Interview With Robert Picardo & Joseph Mallozzi of Stargate Atlantis on Sci Fi Channel – Part 2 of 3

Here is Part 2 of the Robert Picardo and Joseph Mallozzi interview. Part 1 was posted yesterday and Part 3 will be posted tomorrow. The last three questions of this part are the ones that I asked. I wanted to know about how they deal with an ever-changing cast. The other two were reader suggested. The question about Torri Higginson was the one question that was submitted by multiple people. And, now without any further ado, here is Part 2 of the Q&A.

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

Question: Robert, with SG-1, obviously it was very successful. It was on the air for ten years. Now with Atlantis, I mean, you guys are going to mark your 100th episode this season.

To what do you attribute the success of the Stargate universe?

Robert Picardo: Well, I think – it’s hard for me to separate my feelings from – I’m a guy who came from seven years on the competing franchise so when I look at what Stargate does well in comparison to where I’ve been before, I think Star Trek does some things very well.

They’re – it’s very philosophical and cerebral. But it’s a – its formula is very different from, I think, the success formula that Atlantis does. Atlantis has – I think, does action adventure extremely well but most importantly, to me, it has this sort of breezy humor, this ability to wink at the genre that Star Trek cannot have.

Star Trek just has to be – has to take itself very seriously. That’s the mold. And Stargate Atlantis and certainly Stargate SG-1, you know, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Richard Dean Anderson was the first Stargate star on television and his characteristic humor.

It has the ability to really let the audience in on the good humor, the joke of the fact that we know we’re going to save the world every week and that, you know, we can wink at that a little bit and have that kind of fun with it.

So I – to me, the offhanded humor of the show is what I’m enjoying the most and what I find most exciting having come from sort of a more rigid formula background.

Not to take anything away from my former employer and what it does – what it did well and continues to do well, but I think that that combination of action adventure and humor that, you know, that’s very much in the – sort of the Indiana Jones style is what I find the most fun.

Q: Right. And Joseph…You know, with Stargate, obviously there’s so much back-story, there’s so much really good mythology. I’m wondering about attracting new fans. What is it about the series that would make it attractive to someone who’s never seen it, who wants to start picking it up in season five?

Joseph Mallozzi: Well one of the, you know, nice things about the show is that the, you know, despite the fact that it does have a significant amount of mythology, you know, it’s not really serialized.

I mean, there’s an overall, you know, season to season arc but once – it’s a very easy show to get into just because we do so many standalone episodes like, for instance, you know, the – you know, “Whispers” that we were referring to or, you know, last year, “Harmony.”

I mean, you’ll always have a little connection to the past, you know, past episodes. But it’s not really a show – you know, a serialized show where basically you really have to have watched the previous seasons or even the previous couple of episodes to know what’s going on.

You know, like I said, one of the great things about the show is the variety of the types of stories we tell. You know, serialized versus standalone is one, you know, example of that.

Question: I just have a couple quick questions for Bob. I was wondering how do you reinvent yourself as an actor after such notable roles?

Robert: Well that’s – I think that that’s what attracts – attracted me to become an actor is exactly that challenge, that every time out you’re creating, you know, you’re creating someone different.

So it’s not so much how. It’s – I’m chomping at the bit to do that all the time. And what’s wonderful is when you get the opportunity to do it. So I don’t look at that as – that is the fun part. So that’s never a chore.

And what I – I’m also hoping – this is sort of a reference to the previous question as well. I’m hoping – I’m certainly hoping to bring whatever Star Trek fans are out there that haven’t sampled Stargate, you know.

And I don’t think there are that many of them because there’s a lot of crossover in the fan bases. But I’m hoping that if they were fans of mine from Voyager that they will – and they don’t know Stargate, that they’ll come and sample the show, you know, because of – because it’s a great time to get into the series because they’re going to follow my character’s – my character is starting out this year – really starting out as the commander.

So it’s – that’s a great window into the series if you haven’t watched it before because you’re going to experience it, you know, from the beginning of my tenure and my journey will kind of be linked to yours as a new fan.

