Star Trek’s Gates McFadden opens up about The Next Generation, Picard, her podcast and more
Gates McFadden seems to be everywhere nowadays. From Star Trek: Picard season three, where she has a significant starring role, to her podcast Gates McFadden InvestiGates: Who Do You Think You Are?, where she delves deeper into getting to know actors and actresses who have been on Sar Trek, we’re hearing and seeing her now seemingly more than in the last 20 years combined. We certainly don’t mind.
Gates took some time out of a rainy Friday morning to catch up with us about her projects, and, silly us, we even stumbled upon the heart of the human condition during our conversation.
TrekNews.net: Thanks for joining us, Gates. We appreciate the way you delineate your guests on InvestiGates as people who are far more than just Star Trek alum. That was embodied well in your recent episode with Kate Mulgrew. In your intro for her, you never even mentioned she was on Voyager. We’re curious… what do you get out of really digging into these people and revealing who they are and exposing them to your audience?
Gates McFadden: Well, you honor me far too much by saying I expose them to my audience. I’m simply searching for things I don’t know about my guest. I love researching because it just opens the world to you and you go, oh my gosh, these are people who I’ve known about, some of them are dear friends… but there’s always something new you learn about them. So that to me is what’s challenging and also really enjoyable.
I do not consider myself an excellent podcaster. I am a neophyte; I am learning on my feet. It’s been fascinating and excruciating as well because you have to listen to your own voice and your own dumb questions.
TrekNews.net: It can be so tough for podcasters to nail down a level of comfort with their guest. But we think you do it really well. To what do you attribute your intimate interviewing skills?
Gates McFadden: I feel it takes a moment to get comfortable on a podcast, just as it does on an in-person or video interview like we’re doing. In the beginning, I always feel I’m trying too hard. And once it settles down, then both people are really listening to each other and it’s a conversation, which is what I love. Then it’s a give and take, and it can go places I haven’t anticipated or they haven’t anticipated. I also love it when there are big surprises that happen.
Everybody I talk to is interesting and so different. That’s an extraordinary thing for me. I didn’t pick that up as much when I was interviewing my TNG folks because I was close friends with all of them. But when you really don’t have a super-close friendship, it’s a fascinating give and takes. Some of the topics we talk about are fascinating. Like with the recent interviews with Tawney Newsome and Kate Mulgrew, we talked about our shared backgrounds, like our Catholicism.
I love talking to people like Jack Quaid and Tawny Newsome because I’m getting to know them in a new way. I adore both of them. I love their screen presence. I like who they seem to be as people. I sort of go, “yeah, I would like to get to know that person.” So, it’s pretty easy. There’s nobody I’ve worked with that I’ve gone, “well, that person’s a dud” because Star Trek actors are amazing, usually truly human beings who really care about so many different things in the world. So that part’s been fabulous.
TrekNews.net: Have you learned anything about yourself from talking with these people that you maybe didn’t realize before?
Gates McFadden: Oh, so much! I’m fighting my own self-judgment all the time. I never would’ve gone into podcasting had it not been something offered to me. I was offered and turned it down twice. I did the same thing with Star Trek. There’s something about me that keeps saying, “oh no, no.” And then, “Okay, okay, let me try this.” <laughs>. And it opened a whole new world. So, that’s what I’ve learned about me over the last, you know, 50 years.
As I was pondering doing a podcast, I have these two girlfriends who I always go over and discuss if I should do a certain thing. We walk through the pros and cons. They have a dog called Luna, and at that point, Luna never let me touch her. She was very shy. I was on the fence about doing a podcast and I said, okay, look, I’m going to take two dog biscuits. If Luna takes the biscuit in my right hand, I’m going to do it. And if she takes the left, I won’t do it. And I swear she went back and forth. It took her five minutes to make the decision, and she took the biscuit on the right. And I said, “well, I guess I’m doing it.”
TrekNews.net: Sounds like Luna can make all your life decisions from now on.
Gates McFadden: Yeah, it’s become a big joke! It’s taken me this long to learn how I need to make sure I open myself up to growing and trying new things. Somebody once referred to me as a “refuser.” Maybe that’s me.
TrekNews.net: When you talk about working on the podcast, you’ve mentioned how you edit your shows. Are you the person who actually sits down at the computer and gets into the nuts and bolts of an editing program?
Gates McFadden: Yes, and it takes forever! It’s a tremendous amount of editing. In the first season of InvestiGates, I would sometimes take a story from my interview and put it earlier or later in the show, depending on if that was a good ending. I don’t do that now. But I would have loved to be an editor in my life. I think it’s a fascinating thing because editing really makes a huge difference to the flow of a show.
