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Brave New Woolsey
Beware SPOILERS for Season Five of Stargate Atlantis in this interview!

The character who began as an in-your-face, pencil-pushing bureaucrat is now the newest commander of the Atlantis base. I.O.A. agent Richard Woolsey, once a thorn in the side of Stargate Command, is ready to take charge of the expedition -- and veteran actor Robert Picardo is more than ready to play the part.

In GateWorld's exclusive interview, Picardo talks about how he originally came to be cast as Mr. Woolsey five years ago, and how a seemingly flat antagonist became a recurring character. He also discusses Woolsey's need to reinvent himself now that he has taken command of the Atlantis expedition. Finally, the actor reflects on why he loves Stargate, comparing it to his years on Star Trek: Voyager.

GateWorld's interview with Robert Picardo runs approximately 30 minutes. Listen online at your leisure, download it to your MP3 player, or subscribe to the iTunes podcast! The full interview is also transcribed below.

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GateWorld: For, I'm Darren Sumner -- I'm here with Mr. Robert Picardo, one of my favorite science fiction icons, now on Stargate Atlantis!

Robert Picardo: I don't want to interrupt, because you're doing really well. I like the sound of that! I am, in fact, the new commander. In fact, when I call my agent now, they say, "It's the commander."

GW: First, take us back to your original casting as Richard Woolsey back in the seventh season of SG-1.

RP: I was up in Vancouver working on another show. I'm not even certain what it was. It might have been Tales From the Crypt. No! I remember. It was the new The Outer Limits. I was up doing The Outer Limits, that's it. And I got a call from my agent saying, "How do you like the weather up there?" And I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "You've been offered a one-day guest star on Stargate SG-1."

Picardo first appeared as Woolsey in SG-1's "Heroes, Part 2," making demands of SGC personnel at a particularly tender time.
And of course I was familiar with the show from when I was a Showtime subscriber. And I think it had recently moved to the SCI FI Channel, and I don't think I had seen it in a little while. But I said, "It sounds great!"

And it was a very dialogue heavy, one-day shoot. Because I had a commitment to fly to England like a day or two later. So they had to shoot all my stuff in one day.

GW: This was for "Heroes" ...

RP: This was for "Heroes." Which was apparently an episode that was 10 minutes long. And the material was so good that rather than cut it, they decided to expand it into a two-parter, starring Saul Rubinek, who is one of my favorite character actors. He's just great.

And, in any case, I got the script, and he's basically this hard guy. You know, just this functionary with a tough, investigative exterior that was sent in to assign blame. Because the doctor had died tragically and he thought somebody's head had to roll. So I didn't have a lot of personality. I was just very mistrustful of everyone, and came in and interviewed everyone so that I could decide whether or not there needed to be a fuller investigation.

And everybody was real nice to me. And the other actors were very warm and supportive. And the producers ... one of the producers at that time had given me one of my first TV-movie jobs years before. So it was a fun environment. I didn't think much of it. The shoot went well. I said "Thanks!" and goodbye.

GW: And they brought you back right away!

RP: They brought me back right away -- which surprised me, only because the character seemed conceived of as kind of a one-time bad guy. But then the second time they brought me back, I still was not a bundle of charm. But I was acting at the behest of the evil Senator Kinsey.

GW: "Inauguration."

RP: Exactly. And [I] didn't know that I was being manipulated. That episode, they began their rehabilitation of the Woolsey character by showing that he really meant well and had a passion about the importance of having civilian oversight of secret military operations. And felt that it was extremely important to keep it from spinning out of control, or having the wrong people, ironically, getting control of it.

So once they showed that I really meant well, and I had quite a nice scene at the end of the show with William Devane playing the president, where I said, "I know you made certain deals in order to get elected, and here's some information about whether or not you're kind of in bed with the wrong people, without knowing it."

By the end of Season Seven Woolsey begins to sing a different tune.
And then by that time, I'd made some friends up here, and they kind of liked having me around. So they started writing other appearances. And they gave Woolsey a regular function, which was great. He became the new I.O.A. liaison. So that gave me kind of a regular reason to show up and annoy people. But still, the character was ... I don't want to say he was non-dimensional, but he basically came in as a conflict character. As a problem. And sort of the guy who was the ultimate bureaucrat, who came in and told everybody what they were doing wrong. A certain think-tank personality. He wasn't used to working in the real world himself. Just simply evaluating others who were.

And then the character has been developed over certain other episodes over on SG-1, and then even spun over to Atlantis as a recurring guest character. And then they started to build a little humor in, which was nice. In the episode "The Scourge," we got to see the fact that in the real situation, Woolsey was not quite so confident and on his game as he was in the conference room.

GW: [Executive producer] Joe Mallozzi sites the "running with your arms pumping" scene as the one that just made him laugh out loud.

RP: [Laughter] Well, actually, I rarely make myself laugh. But when I saw that scene, I laughed as well. I was hell-bent on being the first one saved.

GW: So do you think Woolsey has grown as a character over the last four or five years?

RP: Oh, absolutely! And as I said, it's mostly a credit to the writers deciding they wanted to make the character more dimensional. Give him some comic foibles. Give him an awareness that he rubs people the wrong way, and perhaps can't quite help it.

There was a nice little moment in a scene from last season where I come to evaluate Colonel Carter's command. And I say something to Amanda Tapping like, "It's been brought to my attention that I sometimes rub people the wrong way." And the line just kind of hangs there ... like Uncle Mitch's after-dinner fart [Laughter] where no one can quite acknowledge [it]. And then there's simply a bump in the conversation and then we move on. And I thought that was a major step for Woolsey. To admit publicly that he knows that social graces are not his strong suit.

And it's yet to be explained, thus far in the episodes we've shot, why exactly that he wanted this position. Because he's always evaluated other people's command. And there's been no indication that he envied or aspired to be the leader himself.
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