It's been a
busy year for Lieutenant Tom Paris. Besides helming both the U.S.S Voyager
and the Delta Flyer through uncharted territory, he's been thrown into
the brig, continued his romance with B'Elanna Torres and confronted the
forces of evil as the jet-packing holo-hero Captain Proton. In conversation
with David Basson,
Robert Duncan McNeill explains how Star
Trek: Voyager's fifth season has taken both his character and the series
itself up, up and away to new creative heights.
villains beware - there's a new hero in town. Brave, smart and, erm, completely
in monochrome, Captain Proton represents the kind of space faring champion
originally envisaged by Earth's Saturday morning matinees, way back in
the 20th century. And as the star of Lieutenant Tom Paris' latest holonovel,
the jet-packing space ace is always destined to save the day, beat the
baddies and win the girl!
Since his debut
in Star Trek: Voyager's fifth season premiere, Night, Captain Proton has
swiftly become a firm favourite with the show's loyal viewers. He's proven
equally popular with Robert Duncan McNeill, who has used the innovative
holographic hero to showcase the lighter side of his familiar alter-ego,
"I think the
Captain Proton stuff is a wonderful idea for a running holodeck program,"
McNeill tells Star Trek Monthly during a break in filming on the final
episode of the fifth season, Equinox. "They originally mentioned it to
me before we started this season and I loved the idea from the beginning.
It's just so well conceived, from showing it in black-and-white to the
Thirties style art deco design and all the references to the old Flash
Gordon/Forbidden Planet kinds of science fiction movies.
think the fans get a real kick out of it," he muses, "because it pokes
a little fun at the whole genre. And I really enjoy doing those scenes,
because it gives me an opportunity to how Tom's sense of humour and his
sense of fun. It's a chance for me to be really silly!"
of Captain Proton has been just one of the many highlights which viewers
have been treated to during Star Trek: Voyager's fifth year. Under the
supervision of its newly installed Executive Producer, Brannon Braga, the
season has offered an unusually high number of bold plot lines and exciting
character developments, and has also seen the return of such popular Star
Trek stalwarts as the Borg Queen (Dark Frontier), Geordi La Forge (Timeless)
and Species 8472 (In The Flesh).
finds it hard to say whether Star Trek: Voyager's latest season has topped
its ground breaking fourth year, the actor clearly feels proud of the latest
collection of tales from the Delta Quadrant. "I feel that every season
kind of takes on a distinctive personality," he explains, "and this one
has certainly given us a new shot in the arm; a new energy level. With
Brannon Braga and the team here now, the stories have been more extreme
in their concepts. We've had some science fiction stories this year that
have really pushed the envelope a little bit.
"So I think
that's given us a real new breath of fresh air here, and has resulted in
some really memorable stories this year. There have been a lot of good
shows this season, like the 100th episode. Timeless, which was just great.
A lot of people have commented that there have beensome really memorable
episodes this year, both visually and concept wise. People really enjoy
these wild ideas like a planet made entirely of water [in Thirty Days].
One of Star Trek's strengths is the way it can explore really creative
ideas. Brannon's brought a new kind of creativity to the show, and it has
definitely felt like the Brannon Braga year."
increased emphasis on high-concept science fiction storylines, Star Trek:
Voyager's fifth season has also utilised its regular cast much more successfully
than its fourth season did. Whereas last season was dominated by Seven
of Nine, storylines have been spread far more evenly this year, with everyone
from Chakotay to Neelix all enjoying their moments in the spotlight. McNeill
admits that he felt disappointed by the way that certain characters, including
his own, were neglected last season, and explains that he is extremely
happy with the way this imbalance has been redressed this year.
"I feel that
the wealth has been spread around a lot more this season," he acknowledges.
"Especially during the first half of the season, which I think really got
back to using a variety of characters and a real complimentary group. Every
character on Voyager has a unique contribution, and I think that some of
the best shows are the ones that really take advantage of that. So, it's
been a good season in that way.
"Its a good
thing for us working on the show because everyone gets an opportunity to
stretch a little bit. I know that in the past some of the fans have missed
seeing their favourite characters a little bit. This year, however, all
the characters have had a certain amount of attention, and that's been
good for the show."
Tom Paris has
certainly benefited from the increased use of the show's ensemble cast.
Besides his regular appearances as Captain Proton, Paris has found a steady
stream of new adventures at the helm of both the U.S.S. Voyager and its
super-powered shuttle, the Delta Flyer. While the actor points to Bride
of Chaotica, Course: Oblivion and Gravity as personal highlights of the
season, he is most proud of the fact that his character has continued to
develop and grow throughout the year. "I'm very pleased that Tom is still
growing," he affirms, "because I think I would get very bored if I just
played one note all the time. As an actor, that would not be a lot of fun.
"I think we've
found a lot more nooks and crannies in the character recently," McNeill
continues. "When they first started the series, Paris was created to be
a real rebel. But everyone shied away from that very quickly, and what
frustrated me was that they didn't replace his rebelliousness with anything
else, so the character was undefined for a while. The great thing is that
the writers have now replaced Tom's rebelliousness with a sense of humour,
a sense of irony and a lightness. This is a character who views the crew's
situation and their adventures with a sense of fun, and that's been very
appealing for me to play."
insubordinate tendencies have largely been written out of the series, the
character hasn't completely turned his back on his rebellious past. This
becomes apparent in the fifth season episode Thirty Days, which sees Tom
thrown into the brig and demoted following his decision to defy orders
and take a stand for what he believes is a just cause. As far as McNeill
is concerned, the episode clarifies the balance between Paris' rebellious
qualities and his commitment to duty.
kind of fulfilled an idea that i pitched to the writers maybe a year ago,"
he reveals. "I said, 'I'd love to see an episode where Tom Paris broke
all the rules, but he did it for a cause he believed in.' In the past,
Tom usually broke the rules for no reason, and that was a mistake. That
kind of rebel is not an honourable rebel. But there are people on Earth
right now, like political activists and environmental activists, who break
the law for a reason, and that was the kind of quality I wanted to see
in Tom. He's somebody who breaks the rules for a reason, and for something
he really believes in, and he doesn't care what the rules are if he feels
he is right. I felt Thirty Days was a good episode because it showed that
quality. It was good for the character."
