Paris in the Springtime
A Star Trek Monthly Interview by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Mrtin.

Robert Duncan McNeill looks relatively rested as he sits in front of our microphones, despite the fact that he was filming the latest Star Trek: Voyager episode a few days ago, then faced a phalanx of reporters at a television critics tour. Now, we're in Portland, Oregon, where he's flown in and is scheduled to speak at a Star Trek Creation Convention. And for the first time, he's accompanied by his lovely wife, Carol.

Leaning back in his distressed leather jacket and running his fingers through his spiky blond hair, 'Robbie' (as he's known on the set) gestures towards his partner. "You can interview my wife if you want," he says smiling. She quickly demurs. "My wife never comes to Star Trek conventions with me," he explains. "We got here and she looked out the hotel window and there was someone down there dressed just like my character. My colours, and my hair style..." he shakes his head, grinning.

That character is, of course, Lieutenant Tom Paris, the U.S.S. Voyageis bad boy pilot and, most recently, the husband of half-Klingon engineer B'Elanna Torres. McNeill couldn't be much happier about where bis character has gone in the seventh - and final - season of Star Trek: Voyager. I think this has been a really good season for my character. He's gotten to do some good shows. A lot of this stuff has to do with B'Elanna, obviously."

That would be the cue for us to ask about the wedding that we didn't see in Drive. "You know why there was no wedding? It's because we saw a wedding with Tom and B'Elanna in another episode [Course: Oblivion] that wasn't real," explains McNeill. It was the cloned ship, the Demon ship. And then we melted.

I guess everybody felt that since we already had a wedding with Tom and B'Elanna," he continues, with all the traditional wedding vows and the marching in and all, why do it again? Why not think of another way to do it? Even though I know that there are romantics out there and sentimental people who'd love to see them marching down the aisle, I thought it was very clever. You have this whole episode [Drive] where you think they're about to break up, and then all of a sudden, they're pulling away just married, with the cargo containers on strings behind them."

The audience is well aware that Tom and B'Elanna have been frisky with each other for quite some time before their marriage, so is there any other news McNeill wants to impart? I know B'Elanna and I are supposed to have a baby," he says, confirrning Roxarm Dawson's bombshell from STAR TREK Monthly Issue 74. "That's pretty big news. We can talk about that. B'Elanna gets pregnant, and we're going to have a baby."

But with the elasticity of time on the series, when will she give birth? "That'll  happen probably in one of the last episodes, if not in the last episode," he reveals, "That may be what happens for us as we're getting home." McNeill stops himself for a moment as we look at him as if he's dropped another bombshell. I assume we'll get home; that seems like the logical conclusion. I think we will.

Before we can badger him with questions about the end of the series, he moves back into safe territory. "The whole point, I think, of this season for B'Elanna and Tom, is to really bring them to the next level of maturity and of responsibility for them both to sort of let go of their demons, of this sort of rebellious side - that both of them have - and find in each other this responsibility and maturity. I think that's the whole point of this season, with us getting married, with us having the baby, and bringing back to the Alpha Quadrant this whole new life from this great adventure that we've had for seven years. Its kind of symbolic that way."

McNeill has been behind the camera for several of ST.VOY's episodes, serving as director on the third season's Sacred Ground and Unity, the fifth year's Someone to Watch Over Me, and this season's Body and Soul. In that latter story, the Doctor has to download himself into Seven of Nine's cortical system, and the ex-Borg crewmember takes on his personality and mannerisms as a result.

"It was just great fun," McNeill says, smiling. "It was slapstick, a broad, physical comedy. It had all those fun elements of spoofing Bob Picardo's performance as the Doctor. lt was an usual episode; in a lot of ways for us because of that, and certainh- different for Jeri to play. She had to really study Bob and the Doctor and find real specific things that would communicate what we were doing, and also have fun with it, find the right moments to make it funny.

I'll tell you one of the secrets behind that episode," he confides. "They wrote this episode, and everyone, including Jeri Ryan, was quite nervous, because it meant that Jeri had to impersonate Bob Picardo quite well for it to work. And not that Jeri isn't a wonderful actress, but impersonations are a different sort of thing, and it's very hard. So, we worked very hard on this.

'Bob Picardo was very generous in actually taking the script - I went inside Bob's trailer one day, he came in especially for this - and he read the scenes that were written for Jeri to play, as himself. You know what I mean? So, if Jeri was going to have to pretend to be the Doctor in a scene, Bob read that scene for me and I filmed it with my little home camera. And I studied what Bob did. Not that we copied every inflection and everything, but it was such a smart thing for everybody to agree to do, because that way Jeri got to look at it and say, 'Well, I like this, I don't really like that, that's a good idea.'

