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Reunion IV
Riccione, Italy

21-23 November 2008

Note from the webmaster: The author of this report first became interested in René because of his character "Paul" on Boston Legal and has been a member of René's fan club, ORACLE, for several years. She had met René on a previous occassion, and he knew her as a dedicated supporter of his charity fundraising efforts. All of which contributed to her adventures in Riccione:

by Suzanne Vanweddingen

This was it--my first time at a sci-fi convention!

On Friday evening, I arrived in Riccione, situated one hour away from Bologna, close to the beach (by close I mean that from my window I could actually see the beach) at 7:00 p.m. and it was only once I was in the middle on the hotel reception lobby that I realized two things:

  • I knew nobody.
  • I had no idea of what a convention was like and what to do. That's probably why everyone guessed at first sight that it was my "first time."

And I'd like to thank Marguerite (from ORACLE) for her advice, because I called her to the rescue that same evening, through the Internet, to ask her what to do/not to do!

Luckily, in the restaurant I found another person who seemed alone, Riccardo, who was in fact waiting for a friend, Roberto. Both are members of a fan club called Moonbase. So I was no longer alone.

Ricardo greeted me with, "Are you from Trentino?" He thought that I was coming from a specific area in the north of Italy, because of my accent. I hadn't spoken Italian for a long time, so I was very, very happy that an Italian guy thought I was Italian! When he found out that I was French, but living at the border with Germany, he explained that this made sense because I was speaking Italian with a light German accent.

When his friend Roberto arrived, Ricardo asked him to guess where I was from; the only clue he gave was that I was not Italian. First he thought I was from England, then Switzerland. He guessed that I was French only at the fifth try.

I discovered that I was the only non-Italian who was staying the whole weekend, and I soon became known as "the-stranger-who-came-for-René." And I must add that I spent a lot of my weekend explaining that "No, René doesn't speak French, and yes, he does have a French name."

Speaking of René, he showed up at the restaurant for dinner. Our table was close to the stairs, so I could see who was going up and down and saw him him arrive, but didn't try to signal him, just gave a smile.

After that, I don't know where he went… until later, during dinner, when my new friends told me that he was sitting right behind me!

My first impression of the Reunion was… that this was a group of close friends, not the kind of thing I had imagined, not a very big convention with thousand of persons. No, this was far away from that, with perhaps 100 or 150 people attending. Which was good, because it would be easier to meet other people….

Saturday, 22 November 2008

I began my day with a little walk on the beach to see the sunrise and came back--frozen, of course--to the hotel to have breakfast. It was still pretty early and there weren't a lot of people. My two friends, Riccardo and Roberto, were nowhere to be seen. I sat at a table alone and enjoyed my first coffee (Italian coffee, please, the right and the best...)

A moment later, René entered the restaurant and waved at me, as I was giving him a good morning smile. He came right up to me, greeted me with a, "I saw you last night but you didn't say anything."

To which I apologized with a simple, "I didn't dare."

Then he went to grab some coffee and came back to my table.

He was very cheerful, and we talked about Boston Legal, and also Star Trek--he seemed to remember that I wasn't much of a Star Trek fan but I told him that I did follow his advice and had watched DS9 and actually liked it.

We were chatting when Roberto showed up and asked if he could sit down. I said yes, but wanted a kiss in exchange, much to René's amusement.

I decided to do some shopping in the morning to get some stuff for my costume for the evening, because I'd learned that a costume competition was planned. In town, I incidentally met René and Judith. René asked if I knew where to find paper so he could draw his Odo bucket cartoons. I was planning on finding a place to buy Italian cakes so I thought I also could look for some paper for him, which I did find in a Cartoleria (a place to buy newpapers), but they only had paper with texture, so the employee helped me find some plain paper. Luckily, there were two sets left and I took them both, hoping this would be enough.

After lunch, as Riccardo, Roberto, and I were deciding to leave to have some coffee, I saw that René was at the reception desk and I went to him to give him the paper. He suggested that I should help him during the autograph session to raise money for Doctors without Borders, and I accepted. René at Q&A

As I mentioned, this was my first convention, and I really didn't know what to expect. I learned that my membership allowed me to attend all of the talks given by René and the other main guest, Alice Krige, and also their autograph sessions. The seat number on my ticket--Row GD1-- didn't make any sense to me, until Roberto showed me that I wasn't sitting in row G or row D, but in the first row, place 13. Nice spot if you ask me!

