The Arizona Republic
January 17, 1999 / January 24, 1999
By Kate O'Hare, Tribune Media Services
© 1999 Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.

April in Paris . . . June on Vulcan, May on Mars . . . all this and more could be waiting for the crew of the starship Voyager if rumors prove true and Star Trek: Voyager, lost in the Delta Quadrant for four-and-a-half seasons so far, finds its way back home by the end of season five next spring.

"Rumor has it we're going to get back this year," says Robert Duncan McNeill, who plays Starfleet Lt. Tom Paris. "What have I heard about us getting back? Well, you know, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is going off the air this year. Paramount, (executive producer) Rick Berman and all the Star Trek people would like to continue to have Klingons and Cardassians and Romulans and all the good old aliens in new episodes that are on the air.

"So, it looks like we'll probably find a way to get back. They have kind of an arc set up for the last four episodes of the season, so we'll probably find some magical way to get back and be back home by the end of the season, so next year we can take over all the Klingon stories and stuff like that."

With the ascendancy of writer/producer Brannon Braga to executive producer this season (with Berman), Star Trek: Voyager is experiencing somewhat of a creative and ratings resurgence, remaining one of the few bright lights on an otherwise struggling UPN schedule.

As reformed bad-boy Paris, McNeill is one of the rare Star Trek: Voyager characters having an active romance (with crewmate B'Elanna Torres, played by Roxann Dawson). He also gets to appear in black and white, in a holodeck fantasy called "Captain Proton," taking on the role of a kitschy 1930s space hero.

"We've got a big show coming up in February for sweeps," McNeill says. "The whole episode is black and white. It's going to be very funny and very exciting. We run into some aliens on Voyager that scan our ship, and they think the 'Captain Proton' scenario is our real ship, so they try to make a first contact with Captain Proton rather than the real thing.

"It's funny. We try to convince them that it's not real, but we have to sort of play out the scenario."

It also gives McNeill a chance to show off Paris' lighter side. "The Captain Proton character was a great way to show off his sense of humor. Paris is really interesting to me to play, because he's got a dark side, an independent, lone-wolf side, but he's also got a real fun sense of humor. So Captain Proton has been able to exploit that."

There were also a few challenges in his romance with B'Elanna Torres last year, as efforts were made to conceal Dawson's pregnancy. "She was pretty big," McNeill says. "And we had some heavy-duty love scenes, some real close-quarters kissing and whatnot, and they seemed to be able to shoot all that stuff in close-up, keep her belly hidden and stand her behind consoles.

"She looks great, actually. My wife had a baby the same time Roxann did last year. I was having a pregnancy at work and a pregnancy at home, and couldn't seem to get away from it. Roxann looks great; she's lost all her pregnancy weight and really come back. She's very athletic."

And what's in store for the Delta Quadrant's star-crossed lovers? "Actually, Tom Paris and B'Elanna got married in this episode we just shot, although there's a sci-fi twist to it, so I won't give away the ending. But there is a wedding."

Let's see, what could it be . . . a holodeck fantasy, a dream or a rip in the space-time continuum? "Some sort of rip, yeah."

As the man who plays Voyager's shuttle expert, how does McNeill explain the starship's seemingly inexhaustible shuttle-craft supply? "Well, you know what," McNeill says with a laugh, "I'm a fast builder. That's my department, and I can turn around a shuttle in no time. I keep cranking them out, and we keep blowing them up."

Other Worlds:
In addition to starring as Lt. Tom Paris on UPN's Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Duncan McNeill, taking a cue from Star Trek: The Next Generation stars Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton, has embarked on a second career as a director.

So far, he's helmed a short film called The Battery, which he also produced, and three Voyager episodes. Did his Trek cohorts give him the respect due a director? "Do they give me respect? Are you kidding? Absolutely not. No, they've been great. I think everyone was surprised in the second season when I got to direct so early, but I spent a lot of time, the first season or two that I wasn't acting, coming in and watching filming. I sat in the editing bay, and I went to screenings with (executive producer) Rick Berman.

"I put in a lot of hours learning, and I could have been at home or out on the golf course. I think the other actors and people there at Star Trek realize that it's not just a vanity issue."

Now, he's taken on a directing job outside of Trek, and outside of his character as reformed-bad-boy Paris. "I said to my agent, 'I would love my first step directing out of Star Trek to be something that is closer to what I am, which is a family person.' I like those kinds of shows that have a real good message for kids and families."

But just because he moved out of Trek doesn't mean McNeill moved out of science fiction. A father of three - ages 8, 4 and 1 - McNeill is well acquainted with the children's cable channel Nickelodeon, and was interested in doing an episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack, a half-hour show about a girl with superpowers.

As it turned out, that show had ended production by the time McNeill went in to production company Lynch Entertainment for a meeting. But, luckily, the company had another show on Nick called The Journey of Allen Strange.

Airing Monday and Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. the half-hour series stars Arjay Smith as an alien stranded on Earth. In season two, he has lost his powers and, as a human boy, must pass tests of courage, honesty, perseverance and selflessness if he is to regain his alien abilities.

McNeill's episode, which was filmed this month and will air in the fall, is called "Allen on TV." "It's kind of a Pleasantville story, although it's very different," McNeill says, referring to the hit fantasy film about two teens sucked into a black-and-white sitcom world. "Allen becomes obsessed with watching TV. He just goes through a marathon TV-watching evening, and it starts to affect his alien energy, but he can't seem to pull himself away and eventually gets sucked into the TV."

Allen becomes part of his favorite '50s sitcom, Life With Loretta, but he soon realizes that being on TV may be dangerous. "Then he starts to melt away," McNeill says, "and turn into television snow. His body is slowly turning to static. They have to figure out a way to reverse it and get him out of the TV. So there's a big finale where they figure out a plan, lots of explosions. You must have an explosion, you must have a big finale, and we have a big one."

Shows like Allen Strange and Nick's Animorphs (about kids given the alien power to morph into animals) could be considered the children of Star Trek. Does McNeill agree?

"Absolutely," he says, "in a way. I remember hearing Arjay (Smith) once say that he based a lot of his ideas on the character Allen Strange on Data from The Next Generation. I thought that was very interesting. Brent Spiner's a wonderful actor and has really created a kind of icon in Data. So I think you're right, there. This is kind of like the children of Star Trek."

Now that he's directed Allen Strange, is McNeill a hero to his kids? "Yeah, they think I'm pretty cool. They thought I was cool when I had an action figure, but now that I'm working with Allen Strange, yeah, they think I'm pretty cool."

[Home] | [NoJava Home] | [Current News] | [Biography]
[Filmography] | [Mailing list] | [Interviews] | [Archives]
[Photo Gallery] | [RanDoM Flight] | [Awards / Vote / Legal Stuff] | [Links]

click here to find great web designs and artwork