I have to start by saying that I had been looking forward to this convention for ages - in fact, from long before I knew for sure that René was ever going to be a guest there! ORACLE member Brigitte, a resident of Toronto, had been telling me wonderful things about the convention for years, and every year she mentioned how much the fans in Toronto hoped that René, some day, would be able to attend. The convention organizers invited him several times, but every year René had to regretfully decline because of other commitments. Finally, however, his schedule cooperated, and he was signed as a guest for the 2005 con!
Because of this con’s good reputation and location (convenient to many people in central and eastern North America), a large group of fans from ORACLE and RAFL arranged to attend. Our group consisted of Brigitte and her daughter Meg, Judy and CZ from Illinois, Chris and Jeff and their little boy Ross from Michigan, Lynne from Las Vegas, Sue from Wisconsin, and me and Mike from Minnesota.
René arrived at the convention hotel on Friday night, although he didn’t have any officially scheduled activities to do until Saturday at noon. After getting settled in his room, René came down to the ORACLE table to greet our members who were there. Then he heard that we were all going to a panel discussion on the subject of “The Outsider” and how Odo filled that role on DS9 (I had volunteered a month or so before the con to be one of the panelists), and he said that sounded interesting and came with us! So our mob (most of the eleven of us had arrived by that point), with René walking in our midst, trooped through the hotel to where the panel discussion rooms were located.
René just sat and listened for most of the panel discussion, but at the end the panel moderator invited him to add a few comments, and René made some very nice remarks - how when the panel first started he had doubts about his decision to come listen, because he felt like an intruder, and then later wondered about the personal directions some of the remarks were taking (at one point I mentioned my theory that a lot of Trek fans are also “outsiders” in one way or another - geeks or nerds who don’t quite fit into mainstream society - and that’s why we find such resonance in Odo’s conflicts and triumphs during the seven seasons of the show), But then he got to thinking about how, if we had been having a conversation about The Fool from King Lear, a character he has played, he wouldn’t take the comments as personally as he was reacting to some of our conversation about Odo, and that probably had to do with how he also has been an “outsider” at certain stages of his life (like growing up in the conservative 50s with a name like “René” and a dad who was investigated by McCarthy) and brought some of that experience to how he played Odo.
As we all left the room after the panel, several fans who had attended the panel thanked René for coming and said how much they appreciated his comments.
On Saturday, René came down to the ORACLE table around 10:00 a.m., and signed autographs for charity and chatted with our ORACLE/RAFL members who were helping to direct the autograph line and sell Chef Louis cartoons and other stuff we had brought for René to autograph. Then at noon he went upstairs to do the official convention autograph session for another two hours! All the fans at this convention were really nice - very polite and appreciative of his being there. I got to sit next to him and collect money for the charity items during most of his signings (other folks in the group helped out, too, though it’s not a job everyone likes - you have to move fast to keep up with how fast René signs autographs and draws his Odo’s Bucket cartoons, and you have to be willing to really speak up to the fans, explaining the prices of the items for sale and that all the money goes to Doctors Without Borders and answering any questions they might have).
At 3:00 in the afternoon, René did a Q&A session on the main stage. He told a funny story about his first experience with trying to enter Canada to visit a girlfriend when he was in college - arriving via bus with not much money in his pocket, being a bit of a “wise guy” with the customs official, who sent him back across the border to the States, phoning his girlfriend to pick him up in her car, crossing into Canada once more only to encounter the same customs official, who was not at all amused to see him back again.... Funny! Throughout the hour, René was consistently entertaining, interesting, and charming.
Sunday was also busy, with René doing all the same events as on Saturday, just crammed into a shorter time frame. His official autograph session came first, then he came to the ORACLE table for almost an hour, then his Q&A, then photo sessions, then a press conference with local media. I think everyone in our group had a chance to chat with him again, at least briefly, while he was hanging out at the table (and I know that a lot more photos were taken than we have room to post here!).
The final tally for the amount of charity money raised was $3,647 in Canadian currency plus $140 in US currency. After the monetary conversion, the total came to approximately US $3,100 for the two days. !
Well, there you have it - Toronto Trek in a nutshell. It was a great con. Already I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get together with my fellow fans and see René again.
