and all – anybody who ever worked with him.

Update 7.10.2008: Read Part 2.
Update 7.11.2008: Read Part 3.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Morjana July 10, 2008 at 12:03 am

Hi, Jason.

Thank you so much for your article, and especially for taking the time to link to Mr. Mallozzi’s blog entry for Don S. Davis.

I’m really looking forward to Mr. Woolsey’s journey this season on Stargate Atlantis.

Morjana

2 Jason the TVaholic July 10, 2008 at 4:38 am

Morjana, I’m glad you enjoyed it and more is on the way. Part 2 will be up later today.

3 Jenny July 10, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Mallozzi is a jerk. You can see it in every interview or whatever remark he makes.

4 Jason the TVaholic July 10, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Jenny, Really? Did you even read this interview? In my experience he has been anything but. During the call, he answered all questions pretty thoroughly and even agreed to stick around for more questions long after the call was scheduled to end. Last year when I got a chance to visit the set, he came in to talk with our group even though the show was on hiatus and then ate lunch with us after the interview.

5 Jenny July 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Yeah, he treats the journalists good because he gains from you, publicity for the lame show he’s making. You should’ve seen his old blog, it was awful, he was insulting the fans and was deliberately saying things just so fighting among them would ensue on his blog. Because I witnessed all that, I don’t have an ounce of respect for that guy. Plus he ruined the once great show. Right now, SGA is a disaster.

6 Jason the TVaholic July 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Jenny, Okay, I can see that he wants to make a good impression with journalists, etc., but then it makes no sense that he would want to purposely piss off the fans. Who cares how much publicity you can get from an interview if your are just going to alienate those that already watch your show.

In your previous comment, you said, “Mallozzi is a jerk. You can see it in every interview or whatever remark he makes,” but now you are talking about something on his “old blog.” So, might point still stands, I just don’t “see it” in his remarks in this interview.

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