[caption id="attachment_1033" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Robert Picardo as Stargate Atlantis' Richard Woolsey. Photo by F. Scott Schafer and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
From Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years to Dr. Richard on China Beach and Star Trek: Voyager's Holographic Doctor, Robert Picardo has carved out a niche for himself playing a host of diverse, interesting and believable characters on TV as well as in feature film and the theater. The actor's small screen credits also include Richard Woolsey, a bureaucrat who made his debut in the Stargate SG-1 story Heroes, Part 2. His negative report on Stargate Command made him some enemies at the SGC, but Woolsey subsequently redeemed himself by following his conscience and not protocol. Still, our heroes on Stargate Atlantis were apprehensive when in the fifth season he was placed in charge of the Ancients city. Once again, though, Woolsey made some decisions that eventually earned him the respect and trust of those around him.
"My character started out on Atlantis as the jerk we remembered him being, but he quickly realized that he needed to toss out the rulebook," notes Picardo. "There's a story early on in season five called Ghost in the Machine, which is Woolsey's first really heroic episode involving a Cuban Missile Crisis-type scenario where he stares down the enemy, and the enemy blinks first when calling his bluff. It's a really nice, charged scene, and what I enjoyed about it when we shot it is that even though he's completely poker-faced in this time of crisis, when it's over you can see that Woolsey had nearly pooped his pants," jokes the actor. "That huge exhalation of relief after the fact is what helps define him. This is the first time he has succeeded in pulling something like this off, and that, to me, is what made his development far more interesting because you see him brick by brick build himself into a leader.
[caption id="attachment_1034" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Mr. Woolsey stares down the enemy in "Ghost in the Machine." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"The real acting challenge with a character like this is just to keep the integrity of what you've done before. Every actor likes to be liked. It's easier to try to be liked as a human being as opposed to keep that mask up that puts some people off. I've played characters that, as an actor, you initially don't like, but then grow to like despite that first impression. Whatever led to them having that sort of arrogant or officious and intimidating veneer, you come to see cracks in it and realize that there is some kind of neurotic motivating force that makes them act in such a way. Then you will learn to 'laugh' at that and enjoy the dramatic tension between their behavior and what's behind it.
"I think that's what appeals to the viewers about someone like Woolsey. He's not just the completely well-adjusted ass he wants to be, do you know what I mean? My character has a certain desire to relate better to people, and, ultimately, his most redeeming quality is that he passionately believes in being a good leader. He wants that more than anything else, but he doesn't know how to do it. Woolsey is learning, however, and as I've said, viewers see him wanting to grow into a leader, which I feel really redeems him. I can't suddenly turn my character into this intrepid, steely guy; it wouldn't make sense. I can, though, turn him into someone who can fool the enemy into thinking he's intrepid and steely, and that's the cool part of this job."
[caption id="attachment_1037" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) and Woolsey in the season five episode "The Seed." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Of all the people who Woolsey is now responsible for, the first one to befriend him is Teyla (Rachel Luttrell). "The confession by my character to her in Broken Ties of how much he loved his dog is a really sweet moment," says Picardo. "It actually reminds me a little bit of The Doctor and Kes [Jennifer Lien] early on in Voyager where he was sort of a puffed up, closed off guy making small confessions of his burgeoning humanity to his coworker. That's something he would never do with the rest of the crew,but he seems to be able to let Kes in on these little things and take her in as his confidant.
"That scene in Atlantis reminded me of that because it's a whole trust issue," continues the actor. "Teyla could have gone off and ridiculed him to the others. She could have said, 'This idiot told me how much he loved his dog, and that he not only lost his wife [in a divorce], but he couldn't even hold onto a dog.' However, I think Woolsey senses immediately in Teyla that she's the most open and what-you-see-is-what-you-get of all the crew, so he chooses to confide in her. Later, when she has to rush off on a mission, she entrusts her baby to him to hand off to her husband, and he's never held a baby before. That was very adept of the writers to kind of open the door to the audience getting to know Woolsey in a different way and accept him together with the fact that he's occasionally going to rub people the wrong way because that kind of conflict is fun. It's also common [dramatic] fodder and has ongoing story possibilities."
Like his predecessors, Woolsey occasionally strays beyond the Atlantis city limits to offer off-world support to his people. In the Atlantis mid-year two-parter First Contact and The Lost Tribe, he ends up in a tight spot when the Daedalus is commandeered by Todd the Wraith (Christopher Heyerdahl), who believes that he and his people have been betrayed by the humans. For Picardo, this resulted in some additional, and welcome, acting challenges.
[caption id="attachment_1040" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Colonel Steven Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi) and Woolsey assess the situation onboard the Daedalus in "First Contact." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"In this instance, Woolsey faces another life-and-death situation where once again I tried to keep the integrity of the character intact," he says. "There's a point where it looks as though he's about to be fed upon by the Wraith, and I did my best to create some genuine fear of being in that moment, rather than the sort of unwavering resolve that we might see from Colonel Sheppard [Joe Flanigan]. I don't know how the scene was cut together in the episode, but I thought it was both scary and funny at the same time.