I left Thursday night on a United Airlines’ Ted redeye. There was no audio circuit in the seat. Thank goodness I had thought it would be a great way to start my “René” weekend by listening to Brimstone by Lincoln and Child on my CD player. I fell asleep listening to René reading. It wasn’t that the book was boring, in fact it was very stimulating, but with the 11:50 p.m. flight and not getting much sleep that week due to my excitement of going to Toronto Trek 19 where I would see at least two Q&A sessions with Mr. Auberjonois, obtain his autograph (included in the weekend price), and perhaps even get a picture taken with him, I was exhausted and so had the joy of falling to sleep with this wonderful actor’s voice in my ears. In fact, if I hadn’t had the foresight to pack my CD player, I don’t think I could have withstood the flight. Who would have expected a Las Vegas to Chicago flight at midnight on a Thursday to be so popular? We passengers were completely packed like sardines!
Arriving at O’Hare, I had to literally walk about a mile to the gate for the fifty-seater to Buffalo. Arriving at Buffalo, I asked at an information desk for a map from Buffalo to Toronto. I was told by the kind lady that she had heard there had been a bad accident on one of the bridges on the route. She suggested hanging out for a while. I decided it might be interesting to see Niagara Falls. I tried to see the United States side, but on the way stopped at a Duty Free Shop at the Rainbow Bridge from where I could only proceed through to Canada. I drove up and down past the Canadian side of the Falls. It cost around $13 to park, so I decided with how tired I was and how much my swollen feet were killing me, to drive past the falls and then to continue on my way. I’m glad I decided to fly into Buffalo and then drive to Toronto, because I love adventure (seeing the countryside) and I also love saving $125 which it would have cost more than flying to Buffalo and then renting a car.
Upon arrival near the hotel I drove around a bit to try to find somewhere to eat, but couldn’t find anything but a McDonald’s. I figured I’d settle for hotel food. I checked in, walked around a bit, and headed for the room to take a badly needed shower. Wandering around some more, after picking up my con registration, I found my weekend roommate Carolyn (CZ), also of ORACLE, and we got settled in. We checked at the table and found Marguerite and Mike and Judy. I had made and brought along badges that said “Friends of René” and “A Member of ORACLE/RAFL” with a spot for a person’s name and everyone donned one. Later I decided to go to the hotel restaurant alone for dinner and afterwards to look to see if anything was going on at the ORACLE table. It was around 9:40, and René was there along with most of my ten other fellow RAFL/ORACLE fans. I knew the group panel discussion of Odo as an “Outsider”, of which Marguerite was going to be a panel member, would start at 10 p.m. I tried to stay in the back of the crowd but Mr. Auberjonois saw me and turned around as we were walking and reached out for my hand and said, “Nice to see you again.”
I replied “Nice to see you again, too.” I was thrilled that he remembered me. We went to the meeting room and waited until the previous discussion ended. I tried to act cool with my heart in my throat. René was dressed in heather green slacks, collared shirt and jacket, casual but elegant.
René walked into the room with us and sat in the back row. I considered sitting where I could observe his reactions, but on second thought determined that that would be rude and sat two rows in front of him toward the side. I observed during the weekend that this con’s attendees were very respectful and kind. I would like to say that the con seemed to be very well run and not overly crowded. I think that this was because of the many varied spaces and events being held, something for everyone.
The terrific “The Outsider” panel discussion started. The panelists were very eloquent and explored a lot of ideas that I had never considered. Many attendees also had something to add to the discussion, sometimes personal, sometimes in reference to various plot points. René Auberjonois stayed until the end. Occasionally, during the discussion I would glance back and see how attentive he was, reacting to the discussion. From his face, body language, and expressive eyes I could tell that he was keenly involved in the discussion. He would often change positions, and look directly at whoever was speaking at the moment. At the end he was asked by the panel if he would like to say anything and he did, commenting that he was unsure as to whether he should have been there at all and how he realized how personally he took the character of Odo and others’ reactions to him. He remarked how, growing up, he felt like an outsider, with a name that was seen as a girl’s, and that he always has been shy. He complimented everyone on how much thought they had given to their feelings and observations of his character. This panel discussion was so wonderful and heartfelt that I believed from it alone that I had gotten my money’s worth traveling to Toronto from Las Vegas. Mr. A and his group meandered towards the elevators and our rooms, making comments and glowing after this wonderful discussion. There were a lot of people there to use the hotel elevators, and I watched as a mob of them crowded onto the elevator that he boarded, and hoped that this slim and wonderful man wouldn’t get trampled!
