Gates McFadden on the Ups and Downs of That Star Trek Life

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Gates McFadden is best known as Dr. Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and its four movie spin-offs, but her career goes well beyond Star Trek not just as an actress but also as a choreographer… and now as a podcast host.

McFadden and NacelleCast Studios recently launched the Gates McFadden Investigates: Who Do You Think You Are? podcast, which features her connecting with her co-stars and fellow Trek actors for conversations that cover their time in Gene Roddenberry’s universe, their personal lives, larger careers, and much more. It’s sort of the anti-Star Trek podcast in that it’s not really about Star Trek, but it also features all of your favorite Star Trek people! (So far she’s had on most of her TNG co-stars as well as Deep Space Nine actress Nana Visitor.)

I chatted with McFadden about the show, where she’s been finding new ways to talk to the friends she’s known for decades, and of course we also discussed her time on Star Trek and what she would like to see Dr. Crusher get up to if she ever comes back to play her again on Star Trek: Picard.

Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher

The Podcast Frontier

The idea of hosting a podcast couldn’t have been further from McFadden’s mind when she received a call from The Nacelle Company producer Brian Volk-Weiss (The Toys That Made Us).

“He said, ‘I really want you to do a podcast, and I’d like to produce it,’” McFadden laughs. “I was flattered and my first question was, ‘Well, gosh, thanks for calling, but why me?!’”

Volk-Weiss is more than just a producer, however; he’s also a fan of the franchise. After a lot of questions from McFadden and much back and forth, he finally convinced her to give it a try.

“He first wanted me to talk about Star Trek I think, and I shut him down immediately because not one of my cast members would come onto a podcast with one of ourselves and talk about Star Trek,” she says. “We could certainly talk about things, but nothing that we would want recorded, probably! So anyway, I said no, and he called me back a couple of times. And by the third time I really thought, ‘What am I doing? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s the pandemic. I’ve lost a bunch of jobs. Why don’t you just learn to say yes and try something new?’”

And so Gates McFadden Investigates was born. McFadden decided to also teach herself the technical side of podcasting along the way, including sound editing and more.

“That’s the director in me,” she says. “And it was a challenge to find a new way to speak to my friends when they knew they were being recorded. So I did a lot of research on everybody I knew already and sort of re-familiarized myself with their lives and their accomplishments and struggles, and tried to make each [episode] have its own unique take, because they’re all so different as people. And some work better than others.”

The Star Trek Family

It’s almost become a cliché in Star Trek fan circles, but The Next Generation crew really feels like a family, or at least a bunch of best friends. We’re not talking the typical line that actors give on the press circuit about their co-stars, either. When it’s Christmas and all of a sudden a photo gets tweeted of the whole TNG cast hanging at someone’s house for a Christmas party, or when Patrick Stewart is reading one of his sonnets and then the iPhone camera pans and Jonathan Frakes just happens to be sitting in Stewart’s backyard, it just seals the deal. These guys love each other.

“With the pandemic we started a group text, which we hadn’t had before,” recalls McFadden. “And that was, again, something that really had us staying together. It was very familial, and we are like a family. We’ll fight. We’ll make up. We’ll laugh. We’ll be naughty. We’ll do all that stuff. And it is great. I think we all have respect for each other.”

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For McFadden, the bond strengthened during the show’s 25th anniversary reunion tour at the Calgary Expo.

“Something new happened there,” she says. “I mean, we always got along, but something… We’d grown a little bit distant. Some people would be off doing stuff. We wouldn’t know what they were doing for a long time. And we would have our Christmas party … there are certain ones we were always in touch together. But I think after Calgary, we had so much fun together that we just really… from that point on we have just grown tighter and tighter, and it’s absolutely lovely.”

Looking Back on Beverly Crusher’s Arc

McFadden was on six of the seven seasons of The Next Generation, disappearing for the second year after clashing with the show’s producers, including Maurice Hurley. Dr. Crusher was replaced by Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Pulaski for the season, but would return at the start of Season 3 and then also appear in all four TNG movies. Still, when asked if she was happy with Beverly Crusher’s overall arc, the actress is frank.

