Robert Duncan McNeill:
The actor-director on directing ďBody and Soul,Ē Tom Paris and his post-Trek future.

November 13, 2000
by Anna L. Kaplan

Robert Duncan McNeill is, once again, having a busy season this last year of Star Trek: Voyager. Heís already directed his fourth episode, "Body and Soul," for November sweeps. Like the show McNeill directed during Voyagerís fifth season, "Someone To Watch Over Me," this episode focuses on the Doctor (Robert Picardo) and Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan)ówith a twist. While on an away mission with Seven and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), circumstances force the Doctor to hide his program in Sevenís Borg circuitry. The Doctor is inside Sevenís body, in a manner of speaking.

"The Doctor is kind of hiding out in Seven," explains McNeill. "Itís really a story about how that affects Seven, what happens and the chaos that ensues, and the mistaken identities that are happening all around. Itís just a lot of fun. I think the best way to say it is that the Doctor does have to hide out, and Seven does give him a hand. Itís an action-comedy."

McNeill also praises his guest cast for the episode, including Megan Gallagher. Gallagher, who may be best known to genre audiences as Catherine Black in Millennium (1996-1998), has appeared twice on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in "Invasive Procedures" and "Little Green Men." "We had some great guest stars," says McNeill. "Megan Gallagher, who is very well known, plays the second in command on the alien ship, and the Doctor has some feelings for her character. He is hiding out, and starts becoming attracted to her a bit, and the captain on the alien ship starts to fall for Seven. Itís almost like Midsummer Nightís Dream and everyone falling for the wrong person."

The teleplay for "Body and Soul" was written by Eric Morris, Phyllis Strong and Mike Sussman, from a story by Michael Taylor. The first two writers are new to the Voyager team. "That was their first script," says McNeill, "and they are now staff on the show. They were really thrilled and pleased. Every once in awhile you have these episodes where as the dailies are coming in people get more and more excited about it, and things are coming off better than anyone could have expected or hoped for. Thatís kind of the experience I think we had on that episode. There was a really high spirit about it.

"I think itís going to be one of the couple of episodes thatís going to be a classic from our show. Itís really that strong. They are bumping it up and pushing it for November sweeps, trying to finish it up and get it ready for Nov. 15. It was a broad comedy, which we donít often do. We were as successful as Star Trek has ever been with a comedy like that. Itís funny. Itís fast-paced. Itís entertaining. I think for the fans who really watch the show a lot, they will certainly get more out of it than people who donít know the show. But even if you donít know the show, you still get the humor and the spirit, and itís still very entertaining."

McNeill has now spent sufficient time in the directorís chair to feel comfortable working as an actor in the same episode. "I had quite a few scenes, especially with Tuvok," he says about "Body and Soul." "That was interesting. I think I have gotten to the point now, after directing enough episodes, that I feel very confident going out as an actor in the shows that I direct. I know the show very well, probably much better that I do when I am just an actor on a show. I know every detail and nuance and every beat of the story. So I am very at ease when I am acting on the shows I am directing. Tim Russ and I had lots of fun in the scenes we had together. It was a real acting exercise for everybody, to do this kind of story. Itís not our usual kind of intense, space-acting type of story. It was fast-paced, punch-line, funny moments, physical comedyóall that kind of stuff. It was fun as an actor to be working on it and directing this episode."

The other thing keeping McNeill busy, of course, is his role as Tom Paris. Finally, during season seven of Voyager, the relationship between Tom and BíElanna (Roxann Dawson) is coming to the forefront. It all started with the Oct. 18 episode, "Drive," in which BíElanna and Tom teamed up for a big space shuttle raceóand a close look at their relationship.

"It [was] a lot of fun, because at the end of the episode we end up getting married," says McNeill. "It happens almost as an afterthought, rather than doing a classic, big, fancy wedding, with everyone being dressed up and being all sentimental. We skip the whole wedding and just show that we got married in the end. Most of the episode is building up to, ĎShould we do it, should we not do it, whatís going to happen? Are we meant to be together? Maybe we shouldnít be together.í So itís really an episode more about dealing with that, and the fun ways that they go through their decisions, thoughts and feelings about it. The wedding kind of happens at the tag."

McNeill and Dawson have both been waiting for some progress in the relationship between their two characters. "For a couple of years there we just played the same scene over and over," says McNeill. "One of us would be in trouble, weíd reference the relationship, and that we care about each other, and then we wouldnít hear about it for episodes. It was kind of an afterthought. I think with us married, it just brings a lot more interesting stories and issues in for this final season. The fact that we have gone on this great adventure and we are coming back home very different people than when we left, I think is a great way to end it, to shoot for the end of the season that way.

