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RenÚ Takes on the
Twin Cities!

Report from Creation Convention
in Minneapolis, Minnesota

August 3, 1996

by Marguerite Krause

Yesterday I saw RenÚ at a Creation Con in Minneapolis (Minnesota), so I thought I'd better tell you all about it.

First, background -- I'll tell you all this to make sense of what I tell you about RenÚ later, so trust me and read on! I first saw RenÚ at a Creation Con here in August of '94. He was here Saturday and Sunday, but I only got to go on Sunday. I came bright and early, which was a good thing, because when I walked in he was already sitting at a table in the convention center lobby, signing autographs! The line was short -- people were basically just dropping by as they arrived -- and even by the time he spoke, which was first thing that day, the place wasn't too crowded, maybe 300-400 people. During his talk that day he explained that he had to leave as soon as he was done, to catch a plane and appear at another con (in Arizona, I think!), and then get home that night so he could be at work in the morning.

Okay, now to the present. Yesterday I went to the con with my almost-18-year-old daughter, Miriam. We got to the convention center by 10:30 a.m. Miriam was active in high school theatre, and hopes to keep it up in college, and wore an army-green t-shirt with the name of one of the plays she did last year emblazoned across the front: M*A*S*H. The schedule of the day included Tim Russ (Tuvok of Voyager) speaking at 1:15, RenÚ at 2:00, and William Shatner at 5:00. This was a big convention, for this area, probably 2500-3000 people in attendance -- probably due to Shatner's presence, since I don't know when (or if) he's been here before.

At 1:15 Tim came onstage for his talk -- on crutches! He explained that it was just a strain, from playing basketball Friday afternoon, but he was under doctor's orders not to walk on it, hence the crutches. He was a good speaker; lots of anecdotes that had the crowd laughing, including tales of how Ethan Phillips is a crazy person who devotes a lot of time to trying to make Tim break character on set, with long, funny Neelix-type monologues while they're waiting to shoot a scene. The convention people set up a microphone on the floor, stage right, so people who wanted to ask questions lined up over there and took turns -- a nice arrangement, since the guest didn't have to pick waving hands from the crowd, and we could all hear what was said.

Then, right on schedule, Creation Con ran their "Salute to Odo" music video -- the same one I saw in '94, mostly season 1 outtakes set to the song "Bend Me, Shape Me". Then the lights came on, and RenÚ came onstage -- rather, he hobbled on stage, his right arm in a huge, white sling, his expression kind of shell-shocked! We all laughed and applauded hysterically, and when the noise died down he said, in Odo-voice: "This being a solid isn't all it's cracked up to be," which of course got another huge round of applause. Then he tossed the silly sling offstage and started his actual talk.

He was wearing blue jeans, a light green t-shirt and lighter-green jacket, and brown clogs, and was mostly full of energy, almost hyper. He paced back and forth a lot. He switched the microphone from one hand to the other; with his other hand, when it wasn't stuffed in his jeans pocket, he gestured as he spoke, or fiddled with the microphone cord, twirling it around in circles on the stage in front of him.

He said something about how nice it was to be here, since he'd never been here before -- a few of us murmured, "Yes, you have!" but no one shouted to correct him -- and it was too bad he couldn't bring his wife, Judith, but he had been shooting until 2:30 in the morning, so when he got home from work she was asleep... then he had to catch a 6:45 flight to come here, and when he left the house she was still asleep! He said we all probably thought he was shooting a Deep Space 9 episode, since we know that they often work long hours, especially on Fridays, but actually he was filming an episode of a new UPN series, The Burning Zone. His character is "Dr. Dicketts", and he'll be finishing that up on Monday -- he indicated that it was nice that he could fit the filming in around the Deep Space 9 schedule. (It was interesting: I believe he always called it "Deep Space 9" rather than "DS9").

He told us that Andy Robinson is directing the third show of the seaon -- the one they're working on/just finishing now -- and that he (RenÚ) will direct his first show of this season later this fall; he starts prep work on it at the end of August. He talked about how great it is that the higher-ups at Deep Space 9 allow fledgling directors like himself to learn on the job, and that Jonathan Frakes was the one who convinced him to try it in the first place. He mentioned that, "I've been acting for 30-odd years -- 30 very odd years!" and he talked about working with Nana, who is now pregnant "out to here" (accompanied by a huge gesture in front of his stomach). This past week they were standing next to one another, waiting to film a scene, and he broke out in the song (he sang it for us) "I'm a little teapot, short and stout" for which Nana almost punched him! He also said he gets to be a Klingon in the season opener. Like everyone, he'd wondered what it would be like to wear that makeup, and he talked about how people assume the elaborate makeups, like Klingons or Armin's "naked baby butt", are more uncomfortable than his plain, simple-appearing mask. Having worn the Klingon makeup, though, he said, "Now I know that mine is the most uncomfortable."

