by Lynne Transue
I always look forward to my, er, local Star Trek Convention--really the biggest con that Creation holds all year: five days of everything Star Trek. I especially look forward to seeing my fellow fandom friends and RenÚ Auberjonois--an actor whose career I have followed for more than twenty-five years.
In the following paragraphs, I'll endeavor to relate some of the questions, answers, and stories I heard from the various Star Trek personalities I had the pleasure of seeing.
Salome Jens (The Founder)
I was especially interested in seeing this actress, best known to us for portraying the changeling "bitch." Yep, the very one who took Odo's changeling virginity in the Deep Space Nine Dominion Occupation arc in season six. A well-seasoned actress, Salome Jens described her current project, directing a play entitled The Majority of One with Paula Prentiss as its star. She also teaches acting. Ms. Jens studied for 25 years with the Actors Studio led by Lee Strasberg, best known for the "Method" style of acting. A lot of Ms. Jens's observances about her character were based on the viewpoint of a Method actor and this was very interesting as I've often heard about the Method but never heard exactly what it meant. Thanks to Ms. Jens's descriptions, related to a character I was familiar with, I came to understand it. A lot of her impressions of her Changeling character were similar to RenÚ's, which was also interesting. For instance, she mentioned that her makeup gave insight into the character, and that one must portray a character from what the character wants, needs, and thinks, not from how those around the character are reacting to her or him. An actor must know the character as we would know ourselves. From this viewpoint, Ms. Jens saw the Founder as the only sane person in a "universe of universes." She also said that we can forgive the character if we can understand the character as they understand themselves. Ms. Jens, who has a raspy, full, deep voice, found the Founder's voice developing even more because of the makeup (sounds like another Changeling we know). The original role that brought her to Star Trek was that of the Humanoid Progenitor on the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase".
Nicole De Boer (Ezri Dax)
She was very cute and her talk was personally interesting to me because I like the series Dead Zone and never understood why the network kept putting the series on and off and why the series itself kept changing so much. She explained that after Michael Piller (also writer and producer of TNG, DS9, and ST: Voyager) left due to his cancer, the production staff, writers, and directors kept changing and, although she was given a lot of paid time off, it became very confusing for all involved. She would have liked to have gotten her character and Anthony Michael Hall's character together after Chris Bruno's character (Sheriff Walt Bannerman) was killed off, but the series ended before they were able to do so. Ms. De Boer described the Bashir/Ezri Dax's relationship as lovey-dovey and also said that Avery Brooks was a great director-an actor's director. She has recently filmed an episode of Stargate: Atlantis that should show this coming season.
Jeffrey Combs (a multitude of Star Trek characters, including Weyoun on DS9 and Shran on Star Trek: Enterprise) and J. G. Hertzler (Enterprise, Voyager, and best known for General Martok on DS9)
A little-known fact--Jeffrey Combs auditioned for the character of Commander Riker. Upon receiving a question praising him for bringing out many nuances in Commander Shran, the Andorian on Star Trek: Enterprise, Mr. Combs responded that he tried to channel Jimmy Cagney. He was teamed with J.G. Hertzler during his time on stage. Mr. Hertzler seems to be a very interesting and dramatic personage with a great, wry sense of humor. Mr. Hertzler will be teaching at Cornell for another two years.
RenÚ Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman
RenÚ and Armin were teamed together for their time on the Creation Con stage. RenÚ proudly announced that his daughter Tessa had just had his second grandson, Olivier, when he was in Washington DC at the Shakespeare Theater performing in The Imaginary Invalid. He had just flown back to LA the Sunday before the con and was "so happy to be home."
Armin Shimerman has recently directed Richard III. Armin is a director and writer as well as an actor and has recently completed work on two films. He is currently trying to write another novel.
Someone asked about the Boston Legal scene shared between Paul Lewiston and a judge that Armin played. They almost recreated the Odo/Quark relationship in that scene. A crew member came up to them after they completed their takes and told them "My God, you did that scene like you've been playing it for years." RenÚ said that Paul was an afterthought so that viewers could see the environment as being a possible real law firm. However, as the show evolved over time it became clear that the last thing they needed was a moral center, and the show has gotten wilder and wilder since the departure of the "Paul Lewiston" character.
Both of the actors agreed that they get along so well together because they both share the same kind of acting training, work ethic, and fear of failure. They also bonded because of the extensive makeup required by their characters; they sat next to each other in the makeup trailer during DS9's first year and would talk a lot together.
RenÚ observed that Batman's voice in the most recent film sounded a lot like Odo's voice, and wondered if anyone else had noticed that, which elicited laughter and agreement from the audience.
It always surprises me when I hear fans ask the same Odo/Quark (RenÚ/Armin) questions at con after con, especially since most of the Star Trek cons I've attended recently have been the annual Creation Las Vegas Star Trek cons. Obviously there are still many people who are coming to a convention for the very first time and don't know the answers to these questions!
