The popular Sci Fi series Stargate Atlantis is about to return with a new season this Friday night. We had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Stargate executive producer Joseph Mallozzi and actor Robert Picardo. They were kind enough to answer questions about the series, fan reactions, the characters and the upcoming season.
Since the interview’s pretty long, we cut it up into parts. Here’s the second part. (Click here for Part 1). As they talk about the new season, consider yourself spoiler-warned!
Season 5 of Stargate Atlantis will premiere on Friday, July 11, 2008 at 10:00 p.m. on the SciFi Channel
It’s great to see that Bob’s natural humor coming out in the portrayal, but is Woolsey going to be loosening up as this character arc and be less by the book as the season goes on?
Joseph Mallozzi: Well I mean, you kind of answered that question with regard to Episode 2 where he comes in and he’s essentially appointed because he is a by the book guy and someone who the IOA feels they can trust to follow protocol. And in his very first, you know, crisis situation in Episode 2 called “The Seed,” he throws the playbook out the window and quickly realizes that in the Pegasus Galaxy, you can’t just follow protocol in order to save lives and really make the right decision.
You really have to react as a situation dictates. You just kind of play it by ear and it’s like a little mini crisis for Woolsey at the episode’s end where he realizes rather than following protocol, he went against protocol. And even though the situation worked out, that’s not the point because I mean, he was not sent to the Pegasus Galaxy to just kind of play the cowboy. And then over the course of the ensuing episodes, he - you know, he - you know, the lesson becomes even more obvious, you know, when Roman goes missing. And then it’ll eventually culminate in an episode call Remnants - Episode 16 -- we’re not yet up to 15 now -- where, you know, over the course of most of the season, I mean, he did come in as an interim leader.
Over the course of the scenes they begin to just kind of accept him as a new commander of the base. But then come Episode 15, he’s suddenly up for review and the IOA is not exactly pleased with his performance because he was sent in to, just in a sense, be a pit bull but, you know, he wasn’t following procedure and his job is at stake. I kind of liken it to that first - the second episode that Bob referred to, “Inauguration,” where he played Kinsey’s pit bull and Kinsey, you know, sicked him on SG-1. And he was more than happy to do his job so long as he thought he was doing the right thing. And then near the end of the episode, he realized, you know, my gosh, I mean, I’m not doing the right thing.
Rather than just play along with Kinsey, he actually goes to see the President and comes clean with him. And that was our first step towards, I guess, rehabilitating the character and making him a character that ultimately the audience could sympathize with and grow to like. And I mean, you can argue back and forth whether he’s leadership material, but I think, over the course of season five you’ll come to realize that he is leadership material even though maybe he doesn’t realize it himself.
Have you seen any of the animation of Quantum Quest yet?
Robert Picardo: I had seen not the full animation. I’ve seen drawings and stuff, and I have recorded my part, and I’m proud to be in something that’s not only a great educational tool for kids but it stands alone as an entertainment as well and with an A-list of voice talents like Samuel Jackson and gosh, I can’t even remember.
John Travolta, yeah.
Robert Picardo: John Travolta, you know, it’s got a really good list and I play one of the principles. I play the sort of crusty, old resistance leader, I guess you’d describe him. So I think it’s a really good project. It’ll teach kids something about quantum physics while they’re watching a really cool I-MAX animated film.
And can you talk about Sensored coming out, too?
Robert Picardo: Sensored is a pretty creepy horror movie which I play the principle role in. My character seems to be, you know, your neighbor down the block who dresses like Mister Rogers in little sweater vest and keeps to himself. But upon further examination, he is torturing one or more people in the basement and may be a CIA special, you know, special coercive techniques expert or he might just think that he is. So it’s a very interesting, layered and slightly crazy guy I’m playing and you’ll be seeing it hopefully - I’d hoped the movie would be completed in time for this Halloween, but the post production schedule is taking a little longer. So you’ll hopefully see it early next year.
I wanted to find out if maybe you could talk a little bit about how Woolsey’s relationships with the other Atlantis characters has sort of developed further this year and is there one character you’re especially enjoying seeing Woolsey interact with in season five so far?
Robert Picardo: That’s a great question, Steve, because to me ultimately that’s what really makes the character interesting to the loyal viewer is how the new guys fits in and reacts uniquely with each of the other principle characters.