RenÚ talked A LOT -- most of it very fast, and he often digressed from a topic, going off on long tangents as other things occurred to him -- so it was really hard to take notes! He only appeared tired once or twice, when he'd pause to collect his thoughts and kind of rub his hand over his face, or when he sat down, VERY briefly and with a kind of tired groan, on the front of the stage. He checked his microphone cord at one point, kind of talking to himself: "Let's see, how long is this, sometimes I like to walk through the audience," then he looked at us, a long ballroom full of people, "no, there's too many of you," which got lots of aw-come-ons from the crowd, but he just kind of waved us off, and went back to his talk with "no, no, never mind, what was I saying?"

He only took a few questions, because his answers went on so long! The very first one was: "How does it feel to be the only Changeling to have killed another Changeling?" He looked taken aback, and the audience kind of laughed -- nothing like starting off with a tough question! -- but then he recovered and as soon as we quieted down he said, "Good. It feels good," which of course set us laughing again. Then he explained that in filming "It felt weird," because he and the other Changeling actor filmed their fight in front of a blue screen on separate days. He said, "The first day I shot the scene, like this," and he put his microphone down on the stage, turned in profile to the audience, and pretended to struggle with an invisible opponent. Then he grabbed up the microphone, faced the other way, said, "And the next day he came in, and did the same thing," and put the mike down again and mimed the other side of the fight, as if he were being strangled, with his face all twisted up and his tongue sticking out. It was hilarious! He then went on to talk about how "Star Trek isn't only about special effects; it has depth," that it goes for stories about character, and "now the character has to deal with this incredible burden." He talked more about Odo, how "the character is full of contradictions," and how with Star Trek, "everything adds to the complexity." He was very positive about Star Trek in general and Odo in particular, and how he enjoys the challenges of playing the character -- that at first he liked the fact that Odo didn't know who he was or who his people were, but now that Odo's met his people he's had to face the fact that they stand for things he doesn't approve of, and he's come to realize that his "family" are the people he works with on the station. He concluded the answer to "how does it feel?" by saying that, to Odo, it feels "conflicting and painful."

Someone asked him to sing his Chef Louie part of The Little Mermaid, which he did (just the first verse), complete with a bit of acting-out for lines like "pull out the insides" and "chop them in two."

A young person asked, "Why is your voice so different, and you look so young with your make-up?" which got another chorus of sympathetic groans/laughter from the audience. He explained that that's what it means to be an actor. He talked about how he wanted to be an actor since he was six, and mentioned some of his history with John Houseman and going to Carnegie Mellon. He said he thought there were two kinds of actors, the ones who project their personality, larger than life but still basically themselves, and the ones who hide themselves in a lot of different characters. He never imagined he would be a Brad Pitt; he wanted to be a character actor. He talked about working with Katharine Hepburn when he did Coco on Broadway, and how people would ask him what she's really like, and he would say, "You know her as well as I do!" because that was herself that she put on stage. He said, "What I am in real life is a shy person... I wanted to play characters that weren't me... I wanted to hide inside my characters... that's the fun of acting, pretending to be something I'm not." He also talked about auditioning for Deep Space 9 (you see what I mean about how he kept going off on long, stream-of-consciousness rambles?), that just because he'd done six years on Benson didn't mean it was a sure thing to get the part of Odo. He said that the person who ushered him into the audition room said, just before he opened the door, "No one has been grouchy enough," which gave RenÚ an idea of what the producers were looking for. The person started to introduce him to all the people in the room, who were sitting behind a long table, (RenÚ mimed shaking hands with people over a table), and he shook a few hands, then said in gruff Odo-voice, "Yeah, yeah, yeah... we'll get to be friends later." That, of course, was what they wanted.

Miriam (my daughter -- I told you I'd get back to her!) came up in line to ask her question. RenÚ looked at her, noticed her t-shirt, and said, "M*A*S*H? That's for the TV show?" Miriam said, "No, we did the play in my high school theatre." RenÚ said, "I didn't know there was a play. I was in the film M*A*S*H, did you know that?" Of course Miriam nodded and smiled and the audience applauded. RenÚ said, "I was recently at a 25th anniversary screening... oh my god," and he covered his face with his hand and shook his head, "and I looked at the screen, and there was my son! My son is 22, and I was what, 27, just a few years older when we shot that...." Then he said, "Oh well. I'm sorry, you had a question?" Miriam asked about memorizing lines, whether it's easier when you do little scenes, just a few at a time but out of order as you do for movies or TV, or when you do an entire play, with all the scenes in order.

