Season 4 Paris publicity photo

A Shore Leave Interview
with Robert Duncan McNeill

by Sue Love
Hunt Valley, Maryland
June 27, 1998

During Shoreleave, I participated in a short round table style interview with Robbie and representatives from several other fan clubs. Each person had the opportunity to ask Robbie a question. This is the report from that interview.

As an icebreaker, Robbie suggested I ask him what he had for lunch--tuna salad--and then he talked some about a new exercise program he had become involved with called "spinning." Over the past few months he had been working at getting back into shape, and although he is an active guy, he is not into pumping iron, so he needed an alternative exercise. "Spinning" is a form of bicycling that uses an old-fashioned mechanical-type stationary bike. While loud music plays in the background, Robbie works with a trainer who talks him through the session as if it were a road race. Robbie said that in reality, someone in his job needs to be acceptably fit--or more. He said the producers want to do more physical scenes with B'Elanna and Paris. Roxann has been doing Pilates to get in shape since the baby.

When asked about upcoming projects on Nickelodeon, Robbie told about watching the show Alex Mack with his daughter. He realized it had good FX, fantasy and was well made. He had a meeting with the guy who ran the company that made the show and they got along really well, but the show was wrapping (finishing up). Robbie was disappointed because he wanted to direct the show, but then they told him about a new show, Allen Strange, which was more "sci-fi," and he started observing on the set. He will be directing, probably in September.

Said Robbie, "The Nickelodeon shows tend to sort of have that 'MTV hipness'--they like sort of edgy things, so that's one reason I approached them. It's a way to be creative, especially as a director--usually they like things that would just never go over, not even on Star Trek."

He also advised he would direct an episode of Voyager, about episode 20, later this year. He said he is still observing and learning and has a friend who is a commercial producer (produces TV commercials). "Commercials can be really creative, especially visually, almost like a work of art the way they tell the story in 30 seconds," said Robbie. And he continued, "I like to be creative, but it's hard sometimes--you're torn between being creative and trying to be responsible and make a living and be smart."

Robbie said he has looked at the usual options for directing--being an independent film-maker which means you're broke with no money, or doing network, episodic TV, which is often not so creative.

During hiatus, Robbie did a workshop of a new play for Broadway by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Equuis, Lettice in Love). Juliet Stevenson (Ladder of Swords and other movies) and William Hurt (The Big Chill, Body Heat, Kiss of the Spider Woman) were his co-stars in the workshop. Scott Ellis directed. Robbie was asked if he would be interested in doing it on Broadway if it went there. He told us, "I would love to do a Broadway play, but to risk--the risk of a Broadway play--the idea of coming to NY and being a stage actor is just scary. You have to sometimes try to figure out what the best creative, yet smart business move is." He ended up declining the offer.

Robbie's stage direction experience is limited to some in-house work in LA with a theater company he was involved with, but he has acted on stage a lot and did produce a play in NY, right after Julliard. About stage directing he said, "I'd like to (direct theater). It's like starting over to direct theater. You get paid nothing basically to start over. Well, I'm not sure I want to invest my time. I don't know. What's the payoff?"

Asked how he selected Pediatric AIDS, the charity of RanDoM Flight, Robbie said he had heard of Elizabeth Glaser (the founder of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation), when she was getting some publicity and attention for her situation and how she and her children had contracted AIDS. He called up before Star Trek and volunteered, but nothing really happened then. It was a very small group at the time, almost a local charity that didn't get much attention until Elizabeth's death. He chose the charity based in part on his knowledge of it, some past experience with the Starlight Foundation and his desire to help kids. Searching for words he said, "I don't know...something about really is something to me. It's can't help but have sympathy for kids in that situation--any kind of tragic situation like that where they are facing a challenge that kids shouldn't have to face."

Before Pediatric AIDS, Robbie and his wife, Carol, were very active in a program that helped kids work through problems through acting. When he met Carol, she was a choreographer, already active in the program, helping some kids in Pennsylvania out near Amish country. The company used the arts, dancing, writing, singing and painting and they would put on a show like a review with little scenes that dealt with issues like drugs and family. When Robbie first met her and they were dating, he would go visit Carol there. "It was so powerful to see how open and expressive they would become about these issues when they were in a creative environment," said Robbie.

When he and Carol got married and engaged, they decided to do their own thing, only improve on what they had seen. He got some friends from All My Children and from Julliard. They worked with the Fresh Air Fund, camps in NY which get kids out of the city for the summer, and a charity called HELP in New York which was for homeless families. They did a lot of work around NY and then ended up moving out to LA. Once there, they tried to get something started, but they just didn't know anybody--didn't have the same connections. They had been in New York for ten years, but LA was very new to them, so it just sort of fizzled and the people who had been involved in New York went their separate ways.

In the spare time he has now on the set, Robbie is a big reader and has many book discussions with Ethan (Phillips). Robbie said he brings books right on the set. "Often if we're on the bridge, I'll have a book up there and literally at the last minute, throw it."

He likes contemporary fiction and is generally not a big science fiction reader, although he discovered a fantasy book called Gun with Occasional Music, which he really liked. He compared it to a Blade Runner type book, saying it is a "film noire, futuristic detective story." He said he likes quirky contemporary fiction and has very eclectic tastes. A recent read had been the 17th century comedy of manners called Man of Mode. He also reads a lot of industry-related things like David Mamet's new book on acting, and biographies of film-makers.

In his trailer at work he has his own little library with books stacked on the stove and in the sink of the kitchen (they aren't allowed to use the kitchens). He also has a video collection which the other cast members come to borrow during slow times on the set. He likes quirky videos as well as quirky books and said one he really likes is Stephen Soderbergh's comedy, Schizopolis, calling it one of the best films ever made.

Another hobby is riding motorcycles, a hobby his wife used to share and in fact, she rode some with him until becoming pregnant with Carter. He had four motorcycles in NY and got into them as a convenient means of transportation in the city because cars were impractical. Now, he says, "The way I like to ride is just to ride for the ride. It doesn't matter when you get there or how you get there or where you are going even, but just to be in the road, in the moment--kind of a meditation thing."

He said that for a short time, Carol entertained the idea of maybe getting a Harley Sportster, but "came to her senses." Robbie said he is glad because it's one thing if he is driving and she's on the back (of his bike), because he feels like he's in control and he trusts himself. He hastened to add that Carol is a good driver, but that he would be more worried if she had her own bike because it would be out of his hands. "I'm a little controlling--I don't know if you noticed that," he deadpanned.

After the interview, he was given some scratch-off Harley Davidson anniversary lotto tickets for the Pennsylvania lotto. I wonder if he ever checked to see if he won?

Thanks to Rosanna and Pam for arranging the interview and to Robbie for giving us the time.

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