- Trek Galaxy's Voyager Tribute -

By Gregory L. Norris & Laura A. Van Vleet exclusively for TrekGalaxy.

Day 07 - We'll Always Have Paris!

As Voyager's hotdog pilot, Tom Paris, Robert Duncan McNeill is often seen tracking from one end of the Intrepid Starship's helm to the other on that neat sliding seat. "I love the helm chair," I say to McNeill after a brief re-hello - one of many times we've interviewed the actor in recent months. "I want it for my office. That way I can just whip from the desk to the filing cabinet, then over to the computer, and back to the other side of the desk again."

"Let me tell you about that chair," McNeill says with a look on his face. "It's a nice chair, but it gets stuck every now and then. Sometimes I go to slide across and it locks up on the tracks. It sends me flying off the other end and onto the floor. They don't put that on TV, because I'd end up looking pretty silly. It's an imperfect chair."

We share a good laugh here at the heart of Voyager's bridge, standing at the helm with the Captain's Chair to our backs and the open, bustling set of Stage 8 in front of us. "It's great to be here, and so nice to talk with you again," Laura says.

"Nice to see you both again," says McNeill, a tall and handsome man. Like Kate Mulgrew, the camera doesn't do McNeill as much justice as real time.

I take a long look around the set and sigh wistfully. "I know what we're feeling now that the end of the voyage is in sight. What about you?"

"I just talked to Rick [Berman] yesterday, and I know it sounds like such a cliché, but in many ways, it feels like it's gone by in the blink of an eye," answers McNeill. "And in many ways, it feels like we've been doing this forever. I know everyone here so well and we get along so well, and I can tell you that I think we all have very mixed feelings about the end of Star Trek: Voyager. Nobody is 100% happy that this is over. Of course, everyone would like to try different kinds of roles, so everybody's itching to stretch a little bit and do some different things. It's a really emotional time. It hasn't really hit, but it's starting to feel strange."

Robert Duncan McNeill as Voyager's Tom Paris. "It's a really emotional time. It hasn't hit, but it's starting to feel strange."
"It feels strange for us, too," I quip. "You know, Voyager has been a big part of our careers as professional writers, from both sides of the production."

McNeill nods, adding, "It just seems like yesterday that I did my very first science fiction convention. I did it even before we were on the air! The majority of people at that con had a lot of questions as to where Star Trek was headed and were very sceptical about Voyager. People were not expecting to embrace it, especially after Next Generation, which had such a warm fan presence, and even Deep Space 9, which had already developed a following. I think we've converted a lot of people. There are a lot of people who didn't expect to fall in love with the show and have become quite attached to it. And there are a lot of fans that never saw any other Trek than Voyager. After thirty-five years plus of Star Trek on television, we actually did something that brought in brand new fans. I'm really proud of that."

"You have a history with the science fiction genre, having acted in Masters of the Universe and an episode of Next Gen," Laura says. "Now after seven years on Voyager, what does it mean to you?"

"That's a really good question. I've never been asked that before," he says, taking a c
ontemplative pause. "I think the science fiction genre is more diverse than I used to imagine it as being. The style of science fiction stories that can be told is amazing. Especially in Star Trek, you can do any style of story. You can do a slapstick comedy, you can do an action story, a campy spoof - all sorts of different styles. I always imagined the sci-fi genre as being only intense space action and that's all you could ever do. I've been a little surprised by the truth about science fiction, and I've enjoyed playing among that diversity."

"You've experienced things from both sides of the lens, as both an actor and a director," Laura adds. "Do you plan to do more directing after Voyager?"

"Yeah, I hope so. I had actually started observing directors and studying directors before Star Trek. Trek, however, proved the perfect opportunity for me to direct like I have." We briefly mention two of the more notable outings, the popular episode 'Someone to Watch Over Me' and this seasons' 'Body and Soul'. "Since joining Voyager, I've made two short films, Battery and 9mm of Love. They were both very successful at film festivals. 9mm of Love was just picked up by the Sci-Fi channel and will run on their Exposure series on April 29th. Ironically, it's not a pure sci-fi story - it's really about a hit man, but with a fantasy twist to it. So yeah, in terms of directing, that is absolutely something that I'm going to be putting a lot of my energy into. I still enjoy acting. I'd like to continue to take good acting opportunities as they come, and if there's a part or a project that's very exciting or fun, I'd absolutely love to be part of it. The directing is something I have more control over. I can pursue specific kinds of things through directing in a way that's hard to do as an actor."

"'Body and Soul' was great!" I enthuse.

"Thank you," McNeill replies. "We don't do a lot of comedies, and when we do, they tend to usually involve the Doctor. Two years ago, I directed 'Someone to Watch Over Me', and that show was very successful. I think it was recently voted on some Internet poll as one of the most popular episodes of the whole series. 'Someone to Watch Over Me' had a lot of comedy in it. So they handed 'Body and Soul' to me, hoping I'd give it some energy and help its performances and find the humour in it. I was really happy with that episode."

Laura then asks, "What is your fondest memory of your time on Voyager?"