The next morning, following breakfast, we went to the ORACLE table. The table was centrally located between the dealer’s room and another area full of tables, most for charity and other organizations. I was greatly enthused watching Mr. Auberjonois meet fans. He had decided that he would sign for the autograph card (four autographs were included in the weekend’s membership to the con, his among the others). Marguerite had brought a variety of items for him to autograph and there were items available for fans to purchase in the dealer’s room as well. Mr. Auberjonois also drew many of his Odo’s Bucket cartoos. I helped keep people in an orderly line and informed the fans about the prices for the pictures and autographs. After spending time at the table, René signed autographs for a couple of hours in the autograph room.
That afternoon, there was an hour-long Q&A session. Many great questions were asked, among them being a question about how René prepares to do animated voices, including The Last Unicorn, and whether there was going to be a live-action movie made that he had been rumored to be in. Mr. Auberjonois commented that he had heard the same rumor, but not from the producers of said film, just from fans! He did say that he was proud of the 1980s The Last Unicorn and his participation in it. It was the first animated film he had a part in. He loves the music of “America”, the featured music group, and there were many fine fellow actors in it as well, including Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow. Another question was, “Are there any actors that you are often up for the same roles with?” He said sometimes “James Cromwell” or “Jaime” as he called him (an old friend), as they are both tall, lean and fair and character actors. They also get mistaken in airports for each other. Another question was how he got his animated roles and how he prepared for them. He explained that a lot of people would like to do animated voices, but that it is really hard to break the ice in the business. He had had a role where Gordon Hunt, Helen Hunt’s father, was the director. After the role ended, Hunt asked him to do some animated voices for Hanna-Barbera where Hunt worked in the voice casting department. René also mentioned doing background voices in live action movies.
On Sunday morning, a charity auction was held for the “Ronald McDonald House”, the major beneficiary of the Toronto Trek 19 convention. Several actors, including Matthew Waterhouse and Corin Nemec, got up in front of the crowd gathered in the bar area of the hotel to auction off their items. René Auberjonois auctioned off several items including the back of his director’s chair from Inspector Gadget that he signed and personalized.
There was another autograph session on Sunday morning following the auction. A short while later, René came down to the table to greet convention attendees and sign items for Doctors Without Borders. Again our group of fan club members stood in attendance, helping control the line and informing our fellow fans of the autograph availability. During this visit to the table I had the chance to tell Mr. Auberjonois that I was thoroughly enjoying listening to Brimstone on CD. He had said “Is that my latest?” I said, “No, I haven’t gotten to that one yet” and asked him if he was going to do more. He said that he would have to wait for Lincoln and Child to write another.
Directly following the time at the table, Mr. Auberjonois was escorted to the ballroom for another hour-long Q&A session. Our group sat up front to the left and listened. I decided to ask him a question and when it was time for me to get up to the microphone he said “Hi, Lynne.” I said “Hello! I was wondering if you could tell us how you go about recording an audio book and what the difference is between this and doing animated voices.” I had head that Disney Studios usually records each animated voice one at a time. He explained that he often does books that require many voices. He is a “quick read” and it only takes about a day and a half or two to record a six-hour book. He can pause if he wants between each voice. When he does animated voices, a group of people get together in a room, much like theatre or radios shows, and record the voices together. There were several other interesting questions.
Unfortunately, the time had come to leave Toronto Trek 19 to take CZ to the airport and then to proceed to drive to Buffalo for my flight. I stopped at a couple of wineries on the way south. I plan to visit this area again as it is quite beautiful. I would like to visit another Toronto Trek and would highly recommend that others attend this wonderful fan-run convention. This was probably one of the most wonderful times I had in my life, so far, getting to better know my fellow fans and a great actor and sweet gentleman that I have enormous respect for. Unfortunately the trip ended badly by having to wait for four hours at the nearly deserted Buffalo Airport because of thunderstorms. Oh, Well! You can’t win them all.
Paul Lewiston Speaks:
Some Boston Legal Tidbits
from Actor René Auberjonois
by Chris Bichler
I had a chance to see and chat with René Auberjonois over the July 15-17 weekend at the Toronto Trek science fiction convention. The veteran actor answered questions from fans, not only about his role as Odo, the shapeshifting security officer of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also about his more recent work on Boston Legal.
