Prior to his seven-year stint on "Star Trek: Voyager," Robert Picardo had a lengthy and storied acting career. He was a Joe Dante regular, appearing in "The Howling," "The Explorers," "Innerspace," "The 'Burbs," "Matinee," and "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." He appeared in "Star 80," Ridley Scott's "Legend," the zombie cop film "Dead Heat," and Robert Englund's directorial debut "976-EVIL." This was all mixed in with plentiful TV work and multiple appearances on stage. Picardo has never been not busy, most recently appearing on a 2024 episode of "Young Sheldon."

Had Picardo never taken the "Star Trek" gig, he still would not have been hurting for work. "Voyager" just happened to be a sizable feather in his cap. "Voyager" simply boosted the actor's visibility and gained him legions of Trekkie fans. On "Voyager," Picardo played the U.S.S. Voyager's nameless Doctor, an Emergency Medical Hologram that had to be activated when the ship's entire medical staff died in an accident. At first the Doctor was snippy and mechanical, being only a hologram. Eventually, however, the Doctor began to develop personality traits and a consciousness. Soon, the Doctor was considered an invaluable part of the crew.

Picardo talked to in 2022, explaining that he was reluctant to take the role. Because the Doctor was a hologram, Picardo felt he would be stuck playing the part as stiff, computerized, and android-like, which wouldn't have been very interesting as a performer. Instead, Picardo revealed, he would have preferred to play Neelix, the jolly hobbit-like chef on the U.S.S. Voyager. When a colleague of his, Ethan Phillips, landed Neelix, Picardo thought he was out. Only constant pressure from friends and a pushy agent got him back into the audition room for the Doctor.

Picardo was one of many "Star Trek" actors who wasn't wholly familiar with the franchise going in. When he learned that he was auditioning to play a hologram, he figured his character would essentially be a beam of light. He hadn't known about the holodecks on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" that can simulate touch with force fields. Regardless, he wasn't impressed with the character:

"My agent sent me the script, and I remember that the character description was 'a computer program of a doctor, colorless, humorless.' I didn't know what that meant, and then I heard that he was a hologram. I knew a little more about the original 'Star Trek,' but I wasn't very knowledgeable about 'The Next Generation,' so I didn't know about the Holodeck. I couldn't understand how a hologram could handle real instruments. I said, 'How does he pick up a hypo? How do you grab something when you have no material density?'"

It was a friend of his, his "China Beach" co-star Megan Gallagher, that encouraged him to read for Neelix instead. Gallagher had appeared on the 1993 "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" episode "Little Green Men," so he was familiar with Paramount and all the ins-and-outs involved with "Star Trek" auditions. Incidentally, Gallagher eventually appeared on "Voyager" in the 2000 episode "Body and Soul."

But Neelix wasn't in the cards for Picardo, which, he admitted, was something of a blessing. "I didn't get that part, thank God, because I would never have had the patience with the make-up that Ethan Phillips did," he confessed. Neelix is a Tallaxian and required contacts, false teeth, and extensive facial prosthetics. Picardo didn't care for that.

Picardo landed his Star Trek role thanks to some ad-libbing

Picardo assumed that once he was rejected for Neelix, he would be forgotten by Paramount forever. "Normally," he explained, "once you have tested and you didn't get the part, you are a used Kleenex and are discarded immediately."

But Picardo's agent was persistent and kept telling him to stick with the "Star Trek" gig. The agent also noted that the Doctor was supposed to be a comedic character, something Picardo hadn't picked up on before. Picardo wasn't a comedic actor, but he had performed in comedies on stage, notably "Gemini" (wherein he appeared opposite Danny Aiello) and "Tribute" (which he acted in opposite Jack Lemmon). With only rudimentary "Star Trek" knowledge and a little comedic twinge, he went back to Paramount. In his audition, he even broke a cardinal acting rule. Weirdly, it got him the job:

"The Doctor was cranky, and I didn't know why he was cranky. I didn't understand the role at all. I faked my way through the audition and ad libbed a DeForest Kelley joke without knowing it was a DeForest Kelley joke. My last scripted line was roughly, 'I believe someone has failed to terminate my program.' I added, 'I'm a doctor, not a nightlight.' I ad libbed that line, which you shouldn't do in an audition, but it got a big laugh and I was hired the next day. Then I had to figure out what the role was."

Luckily, Picardo had seven years on the air to figure out the character. He ultimately appeared in 166 episodes of "Voyager."


Read More