"These characters are coming back very different people. Their lives are different. Their relationships are different. They are changed dramatically. They didnít just get us married and then walk away from it. They have got a lot of other things planned in terms of what happens to people when they get married, and the events that happen for them, and how their lives are very different being partners as opposed to just being individuals who are dating."

Regarding the wedding, McNeill says fans have been clamoring for just such a development for a while now. "The fans that really watch the show regularly have been dying for something to happen with these two characters," says McNeill. "They want to see more of them together. They want to see the relationship grow, and they want to see it dealt with. I just think it was kind of floundering for quite a while, and not really growing, and not really going in any direction. Now itís an active part of the story and an active part of our series. In general, they are dealing with it a lot better. I know they have big plans to see it all through to the end of the season for when we get home."

Does this mean that McNeill knows that Voyager will get home? "It seems like we are going to get back," says McNeill. "That seems to be the consensus. But how and when, I do not know. If it were my vote, I would say the very last possible moment, I think, would be a nice way to end it. But I have no idea, honestly. My feeling is, it would be much more interesting to stay in our journey, get home, and leave it to the audienceís imagination and charactersí imagination of what happens back home. Maybe weíll do that in a movie some day.

"For the series, we started by getting lost, and it would be nice to end it with the very last episode getting us home. Carry the whole series, start to finish, that way. It seems to be the theme of our show. Weíre lost in space, it would be nice to stay lost in space. Itís the classic sort of premise that we need to sustain until the very end. Thatís my feeling. Some people would love to get back and play out some stories with their parents or their ex-lovers, or their relationships they had back home. To me thatís not quite as interesting as sustaining that feeling of wanting to get back. Are we going to get back? We are getting a little closer. Iíve heard rumors that someone is going to die this year getting back, maybe one person. Maybe only one person makes it back. Maybe everyone else seems dead, and only one person gets back. There are endless possibilities. Iíll be just as surprised as the audience when we finally see it."

When the show finally wraps, McNeill would like his Star Trek association to continue, in one way or another. "I would love to do a movie," says McNeill. "They have made a lot of Star Trek movies up to this date. I donít know if they can continue making big feature films of Star Trek forever and ever. The TV show seems to have a loyal following, but Iím not sure if we would make a movie or not. The most interesting idea Iíve heard is that maybe they would involve the Voyager crew and our ship in some sort of big epic space battle movie where weíve got the Enterprise and Patrick Stewart involved, and weíve got the Deep Space Nine station and their crew involved, maybe some invasion of Borg cubes into the Alpha Quadrant or something that takes every ship and the entire Starfleet Armada to save our universe as we know it.

"To me that sounds exciting. That sounds like a really big movie and a lot of fun to be a part of, and something that we could never do on our series. I think that is probably the most realistic way that we would participate in a feature film world of Star Trek. It would be expensive, but it would be great. I think the fans would love to see something like that. That concept is something that they could never do on television. Itís not like they would be going to the movies to see another episode of The Next Generation just in a movie, or another episode of Voyager in a movie. It would be something that they have never seen before, in a really big way. But who knows if that will ever happen."

Post-Voyager, McNeill will also continue to direct, and would like to do so for the next Star Trek series, whenever that comes into existence. "Iíd be happy and thrilled to come back and direct some on the next series," enthuses McNeill. "I hope that happens. I would like to do it. I like the people here. If just even a few of the people from our show stay on, in the crew, to work and make the new show, I would love to come back and work with those guys, because I love everybody on the crew. Itís a really good crew, a very special group."

Even without Star Trek to fall back on, McNeillís not short on other directing opportunities. "Iím scheduled to direct for Dawsonís Creek at the end of the season," reveals McNeill. "Theyíve been asking me since last year to come down and do some. Hopefully the schedule will work out this time and I can go do that. I would love to direct for Roswell. I was observing there last year under a director named David Semel. The cast is very talented, and I love the premise of the show. Jonathan Frakes is on board as one of the producers. Iíd love to work with Jonathan again. There are quite a few other TV shows that I would love to be a part of. Our TV schedule is so full, by the time we get a break, so do all the other shows, so I havenít been able to do that. But hopefully that will work out after this is all over. Iím sure Iíll be busy. Iíve never been one to sit around and not work for very long."

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