When an actor joins the cast of a Star Trek series, they join a small and surreal club that only a few of their peers have ever experienced. It’s bound to be an overwhelming prospect: the fans, the conventions, the expectations…it’s a bit more daunting than signing on for yet another cop/doctor/lawyer show. Recently Robert Picardo spoke to StarTrek.com, reminiscing about his time spent playing the Emergency Medical Hologram on Star Trek: Voyager, and he revealed that, at first, he thought he’d gotten the worst role on the show.
Picardo tells StarTrek.com that he initially auditioned for the role of Neelix, the quirky chef and “chief morale officer” eventually played by Ethan Phillips. In retrospect he’s glad that didn’t work out. “My life would be less happy and I’d have spent 4,000 hours in a makeup chair,” says Picardo. But with the role of the Doctor (medical fixy, not timey wimey), Picardo was the last of Voyager’s main group to be cast, so he felt like a bit of an outsider, since the other actors had already formed something of a camaraderie. He also felt like the Doctor might be the least interesting character on the show, which is never a good place for an actor to begin. Here’s Picardo:
…I just had so little to do in the pilot. I remember, when I first got the role, I was telling everybody, “I got the new Star Trek pilot. I’m sure it’ll run. I’m sure it’ll put my kids through college. But I’ve got to tell you, I’ve got the worst part on the show.” That was an irony that I’ve lived with ever since. I thought I’d gotten the dull role in the show and that made the experience so much fun for me. I discovered the genre doing Star Trek. I’d done a little bit of it, but just a little. Doing Star Trek, I got to learn about it from the inside out. I got to learn what appealed to them, why sci-fi meant so much to people, why Star Trek meant so much to people. Also, I just learned that I’d gotten the outsider character without being smart enough to realize it. I assumed the Spock character on our show would be the Vulcan, would be Tim Russ. I didn’t know enough to realize that the artificial intelligence character, at least on Voyager, was the heir, the successor to that kind of role on our show. And that was very cool.
Of course, Picardo’s character ended up becoming one of the show’s most popular and interesting characters, so that just goes to show that first impressions aren’t always everything. Now Picardo looks back fondly on the show, and the fact that, once you’re a part of the Trek universe, you’re always part of the Trek universe.
t gets to be a blur, and here’s why: your memory gets distorted because, with Star Trek, we’re still constantly in the world. We’re not making Voyager anymore, but we’re still making personal appearances. People are still watching it. The fans still even review the work. It seems a little bit more present in my memory than, say, China Beach, which was a show I did until just a couple of years before Voyager started. China Beach, though, seems like something I haven’t been a part of for a very long time, because we don’t have conventions for it, I haven’t really seen or talked about it in a long time. So that feels like more of a distant memory to me than Voyager.