After the Q&A session with Alice Krige that took place after lunch, I went to see where René was sitting. Two tables had been installed at the back of the room. Jessica, René's official helper from the convention staff, was sitting next to René, and I sat next to Jessica. At first, I was kind of lost, as I had no idea how to proceed, and I was really embarrassed when suddenly René said, "She doesn't do her job, she just sits there." All right. I had to find some way to "make my job." It was quite a mess, people were supposed to come get their autographs by rows but the staff had to ask one of their security guys, Giancarlo, to watch the row and get the people to have their tickets ready so it would go faster.

Giancarlo was very friendly and soon it began to be very funny because we started to play a "team game." I would pretend to be very disappointed when nobody came to me to ask for a cartoon and we had some good laughs. Eventually, more and more people came to ask René for a drawing (ouf!). Seeing him drawing the cartoons, live and in person, helped a lot, actually.

It was a tiring afternoon. Since it was the first time I ever did this job and since I was already tired from the morning, I ended up exhausted. When we left the table, René thanked me and I apologized, saying this was really a new experience. Only, I was so tired that I didn't realize I was speaking to him in Italian!

He gave me some advice on how to proceed, and I knew I would improve my system for the next day.

While we were waiting for the elevator, Jessica was with us and she had wonderful badges. There was only one I couldn't recognize, and René had a good laugh, saying I was really not into Star Trek since it was… the Bajoran symbol. I can do whatever I want, but I can't fool anyone even when I try to be a Star Trek fan…

There was about a 30-minute delay for the evening program, so René's talk took place at 10:00 p.m. instead of the originally scheduled 9:30 p.m.  René at Q&A

As an introduction, René spoke about his family, how, in 1963, when he was freshly married, he traveled from Switzerland to Italy with his wife by hitchhiking. The first car that stopped was full with an Italian family and their luggage, but the father put everything on the roof so René and Judith could travel with them. René also recalls three friends, Franco, Franco, and Rudolfo, who drove them to Roma and showed them the entire city.

René talked about his children, both actors, married to actors, making René say that he has kind of a circus family. He talked about his latest projects, Boston Legal, for which he has shot a few scenes in the last episodes, and his last Moliere play. René with translator Paolo

He confessed that he is not looking for work but would rather wait for something interesting to show up. For example, in December, he was going to do a reading of Tom Wolf's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He is also doing a few cartoon voices. He talked about having a home in Los Angeles and another one north of San Francisco, were he has a little studio for his sculpture, paintings, and photos. Right now, he has hundreds of photos from Venice that he wants to take care of.

Closing his little introduction, he said, "Enough about me, now you can talk about me."

When no one seemed to have any questions, he pretended to start walking off stage, yelling, "Okay, goodbye!"

Finally, someone asked him about the fact that quite a few actors from Boston Legal have played in Star Trek.

He said that David Kelley knew that William Shatner had been Kirk, but he thinks that he wasn't aware about him playing Odo; the same would go for Armin. He continued on the subject of Star Trek, explaining that the actors all had been theatre actors, where they were trained and formed. Before Deep Space Nine, he and Armin had worked together in a theatre play but didn't know each other very well. René mentioned doing the musical based on Huckleberry Finn, where he had been replaced by Brent Spiner. Also, William Shatner began his career in theatre. René at Q&A

At this point, René pretended he had forgotten the question that was first asked to him!

Another person asked if he and Armin have the same relationship that Quark and Odo had, to which René replied that Armin is his best friend from the show. They knew each other from before but were not "good friends"--it was only when they began in Star Trek that they found they had a lot of similarities, especially regarding the way they work. They used to tease each other and grew close. When they fly together, René teases Armin a lot because he is terrified of flying, and he can't help but compare Quark, who plays the tough guy, while Armin is afraid.

Shortly before this question, some lady had asked René to sing, and as soon as he was done with the question, he suddenly began to sing "Les Poissons." When he was done, someone joked, requesting the Italian version, and Paolo translated it, only he did it tonelessly, to everyone's amusement.

