Robert Picardo Talks Voyager, Stargate & Gremlins At MCM Scotland Comic Con

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Is there a doctor in the house? There certainly was at MCM Scotland Comic Con over the weekend. The charmingly delightful Robert Picardo took to the stage for a packed panel at the first day of the con in Glasgow and he didn’t waste any time! He humoured the attendees by revealing he’d eaten some token Scottish cuisine – eggs, haggis and dead pig! He admitted he didn’t want to know what was actually in his food and if he drops dead of a heart attack three weeks later, he’ll think of us!

Then Picardo went to questions from the floor, the first coming from someone in the audience as follicly challenged as the actor himself. We’re not being mean about his appearance; his lack of locks was pertinent to his query – why did the producers of Star Trek: Voyager choose someone with the appearance of wisdom and maturity to play the Doctor rather than someone with a full head of hair?

Laughing, Picardo responded, “If my character of the doctor had to be the face of medicine in the future, what happened to Rogaine®?” He explained that when the producers of Star Trek hired him he asked if they wanted him bald or would they want him to wear a hairpiece? The producers exclaimed that they wanted him just as he is as they’d been quite successful with bald actors.

Another questioner asked which episodes of Voyager featuring the Doctor he particularly enjoyed. No stranger to this question, Picardo had three key candidates to hand:

  • “The Latent Image” (S05E11) – In which the Doctor has a nervous breakdown after having a Sophie’s Choice moment when trying to save two crew members.
  • “Someone to Watch Over Me” (S05E22) – He explains it’s a little like My Fair Lady when the Doctor teaches Seven-Of-Nine about relationships and dating, only to realise he’s developed feelings for Seven.
  • “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” (S06E04) – Aliens hack into Voyager’s systems, but accidentally access the Doctor’s daydreams and he finds himself being romantically pursued by all three senior officers. He laughed, claiming that he felt like Cary Grant!

One attendee reminded the audience that Picardo had a significant role in Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He asked what it was like to work with the Gremlins in person. Picardo explained that he’s asked this question at most conventions he attends and he wants to state that “Gremlins are not real!” He played the right-hand man to a Donald Trump-style businessman and his character is relentlessly pursued by a female Gremlin. It ends with him trying – and failing – to fend off her amorous approaches, having to operate the puppet himself… with, ironically, his right hand. (He admits during the panel on the second day that he got bit carried away with making “Gertrude the Gremlin” – as he referred to her – kiss him all over and literally ended the day making himself black and blue). During the scene he also had his trousers ripped off when the female Gremlin plants kisses all over the legs. For this effect filmmakers would normally use a rubber stamp and some red ink, but in this case they instead had the assistant props woman apply the lipstick by kissing his legs. He jokes that he’s never met another woman like that since!

It was, he says, the craziest scene he’s ever been a part of and jokes that if they reboot the franchise we could see their half human/half Gremlin spawn… but no-one has approached him.

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All convention photography on this page by Michael Guthrie

When asked if he ever had the chance to shoot another episode of Voyager, what would it be about, Picardo laughed and suggested it should be about geriatric holograms. He explained how this was one of the main problem with characters like the EMH and Brent Spiner’s Data: they shouldn’t age. He admits they could have easily modified the Doctor’s programming to make him age alongside the crew, but Data would have had to have had his face reengineered every year. Picardo suggested it would probably be easier if he just acted in all the scenes with no make-up and then allow computer technology to digitally correct his face, much like the CGI de-ageing of Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Picardo then told of how he once pitched a story to the producers where the doctor travelled back in time to the year of the great San Francisco earthquake. A fact of history is that the famous tenor the Great Caruso was in San Francisco when the earthquake happened. Picardo pitched that the Doctor falls in love with a woman campaigning for women’s right to vote, but he also meets and competes with Caruso (he sang opera a few times as the Doctor in Voyager and can still belt it out with gusto as he proved to rapturous applause during the Sunday panel). He thought it was fun idea with a romantic twist. The producer didn’t bite, though.

When another fan asked if could compare his experiences on the different Stargate series he appeared on, Picardo took it upon himself to nominate Voyager into the mix and explained the differences between starring in each franchises. He explained what was fun about Stargate was that the role of officious government troubleshooter Richard Woosley was given to him as a gift, the producers having loved his work on Star Trek so they wanted him to play a villain. After his initial appearances on Stargate SG-1, the show’s cast and crew loved working with him so much the writers came up with ways to bring Woosley back, changing him slowly from “a total douche bag to a palatable douche bag.”

Photo credit: Michael Guthrie

One sci-fi Doctor paying tribute to another sci-fi Doctor

Picardo explained that in comparison to Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate was a very much more relaxed environment. On Voyager everything was micromanaged by the producers; there was no ad-libbing from the scripts, partly to make sure no one used any regionalisms in their speech. On Stargate, he explained, the amount of fun freedom they had with their takes and the dialogue made the experience seem like a holiday. He loved working on both franchises, but loved his experience working with David Hewlett (Dr Rodney McKay) the most. “David Hewlett made me laugh more than any actor I’ve ever worked with. He’s so funny and he’s hilarious when he complains. And he complains a lot.”

Panel host Stuart Claw mentioned that Picardo was given the last line of dialogue to deliver on the final episode Stargate: Atlantis. Picardo agreed saying it was a great honour. He was very flattered and thought the last scene was very sweet. Picardo noted that the men behind Stargate, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, have a new show on television called Dark Matter, and he hopes that one day they find an excuse to write in a middle-aged bald man.

The final question summed up the panel perfectly as one fan asked about when Picardo reprised his role as the Doctor in the film Star Trek: First Contact and how that compared to working on TV. Picardo told us how he went into great depth explaining all the logic and science behind the holo-medics in Star Trek to the writers and producers of the film, trying to impress upon each one individually why it would be silly to make this movie without a cameo from the Doctor. He would phone them, or lunch with them, and they all told him that it was a “very interesting idea”. Then mere weeks before shooting the film, the writers excitedly phoned Picardo to tell him that they’d come up with a great idea – the new Star Trek movie needed a cameo from the EHM! Yes, responded Picardo straight-faced – “very interesting idea”.

The crowd roared with laughter. An excellent story to round off an excellent panel.


 

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