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Gates McFadden is known to Star Trek fans for playing Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and now she’s interviewing some of her Enterprise crewmates in a new podcast. Produced by The Nacelle Company, InvestiGates: Who Do You Think You Are? features conversations between McFadden and Star Trek alumni Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Will Wheaton, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, John de Lancie, Robert Picardo, Michael Westmore, Nana Visitor, and Denise Crosby, offering glimpses into the behind-the-scenes relationships shared by the Star Trek actors. The first three episodes of the podcast series are available now on major distribution platforms.
For the podcast’s launch, ComicBook.com spoke to McFadden about her foray into the new medium, which is only the latest in a long list of McFadden’s talents. We discussed what it was like speaking to her co-stars in this way, and looked back on her career working on Labyrinth with David Bowie and on Star Trek, and discussed Beverly Crusher’s future. Here’s what she had to say:
Jamie Lovett, ComicBook.com: Has the idea to launch a podcast been brewing for a while, or was it born out of pandemic restlessness?
Gates McFadden: You know what, it was not something that came out of my little old mind. Initially, it was the CEO of Nacelle, Brian Volk-Weiss, who cold-called me and said, “Listen, I’ve been a fan of yours for years and I have been thinking, and I think there is no one better than you to do a podcast for our company and I’ll produce it.” And I’m like, “What? No, thank you but no thanks.” What would I possibly be doing? There’s something so hilarious about my character, I finally can laugh about it because I did the same thing with the original Star Trek when they asked me. Someone comes with this great, wonderful gift and I go, “No, there’s got to be something bad, right? If I do this, then what are you going to cut me at the knees or what’s up?”
Of course, it shows how distrustful I must be, it’s a terrible character trait. Luckily people are nice in the world and really are genuine, and they came back and he said, “No, I’m serious.” He asked me several times, he kept on me, and finally, I said, “Yes.” I’m really glad that he was that smart to know that this would get me through the pandemic, and it would be possibly an interesting project for others to listen to, we will see about that. But I certainly learned a lot about myself and my friends, I learned things about each of them that I didn’t know before. So it was very useful. I learned how to sound edit, I built myself a sound studio at home. And there you are.
For the podcast, you’re talking with a lot of people that you’ve known for a long time. Which conversation surprised you the most?
I would say maybe my space son [Wil Wheaton] because I adore the guy and I learned so much about him, and I’m sure he learned more than he ever has wanted to know about me in our podcast conversation. We spoke for two and a half hours, and I had to edit it, it was so much, I first tried to edit it down to one episode and it didn’t work, I lost too much material and I thought, okay, I’m going to go out on a limb and make this a double episode.
Obviously, I worked with him way back when, and we’d run into each other, and we always really had great vibes when we were together and I mean, I knew his wife and he’d come to a birthday party at my house and we’d talk about things, but this was really in-depth. I learned about when he lost his virginity, he learned about when I lost mine. We talked about stuff and without a doubt, I would say I learned the most about who he is and I think he’s a pretty amazing man actually, I’m very impressed with who he is.
After being hesitant, how has your experience podcasting compared to what you expected?
Well, it was harder than I expected on one level and easier on another. I mean, it’s a lot of work to make anything good. I spent a lot of hours editing because little things make a big difference. It’s like setting up the volleyball, you push it up and then you smack it. You need to know how to set something up, and I really found it fascinating. I learned about what my mistakes as a host were, I really worked to try to correct some of them, as many as I could. I’m still on that learning curve.
But to be present with somebody and to try to have a back and forth, because I didn’t want it to just be an interview, that was the hard part because these are friends of mine, it would be very different if I said, “I’m going to interview you about Star Trek,” or “I’m going to interview you about this.” I wanted to ask questions like if you were sitting around, I could ask them the same question, if they were over my house, I wanted it to be very much like that. And they do come over to my house and I go over their house and we have a rapport.
So that’s what I wanted it to be, it’s like we were having a conversation. Sometimes it works better than others on the podcast, sometimes that had to do with the fact that it was a pandemic and we had to have connections from different houses. And sometimes the connections were really bad, sometimes they were fantastic and sometimes we were sitting opposite each other. So it’s really about learning who these actors are as humans. And I have to say, I think they all are pretty amazing people. They’re funny, they’re smart, they care about the world, they have interesting backgrounds. Every one of them can laugh at themselves, which I consider a great quality. So I had a blast.