"With this two-parter there are some other amusing moments where my character, who also wants to build himself up into a great Barack Obama-style elocutionist, looks for a way to raise everyone's spirits by saying here's what's important about what we're doing right now. So Woolsey is trying to learn how to recognize the moment and rally the troops through these inspiring speeches, which, of course, he can't do. If you remember, when he first arrives in Atlantis, he doesn't make any type of speech, and Sheppard [jokingly] says, 'Good speech, very inspiring.' The show's writers play upon that a couple of other times later on in the season where Woolsey recognizes that public speaking isn't one of his gifts and he's trying to learn how to do it. However, it doesn't happen overnight. And in The Lost Tribe it's not even that he fails, but rather that he's cut off by Todd, who's like, 'Shut up and let's get down to business.'
[caption id="attachment_1041" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Woolsey and Dr. Keller (Jewel Staite) take up arms to help Ronon (Jason Momoa) take on Todd and his fellow Wraith in "The Lost Tribe." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"So I think the writers definitely kept weaving the threads of Woolsey's growth as a leader throughout season five of Atlantis. Another episode I think was a nice surprise for viewers was our clip show - and I hate to call it that - Inquisition, because Woolsey's legal skills end up saving the day. If you saw the episode, you know that our main group are held against their will and put on trial for supposed war crimes. When my character finds out that this is more or less a kangaroo court and his people have no possibility of getting a fair trial, he goes in and uses his legal skills to outwit the lawmakers on this planet. But he can't do it by playing fair. Woolsey basically has to play as dirty as they did, so I thought that was a great story."
On Voyager, Picardo's holographic alter ego had more than one chance to engage in a romantic encounter. Woolsey is given the same opportunity in the season five Atlantis episode Remnants, but as is often the case on the show, all is not as it seems.
[caption id="attachment_1042" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Richard Woolsey prepares himself for court in "Inquisition." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel "][/caption]
"My character meets an attractive woman, Dr. Vanessa Conrad, who seems very interested in him, which I think throws him a bit because he's been divorced for some time and leading a very work-oriented life," explains Picardo. "His initial response to her is that of a man who hasn't been flirted with by a woman for so long that he doesn't even recognize it when it happens. Anna Galvin, the actress who played Dr. Conrad, was absolutely delightful, and it turns out that there's a surprise about her character, who also has a secret agenda. As a result, the story ends up being about something else, but it gave me the opportunity for some humorous moments because of another plot twist where it looks like Woolsey has an imaginary friend. So there's a certain amount of concern that he's losing his marbles," chuckles the actor.
"The other interesting aspect of my character's involvement in this story is that he is having his leadership evaluated in the same way that has evaluated others. A representative from the IOA [International Oversight Authority] has been sent to evaluate his leadership of Atlantis thus far, so the shoe is on the other foot and he appears to be having some kind of mental breakdown at the same time. Woolsey's story line is one of three unfolding in this particular episode. There's a whole different plot involving Sheppard that is very dark and dramatic, and another with Dr. McKay [David Hewlett] and Dr. Zelenka [David Nykl]. And what's really wonderful about this story is that at the end, the three separate plots that seem totally unrelated are suddenly linked in an unusual way.
[caption id="attachment_1046" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ronon (Jason Momoa) and Woolsey in a scene from the fifth season story "The Prodigal." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"So there's a lot going on, and this episode was terrific fun to shoot. [Executive producer] Joe Mallozzi wrote a really good script, and it's wonderful for my character because the audience sees stuff with him that they haven't as yet seen. It's also great to see a middle-aged bald guy hit on by an attractive woman. This woman clearly looks beyond Woolsey's soul, which she finds very attractive. It's one of those hey-this-might-still-happen-to-me-type fantasies with guys everywhere," he says smiling.
Unfortunately, Richard Woolsey's TV tenure was cut short when Atlantis was not renewed for a sixth season. A made-for-DVD Atlantis movie is in the works, and in the meantime Picardo's schedule has been as busy as ever. Along with guest-spots on Chuck, Pushing Daises and Castle, the actor has completed work on four feature films, Chasing the Green, Confined, Trail of Blood and Sensored. He has also been collaborating with noted writer/director Travis Oates, who also runs the Acme Theatre, on a new Internet venture.
[caption id="attachment_1047" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Robert Picardo and Paul McGillion (Dr. Carson Beckett) during the closing scene of Atlantis' finale "Enemy at the Gate." Photo by Eike Schroter and copyright of the Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"It's called The B Team, which is basically about CSI forensic examiners who aren't quite as good," jokes Picardo. "We're going to be shooting vignettes and put them up on the Acme Comedy Theatre website in the hopes we can sell a semi-improvised comedy show. I love the character we've developed for me in our little staff of investigators, so I would watch for The B Team to start showing up in the not-so-distant future."
Steve EramoAs stated above, photos by Eike Schroter and F. Scott Schafer and courtesy of/copyright of the Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!