Paris and Torres in engineering

Inseparable: Dawson and McNeill
On The Trek Expo Guest List

The Tulsa World
July 25, 1997
by John E. Hoover
© 1997 Tulsa World

It is just after 5:30 in the morning as Roxann Dawson endures her early morning commute through freeway traffic in Los Angeles.

Beyond the cars and delivery trucks ahead of her, a rugged day awaits.

The co-star of "Star Trek: Voyager" will endure nearly three hours in a makeup chair and at least 12 more in an enclosed, confining space suit. Dawson's minutes are precious these days, but on her way to Paramount Studios, she telephones a writer two time zones away to reschedule an interview.

Pregnant with their third child, the wife of Robert Duncan McNeill is going through intense morning sickness. McNeill, also a co-star on "Voyager," finds time between shooting a scene and driving his wife to the emergency room to make a similar phone call.

McNeill, who has finished his turn shooting the same special effects scene in a space suit alongside Dawson, asks the writer if it would be OK to give an interview from the hospital while his wife is being examined.

It is clear that, off screen, Dawson and McNeill have much in common: professionalism, determination, talent. But it is their similarities on screen that have many "Trek" fans eagerly awaiting the Aug. 27 debut of fourth season of "Voyager," which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on UPN affiliate KTFO, UHF Channel 41, Cable Channel 10.

Dawson and McNeill portray similar characters -- loose cannons who have been battened down; reckless rogues who have found a purpose. What's more, for the better part of the third season, the series teased viewers with a hint of a budding relationship between them.

The seamless interaction between Dawson and McNeill is impressive. But the best may be yet to come. In the fourth episode of the upcoming season, their characters -- half-human, half-Klingon B'Elanna Torres (Dawson) and former Starfleet dropout Tom Paris (McNeill) have jettisoned from a doomed shuttle, free-floating in outer space with only their space suits to keep them alive. As time seems to be running out they finally cut through the innuendo, professing their love for one another.

"It's a wonderful image, the idea of these two people who obviously have so many things unsaid between each other, just stuck out in space," said McNeill. "Hopefully what fans can expect is a very memorable science fiction image, filled with very human feelings."

Fans of the show can meet Dawson on Saturday and McNeill on Sunday, among other science fiction personalities, at this weekend's Trek Expo '97, at Expo Square.

"Star Trek" has never claimed to be "Days of Our Lives."

The man-woman relationships throughout the 30-year history of the series have often been paper-thin, short-lived or simply fleeting, finished in just one episode. But Torres-Paris is an ongoing and blossoming affinity between two major characters.

"When the writers first approached me the one thing I said to them was, 'Please, let's not make this ordinary. Let's make this non-traditional in the way they get close," said Dawson.

"Hopefully we're achieving that. I certainly didn't want the kind of relationship you could see on any nighttime soap opera."

"That's one thing about the relationship that could be a danger," said McNeill, "it could become soapy: 'What's going to happen next week with Tom and B'Elanna? ' Roxann and I have talked a lot about it and hopefully we're going to try to stay on (the writers) and make sure they are true to this relationship and don't try to rush it along too quickly or miss some great opportunities."

Both characters have personal gouges deep within. Torres' Klingon father left her when she was a child and disgraced their family. Her mellow, human side is in constant conflict with her more aggressive Klingon half, although she has found a family on the lost-in-space Voyager and has evened out somewhat. Paris, son of a decorated Starfleet admiral, could not live up to the expectations his father had laid out for him. He dropped out of life, ending up in a prison camp.

"I can't see the relationship going one way or the other right now," said Dawson. "When you have people that have a lot of defenses, that can be very volatile. There are going to be some rocky roads."

"I think they're both very independent," said McNeill.

"They've both been outsiders. Both are very opinionated and very strong-willed. All those similarities complement each other."

So goes the story line. But ultimately, it is the actors themselves who make this relationship the most believable in the annals of Star Trek.

"It's real important that you feel close to the actor and you can kind of trust their rhythms," said Dawson. "I think Robbie and I work real well together. He's such a joy to work with."

Both actors have soap opera experience (McNeill was nominated for an Emmy for "All My Children"), so both have solid backgrounds portraying personal relationships. In the end, McNeill says, that's what the audience takes with them.

"The basic human experience is our connection with other people," he said. "Even though Star Trek can be really intellectual, and it can be very exciting visually, if you go back to The Next Generation, or some our best episodes, ultimately what fans remember is the basic human interaction."

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