Can you imagine keeping the podcast going after this first set of interviews by bringing in more guests that you don’t have that preexisting relationship with?
Yes, of course. I mean, I think in a certain way, it’s probably simpler. I think it’s a little tricky sometimes when you’re sharing and vulnerable, but sharing stuff of your own life and you want to see what it sparks. Which, if it was somebody who I’m flat out interviewing, I don’t know if you do it in the same way, but maybe you do. There are many people, certainly in my life who I would love a chance to interview, but I don’t know if I’ll have that opportunity. But I’ve had people already saying, “Hey, listen your career seems to cross over many worlds. Would you have any interest in talking to people about this?” And I’m learning better late than never, not to say no to something but to actually contemplate. Well, maybe.
So that’s where I am. I’m having a great time doing this. I still have plenty of people in Star Trek to whom I want to speak. And we’ll see, there are many people who I would feel would be a very interesting conversation. And that would be the trick, is to find a way. And that’s what I’m learning is, how to make it a conversation so it’s not somebody feeling like they’re being interviewed.
Your career has touched a lot of different areas. You’re an actor, choreographer, theater director. Was that your plan when you started getting into the business? Did you want to do lots of different things, or was it more by circumstance?
No, I didn’t really have that as a plan. I think I wanted to create when I got into it, I wasn’t into it as a business, first of all, I was into it as a creative journey and I was really into process and discovering things, and observing life, and thinking about how I could contribute to the world and maybe help move it in a good direction. So that was my initial thought. And then it’s very different in New York versus out in LA. And now I don’t even know what it’s like in New York.
But money, money is so huge for any film or television production, and there’s so much at stake that there’s not really the same time to explore things. That’s why I always encouraged students of mine, for example, to get your camera and start making your own stuff because you’ll learn that way and you’ll figure out your vision of the world and what are the stories you want to tell. I think that’s really important and wonderful. So I wanted to create and tell my stories with my friends and collaborate. That’s what I really wanted to do for when I started the whole thing and stuff came my way. I mean, teaching it happened, I didn’t go out to be a teacher, it happened.
And the choreography stuff happened because people would say, “Oh can you choreograph for us? Because I know that you did the Harvard Hasty Pudding Club and you did this.” I mean, that’s how the Harvard Hasty Pudding Club happened. It was like, I was waiting tables and I met a couple of people who were producing that show, and we got to know each other and they found out about my background and that I had done all kind of Rockette kick line stuff and everything. And that’s what they were looking for in their show. Thye saw I was a choreographer who could tap, do kick lines for the guys in drag. And a lot of things in my life’s been that way. So the struggle is to stay open and to not be afraid of failure. And I struggle like anyone else does, or not everybody I guess struggles, but I do. Trying something new, people might not like it. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But how are you going to know if you don’t have the courage to try?
When you look back at all the things you’ve done, is there a connective thread that you can see through there? Something that all these different areas you’ve touched have in common that maybe is what connects you to them?
Yeah, I think it’s curiosity. I think it’s really curiosity and wanting to use my voice. I don’t mean necessarily literally my voice, but whoever I am, I use everything I have to try to understand the world I live in better, understand myself better, try to find ways to reach out and connect. I think that’s been a big thing in my life and I’m very much an introvert actually. So for me, it’s a way of making connections, keeping in the world, which I think is really important.
One of the more interesting credits you have is being — I think it was director of puppetry on Labyrinth?
It wasn’t director of puppetry. It was choreographer and director of puppet movement. Puppetry is a much broader thing. Puppetry, you also know how to make the puppets. I think the puppeteers were well beyond me and they were advanced in that. What I gave them was an eye because they were working the puppet. So I would choreograph, help say don’t move so much there or turn your head. And they were so smart and knew how to work whatever puppet they had. I worked a lot with the goblins because often they could barely see with all of the headgear. And some were dwarfs, some were midgets, some people had movement problems and we had to build strength, we had to articulate joints. And when your eyes are actually not in the position of the eyes that the character has, it’s tricky.
