Missions and Memories: Star Trek: Voyager at 25

Star Trek: Voyager first aired on the United Paramount Network (UPN) in January 1995. As the flagship show of a brand-new network, Voyager came to be the most successful series to premier with the network, lasting seven seasons. Voyager veteran and Trek Track Director Garrett Wang (Ensign Kim) welcomed long time colleagues, shipmates, and friends Robert Beltran (Commander Chakotay), Robert Duncan McNeill (Lt. Paris) and Tim Russ (Lt. Commander Tuvok) to a panel broadcast on the Main Events Sunday afternoon. The goal was to answer fan-submitted questions in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the series premiere.

The session began some twenty minutes late and when it finally went live, Beltran was missing. That allowed his fellow castmates to immediately launch into an impromptu riff on away missions gone bad and being stranded on alien planets. After a few moments, Beltran resolved his technical issues and joined the panel to a riotous chorus of cheers, good natured ribbing, and laughter. The tone for the hour had been set.

Wang began by reflecting on the quarantine driven reality of virtual sessions and pointed out that at least this format allowed panelists to dress more comfortably (i.e. wearing shorts instead of pants). This in turn led to a discussion of Tim Russ’s habit of bringing his own chaise lounge chair and portable heater to the set of Voyager so that he could nap between scenes and save the time of walking back and forth to his trailer. Comfort and convenience, after all, are essentials.

Each panelist had a unique journey to the role. Rick Berman had discussed the role with Tim Russ, who had appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was something of a known commodity. As a result, he only did 1 reading before getting the part. Robert Duncan McNeill had also appeared on Next Generation but his road was a bit longer. After submitting a taped reading from New York, where he was working in theater at the time, he received an invitation  to Los Angeles for an in-person audition. McNeill, who needed the work, auditioned wearing a full beard. After the audition Michael Piller joined him in the waiting room and asked about the beard. He pointed out that those in the room remembered him as clean shaven and wondered if McNeill would be willing to shave the beard and read again. McNeill said sure, expecting a date to be set for another reading. Piller didn’t set a new date. He brought McNeill to his office, gave him a razor and invited him to remove the beard then and there. Robert shaved the beard, immediately went in, auditioned, and got the job. Wang was the last member cast, suffering through 5 readings and multiple competitions before winning the role of Ensign Kim.

During the show’s run both Tim Russ and Robert Duncan McNeill directed Voyager episodes in what McNeill referred to as the “Star Trek School of Directing.”  For Russ it was the best kind of field work, giving  a young director an opportunity to experience every aspect of the process. McNeill appreciated the fact that episodes embraced different genres from light comedy to action/drama each offering unique challenges and opportunities. Rick Berman’s tastes tended toward traditional, classical film making techniques, and he insisted upon their application in the show. Through his experiences directing Voyager, McNeill learned those techniques and the rules governing them. He also learned when and where to break them.

One of the most interesting moments came in response to a question about the historical period each would like to have explored in a holodeck. For Russ it was ancient Egypt or Greece. McNeill chose Renaissance London while Beltran chose early 19th century Europe where he could fully experience the age of Beethoven. For Wang, post war 1950s America interests him the most. Another captivating moment occurred when the panel was asked about life in quarantine and what they’re doing with the time. Beltran is composing classical music and learning how to compose fugues, Russ continues his three-decade long passion for astronomy, McNeill and Wang have launched a podcast (Delta Flyers) and McNeill has also been active in the “Mankind Project,” a men’s group that emphasizes healthy masculinity.

Such was the nature of the time the panel spent together. It was a wide ranging, entertaining, and fascinating hour of conversation between four colleagues and friends reflecting upon their lives as part of Star Trek: Voyager.

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