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Robert Picardo on Gershwin, ‘Star Trek’ tunes and Syfy

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Robert Picardo is a fixture in science fiction these days, having brought life to the Emergency Medical Hologram on Star Trek: Voyager and a prickly, but honorable, efficiency to Stargate Atlantis with his role as bureaucrat Richard Woolsey.

But the actor has a wider range, including the ABC dramas China Beach (for which he won a Founder’s Award) and The Wonder Years (for which he scored an Emmy nomination with his performance as the dreaded Coach Cutlip). And this weekend, Picardo is showing a bit of his musical side in Pardon My English: Gershwin By Ira at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

He says his role as the lyricist Ira Gershwin is “primarily an acting role.”

“I would like to sing more in it, but it was conceived that I was basically telling the story,” he said. “I don’t think Ira Gershwin was much of a singer.”

But Picardo got to sing on both China Beach and Voyager; the EMH character was always “expanding his program” to embrace the arts and, in true Star Trek fashion, stretching the limits of what defines a life form.

The actor was on the pre-med track himself at Yale University when the acting bug bit and never let go. In addition to his Founders Award for China Beach and Emmy nomination for The Wonder Years, Picardo was nominated for a supporting actor Saturn award in 2000 for his role as the EMH in Voyager and a supporting actor Saturn in 1991 for his role as a corporate henchman in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

After Chandler, Picardo heads to Calgary, Alberta, for Star Trek: The Music on Jan. 13-15. He hosts and narrates the soundtrack celebration with actor John de Lancie, who portrayed the omnipotent being “Q” in several of the Trek series.

Picardo said the Calgary performance will debut a new addition to the show: a piece from Michael Giacchino’s score for the 2009 Star Trek re-boot film. But he said the future of the pops concert is “uncertain” after Calgary.


Picardo and crew in Stargate Atlantis (photo credit: NBC Universal)

Stargate Atlantis was canceled in 2008 after five seasons, the last of which saw Picardo elevated from a recurring role to a starring one. But Syfy, then known as The Sci Fi Channel, promised fans a TV/DVD movie — reported to be titled Stargate: Extinction — to continue the story of Earth’s expedition to an Ancient outpost in a distant galaxy.

So, will Picardo and his fellow Atlantis cast members ever return to the Ancient city? Picardo says that’s a “touchy question.”

“As far as I understand, there is no movement forward,” he said. “I don’t know if it will ever happen.”

Picardo attributed the lack of an Atlantis movie to MGM Studios’ current financial troubles.

“It does not look likely at this point,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll never see Richard Woolsey again. Last month, Syfy renewed the latest spinoff, Stargate Universe, for a second season.

“The Stargate franchise is like the Star Trek franchise … there is always a possibility that you will guest-star in the new show,” Picardo said.

In any case, it won’t be long before you see Picardo on Syfy again: He is set to star in two original movies for the cable channel: Morlocks, a sequel to H.G. Wells’ Time Machine with his Atlantis co-star David Hewlett, and Monster Wolf.

In Morlocks, Picardo plays an Army colonel in charge of a military time travel project who uses genetic material from the future to treat his son’s cancer … with unexpected results. In Monster Wolf, Picardo plays an oilman “not unlike Dick Cheney” who drills in sacred Indian burial grounds, unleashing a vengeful spirit that takes the form of a giant wolf.

In the meantime, you can catch Picardo in a recurring guest role on ABC’s Castle with Firefly star Nathan Fillion and in the direct-to-DVD horror-psycho drama Censored, which Picardo calls “the first time I really carried a movie.”

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