You have to know how to do the comic stuff, and the falls, and not get hurt. So I did stuff like that. I worked with the Ludo because it was a very heavy armature in the Ludo character and it was exhausting for him. He was a lovely man. And he’s now a great artist who builds oversized sculptures, and he’s well-known and he’s no longer doing any puppetry but he’s a sculptor. I mean I think again, it was being on such a journey.
The ballroom scene was my favorite scene to work on without question, I was given more freedom in that, I cast the dancers. I really got to work on that for a month, I would say. And we had rehearsals and Bowie was a dream to work with. And he actually tried to do all these disappearing moves. I wanted him to magically disappear all the time. And then what happened is, when they edited the film, he could have been anywhere because they didn’t stay on the shot where he actually disappeared. I was so depressed because he really did it well and it really was cool. You were like, how did that happen? We really had worked these transitions but at any rate, it still was pretty magical.
You mentioned Bowie. There’s someone whole, even before his death but especially then, who has taken on this mythical quality.
Bowie was a man who was not afraid to fail. There you go. He had such curiosity about the world, he was unpretentious, he was pretty remarkable. And I think he was fearless. I aspire to that fearlessness. I don’t think I’ve reached that level but it’s pretty amazing that he could face his own death that way and be so creative, and make it so astonishingly beautiful for all of us to see because that’s quite a legacy.
I know you’ve said recently you’re not in Star Trek: Picard’s second season. If it were up to you, having inhabited that character as long as you did, where do you envision Beverly Crusher being by the time Picard takes place, a couple of decades into her future? Have you given that any thought at all?
I find that tricky territory because if you don’t have the power to actually do anything with that, you end up going on a road that, it’s not going to lead you anywhere in particular. What I do instead is, I’ve watched the episodes of Picard, I’ve watched Discovery. I can’t wait to see Ethan Peck and Anson Mount’s show, and I see how brilliantly Star Trek is still going so strong, that inspires me. So I’m loving getting engaged in those worlds of those shows.
I’m excited for all of it. I mean, I could see being on Discovery. I don’t have to be Dr. Crusher, you know what I mean? I see the thing is bigger than me, if you know what I mean, it’s bigger than Crusher. It’s something that’s an important thing to a lot of people on this planet. Star Trek, what it represents, and what we need so desperately now in our lives of learning how to become more inclusive and tolerant, and try to work together to combat major problems we have on this planet. So I think I put my focus there more instead. If I really had a clear-cut idea for Crusher, I probably would have written a Star Trek novel, you know what I mean? But I think I’m more engaged with seeing how far the shows keep imagining things and the characters and the actors they choose.
The actors in all these shows are really wonderful human beings. I mean, all the ones I’ve met really care about the planet, really want to work together so that we can raise money for justice or do something. That’s really unusual to find that many people from a huge franchise that are working together like that. I can’t think of any other show that does that. There can be groups of actors who’ve worked together and know each other that all get on board to do that, but this is something very particular. And I think that I saw that when we were raising money for Biden through Stacey Abrams, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker is a big fan. I think for me, I so appreciate the power of the vision of all of these Star Treks. That’s what I keep thinking about. I don’t think of it only in terms of Dr. Crusher, where would I be as part of this, but this is pretty extraordinary.
Not that I wouldn’t love to have a chance to do something more, but it’s not something I sit and ponder. Obviously, Patrick and I had a great chemistry. I feel it came across on screen. So yes, of course, it would be wonderful and fun no matter which way it went. But even doing the podcast, I have enormous respect for my friends. And that’s a gift that speaks of who these people are, who the people who chose them are, and who hired them, and who did their makeup and hair, and who wrote the lines and all of that.
And I’m so much more aware of the power of that collective. Not the Borg collective — I mean, that’s very powerful — but the collective that puts us all together. And I don’t think I had a clue about that when I got the job, I think it’s taken me years and I’ve learned through the fans because when I meet people who have become surgeons or scientists or whatever, because of our characters, it’s genuinely humbling because I know it’s not because of me really, it’s because of the whole thing. And they could project themselves onto a character. So yes, it’s me in a small part because I happened to be that character but I don’t take credit for the character myself. I think it was a collective effort and I was lucky enough to be the character.