So I’m hoping that those 77 Star Trek fans out there that haven’t watched yet are all going to join – you know, are all going to be sitting in front of the TV on July 11.

Q: Right on. Now in terms of Woolsey, how can leadership evolve out of someone who’s not a leader?

Robert: Well again, that’s the fun part. When I – when Joe first called me last November and said how would you like to assume the command, my initial response — which I don’t think I said out loud — was you’re kidding because I don’t – I didn’t think of the guy as the leader.

He’s the theorist. He’s the briefing – you know, he’s a briefing room guy and not a real event guy. He’s not the guy who’s used to being in the fray. In fact, we had a certain amount of comic mileage on Atlantis by having him put in dangerous circumstances, and he’s not a very heroic guy.

So I think that my initial surprise at the offer turned out – sort of then transformed itself into the most fun part of the challenge. Again, it’s – you know, we’re in a world now were everybody changes careers several times during their lifetime and supposedly our children’s generation will change them as many as a dozen times throughout their lifetime.

So to see a guy in, you know, in middle life or, you know, or even a little behind middle life going – this is – you know, I now have to put aside everything I’ve done thus far and done successfully thus far, and try to reinvent myself.

It’s an interesting challenge and a fun one, both as an actor and a character. So I’m really having a ball. And it’s exactly because he’s an unexpected choice for this job, and that’s what I think is going to – you know, that the viewers hopefully will respond to as I have.

Q: Excellent. Just one more quick thing and then I’ll let you go. Did you like Woolsey from the (start)?

Robert: Did I like Woolsey?

Q: Yeah, did you like him or did he have to grow on you?

Robert: No, when I first met him – when I first made my convention appearance – his personal appearances that of course, all the science fiction actors make, after two or three appearances as Woolsey and the – this character – I would be asked questions about working on Stargate and they’d say I really like your character.

And I would say you’re kidding because he was – I thought of him as, you know, as kind of a jerk early on. But again, the – his very second appearance which I think was called Inauguration, you saw that even though he rubbed people the wrong way and was seen as the – you know, someone who came in only to find out who’d screwed up and as I said, assign blame – that at least he was driven by a personal passion that was quite positive and ethical.

He really believed in the importance of civilian oversight of a secret military operation so that it wasn’t – so that a rogue element did not come in and take it over, and would no longer serve the interest of, you know, of the public.

So that – the fact that he really – the audience responded, I think, right away to the fact that Woolsey meant well even though he – you know, even though he annoyed people.

And in subsequent appearances, the writers fleshed him out, gave him some foibles and made him, you know, I think gave him his own kind of weird charm so that I think that – and that journey hopefully will – is continuing right now in season five.

So I think that it was a bold thing for the producers to do, to pick a guy like this who did not – you know, doesn’t seem to be necessarily the first choice for a leader, but to have him try to make himself into one, I think, is the really interesting and creative choice.

Question: Is the character, Woolsey – is he going to be – it’s great to see that Bob’s natural humor is going to – is coming out in his – in the portrayal, but is Woolsey going to be loosening up as this character arc and be less by the book as the season goes on?

Robert: Well I – Joe, do you want to take a crack at that first?

Joseph: Well I mean, you kind of answered that question with regard to Episode 2 where – I mean, he comes in and he’s essentially appointed because he is a by the book guy and someone who the IOA feels they can trust to follow protocol.

And in his very first, you know, crisis situation in Episode 2 called “The Seed,” he throws the, you know, playbook out the window and quickly realizes that in the Pegasus Galaxy, you know, you can’t just follow protocol in order to save lives and really make the right decision.

You know, you really have to react as, you know, as a situation dictates. You just kind of, you know, play it by ear and it’s a little – it’s like a little mini crisis for Woolsey at the episode’s end where he realizes he’s – you know, he – rather than following protocol, he, you know, he went against protocol.

And even though the situation worked out, you know, that’s not the point because I mean, that – you know, he was not sent to the Pegasus Galaxy to just kind of play the cowboy.

