Robert Picardo and Joe Mallozzi discuss command changes on Stargate: Atlantis

The fifth season of “Stargate Atlantis” launches on Sci Fi on July 11 — with several cast changes, including a shift from starring to recurring status for Amanda Tapping, with actor Robert Picardo taking her place as the mission leader on the series.

Monsters and Critics joined some journalists and spoke with Stargate Atlantis star Robert Picardo and executive producer Joseph Mallozzi about the changes afoot in the Pegasus galaxy.

I’m anticipating this hotly discussed script in the upcoming season, Whispers. It’s got a horror tinge and I was wondering if you could elaborate?

Joseph Mallozzi: I’ve always been a big fan of horror and one of the things that – , one of the great things about Stargate is that we can do such a variety of different types of stories.

I mean, we do our funny episodes. We do our serious episodes, the off world episodes, the  ship based episode. I just realized that we’ve never really done a horror episode.

We’ve done monster movies but never really kind of a scare fest. So I pitched stuff to the guys and they really liked the idea.
I spoke to Will Waring, our Director who directed the episode and he’s also a big fan of horror movies.

We actually did a little mini horror movie for the episode, Whispers. What we did,  Joe Flannigan and Paul McGillion — two of our regulars — joined an all female team on an off world adventure.

I mean, one of the things about TV, episodic television in general is at the end of the day you kind of know that your heroes are going to come out of it in one piece, more or less, unless you happen to be Carson Beckett (and trend A) or  what have you.

Joe Mallozzi, photo credit - April MacIntyre Monsters and Critics

Joe Mallozzi, photo credit – April MacIntyre Monsters and Critics

So I thought I was important to add this all female team for kind of two reasons. One, with Amanda leaving, I thought there was kind of a gender imbalance in the show that I kind of wanted to address by bringing in, or at least introducing some potentially recurring female characters.

And two, have the audience invest in characters that you don’t really know whether they’re going to survive or not. it was just really a fun episode.

I mean, I went by a couple of days ago and Mark Savelo, our VFX Supervisor, he was just showing me some of the temps on the visual effects and gosh I hope it’s not one of these episodes that angry parents write the network about.

Hopefully, it’ll be an atypical episode and I’m hoping that people will enjoy it – especially fans of the horror genre.

What will be different from previous seasons?

Joseph Mallozzi: Season one was set up and season two was telling. And season three, I think we’re stepping out and exploring more, a sort of a variety of stories.
Throughout those first three seasons, though, we were always I guess securing resources with,  SG-1 – be it a series or the movies and as a result I guess it taught you – because of the time constriction, we weren’t able to really sit back and I think plan out the season quite as concisely as we could have which is what we did in season four.

We realized okay, there was an imbalance in some of the stories being told. I mean, there were a lot of McKay stories but one of the things we set out to do in season four that we did in season five as well was give each character a story and then,  a spotlight and really focus on them, and give them a chance to really step up.

We did that once again in season five. And where in season four we wanted to deal with some of  our standing villains.

We kicked off the Wraith/Replicator war. We got rid of the Replicators. We weakened the Wraith and now season five is kind of a step forward in a couple of ways.

One, in a big picture way we are introducing a couple of new races. We’re suggesting that with the Wraith weakened in the Pegasus Galaxy, there are a number of civilizations that are basically standing up and assuming power.

So in a big picture way that’s what we’re doing. In another big picture way we have a new commander on the Atlantis expedition with Carter leaving.

What we said in season four was with the threats that Atlantis is facing — especially with regard to Wraith —  the military essentially flexed their muscles and wanted to exert some influence over the Atlantis expedition.

So Carter was appointed as a compromised candidate. In season five, with — as we said — the Wraith, back on their heels the (IOA) in turn flexed its muscles and they appoint Richard Woolsey as the new interim leader of the Atlantis expedition.

And that will be a big change and frankly, it’s been a great change. We’ve been big Bob Picardo fans for years and what started off as a couple of episodes in Heroes and through a recurring role which eventually when the opportunity presented itself, there was no hesitation.

We said, if Bob can do it, we would love to have him on the show and Bob was kind enough to make time for us I guess.

Picardo as Woolsey

Picardo as Woolsey

Robert Picardo: This is very interesting for me to listen to as well because I find out all the secret things that the Executive Producer has in store. I was a little worried momentarily when he mentioned – when he made reference to a bit of a gender imbalance.

I thought that by Episode 20 perhaps he’d be given full reign to (pull) the feminine side – at least that he’d be cross-dressing on the base. But I’m happy to hear that that’s not in the planning.

I appreciate that. I’m looking forward to seeing how the dedicated fans of the show accept the new leader who is not nearly as cute as the previous two.

I think they have a tradition of using actors from the other franchise, the name of which I dare not speak, as some casting. Many of my colleagues from the different Star Trek shows have been guest stars.

Joseph Mallozzi: Some fans may argue differently. Sorry.

Robert, are you drawn to Sci-Fi?