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“Well, no,” she says. “I mean, of course I wasn’t. There were things that I adored that were written that I was able to do. And then there were just vast tundras. I think obviously it was very problematic that when I wasn’t there second season, and they had Diana Muldaur’s character, it was very clear to me that they wanted her. They wanted someone to sort of go back to [The Original Series doctor] Bones. They thought that was easier to write for. And then when that didn’t work out, I came back. But really, most of the scripts had come in and they were more that character. So it was a struggle … on and off there would be an occasional episode that someone would have written for my character, like “Remember Me” [where Crusher finds her shipmates are disappearing and nobody knows it but her]. That was fantastic. And I loved “The High Ground,” where it was about terrorism. … And that was banned in England.”

Still, McFadden admits that she was new to Hollywood when she joined the show and that in a lot of ways she just didn’t get how television production worked.

“I didn’t understand that there is a process,” she says. “So you go and you have lunch with the writers and you tell them your ideas and do things like that. I didn’t realize that’s what you did. And people who knew better really were able to make connections and come up with ideas. I wish I had done that. I think it would have been much smarter for me because actually the writers were all terrific, except for Maurice Hurley who was the only one I didn’t get along with. And he got rid of me, but that’s because I would speak up. If I thought something was racist or sexist, I would just say it. I was used to that, having taught at a university for years. You speak up. And that’s not the way you do it in Hollywood. So I wish I’d been a little more savvy, or a lot more savvy.”

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And things did improve over time, she says, particularly with the series finale, “All Good Things…” That episode depicted a possible future where Crusher was now captain of her own ship, and had married — and divorced — Jean-Luc Picard over the preceding years. The episode also strengthened the romantic possibilities between the two in the “modern” timeline.

“By the end, I really was getting some beautiful Crusher scripts,” she says. “Obviously, you have to share it [among your cast mates]. But look at the last double episode. I mean, how beautiful was that? Every single person had a beautiful arc and it was very moving. I thought it was quite wonderful. I think it was better than some of our movies, to be honest. … It’s always a difficult thing. People want to have a big sci-fi idea, which is important. But I think our cast was also beloved because they liked our characters and the way we interacted.”

As far as the four TNG movies go, McFadden says the shift towards a traditional action/sci-fi style meant a change in terms of how much a character like Dr. Cursher was going to get to do.

“I think a lot of that got lost with the movies,” she says. “It was kind of three male characters were the ones. Although I thought First Contact was a brilliant script. Director Jonathan [Frakes] did such a brilliant job with that. Alice Krige was fantastic as the Borg Queen. Amazing.”

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Dr. Crusher’s Future

As for Crusher’s future, while McFadden says there are currently no plans for her to appear on Star Trek: Picard, she doesn’t rule out returning to play the doctor at some point. And she has an idea of what she’d want to see from her.

“I would like her to be just a really full character and to have her… I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t have continued working,” says the actress. “She was obviously someone who very much was a humanist and wanted to help people wherever she could, and she was a scientist as well. … I loved that Dr. Crusher… was always the one who got into arguments with Picard because her first oath was the Hippocratic Oath and his was the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive was second for Crusher. And I think that’s a fascinating place to be. That’s a really interesting thing.”

While we wait to see if Beverly Crusher will get to argue out some philosophical dilemma with Jean-Luc Picard once again on Star Trek: Picard, at least we have Gates McFadden’s ongoing podcast. She’s got chats with Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo (“hilarious”) and Trek makeup legend Michael Westmore (“probably the most interesting person of everybody”) already in the can, and her two-part session with her TNG co-star Michael Dorn just hit. Check it out on subspace, or your podcast service of choice.

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Talk to Executive Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura, or listen to his Star Trek podcast, Transporter Room 3. Or do both!

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