The next question was if René watched science fiction, to which René said that he didn't watch TV very often. He watches the news, and was quite obsessed by the news over the last few weeks. He believes one has to be aware in this culture, so he tries to keep up to date.

Someone then asked him if he preferred Boston Legal or DS9.

About DS9, he said that he worked on it for seven years, that it was a great blessing but that it was also difficult physically, mostly because of the make-up. After the DS9 experience, he didn't work that much for television, but then one day he got a call for a new role. He knew David Kelley from his previous shows where he had made appearances and he knew that it would be high quality. But Boston Legal was not as challenging or difficult as DS9.

The next question was about the kiss between Odo and Kira in DS9.

René explained that he and Nana Visitor are good friends but not lovers. At first, the love story between Odo and Kira wasn't planned at all. In the second season, there is a scene where Odo looks at Kira with sadness in his eyes and when people watched the show they said, "OMG! Odo loves Kira!" The subplot came from there. René at Q&A

The particular scene with the kiss was difficult to play; it would have been easier with a stranger, because René compared it to kissing a sister. During the rehearsals, they walked along, arguing, and then at the end…nothing happened. It was the same for all the rehearsals. (René "played" his part on the stage while describing it.) The day the scene was actually shot, René said to Nana that they can do it, they are professionals. They walk, arguing, and then… they do the kiss. As René stepped back, he realized that Nana's face was orange and that his nose was twisted (which he says can be seen if one looks carefully at the scene). There was only one kiss, because the shot was good.

Next, someone asked if he ever got bored during DS9.

René explained that he had worked for six years in theatre after his studies, with eight performances a week for a year, and that it was very difficult to keep the same quality for all those performances. Besides, it was exhausting physically. Working on DS9 was a change because the story changed and evolved from one episode to the other. The cast was a big family. It was tiring because of the costume, but that was all.

I left during the last question (it was about Odo's make-up, something René has already explained a zillion times!) and I hurried to get my costume on.

Right on time. Actually, I came back 10 minutes after the René's talk was finished. There were about 15 persons in costume, some very funny (like Ratman), others more classical Star Trek.

Nicola, who was hosting the whole Convention, couldn't stop talking; in fact two girls were still missing for the parade.

I didn't realize that René was there until Nicola said so, saying the one of the guests would give the Sci Fi channel prize. In fact, René was in the first row, basically in my seat (since that one was empty!).

One after the other, we went on stage to present our costumes. I played my character even more shy than she is, just for fun, but I must admit, that kind of parade is really not my cup of tea and since I was already tired, I almost regretted I was part of it (besides, I couldn't, understand a word of what Nicola said in his microphone!) But anyway, it was kind of funny, and a real experience as well.

After the costume parade, the boys and I decided to share a beer at the bar. I stayed there as long as I could; besides, others were gathering with us, so it was pretty interesting and I was beginning to really be part of the group. Everyone knows each other and "Reunion" is kind of an excuse for friends to meet.

As I was about to leave, Alberto, another of the staff people running the convention, came to chat with us and I discovered that he was the founder of the Star Trek Italian club, 22 years ago. He told me the whole history of the STIC and that was indeed very interesting.

It was 2:00 a.m. when I finally left, very tired this time!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

I woke up early because I was really freezing in my room. I went quite early to have breakfast and while I was having my coffee, René joined me. He looked pretty tired, and in fact he had the same problem with the heat in his room: he was freezing all night, and so was Judith.

We shared a breakfast, and chatted. René also asked when I was leaving and suggested I could get a ride at the same time as Alice, so I wouldn't need to take all the buses and the train back to the airport in Bologna.

After lunch, I went with Marcello (a journalist for Sci-Fi who was part of the Reunion staff) for a visit to the control room, situated above the meeting room.

Alberto joined us suddenly, because he wanted to test the introduction videos, so I had a little overview of the work of the staff.

Then it was time for the actors' talks. Again, Alice was first, and then René.

I had the same neighbors from the day before and I talked with the lady sitting next to me. She was very fond of René; she said she had written to him and he had answered her. She was going to get an autograph and was a little hesitant about whether or not she should remind him about her writing… René on Sunday

As an introduction, René said that he had a very good lunch in Riccione but that he now was tired. As a result, he sat at the edge of the stage.