Robert Picardo: I think it’s a combination of both. I’ve – working on Star Trek for — there I said it — for seven years, I really came to appreciate what it was about that kind of storytelling that developed such a loyal fan base – that the regular viewer of science fiction has the interest and the capacity to really imagine the future, to dream of a better one and to kind – and I think even to project themselves into the future in a certain way, that that’s part of their psyche and personal passion.

That’s why they watch this kind of program. And once I appreciated what it was about the storytelling that made it special and that made the fans so loyal, I really began to enjoy it and I think to flourish in it as an actor.

I really used my own imagination a lot and made a number of suggestions during my tenure on Star Trek. And – but also, I – because the fan base is so loyal, they like seeing an actor that they know from one show take on another role in another of their favorite shows.

So it does work both was. I can’t honestly say that I set out at the beginning of my career to spend,  ten years in a jumpsuit. But that’s – it keeps you in the gym regularly as well.

With the first half of season five already on film, what would you say will be the turning point for viewers and ratings while continuing the second half and potentially a sixth season?

Joseph Mallozzi: The turning point?   It’s not so much a turning point but a build from last year’s strong finish.  I don’t recall off the top of my head what the numbers were but I know that Last Man — our season finale — finished very strongly.

And hopefully that’s something we can continue with the premiere: Search and Rescue  and I’m sure some of you may have seen it along with the few thousand who happened to be cruising You Tube over the weekend or a couple of – last weekend.

And the reaction was overwhelming, positive from what I saw. I think it’s awfully indicative of what’s to come this season, a variety of  action, character development,  just hopefully what the fans have grown to love and really desire from the show.

In terms of standout episodes off the top of my head I mean, I’m very happy with the first half. But of course,  one of the big episodes — sort of like last year — Be All My sins was a big midseason two-parter – the second part of the midseason two-parter.

In a similar way, the midseason two-parter is going to be very big this year. It’s First Contact and The Lost Tribe. And of course, Daniel Jackson will be dropping in for an appearance and that’s going to be huge for a lot of the SG-1 fans who, , I’m sure have missed him and,  have been asking,  what the hell is taking so long for Daniel to come on over to the Pegasus Galaxy.

Well they get the chance in the midseason two-parter. And, like last year’s Be All My Sins Remembered, it’s full of surprises and action, and spectacular visual effects and some really nice character moments, particularly with regard to McKay and Daniel Jackson who are two characters that really haven’t had a chance to sort of play off each other.

They play off each other really well. I mean one of the things I said was these two guys — Hewlett and Shanks — are the fastest talking actors in Sci-Fi,  bar none.
As a result – Martin Gero wrote both scripts and they were almost like 60-page scripts which a 60-page script is usually long.

I think First Contact was exactly to (top) and I’m not sure what Lost Tribe was – maybe a minute over. So, a lot of rapid fire talk between the two. And, hopefully, it’ll be an episode that the fans will love just as much as last year’s midseason two-parter.

What adjustments will we see with Woolsey?

Robert Picardo: Well,  Woolsey appears briefly at the end of the season opener, Search and Rescue, which is a very exciting, action-oriented episode. He comes in and rather abruptly relieves Carter of command with his characteristic gruffness and lack, I think, of interpersonal skills.

So that’s your first experience of him. In the very next episode, which is called The Seed, he faces the first major crisis at his new command. It’s a very dramatic outing for the character. It’s – there’s not really much humor in that first one.

And he learns the lesson that he can’t simply follow the rulebook and do this job. I mean, he – by his own estimation, he’s broken protocol about five times in his first crisis.

And that puts him — at the end of the show — in a personal crisis because he’s always sort of defined himself as someone who knows the rulebook, evaluates others ability to live by it and now in his first series of, , crisis command decisions he’s broken his own, his own commitment to protocol and – in order to save a beloved member of the crew.

So he learns and in so doing – and so having that conflict, I think he earns the respect or the beginning respect from Colonel Sheppard because he demonstrates a capacity that he hasn’t shown thus far.

The very next episode of Broken Ties, although there’s plenty of adventure in the A story, there’s also kind of a B story of Woolsey getting used to the technology of the base.

He’s the kind of guy who will end a briefing room meeting and tell everybody what to do. And then because they are – he’s a little late following everyone out the door, it’s because he’s collecting his notes.

Then he doesn’t know how to get out – he doesn’t know how to open the door. I mean, he’s running the base but he doesn’t know how to use the technology yet and literally can’t get out the door.

And there are two or three quite humorous moments, I think, throughout that episode. So that – and what was gratifying for me as the performer is that I shows right off the bat that the character has the gravity in the dramatic situations but they can also use, , his settling in and his own character (foils) to get some, , some comic moments as well.

Joseph Mallozzi: One thing I want to add with regard to those three comic beats – well the last one I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a last scene were we find Woolsey in his quarters.

It was actually pitched out by Bob at the beginning of the season and he said  what I think would be great for the character? I would love to do this and we thought about it. I pitched it out in the room. I said,  Bob pitched this and everybody loved it, and we worked it into Broken Ties.

When you watch that moment just keep in mind that that was Bob’s idea.