TrekNews.net: Yeah, we don’t think television editors get nearly enough recognition because without doing what they do, you really don’t have a TV show. You don’t have nearly the same emotional punch or flow. It really is a valuable skill.
Gates McFadden: It would be fascinating if someone would do a TV show and have three different editors edit. The public would be just amazed at the impact different editors can have. Editing is a fine art.
TrekNews.net: We’re sure all your guests have stuck out in your mind somehow, but is there one person who you remember as being a really interesting person?
Gates McFadden: I think I might have to go back to Wil Wheaton actually because he’s someone who I certainly knew and liked for a long time. But I learned more about him in our podcast than I had learned in years. I learned what was shocking to him and what was gross to him. I learned that he doesn’t dance. I learned he doesn’t think of himself as a forgiving person. I mean, that’s pretty amazing.
TrekNews.net: It’s almost like getting to know somebody else again, even though you might have already known them.
Gates McFadden: Yes. People oftentimes make snap judgments about other people, maybe based on what they see on TV or just a passing encounter with a person in a check-out line. You think you know a person, but we often cut ourselves off from really significant observations because we close ourselves off.
TrekNews.net: You strike us, Gates, as someone who is a real student of the human condition. Would you agree with that assessment?
Gates McFadden: I would be honored if that was the case, and I do sort of agree with that assessment. I like looking at life like a scientist, really, because you sort of go, “why did I react that way? Why am I so scared now?” I try to stay where I like myself and try to be open to others in the same way. It’s a constant learning process. You can really do harm if you’re not thoughtful.
TrekNews.net: Fascinating. So, snap your fingers and you can get anybody on the show. Who would it be? Doesn’t have to be a Star Trek alum.
Gates McFadden: Well, one person I would love to talk to is [former Georgia State Representative and gubernatorial candidate] Stacey Abrams. I have great admiration for her. Plus, she’s been on – and loves – Star Trek!
TrekNews.net: Who would you be starstruck by?
Gates McFadden: Mads Mikkelsen is a big heartthrob of my life. He’s so great. He was a dancer, and one of those people that from afar I go, “wow, he’s a really good actor.” I love watching him on screen.
TrekNews.net: It’s good to see Beverly get some major meat in season three of Picard. We’re sure you feel the same way. What was your first reaction when you saw her storyline, considering the character unfortunately was not so prominent in the TNG movies?
Gates McFadden: That’s an understatement. Yeah, I needed to know in advance that there was going to be a good storyline, something that would show different aspects of Beverly. That it wouldn’t just be that she was a mother, or I was a vehicle to make the son come back. Obviously, they could have used any number of people who that could have happened to.
I don’t want to be limited to things that are just considered “female,” or “feminine.” I don’t only think it’s about nurturing. I think it’s about being forceful, in a good way, being assertive about being a scientist, and being really curious about what’s going to make the situation get better. I think she’s a humanist. I think she is, of course, a nurturer, but I think she is also very interested in science and technology, and collaboration is huge for her.
TrekNews.net: Would you do a Crusher show?
Gates McFadden: Are you kidding? <laughs>, Of course, I would. I mean, that could be very interesting. You know, we could be off on the Eleos doing medical supply runs and running into people sort of Pre-Picard.
TrekNews.net: It’s been basically 20 years since Nemesis. So, how did you get back into that headspace? How did you get back into character after so long?
Gates McFadden: Oh, it becomes very easy because we go to Star Trek conventions. It was after the 20th or 25th anniversary that we all started heavily doing conventions again. I hadn’t done them for a while. And we [the TNG cast] all were in contact. You know, once you’re with your television family again, it just starts to happen. And we all are very close. We have a group text. So, I think we know who our characters are, and how the characters evolved.
TrekNews.net: Forgive this next slightly morbid question. It’s fair to say your obituary is going to have Star Trek in the first paragraph. Let’s take Star Trek out of the picture. What do you want to be remembered for besides Star Trek?
Gates McFadden: In my life, I would like to be remembered for giving love. Every time I’ve ever given love, I’ve grown as a person. And I think there’s no point in giving hate or giving negativity. Being with my own personal family brings me so much love. I have so much love from my niece and nephew. I have so much love for my friends, and certainly for my son. Being a parent was the greatest experience of my life, for sure, because it is about protection and giving love. You learn about yourself as you do it. That was something I really wanted.
Being a parent illustrates what is so amazing about our existence. Yeah, there’s the risk of pain and injury and all sorts of things, but it’s like, are you willing to get positive? Are you willing to give love? But it’s about trying to emphasize giving. It’s about taking it off of me, me, me.
TrekNews.net: Well said. Thanks for sitting down with us today, Gates.
Gates McFadden: Oh, you’re certainly welcome!