"Fondest memory," whispers McNeill. "There are so many. Like I said, I feel really close and attached to everyone in the cast and also the crew. It's a great crew. One of my fondest memories happened about three years ago. It was the last night of shooting before our Christmas vacation in 1998," he recalls. "We were here very late, one o'clock, maybe two in the morning. Everyone had been passing around Christmas gifts for the Holiday. We had a big scene that involved the entire regular cast. It was when Tom and B'Elanna were getting married on the melting ship, the Deuterium clones [in the fifth season episode, 'Course: Oblivion']. There were a lot of shots that didn't have any dialogue, so basically, we stood around while they did the coverage of the scene. There wasn't a lot of pressure, and eventually we all ended up sitting in Kate's dressing trailer, where she poured martinis for us. Bob Picardo had given her a martini kit for Christmas. We didn't get drunk or anything, because we still had to drive home. But that time in Kate's trailer took the edge off. It was a great feeling. And I don't condone drinking and making TV shows," McNeill laughs, "but at a late hour with a couple of shots left that didn't really require more than us standing there, it was great. We all gathered in Kate's dressing trailer. She had Christmas carols going. It was a great night. You know, there are a lot of shows where you see one or two people become great friends. There are cliques. These people become friends and those people become close. But on this show, it's different. This is a cast where everyone has stayed a real ensemble and a real complete unit. That night was the epitome of it. Picardo was smoking his cigar and having a martini. There wasn't anything real fancy about it. It was real casual. But it is my favourite memory."

"How fun," I say. "We didn't know that Bob Picardo smoked cigars!"

"He's supposed to be weaning himself off them. He made a promise to his daughter that he'd quit by his fiftieth birthday, so he's on a countdown. But he's been a big aficionado."

Laura mentions that since our episode sales to Voyager in the summer of 1998, we've had an occasional cigar, one a month perhaps with a glass of champagne. "We'll make sure we don't smoke any around him during the interview!"

"He's a big cigar smoker, so that's a good idea," McNeill laughs, adding how much he respects and admires Picardo. He then makes special mention of his friendship with Ethan Phillips, Voyager's resident Talaxian and Good Will Ambassador. "And not that I would rank anyone in the cast over another, but he's certainly up there in terms of my relationships. We have a lot of good times together and have travelled together a bit. I live at the beach, and he brings his dogs down to my house whenever he's in the area. He's a great guy. A very funny man."

"Do any of the final episodes feature Tom Paris prominently?"

"I've been very busy, but there has been no Tom Paris show, per se, at the end. We've got this pregnancy with B'Elanna happening, so there will be a resolution with that. Like I was saying about the cast and actors, we're like one solid unit. So I feel the same in terms of the last shows. I've been very involved and very busy, and a lot of the last episodes are real ensemble shows, three or four characters trapped on a planet from some away mission. It's been very nice, with not too much pressure that I've felt overwhelmed at the end. But I've definitely been in there and I've been busy, and I'm looking forward to our baby being born before the final episode."

"It really has been a fun year for Paris," Laura states.

"Yeah, I agree," sighs the actor. "What they've finally decided to do with Tom and B'Elanna was really bold, but also a great choice. Really a lot of fun for the fans, and a lot of fun for us to play the very rapid progression of this relationship from the verge of breaking up at the beginning of the season to now being married and having a family."

"Do you have a favourite episode?" Laura asks.

"I really like 'Threshold', the Warp Ten episode where I turn into a lizard. Most of the fans hated it," he laughs. "I don't care. I really liked it."

"It gave me the creeps!" I say.

McNeill grins, folds his arms. "Yeah, I got to play the Elephant man, or Frankenstein in that one. I just saw a picture the other day that showed the moment when my tongue falls out. It was just so much fun to play this disgusting, wonderful transformation. Because I don't work with prosthetics all the time, it was really very transforming for me as an actor as well. The whole thing, to have the prosthetics to work behind and to try to fight through, it allowed me a lot of freedom to do things Tom Paris usually couldn't do under normal circumstances. I like that episode."

"There's that scene where you're looking all neat and spiffy in the mess hall - then, boom! Down on the floor you go with those creepy black veins and the eyes bulging out. It was really eerie," I add.

"It was a lot of fun to do. I also liked 'Alice' from the sixth season. I loved 'Someone to Watch Over Me. I'm partial to it because I directed that one, and I thought it worked."

"Cool," Laura says, smiling. "One last question. Do you want to take that sliding chair home with you after all is done, or is there something else you'd like as a memento from your time on Voyager?"

Turning, he points toward the trays of food and hot drinks that line the two buffet tables to the left of the bridge set on Stage 8. "We have an instant cappuccino machine - you can go over and pick French Roast Coffee or latte or cappuccino or hot chocolate. You push a button and it comes out, just like a replicator. It's this great little machine over in that corner. I know it's not very sentimental, but I would probably give up taking the Delta Flyer or the entire bridge if I could have that instant cappuccino machine!"

We discuss the last of our business - McNeill's love of motorcycles, his appearance on the cover of the May issue of CC Motorcycle Magazine out of New York City for a story we're writing, and the special photo-shoot he's conducting just for that issue, which will feature the actor on the back of his Harley-Davidson. We talk about the chapter in our book we're writing on his career, and the fact that come May 23, we will truly, terribly miss seeing Tom Paris at the helm of his beloved Voyager. A firm handshake, then it's on to Sickbay, where the Doctor awaits.