One question was about RenÚ's surname. He stated that his mother was French and he spoke French when he was very young when he first started school. He stated that he was able to read Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid in the original French. He also stated that Armin actually speaks more French than he does.
They analyzed how Shakespeare relates to Star Trek -- that they both contain larger-than-life issues (universal issues). Therefore, the shows required classical actors, because other actors would play the material too small. Also, the language in a script is treated the same in Star Trek and Shakespeare. An actor performs the lines exactly as written (the performer would have to go to their higher-ups or talk to the script supervisor to get a line changed). One performs Shakespeare exactly as written. On David E Kelley's shows, the same rules apply. On DS9, after filming a scene, the actors would look to the script supervisor, Judy Brown, who would state "DLP, Lovey" if they had said their lines correctly. In translation, "Dead Letter Perfect".
Another fan asked Armin about performing both Quark and Principal Snyder (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) at the same time. Armin answered that he found that doing one part inspired the playing of the other role. Instead of getting bored of the character of Quark, being able to play both roles simultaneously inspired both portrayals. In terms of time demands, though, Quark always won out.
RenÚ ran off the stage briefly to see Nana Visitor, whose Q&A was to follow as soon as the Auberjonois/Shimerman discussion was done.
RenÚ was asked his reaction to Heath Ledger's premature death (he had worked with him in The Patriot). RenÚ stated that he was struck by how serious an actor Mr. Ledger was and that he had watched over the years as Heath evolved and developed with an already great career and was becoming a great actor and RenÚ felt great loss and was deeply moved by Mr. Ledger's death.
Another question was how the two most alien characters on DS9 were also the two most human. Armin and RenÚ agreed that aliens in Star Trek have always said more about the human condition that the Starfleet characters did.
As RenÚ and Armin ended their talk, Nana Visitor came onstage adorned in blond hair, spaghetti-strap top, black glasses, and other dramatic clothing and posed for pictures with them.
Nana Visitor has recently had a role on Battlestar Galactica. After speaking for a few minutes, she announced that she would sing a few numbers with her husband Matthew playing the piano. She started with a Gershwin tune and stated that she understudied Twiggy's performance in Broadway's My One and Only, also starring Tommy Tune.
A get together had been arranged for members of RenÚ fan club to speak with RenÚ, so I had to leave Nana's talk early to meet up with the rest of our ORACLE/RAFL group.
RenÚ regaled us with the fact that The Imaginary Invalid ended with a standing-room-only performance, audience members standing four deep in the 450-seat theater. The director, Keith Baxter, attended the last few performances and took the last curtain call with the cast.
The Lansburgh Theater (one of the stages of the Shakespeare Theater and the home of The Imaginary Invalid) was originally part of the Lansburgh Department Store (before the area was revitalized) and has apartments on its upper floors, one of which RenÚ inhabited. RenÚ had packed a lot of clothes for his temporary living situation, but found that, thanks to how close his living quarters were to the theater, he was able to get by most days with just his crocs, shorts, and t-shirt. He would often go swimming in the first-floor pool for a half hour, a wonderful convenience.
Marguerite asked RenÚ to talk about "lazzi"--the name given to an unspecified bit of business in commedia dell'arte. Often in commedia there are certain set pieces of action that are to be accompanied by improvisational action, a product of the actor's comic invention. It takes a "leap of faith" on the actor's part to create something exceptionally engaging for the audience. An example of a lazzi, or supreme comic invention, in The Imaginary Invalid is the scene where Argan is speaking with his 13-year-old daughter, Louison. All the script says is:
Argan: Just see the cunning little wench. Well! I forgive you this once, but you must tell me everything.
Louison: Oh yes, dear papa.
Argan: Be sure you take great care, for here is my little finger that knows everything, and it will tell me if you don't speak the truth.
RenÚ invented a lazzi in which his pinky finger "talked" to him in a squeaky voice. It was quite hilarious! RenÚ first tried it in rehearsals for the director, Keith Baxter, and then continued to adapt this little bit of action throughout the performances, changing and developing it further depending on how the show was progressing and how the audience was responding.
Another question arose about how he felt about his wonderful reviews and he stated that when the reviews are good he feels that he has gotten away with something. Those of us who had seen the play stated we didn't think he "got away with" anything. The excellent reviews were well deserved!
The discussion turned to current movies such as The Dark Knight and Mama Mia. RenÚ said that when he was his children's carpool driver and would take them and the Zappa children to school, they would often ask him the play ABBA.
Someone asked if he had the chance to do much sightseeing and to take pictures while he was in DC. He said that he had mostly concentrated on doing the play, but had a chance to go to several of the great art museums, especially the National Portrait Gallery, which was only a block away from the Lansburgh, so he could go for just a short while.