Off the top of my head, when Woolsey arrives, in a way he’s kind of - not intentionally, but in a way he’s coldest to Rachel’s - to Teyla’s character -- Rachel Luttrell’s character -- because her husband - the father of her child is basically being kept in a refugee camp and he’s quite insensitive to that, I think, personally and choosing security over looking really with an open heart at her specific situation. And what’s interesting is that her character is the first one to reach out to him and really be kind to him even though he is, perhaps, least sensitive to her which says something about her character. But also, I think, that disarms him all the more, that she makes the first real gesture toward him. In the episode that we have already talked about – “The Seed” -- at the end of that, I think he takes a major step in the relationship with Joe Flannigan’s Colonel Sheppard by admitting to him that he doesn’t know if he’s the right guy to run the base because he’s already broken his own rules so many times.
Joe basically says that’s the only way to do it here and kind of gives him a pat on the shoulder and says, you’re learning and perhaps you’re going to do better than we all thought - is the intimation of that moment. There’s been no particular kind of breakthrough moment, I think, with David Hewlitt’s character, Dr. McKay. I am a huge fan of David’s and he cracks me up all the time on the set. In fact, it’s very rare that I work with an actor where I’m afraid I’m going to break out laughing during a take. But he is as close as I get to making me lose it.
He is an extraordinarily funny guy, not only in the show but with these wonderful characterizations that he sort of breaks into in between takes. I haven’t had a - I don’t think I’ve had like a single pivotal moment with his character that leaps to mind. But I don’t remember the number of it. Joe Mallozzi will have to help me out with it. I think I did get it. I think it’s Ghost in the Machine where Woolsey has to basically play his first poker hand. When the chips are down and the danger is very high, he calls the bluff of the enemy and we’ve never seen Woolsey be that kind of controlled and confident before.
I think that that moment kind of catches Dr. McKay’s attention as boy, this guy has something that we didn’t expect him to have. And who else? Jason - what’s fun about relating to Jason as a character is because Ronon is set up as the man of few words and pure action. He’s a natural contrast to Woolsey who is set up as a guy who can’t stop talking and is not very experienced in the real situations. So I’m looking forward to, I think, the first show after the break, I have some very amusing scenes with Ronon where I’m trying to get him to file reports the way he’s supposed to and he hates to do that.
He obviously hates to write. He doesn’t even want to dictate the reports, you know. So I think that there are unique relationships developing between Woolsey and all the other principle characters that I think have a lot of room there for future growth.
Writing-wise, what has been the toughest episode so far for you to write this season?
Joseph Mallozzi: Right now, the one I’m working on now, “Remnants,” which really is three different stories. I mean, there’s a story involving Sheppard on the mainland. There’s a story involving Woolsey and a potential love interest, you know, in the midst of this probationary review that he’s undergoing that clearly is not - looks like it’s not going to go very well. And then there’s a third story involving McKay and Zelenka that kind of explores a bit of their friendship or some would say non-existent friendship. But I mean, there’s still that mutual respect between the two. It involves them discovering a device at the bottom of the ocean, just maybe a couple of hundred miles, you know, way from the city. And, it’s a script that jumps kind of back and forth between the three stories. As things progress, they inevitably come together and you realize that the three seemingly unrelated stories are in fact connected in a very big way.
There are a couple of instances that- particularly with regard to Sheppard - I mean, I can’t - you know, I don’t want to give too much away. Because, I don’t even know what’s going to make it to screen. But it’s very dark with regard to the Sheppard story and there are a couple of instances that a couple of the writers, my fellow writers, balked at but a couple of other writers loved as well.
I thought were very important to keep in the script that I’ll be interested to see what the network says when they read the script. Of all the scripts every script is a challenge but I think this one in particular has been particularly challenging. We’ll see what the network has to say and what the rewrite will look like.
I think yesterday, the Screen Actors Guild said that they don’t seem to be pursuing a strike, but if there was a strike, would Stargate be as immune to it as they were with the Writers Strike or is this something that might actually affect it if this were to happen?
Joseph Mallozzi: Oh no, it will definitely affect the show. I mean, the majority of our regulars are SAG. I believe we could do the show with Zelenka and Lorn which I’m sure a lot of the fans would like but after two or three episodes, I think they will get a hankering to see our regulars. So, in response to your question – yes a SAG strike will affect production.
How far are you into fifth season? Is it just the first ten or are you guys actually working on the back ten now?
Joseph Mallozzi: Now, we’re actually working on the back five. We prep Episode 15 when we come back, hopefully on schedule we’ll shoot 15 and then we’ll finish up those last four along with our big 100th episode which will fall 20 this year.
So there were no special preparations or anything to maybe accelerate a shooting schedule before a strike?