And then over the course of the ensuing episodes, he – you know, he – you know, the lesson becomes even more obvious, you know, when Ronan goes missing. And then it’ll eventually culminate in an episode call “Remnants” – Episode 16 — we’re not yet up to 15 now — where, you know, over the course of most of the season, I mean, he did come in as an interim leader.

And, you know, over the course of the scenes they begin to just kind of accept his as a new commander of the base. But then come Episode 15, he’s suddenly up for review and the IOA is not exactly pleased with his performance because he was sent in to, just in a sense, be a pit bull but, you know, he wasn’t following procedure and his job is at stake.

And I mean, I kind of liken it to that first – the second episode that Bob referred to, “Inauguration,” where he played Kinsey’s pit bull and Kinsey, you know, sicked him on SG-1.

And he was more than happy to do his job so long as he thought he was doing the right thing. And then near the end of the episode, he realized, you know, my gosh, I mean, I’m not doing the right thing.

And rather than just, you know, play along with Kinsey, he actually goes to see the President and comes clean with him. And that was our first step towards, I guess, rehabilitating the character and making him a character that ultimately the audience could sympathize with and grow to like. And I mean, you know, you can argue back and forth whether he’s leadership material, but I mean, I think, over the course of season five you’ll come to, you know, realize that he is leadership material even though maybe he doesn’t realize it himself.

Q: Okay. And Bob, have you seen any of the animation of Quantum Quest yet?

Robert: I had seen not the full animation. I’ve seen drawings and stuff, and I have recorded my part, and I’m proud to be in something that’s not only a great, I think, educational tool for kids but it’s a – it stands alone as an entertainment as well and with an A-list of voice talents like Samuel Jackson and gosh, I can’t even remember.

Questioner: John Travolta, yeah.

Robert: John Travolta, you know, it’s got a really good list and I play one of the principles. I play the, you know, the sort of crusty, old resistance leader, I guess you’d describe him. So I think it’s a really good project.

It’ll teach kids something about quantum physics while they’re watching a really cool I-MAX animated film.

Q: And can you talk about Sensored coming out, too?

Robert: Sensored is a pretty creepy horror movie which I play the principle role in. My character seems to be, you know, your neighbor down the block who dresses like Mister Rogers in little sweater vest and keeps to himself.

But, you know, he seems to be – upon further examination, he is torturing one or more people in the basement and may be a CIA special, you know, special coercive techniques expert or he might just think that he is.

So it’s a very interesting, layered and slightly crazy guy I’m playing and you’ll be seeing it hopefully – I’d hoped the movie would be completed in time for this Halloween, but the post production schedule is taking a little longer. So you’ll hopefully see it early next year.

Question: First question is for Bob – Bob, I wanted to find out if maybe you could talk a little bit about how Woolsey’s relationships with the other Atlantis characters has sort of developed further this year and is there one character you’re especially enjoying seeing Woolsey interact with in season five so far?

Robert: That’s a great question, Steve, because to me ultimately that’s what – you know, that’s what really makes the character interesting to the loyal viewer is how the new guys fits in and reacts uniquely with each of the other principle characters.

Off the top of my head, when Woolsey arrives, in a way he’s kind of – not intentionally, but in a way he’s coldest to Rachel’s – to Teyla’s character — Rachel Luttrell’s character — because her husband – the father of her child is basically being kept in a refugee camp and he’s quite insensitive to that, I think, personally and choosing, you know, security over looking, you know, really with an open heart at her specific situation.

And what’s interesting is that her character is the first one to reach out to him and really be kind to him even though he is, perhaps, least sensitive to her which says something about her character.

But also, I think, that that disarms him all the more, that she makes the first real gesture toward him. In the episode that we have already talked about — “The Seed” — at the end of that, I think he takes a major step in the relationship with Joe Flannigan’s Colonel Sheppard by admitting to him that he doesn’t know if he’s the right guy to run the base because he’s already broken his own rules so many times.