After leaving RenÚ to rest before he had to do autographs, we went back to the main stage and found Avery Brooks in the middle of his talk. Mr. Brooks is very intense and profound. I would call him a "sage." He gives a unique historical perspective to many things that he speaks about, including race. He stated, "I want to be beloved by my 'people'." He referred to Armin and RenÚ by saying that Star Trek's foundation is theatre. Star Trek contains some of the finest performances by classically trained actors who have trained in literature, art, English, history, and art history. "The more you know, the more you know." He then sang "For All We Know," accompanying himself on the piano.
After Avery Brooks came Alexander Siddig. Upon coming upon the stage he said, "Can you imagine not turning your homework in to Avery Brooks?" Although Siddig has nothing to do with Doctors Without Borders, he is very grateful to it and therefore donated his appearance fee to that charity. He said that they do amazing work and it is his favorite organization of the day. They are on the front line of the most dangerous areas, they don't mind who they treat, and he is thankful for the beautiful, selfless things that they do. He shares the appreciation of this charity with RenÚ, who donates the extra money he collects for autographed photos, bucket drawings, etc. during his Creation autograph sessions to Doctors Without Borders. Recently, Siddig has done several French and Canadian movies (including some sex scenes). He explained that he has an English and Sudanese background and his original name is Siddig El Faddil. He changed his name and took his best friend's name (a golden retriever, Alexander) for his own. The dog was named after Malcolm McDowell's character in Clockwork Orange. Malcolm McDowell is his uncle (his mother's brother) and has made a movie with him. Siddig said that Colm Meaney is a good friend (although he doesn't see him often) and that Colm is super-political and Siddig doesn't always agree with his views.
Listening to Leonard Nimoy felt, to me, like listening to an older, wiser friend talk about a long life of experiences and adventures. Nowadays, he's mostly writing poetry and doing photography. He has gone to a life insurance actuary who told him how much longer he should live, based on his life and experiences and, although he didn't tell the audience how much longer he has before his "life clock" runs out, he is portraying that important time still left in his current phase of photography-using "time lapse" to portray the passage of his time left on earth.
Zachary Quinto (Sylar on Heroes and Mr. Spock in the upcoming new Star Trek movie.)
Mr. Quinto has been acting since he was nine years old. He explained that actors are firmly rooted to the characters they play. The genesis of his Mr. Spock was based on a number of conversations he had with Mr. Nimoy where he got nuggets of info and insight into playing the character. Rumors have been spreading that there will be more than one Star Trek movie upcoming. He explained that actors are often asked to sign a three-picture deal, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything except that they agree to perform in those movies if they are going to be made. Mr. Quinto explained that he knows there are many Star Trek purists who already loathe the idea of the new movie, but he feels that they will be happy because even though there will be new aesthetics and new sensibilities, the piece has been made in the spirit of the original. All involved in producing the movie respect the original show and the movie will show that respect. Mr. Quinto also explained that he was very happy to be part of the Star Trek convention and that he feels that he will be a torch bearer of the world of Star Trek for the next 40 years.
One difference between Leonard Nimoy's Spock and his Mr. Spock is that his, like Mr. Quinto himself, is left-handed.
In comparing the two characters he will be best known for, Mr. Quinto explained that they are both very conflicted characters. Sylar from Heroes is utterly lost within himself and is hungry to be special. Both characters are missing something in themselves and they both keep trying to find it on the outside and they both need to realize that they'll only find that completion from within. Sylar is fearful and power hungry and thinks that if he can only get more power, he can find more substance. Both Sylar and Spock face uncertainty and instability.
After both actors spoke individually, they were brought together for a conversation.
Mr. Nimoy explained that he was very conflicted in knowing that someone else was playing the character he created. While he was playing Spock, after a week's work it would take him until Sunday to become Leonard again. Mr. Quinto said that it was a very strange experience; the character of Mr. Spock is so alienating that he felt alienated from himself and was not in control of his emotion/intellect for six months. He felt much more isolated from the world than he usually does and would often wear dark glasses and a hat. After meeting and speaking with Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy was very moved and pleased with his performance.
They both stated that they are glad that Star Trek will find a new audience and that this movie has a heart that is universal and very accessible. In fact, the movie will be very Spockcentric. They both agree with the eulogy given by Captain Kirk for his friend at the end of The Wrath of Khan-- "Of all the souls I have encountered, his was the most human."
Although I'm mostly a RenÚ Auberjonois fan, I am very glad to have the chance to attend Star Trek cons to be able to see Mr. Auberjonois again, see friends I've gained because of Star Trek cons, meet new fellow fans, and have a special weekend seeing other members of the acting profession. Although I've never been paid to use my theater and radio-TV-film bachelor of arts degree, I am glad to have had that education because the knowledge I gained provides me with a deeper level of understanding during these weekends. Mr. Auberjonois and friends, thank you and, 'til the next time, "Live Long and Prosper"!
Photos by Jo Beth Taylor