Joseph Mallozzi: No. I mean, our shooting schedule -- I’m sure Bob can attest to this fact -- is fairly accelerated as it is. We shoot fairly quickly and we’re always pulling up days. I believe actually we were kind of scheduled to finish 13, but we managed to pull up an episode and get 14 in the can before the start of hiatus. So, we did the best we can. Hopefully, like I said, we’ll come back on schedule and shoot, and finish up the rest of the season on time.
And with Amanda Tapping departing the show, when did you guys know that that was happening? How far were you in planning or maybe even breaking stories for the fifth season? Did you know that or was there always kind of a plan to maybe move away from having the Samantha Carter character in the fifth season?
Joseph Mallozzi: No, no. There wasn’t really a plan to move away. But, I believe at the time we were at the point where we’re breaking stories I believe, but we were certainly spinning them when Amanda gave us the call. There was talk of maybe her bouncing back and forth between the two productions and thought it was just, at the end of the day, totally unfeasible. We said look, we love your character but you have to make the call and she made the call. I know it was a hard decision for Amanda and, we were sorry to see her go.
As I said, her departure also presented us with a great opportunity to bring Bob over and it’s one thing I’ve said over and over again, Amanda made her decision clear and we knew that we weren’t going to have her back for season five, there really was no short list of candidates to consider. It was Bob Picardo. I talked about it with Paul and he basically came to the same conclusion so I just picked up the phone and gave Bob a call in LA. And I asked, hey, what would you think about coming over and being a regular? And I was solely prepared for him to say are you kidding? I’ve got a family here and in California spend a year with you guys. But I’m happy to say that he was more than amenable.
Robert Picardo: You know what it is? It’s that my children are old enough and my wife and I have been married long enough that they’re happy to see me out of the house.
And Bob, just one quick question for you and I’m sorry it’s not exactly Stargate related. Even I can’t wait to see you in the fifth season. But it was announced a couple of days ago that Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas was shutting down and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about that since that has been around for so long?
Robert Picardo: We’ve been kind of expecting it because I think the hotel changed hands and I think they’ve been eyeing that large amount of retail space lustfully for some time. So I’m not surprised. It breaks my heart a little bit to no longer be my own theme park ride. You know, once you’ve had action figures for years. There’s very few ways to go up. And being a theme park attraction is one of the only ones. So I guess I just have to hope that Atlantis has a theme park ride in the future and that I will be at least some small part of it.
A question for Joe - you were kind of talking about it just a little bit here in that last question but how do you try and maintain stability in the overall story you want to tell and the direction you want to take the show with the - so much change in the cast over the last couple of seasons?
Joseph Mallozzi: We go season by season really. It’s not like a, I guess, a bigger game plan in terms of several seasons down the line. At the end of every season we leave with usually our season cliffhanger and we kind of have more or less an idea of where we want to pick things up with the first episode. We’re really not that much beyond that. And then, hopefully we get the call from the network that tells us we’re coming back for another season. And after taking maybe a couple weeks off, we come back together and, we spin out ideas and we say okay, this is what we’d like to do for the season.
Sometimes it’s a very clear idea of what we want to do in terms of sort of a broad picture. In the case of season five, for instance, we wanted to open things up in the Pegasus Galaxy and that’s the game plan we went into for the season and as well, introduce Richard Woolsey as the new commander, and deal with Teyla’s role as a mother and adventure. That’s another thing we wanted to deal with along with some various other smaller stories.
Season four was a little different in that we came in and we knew we wanted to give the spotlight to each character and have them have their own separate storyline. So we started on kind of a micro-scale and worked our way to the macro where we came in and we pitched up story ideas and those story ideas kind of dictated what the general theme of season four would be. The Wraith/Replicator war being a big one and sort of the weakening of the Wraith over the course of the season. And of course, one of the storylines that was dictated to us was the Teyla pregnancy that Rachel came in at the beginning of the season and we had planned to sort of go a little dark side with her character, and make her a little more colorful.
When she announced her pregnancy we thought okay, well I mean, we could either continue with the storyline and shoot around the pregnancy -- which frankly, never really works in television -- or we could just embrace it and make her character pregnant which is what we did. And I think the storyline worked out very well. It dovetailed nicely with missing Ethosian storyline and ultimately Michael’s designs on Teyla and the baby.
So, we go from season to season. Hopefully, the cast that we have now is a cast that we’re going to keep for many seasons to come. But, who knows?
What is the future possibility of ever seeing Tori Higginson back as Dr. Weir again?