But Joe basically says that’s, you know, that’s the only way to do it here and kind of gives him a, you know, a pat on the shoulder and says, you know, you’re learning and you’re – perhaps you’re going to do better than we all thought – is the intimation of that moment.

I haven’t really had – there’s been no particular kind of breakthrough moment, I think, with David Hewlitt’s character, Dr. McKay. I am a huge fan of David’s and he cracks me up all the time on the set.

In fact, it’s very rare that I work with an actor where I’m afraid I’m going to, you know, I’m going to break out laughing during a take. But he is as close as I get to making me lose it.

He is an extraordinarily funny guy, not only in the show but with these wonderful characterizations that he sort of breaks into in between takes. I haven’t had a – I don’t think I’ve had like a – sort of a – necessarily a single pivotal moment with his character that leaps to mind.

But I think that there is a – I don’t remember the number of it. Joe will have – I’m sorry, Joe Mallozzi will have to help me out with it. But there is a – oh, I think I did get it. I think it’s “Ghost in the Machine” where Woolsey has to basically play his first poker hand.

When the chips are down and the danger is very high, he calls the bluff of the enemy and he’s clearly – we’ve never seen Woolsey be that kind of controlled and confident before.

And I think that that moment, I think, kind of catches Dr. McKay’s attention as boy, this guy has something that we didn’t expect him to have. And who else? Jason – what’s fun about relating to Jason as a character is because Ronon is set up as the man of few words and, you know, pure action.

He’s a natural contrast to Woolsey who is set up as a guy who can’t stop talking and is not very experienced in the real situations. So I’m looking forward to, you know, to – in fact, in one of the – I think the first show after the break, I have some very amusing scenes with Ronon where I’m trying to get him to file reports the way he’s supposed to and he hates to do that.

He hates to – obviously hates to write. He doesn’t even want to dictate the reports, you know. So I think that there are unique relationships developing between Woolsey and all the other principle characters that I think have a lot of room there for future growth.

Q: Oh that’s great to hear, excellent. And Joe, I just want to ask you a quick question. Writing-wise, what do you think has been toughest — because I’ve been keeping track of your blog as well — what maybe has been the toughest episode so far for you to write this season, would you say?

Joseph: Right now, the one I’m working on now, “Remnants,” which really is three different stories. I mean, there’s a story involving Sheppard no the mainland. There’s a story involving Woolsey and a potential love interest, you know, in the midst of this probationary review that he’s undergoing that clearly is not – looks like it’s not going to go very well.

And then there’s a third story involving McKay and Zelenka that kind of explores a bit of their friendship or, you know, some would say non-existent friendship. But I mean, there’s still that mutual respect between the two.

When the – and it involves them discovering a device at the bottom of the ocean, just maybe a couple of hundred miles, you know, way from the city. And, you know, this – it’s a script that jumps kind of back and forth between the three stories.

And, you know, as things progress, they inevitably come together and you realize that the three seemingly unrelated stories are in fact connected in a very big way.

And, you know, it’s – there are a couple of instances that- particularly with regard to Sheppard – I mean, I can’t – you know, I don’t want to give too much away.

Because, you know, I’m not – I don’t even know what’s going to make it to screen. But it’s very dark with regard to the Sheppard story and there are a couple of instances that a couple of the writers, my fellow writers, balked at but a couple of other writers loved as well.

And I thought were very important to keep in the script that, you know, I’ll be interested to see what the network says when they read the script. You know, it’s – you know, of all the scripts – I mean, every script is a challenge but I think this one in particular has been particularly challenging.

And, you know, we’ll see what the network has to say and what the rewrite will look like.

Question: I just – I had a couple of quick questions. I know that earlier, I think yesterday, that, you know, the Screen Actors Guild said that they don’t seem to pursuing a strike, but if there was a strike, you know, would Stargate be as immune to it as they were with the Writers Strike or is this something that might actually affect it if this were to happen?

Joseph: Oh no, it will definitely affect the show. I mean, I think, you know – the majority of our, you know, our regulars are SAG. I believe we could do the show with Zelenka and Lorn which I’m sure, you know, a lot of the fans would like but after two or three episodes, I think they will get a hankering to see our regulars.