"So we really worked hard on finding real specific stuff that Bob would do. Little moments where he'd puff up or something. Little inflections, little pauses that he'd give before lines that were things that the Doctor does. By the time it got to the set when we were shooting the scenes, Jeri felt very comfortable. She had heard Bob doing scenes, and she had picked out what she wanted to use. And I thought it was great. It was a lot of fun to do that episode."

Speaking of fun, McNeill recently had His own spot of humour on-set. "I did something the last day I worked," he imparts conspiratorially. "We were goofing off in rehearsal, and there was this moment when I'm driving, and it's a typical moment, I'm saying, 'We're going to explode in five, four, three.. .' and I'm saying something like 'Prepare for impact.' And in rehearsal when I got to that line, I broke down like .. . I was going to say like a girl," he pauses, then thinks better of it: 'Like a Talaxian Haughs].

"But anyway, we're rehearsing and Kate [Mulgrew - Janeway] thought that was so funny and she said to me, 'Do that when they're rolling. I dare you.' She's done that to me before. She dares me, and I have to do it, of course. Everybody else thinks this is a real take. Of course, I know that when I get to that last line, I'm going to ruin the whole take. So we're doing the close-up, and we get to that, 'in five, four, three... [screams in a childish, hysterical voice] Prepare for impact!' Everybody just cracked up. And the director printed it!"

McNeill and the others know there isn't much time left for goofing off on set. So, the big question on everyone's mind is still, will the U.S.S. Voyager get home? Will the characters resolve their conflicts (such as the difficulties in the relationship Tom has with bis father, Admiral Owen Paris)?

"A lot of people are asking, 'Hows it going to end? Are we going to meet Janeways old boyfriend from Earth? Are we going to meet B'Elanna's parents, or Tom's father?' Honestly, I think that what's unique about our series as opposed to the other shows is that - almost since the opening frame of this thing, except for some brief backstory in the pilot - we were catapulted into this whole new world immediately."

McNeill takes a breath and dwells on the thought for a moment. I would like to see that sustained until the last moment. To me, the adventure of getting home, the success of getting home, would be a great bookend. But literally, the last moment, the last scene, should almost be, 'Well, here we all are together alone for the last moment, and we're going to walk through the door, and you're going to see your dad, and we're going to bring this baby through, and we're going to be back, and Harry, you're going to see your mom and dad, and this is what we've heard about for seven years.' But I don't want to really see it. I think it's better in everyone's minds to imagine what happens for Tom Paris afterwards, to imagine what happens. To me, that's more poetic and more dramatic and more appropriate for a show that's been completely on its own for seven years."

Beyond how the series is going to end for the characters, McNeill has to consider how it's going to end for the cast and crew. After all, he's been working with these people for seven years now.

"There's very mixed feelings," he decides. "On one hand, it's so nice to have this family of Star Trek and the security of a job, and with my family and everything, it's great to have something that's stable, which is such a luxury. That part I'm going to miss, that security. But on the other hand, it's exciting, with all of the foundations that I've hopefully laid for the future, to be able to now take some of these opportunities that I've had to pass on over the last few years as a director, as an actor."

Indeed, McNeill already has offers to direct episodes of Dawson's Creek, and a turn behind the camera at Roswell seems likely as well. Could Paramount Pictures have plans for him to direct for the fifth Star Trek television series, now in developrnent? i would absolutely love a chance to come back. That would be a great opportunity, to come back and see all the people I've worked with, and continue that association with the Star Trek family. I'd love to stay connected to it in some way."

With the end drawing nearer, McNeill and his costars are starting to feel "very sentimental and very emotional. Yesterday, I was with the whole cast. We had a thing called the Television Critics' Association, a big convention in Pasadena. And we were up on stage, all together, and the critics are asking us about the last season, and we're getting sentimental. Kate was speaking to them at one point about seven years, and about how you can't put into words the experiences you've had over seven years, and she kind of turned to us for a moment and started to get all choked up. I can't believe how fast it's flown by."

McNeill knows that Star Trek will always be with him, through his other acting and directing jobs, but he admits that the association won't bother him.
I think it's great," he states. 'I think everyone who becomes an actor (or a creative person of any kind... somewhere in your desire to be a creative person is also a desire for some kind of recognition - to be remembered in some way, to leave a mark through your creativity. I1 never started out wanting to be an actor, thinking, 'l want to be a Star Trek actor,' but the fact that I've done something that I think will be remernbered by quite a few people and kept, alive in some way, probably 'til alter I'm gone... '

And then his voice trails oft, and Robbic McNeill smiles. 

Copyright Star Trek Monthly