RenÚ took off on that subject -- he said that for film most people just learn the lines they need for that day. Sid and Colm will come on the set and do the blocking walk-through with their scripts in their hands: RenÚ mimed all this, walking, looking at a script, as he said, "Colm will read, 'mumble, grumble, techno-babble, techno-babble, techno-babble,' then toss the script aside and do the take." RenÚ said, in contrast, he and Armin work like they would on stage: "I learn my whole script before I start." He said neither method is better than the other, just different. When you work on a play, he said, "you go to rehearsals for four to six weeks, five days a week, 9 to 5, just like going to work in a bank" so eventually you memorize all your lines. But in film you don't get much rehearsal, so he likes to know his lines before he gets there. He said he was sitting backstage while Tim was on, listening to us all laughing, and working on his lines for several long speeches he would do on Monday as Dr. Dicketts.

Someone asked him to share the "juiciest fan letter" he ever got. RenÚ said he doesn't get juicy fan letters: "I'm not Terry Farrell," he said, and fanned his suit coat a few times, as if just thinking about her raised his temperature! Then he thought for a minute, and told us that the "sweetest letter" he can remember was one from a 7-year-old boy who lives out on a farm in North Dakota, and who wrote about how much he liked Star Trek, and that he admired Odo because he never lies. His mom added a note, saying how important the Star Trek characters were to her son, because they live so isolated. RenÚ talked about how he enjoys letters like that, and coming to conventions, where he gets to hear our reactions. As an actor on stage he gets immediate feedback from his audience, but in film or TV, the "audience is the lens, just a circle of black glass," so it's harder to know what effect you're having on people.

He talked about how we know a lot of things before he does -- for instance, when Michael Dorn was added to the cast he was in Australia and didn't know anything about it, until someone at the Australian convention asked, "What do you think about Michael Dorn joining the show?" and RenÚ responded with something like, "It's wonderful. We're all very excited," whereas in truth he had no idea what was going on! He said people have asked him if Odo is going to become a Changeling again, but he doesn't know... then he laughed and said, "Actually, I lied, I do know. Odo doesn't lie, but I'm not Odo, I lie." He implied (I don't remember exactly how he said it!) that Odo will be a shapeshifter again, but he doesn't know how it will happen, and it won't be as soon as some people have thought it would be.

The next question was whether it was hard to project his emotions through the mask for Odo, as opposed to acting on stage in much lighter makeup. RenÚ said, "Masks don't hide emotions -- they project them... it's liberating to be hidden behind the mask." He talked a bit about mask work, and how people can hide their emotions behind their bare faces, and how emotion comes through in the way we carry ourselves, and our voices, more than just in the expression on our faces.

Finally, someone (another young person) asked, "Is Odo your favorite character that you've played?" and RenÚ said that if you'd asked him ten years ago he would have mentioned Lear or "that nitwit Clayton Endicott" or whatever he'd done most recently. Now, however, it's Odo. He mentioned his long career again, and said that he's still going to keep on acting after Deep Space 9, but given his age he thinks, "...this is the peak of my life, creatively... Odo will remain as the pinnacle of my career, creatively...."

As you can see, it was a great talk!

The convention organized the autograph lines with an admirable efficiency. Tim and RenÚ sat at separate tables, each with an assistant who took whatever we wanted autographed and turned it right side up and passed it to the actor to sign. RenÚ had brought prints of Chef Louis, (proceeds went to Multiple Sclerosis research this time) which he personalized as well as autographed, and he autographed Odo photos or programs, too. When Miriam and I came up he recognized her and said, "Thanks for your question," and he personalized her cartoon with a word balloon coming out of the chef's mouth; inside the balloon he wrote, "For Miriam," with a little heart below the words! I brought an Odo photo and got a cartoon as well, for RAIL's Martin in The Netherlands -- no, Martin didn't get a heart after his name, but he does have two autographs now, one personalized.

We left the con a little after five -- at that point William Shatner was giving his talk, but I wasn't interested in hearing him, so Miriam and I went home. From the length of the line, RenÚ and Tim might have stayed another hour or more, and still not finished signing. A long day's work for RenÚ on just a couple hours of sleep!

Guess that's all -- we had a great time, and I can't wait for next season to start!

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