So I mean, in response to your question – yes, I mean, a SAG strike will affect production.

Q: Because I mean, how far are you guys into – how far are you into fifth season? Is it just the first ten or are you guys actually working on the back ten now?

Joseph: Now, we’re actually working on the back five. We prep Episode 15 when we come back, hopefully on schedule we’ll shoot 15 and then we’ll, you know, we’ll finish up those last four along with our big 100th episode which will fall 20 this year.

Q: And so like – I mean, but – so there was no like any special preparations or anything to maybe accelerate a shooting schedule before a strike?

Joseph: No. I mean, our shooting schedule — I’m sure Bob can attest to this fact — is fairly accelerated as it is. I mean, we shoot fairly quickly and we’re always pulling up days. And, you know, I believe actually we were kind of scheduled to finish 13, but we managed to pull up an episode and get 14 in the can before the start of hiatus.

So, you know, we did the best we can. Hopefully, like I said, we’ll come back and, you know, on schedule and shoot, and finish up the rest of the season, you know, on time.

Q: And, you know, and with Amanda Tapping departing the show, when actually did you guys know that that was happening? I mean, how far were you in planning or maybe even breaking stories for the fifth season?

Did you know that or was there always kind of a plan to maybe move away from having the Samantha Carter character in the fifth season?

Joseph: No, no. There wasn’t really a plan to move away. But I mean, I believe at the time we were – it’s not exactly – you know, we were at the point where we’re breaking stories I believe, but we were certainly spinning them when Amanda gave us the call.

And, you know, there was talk of maybe her bouncing back and forth between the two productions and thought it was just, you know, at the end of the day, totally unfeasible.

And we said look, you know, we love your character but you have to make the call and she made the call. I know it was a hard decision for Amanda and, you know, and, you know, we were sorry to see her go.

But I mean, as I said, it – you know, her departure also presented us with a great opportunity to bring Bob over and, you know, it’s one thing I’ve said over and over again, you know, once, you know, Amanda made her decision clear and we knew that we weren’t going to have her back for season five, there really was no short list of candidates to consider.

It was, you know, Bob Picardo. I – you know, I talked about it with Paul and, you know, he basically came to the same conclusion so I just picked up the phone and gave Bob a call in LA.

And I asked, you know, hey, what would you think about coming over and, you know, being a regular? And, you know, I was solely prepared for him to say are you kidding? You know, I’ve got a family here and, you know, in California, you know, spend a year with you guys.

But, you know, I’m happy to say that he was more than amenable.

Robert: You know what it is? It’s that my children are old enough and my wife and I have been married long enough that they’re happy to see me out of the house.

Question: That’s great. And Bob, just one quick question for you and I’m sorry it’s not exactly Stargate related. Even I can’t wait to see you in the fifth season. But it was announced a couple of days ago that Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas was shutting down and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about that since that has been around for so long?

Robert: I – we’ve been kind of expecting it because I think the hotel changed hands and I think they’ve been eyeing that large amount of retail space lustfully for some time.

So I’m not surprised. It will be – it breaks my heart a little bit to no longer be my own theme park ride. You know, once you’ve had a – you’ve had action figures for years. There’s very few ways to go up.

And being a theme park attraction is one of the only ones. So I guess I just have to hope that Atlantis has a theme park ride in the future and that I will be at least some small part of it.

Question: Great. A question for Joe – you were kind of talking about it just a little bit here in that last question but how do you try and maintain stability in the overall story you want to tell and the direction you want to take the show with the – so much change in the cast over the last couple of seasons?

Joseph: Well I mean, we go season by season really. You know, it’s not like a, I guess, a bigger game plan in terms of several seasons down the line. We – at the end of every season, you know, we leave with usually our season cliffhanger and we kind of have more or less an idea of where we want to pick things up with the first episode.

We’re really not that much beyond that. And then, you know, hopefully we get the, you know, the call from the network that tells us we’re coming back for another season.

