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Robert Duncan McNeill tells Paul Simpson
about his work behind the camera

SFX Magazine No. 72
Christmas 2000
by Paul Simpson
© Future Publishing

A working environment comprising three Roberts can be awfully confusing. So Robert Duncan McNeill -- the baby of the Bobs -- is simply "Robbie" on the floor of Voyager. But not for much longer. McNeill's filming his last season of Star Trek's most recent spin-off, a series that has taken up the last seven years of his life.

"The time's just flown by, fast than any of us ever could have imagined,' he laughs. "It seems that just yesterday Genevieve Bujold was in her trailer next to me, getting prepared to do a scene, and here we are finishing up with Kate Mulgrew having done it for seven years."

Robbie laughs when it's suggested that Tom Paris has mellowed from the angry young man we met in the pilot. How much of that is Tom becoming Robbie becoming Tom becoming Robbie? "I think a lot of that is Tom becoming me becoming Tom -- just like every character on our show, pretty much across the board. If you think of Neelix during the pilot, he was a slimy, kind of nasty junk trader. He was very short with people and quick -- and look what he's become."

McNeill is directing the ninth episode of the final season, and possibly one more before the series wraps, but he's been focusing his energies away from the 24th Century. "I've been directing and working outside of Star Trek as much as I can, " he says. "I produced a TV movie last year that aired on UPN, Monster, a spoof of the old 1950's horror movies. I was beginning to direct it, but I couldn't because it was filmed in Sydney. It's hard to be in Australia and L.A. at the same time!

"I've also been directing for the Nickelodeon network and I'll be directing for Dawson's Creek, hopefully this year. I'd love to stay on and continue with Star Trek family, maybe as a director or guest star on the new series. There's a movie right now that I'm working on; we're talking to Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons about starring. But with our production schedule, there's not time to do that one hundred per cent."

Would he want to commit to another long running TV series? "Right away, I wouldn't. I'd like to be more available to look around at different options, mostly as a director. I'm also dying to get back to the theatre. I'd like to come over to England. I've always wanted to work in London."

"A year or two ago, I directed an episode called Someone to Watch Over Me. That was a wonderful old-fashioned musical comedy. There was a certain style I tried ot look at -- more classic kinds of comedies. There's a different style of pacing and shooting and timing of a comedy as opposed to an intense drama, or stylish mystery or thriller. The style was a little looser, a little bit wider with the camera. Not quite so spacey in the composition of the shots. Let the actors play the comedy. Keep things open, wider and freer so you can see the comedy happen.

"It's always fun, the logistic issues you have to deal with when you're directing, to find a way to film what you want to film, and get the performance and shots, and all the elements that you want. If it was a formula, if everybody knew how to make great episodes, then every episode would be great. It's not that everyone ever tries to make a bad episode, but sometimes they work better and sometimes they don't work as well.

"There are lots of films where a lot of smart people in movie studios get together and think they're making a wiase investment, and a good project, and things don't always work out the way you imagined or the way you planned. You need a little bit of luck and a little bit of magic to make it all happen."

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