June 15 2024


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Picardo: Exercising Different Acting Muscles

4 min read

For Robert Picardo, working on different types of series gave him the opportunity to exercise different acting muscles.

On China Beach, a series about an evacuation hospital in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Picardo played a womanizing surgeon, Captain Dick Richard, on the series. “First of all, China Beach was an actor’s show,” said Picardo. “It was all about performance, it was very dramatic. There were moments of humor, but it was really about honest and truthful acting.”

Moving on to Star Trek: Voyager meant accessing different acting skills. “Star Trek, of course, is genre acting and sometimes you are called upon to do difficult things that involve your emotions or comic timing,” said Picardo; “but more often than not, you are spewing a lot of technical information, you are doing a lot of high-paced expositional storytelling, so it kind of exercises different muscles. Sooner or later, you get to show your stuff, as an actor in Star Trek, you get some wonderful things to do, but there are many episodes where it seems like you are simply kind of serving the story.

“I had been in horror movies, and science fiction was a relatively new genre for me to perform in, but I think it served me that the character had no precedent. I mean, Data is kind of a precedent, Brent Spiner‘s character because he was an artificial intelligence and an android. My character was a new piece of technology, he’s sort of supposed to learn and develop a bedside manner through this new kind of algorithmic interface, but that didn’t mean it had to work correctly. My new feelings, instead of being directed towards my patients, were mostly focused on me. I was more concerned how I felt, then how you felt with me treating you, so it was fun and I kind of got to establish my own rules in a way, which was really great. I think it surprised and delighted the audience that I didn’t have to behave in a familiar way. I could rise to be my better self, but also have a lot of negative qualities, and that was fun to play.”

Having the Doctor sing was a result of Picardo making a suggestion to the producers. “Through my own fault, I recommended to the producers, wouldn’t it be funny that a character, who is a technological creation, who has no emotions whatsoever, chose to be a fan of listening to opera, the most emotional form of human expression,” said Picardo. “My suggestion was really to just listen to opera while I was working in sickbay which as it turns out, they misunderstood. About a year later, after not saying really much about it, there was suddenly a script where I’m singing opera on the Holodeck. I ran across the lot to the producer’s office and said, ‘No, no, no, you misunderstood me, I wanted to listen to opera, not sing it!’ They asked, ‘Can’t you sing?’ and I said, ‘I can sing, but I’m no opera singer,’ so they said just to try and if I suck, they’ll replace my voice. So, I sang in about five or six episodes and in all of them except one, it is always my voice.”

Stargate Atlantis gave Picardo the chance to play a bad guy and he did so well that they wanted him back. “They hired me to be a one-off, a bad guy that would provide some filler material, kind of a narrative connection, as it was a clip show and they needed a narrative to weave it all together,” he said. “I was supposed to be some kind of Washington think tank guy, not in the military but like a bureaucrat, whose job is to come in and conduct an investigation of a tragic death that has happened and then assign blame, someone’s head is going to roll. I had no charisma, no sense of humor, nothing. I was kind of a corporate personality – cold, ruthless, searching for who is going to go down for this mistake. I shot all ten pages very well, I worked very hard that day and the producers, Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, and they took me to dinner and said we really like this guy.

“However, they had painted themselves in a corner by introducing me as such a colossal prick, but they had me back and every time I came back, I was the same guy but slightly less of a prick. I started to show hints of a sense of humor, some self-awareness, so they slowly began to rehabilitate the character and then eventually, they made me the Commander of the whole Atlantis expedition. It was kind of miraculous, that transformation from how I started to growing into a leader was really fun to do, and a real tribute to the writers that they pulled it off.”

So what is next for Picardo once Hollywood gears up again post-COVID-19? “I was out in L.A. shooting a number of episodes of The Family Business; Ernie Hudson is in it, it’s kind of a black Sopranos and I play his friendly rival who’s Jewish,” he said. “He looks like a sweet old man, but I’m a very bad guy and it’s fun to play a lethal guy who looks like your Uncle Morty. I was also out to guest star on Grace and Frankie, presumably I will do that when I pick up production.”

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