Joseph Mallozzi: To be honest, I think it’s highly unlikely. I mean, I kind of outlined sort of the situation where, you know, last season, you know, she came in and did a couple of guest spots for us and she was terrific, and she seemed very excited about the prospect of coming back. We pitched out the idea of the possibility of her coming back in and continuing the Replicator storyline which she seemed very excited about.
Carl went off and he wrote the script and ultimately we contacted her about doing it. Initially she was a little reluctant and perhaps maybe thinking about her fans she was wondering if maybe there was a way to sort of create some sort of closure for her character. Although, we kind of wanted to keep the character alive, if basically she wanted closure then we would be willing to give her closure. And we told her, and then she was still reluctant so we ended up sending her a script to review, and ultimately she passed.
It’s too bad. We would’ve loved to have her come back and see her on the show but I think at this point kind of she’s moved beyond this show and is looking elsewhere. So, you know, we wish her the best of luck. Like I said, she did a terrific job for us when she was here doing her three guest spots last season. Unfortunately we won’t see her again in season five. But again, it was her choice and we respect her decision.
You mentioned earlier, a breaking up on set with working with David Hewlett. Is there any anecdotes or funny stories that you could share from your time on the set so far?
Robert Picardo: Well, the problem is that he does this sort of slacker character, sort of a nerd, technology geek character that makes me laugh. But I can’t quite do it myself. I suppose after I’ve been around him a little longer, I’ll have my own version of it. But he just riffs as this character and it just makes me laugh. So I’m sorry I can’t gratify you with my impression yet, but I need more time.
As one of the brain children behind the awesome 200th episode of SG-1, can you tell us what you have in store for the epic 100th episode of Atlantis?
Joseph Mallozzi: Well I mean, I’ll be totally honest. We all wrote our different segments in 200 but the overall idea for 200 came from Robert C. Cooper. And when he pitched it out in the room, I thought he was joking. And then I thought it was crazy. But as it turned out, it was an episode that really worked out well and the fans loved it. I mean, in the case of SG-1, though, the 200th episode fell, I believe Episode 6 of the season. And so we could do it a little more comedic, much along the same lines as we did for Episode 100 of SG-1 which I think fell Episode, I think 5 or 6 of season - I believe season four.
In the case of Atlantis, though, the 100th episode falls in the 20 slot and as much as the temptation is there to make it kind of an off-the-wall kind of weird, fun episode, we really feel that because it is the season finale and hopefully not a series finale -- but you never know -- we want to go big and we want to go a little more serious. So don’t expect another 200 romp but expect a - I guess something big along the lines of - again, I refer back to our season premiere, for back to last year’s season finale and I refer back to “Be All My Sins Remembered” last year as the second part of last year’s midseason two-parter. So, not so funny but something that the fans will, I’m sure, really enjoy.
And do you plan on shooting an alternative ending then for the season finale just in case, god forbid, it gets canceled?
Joseph Mallozzi: No, no, no, no. We’re feeling positive.
Since most of the earthly (flecks) are gone from our Galaxy, why hasn’t Dr. Jackson made a permanent transition to Atlantis since we worked so hard on finding the city?
Joseph Mallozzi: Well that’s a very good question and hopefully that’s something that will be addressed in the midseason two-parter. But I mean, Jackson is a busy guy and in our minds over the course of the many years that SG-1 has been going off world together, a ton of alien technology a lot of it is Atlantian origin or ancient origin. As much as Daniel’s first choice would be to go to Atlantis, at the end of the day it’s going to be a notice in rising - it’s not really his call. And so long as the powers that be dictate where he can go and for research purposes where he’s needed more like - is a more apt response, you know, he’s kind of stuck in the Milky Way. But if we get a sixth season pick up, who knows what the future holds?
Does Woolsey see a lot of action in the field this season?
Robert Picardo: I see quite a bit of action, yes and I won’t say that most of it’s in the field. I would say that it’s in the times when the action comes to Atlantis. In fact, as soon as we’re back, I won’t say what it is but I think I have quite a bit of action one of our first days back.
You’re thrown into the thick of it?
Robert Picardo: Yeah.
Do you plan on bringing Jill Wagner’s character back?
Joseph Mallozzi: We wanted to bring Jill Wagner’s character back for the midseason two-parter, but she was unavailable because she was working on, I think it was Wipeout on ABC.
I talked to Jill and I told her that she was awesome on the show and I was like, are they going to bring you back? And she was like well we’ll see. So now I’m trying to find out.
Joseph Mallozzi: We haven’t killed her off and frankly, even if we had killed her off that from our track record, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s gone for good. So, no, she’s still out there. And, again, hopefully if there is a season six there’s the potential to bring her back. So sure, yeah, why not?