The following is a summary of his comments on Boston Legal during the convention’s Q&A sessions and also during an informal gathering with fans. (Author’s note: Quotations given are from memory, and any errors therefore are mine.)
Auberjonois said he’s enjoying his role as Paul Lewiston, one of the senior partners at Boston Legal’s fictional law firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt. Even though Paul doesn’t always get a lot of screen-time - and is frequently seen in the stock role of scolding parent to some of the show’s more colorful characters - the actor says he doesn’t mind playing a sometimes one-dimensional grouch. He says that he’s proud of the show as a whole, and loves working with the rest of the Boston Legal cast. Auberjonois doesn’t really expect Paul to get a storyline of his own anytime soon, noting Boston Legal creator David Kelley’s assertion that the purpose of the Lewiston character is “to occasionally allow people to believe that this could be a real law firm.”
Whatever the role of Paul in the show’s evolving drama, Auberjonois said he’s very happy to be part of Boston Legal. The actor pointed to a recent episode dealing with the subject of capital punishment as evidence of the high quality of the series and its writing, though he admitted that the show hasn’t really found its true direction yet - and some cast changes in the upcoming new season are bound to shake things up. Boston Legal recently lost stars Rhona Mitra and Monica Potter, and some new, younger characters will be added to the show in the upcoming fall season.
Auberjonois also had kind words for his co-stars, singling out William Shatner and James Spader for special praise. Shatner, he says, is enjoying the opportunity to re-invent himself in the role of the loopy aging attorney, Denny Crane. And of course, Auberjonois and Shatner share the bond of being Star Trek alumni. (Shatner, who played Captain James Kirk in the original Trek, is still a frequent and popular guest at science fiction conventions himself.) As for Spader, Auberjonois cites him as a prime reason that viewers should tune in to Boston Legal. He noted that he found meeting Spader for the first time a bit intimidating, simply because he himself was so much in awe of Spader’s film work. But he soon found that Spader, whom Auberjonois describes as “awesomely brilliant” in the role of bad-boy attorney Alan Shore, was “very sweet” and a delight to work with. As for Candice Bergen, who plays senior partner Shirley Schmidt on Boston Legal, Auberjonois observed Bergen’s character is “wonderful” and very much “written in her [Bergen’s] key.”
David Kelley has evidently been under some pressure from ABC to take Boston Legal in a direction similar to that of the popular hit Grey’s Anatomy, a show about young and attractive medical interns that currently occupies Boston Legal’s former Sunday night time-slot. Auberjonois admits that he’s not really sure where the show is headed - but he did confirm one upcoming tidbit that was recently alluded to by co-star Spader: Alan Shore and Denny Crane will, he says, “wake up in bed together” in an upcoming episode, evidently without knowing how they got there. According to Auberjonois, the scene is played for laughs, a la a similar comic scene in the film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
In closing, I have to share a personal anecdote. My husband and I spent a lot of this convention chasing around our adventurous three-year-old son, Ross. On the last day of the convention, I was at the autograph table chit-chatting with René - Ross, as usual, in tow. Ross was underwhelmed by being in the presence of a star, but was very interested in the shiny pile of pens on the table at René’s elbow. When efforts to distract Ross from the oh-so-attractive art supplies failed, René relented and handed my son a couple pieces of cardstock and - a black Sharpie. Now, you have to understand, Ross loves all drawing implements, but Sharpies - and particularly black Sharpies - are his absolute favorites. I know this because he ferrets them out at home no matter where I hide them. Anyway, Ross takes a moment to stare in glee at what’s just been handed him, and in that moment René turns to me with what appears to be a dawning look of horror.
“I’ve just handed him a loaded gun, haven’t I?”
He need not have worried. Ross proceeded to crouch down behind the autograph table and scribble on that cardstock with total concentration, oblivious to all else, for a good 20 or 25 minutes. He produced something that looked a bit like one of those psychologist’s ink-blot tests. He took it to his grandma’s house in Rochester, NY, later that day, where it was embellished with colored pencil. I still have the drawing. I wanted to save the Sharpie as a kind of souvenir, but alas, my son insisted on drawing with it till it died.