And after taking maybe a couple weeks off, we come back together and, you know, we spin out ideas and we say okay, this is what we’d like to do for the season.

Sometimes it’s, you know, a very clear idea of what we want to do, you know, in terms of sort of a broad picture. In the case of season five, for instance, we wanted to open things up in the Pegasus Galaxy and that’s the game plan we went into for the season and, you know, as well, you know, introduce Richard Woolsey as the new commander, and deal with Teyla’s role as a mother and adventure. That’s another thing we wanted to deal with along with some various other smaller stories.

Season four was a little different in that we came in and we knew we wanted to give the spotlight to each character and have them have their, you know, own separate storyline.

So we started on kind of a micro-scale and worked our way to the macro where we came in and we pitched up story ideas and those story ideas kind of dictated what the general theme of season four would be.

You know, the Wraith/Replicator war being a big one and sort of the weakening of the Wraith over the course of the season. And of course, one of the storylines that was dictated to us was the Teyla pregnancy that – you know, Rachel came in at the beginning of the season and we had planned to sort of go a little dark side with her character, and, you know, make her a little more colorful.

And, you know, when she announced her pregnancy we thought okay, well I mean, we could either continue with the storyline and shoot around the pregnancy — which frankly, you know, always – never really works in television — or we could just embrace it and make her character pregnant which is what we did.

And I think, you know, the storyline worked out very well. It dovetailed nicely with missing Ethosian storyline and ultimately Michael’s designs on Teyla and the baby.

So, you know, we go from season to season. You know, I – hopefully, you know, the cast that we have now is a cast that we’re going to keep for many seasons to come. But, you know, who knows?

Q: Okay. And I put out a question to – a request to readers and the one question that came back they wanted to know was what is the future possibility of ever seeing Torri Higginson back as Dr. Weir again?

Joseph: To be honest, I think it’s highly unlikely. I mean, you know, I kind of outlined sort of the situation where, you know, last season, you know, she came in and did a couple of guest spots for us and she was terrific, and she seemed very excited about the prospect of coming back.

And, you know, we pitched out the idea of the possibility of, you know, her coming back in and continuing the Replicator storyline which she was, you know, fairly – seemed very excited about.

And so, you know, Carl went off and, you know, he wrote the script and ultimately we contacted her about doing it. And, you know, initially she was a little reluctant and, you know, perhaps maybe thinking about her fans she was wondering if maybe there was a way to sort of create some sort of closure for her character.

And although I mean, we kind of wanted to keep the character alive, if basically she wanted closure then we would be willing to give her closure. And we told her, and then she was still reluctant so we ended up sending her a script to review, and ultimately she passed.

I mean, it’s too bad. I mean, we would’ve loved to have her come back and, you know, and see her no the show but I – you know, I think at this point kind of she’s moved beyond, you know, this show and is, you know, looking elsewhere. So, you know, we wish her the best of luck.

And like I said, she did a terrific job for us when she was here doing her three guest spots last season. And, you know, it’s unfortunately we won’t see her again in season five. But, you know, again, you know, it was her choice and we respect her decision.

Q: And one question for Robert – you mentioned earlier a, you know, breaking up on set with working with David Hewlett. Is there any anecdotes or funny stories that you could share from your time on the set so far?

Robert: Well, I – the problem is that he does this sort of slacker character, sort of a nerd, technology geek character that makes me laugh. But I can’t quite do it myself. I suppose after I’ve been around him a little longer, I’ll have my own version of it.

But it’s just – he just riffs as this character and it just makes me laugh. So I’m sorry I can’t gratify you with my impression yet, but I need more time.

Read Part 1.
Update 7.11.2008: Read Part 3.

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Jason the TVaholic
3 comments… add one
  • Morjana Jul 10, 2008, 11:25 pm

    Thank you, Jason!

  • Morjana Jul 11, 2008, 4:27 pm

    Thank you, Jason.

    These have really been interesting interviews.

  • Jason the TVaholic Jul 15, 2008, 4:25 pm

    Morjana, You’re welcome.

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