Trek: Voyager's writing staff may sometimes have problems grappling with
the complexities of Tom Paris' character, they've been much more assured
in their handling of Tom's relationship with his half-Klingon crewmate,
B'Elanna Torres. Their romance has been warmly embraced by the show's viewers,
most of whom would like to see a lot more of the couple together on screen.
"Tom's relationship with B'Elanna has developed into a very subtle reference,"
notes McNeill. "We don't play a lot of episodes that focus on that relationship,
because when certain situations come up, we can look at those situations
from the perspective of two people who are romantically involved and who
care about each other.
in Course: Oblivion, B'Elanna and Paris get married - albeit with a science
fiction twist. Tom then had to face the death of B'Elanna, which hopefully
will turn out to be a wonderful scene. So I think it's great to have those
two together. When the time is right, we can use that relationship to look
at situations from a different perspective.
"I don't think
it would be that interesting to follow the relationship like a soap opera,"
he asserts. "We're not just gonna play scenes about all to day-to-day emotional
roller coasters that couples go through. It's just not what Star Trek does
best. Other shows like Melrose Place do that so much better than we do.
What we do is wonderful science fiction stories, and it's great to have
a relationship in the world of Star Trek and use it in the way we do best."
enthusiasm for Tom and B'Elanna's ongoing romance, McNeill does admit that
he occasionally wishes his character hadn't made a long-term commitment
to Voyager's engineer. "There's a part of me that sometimes gets a little
jealous that Harry Kim, Chakotay and even the Doctor get to play these
wonderful episodes that are deeply romantic," he confesses. "They can play
the role of the romantic lead man, and it's not something I've had the
chance to do in quite a long time.
because [the producers] originally brought in my character into the mix
to fill that role, but then almost immediately decided that a 'ladykiller'
isn't an attractive man for the 24th century. So they decided to make Tom
probably the least [romantically] active of the men on the show, possibly
out of fear that he would otherwise send the wrong message to someone watching.
I think that's a bit of a shame, because it's always fun to play that classic
romantic leading man."
Love it or
loathe it, romance has been a big part of McNeill's assignment to the Delta
Quadrant recently. Not only has his character continued to date B'Elanna
Torres, but behind the cameras, McNeill also helmed a romantically charged
fifth season installment of Star Trek: Voyager entitled Someone To Watch
Over Me. Marking his third directorial outing on Star Trek, Someone To
Watch Over Me promises to represent a complete change of pace from his
earlier offerings, Sacred Ground and Unity.
"It's a take
on the Pygmalion story," McNeill reveals. "It's a My Fair Lady kind of
episode, with the Doctor teaching Seven how to date. It was a lot of fun,
because it was a really different sort of episode to what we normally do,
which is fight the bad guys. We have two very naive characters in terms
of love and relationships, and exploring that whole subject was very interesting.
is a romantic comedy," he explains. "In fact, it's almost a musical comedy
in a way, with singing and piano playing and things like that. There's
a fun duet with the Doctor and Seven of Nine singing You Are My Sunshine.
So we got to shoot it in a different way and play it with a bit of a twinkle
in the eye. Making the episode was a lot of fun and I think it's going
to be a really memorable show. I really enjoyed that one."
is one aspect of Star Trek: Voyager which keeps the experience fresh for
McNeill, and an occupation that he has started to pursue away from Star
Trek sound stages. Last year, he helmed a short film, The Battery. More
recently, he directed an episode of Nickelodeon's prime-time television
series, The Journey Of Alan Strange, and is set to shoot further installments
of the show during Star Trek: Voyager's hiatus. "I really love directing,"
he enthuses. "It's just great to be at the heart of the creative process.
I would really love to direct more episodes of Voyager, but our producers
have a lot of obligations and I completely understand that. I'm just grateful
to have received the chances I have with Star Trek."
hiatus, Robert Duncan McNeill is looking forward to starting work on Star
Trek: Voyager's sixth season. He remains extremely proud to be a part of
the show and savors the time he spends with his cast and crewmates. In
fact, his sole disappointment surrounding the series is that it doesn't
seem to receive the respect and appreciation it deserves from within the
entertainment industry itself. "The world of Star Trek, within the entertainment
industry, is something of a deserted island," he says. "We certainly are
a recognisable brand and viewers around the world know us very well, but
I think it's very surprising that people in the industry we work in don't
look at Star Trek actors with a whole lot of [appreciation]... it's doesn't
mean the same thing as being on Friends or ER for five years, and I think
the disparity is very frustrating.
get really annoyed when I go for a meeting and the casting director or
producer or whatever says 'So tell me about yourself. What have you been
doing?' And they have no idea. I'll say 'I've been on Star Trek for five
years,' and they're like, 'Oh wow, I haven't seen that!'.
"But you know
what? The bottom line is, I don't really care what people in the industry
think that much, because I know what we've done is great work. And when
you look at the whole picture, I'm much happier that I've been able to
do Star Trek: Voyager than most of the other shows I could think of. It's
been a really great experience.
"So I'm grateful
to have been able to be a part of it. And hopefully we'll be able to do
it for a lot longer."
the cover! See
Star Trek Monthly,
June 1999´© Star Trek Monthly