Someone asked if he watches his work. René answered that he has the same impression that everyone has when one sees or hears oneself--it feels strange. He needed some time to adjust so he wouldn't get this sensation.

But for DS9, he watched it episode by episode. Because of the make-up and the fact that he doesn't look like himself, it is not so difficult to watch the show for him.

A few years ago, he saw a rerun of Benson, a half-hour comedy show. He hadn't seen the show again for many years. He had nice long hair, a beautiful moustache, but he was acting like an idiot and looked only 30 years old. The same thing happens when he sees Charlie's Angels, Bionic Woman, and so on: it's always a shock when he sees himself again.

He told an anecdote about entering a shop, and people asking for a picture of him. As he looks at other actors' pictures and remembers how old they are now, he feels strange, a little like Dorian Gray. At first, he refused to give a picture, at least before Star Trek. After that, he could give a picture of Odo, who always looks young. Robert Foxworth (with whom he was at university and who played in Star Trek) once told him that he was lucky because he had his face hidden by the Odo mask.

The next question was about musicals; the person wanted to know which one he preferred.

René never saw himself as a singer, but considers himself as an actor who has to sing. When he did musicals, he didn't relax until the song was out of the way. As a teenager, he worked outside New York as a kind of lifeguard at the swimming pool of Alan J. Lerner, who created My Fair Lady. René was babysitting Lerner's children as the man was writing My Fair Lady and he would hear it being composed.

Years later, he had an audition for the musical on Broadway (Coco, with Katharine Hepburn). It was his first Broadway musical and, thanks to Hepburn's support, he eventually won a Tony Award, so that musical has a special place in his heart.

The next question came back to Star Trek and Odo, especially the make-up part.

The make-up for Quark took 4 hours while for Odo it was only 2 hours and 30 minutes. René said that his make-up dresser was faster than Armin's. René could take off his mask very quickly because every day he had a new one. But Armin had to keep pieces of his mask on him and it would take an hour for him to take off his mask.

But, during the day, Armin just needed to take out his Ferengi teeth and he could eat and drink, while René, because of the fragile mouth on his mask, needed to use a straw and couldn't eat anything.

He also remembers that, for the pilot, on one day he was in his make-up for 21 hours and couldn't eat anything, while everyone else could! René sitting on stage

About Odo's make-up, René also said that at first it was difficult to make facial expressions because the mask was so heavy. In its first version, it consisted of several parts of a prosthesis, and one day he said that he'd prefer to have a mask. Rick Berman said "No," because he believed there were a lot of expressions that René wouldn't be able to make.

René then told how he had taken classes at the university with one of the greatest artists of the commedia dell'arte. After that, he also did several plays with a mask on. For two years, he taught classes about wearing masks in theatre, so he knew pretty well that masks could be quite expressive, especially with the work of voice, eyes, and body movements. It's the body language that is talking. For René, the mask magnifies the expressions, and eventually he got the mask for Odo.

Still on the topic of DS9, someone made a comment that DS9 did not have that much audience, René explained that, when DS9 was first aired, TNG was still on the air as well, and then Voyager began during DS9's third season, so basically DS9 was never alone.

It had always been planned that DS9 would be the darker Star Trek besides the birth of DS9 occurred in troubled times, witnessing tensions that were mirrored in the show. DS9 was the first show that didn't have Gene Roddenberry's influence, so it wasn't the most preferred show. Some people were uncomfortable with the fact that DS9 took place on a space station, but René used to say that the other ones didn't move, either. They all took place on a film set! DS9 had the unique ability that the people would see its quality in time, because of the complex relationship between the characters.

For each series (except for Enterprise) there were seven seasons, so René thinks it began to be hard for the writers to create something new.

René shared an anecdote about when he was doing his guest role in Enterprise. Scott Bakula thought that it was a really good script, to which René answered, "Yes, it's good, we did it in the third season."

Now, René is awaiting the new Star Trek with impatience for its new ideas and creations.

But about the ratings from DS9 being lower than Voyager's, René disagrees.

The next question was about Dance of the Vampires. René said that it was based on Roman Polanski's movie and that it was probably the most expensive musical on Broadway because of the main actor, Michael Crawford, who transformed it into "The Phantom of Transylvania." In the end, the show was just a big failure, and it's a sad story because René admires Crawford a lot.

Someone then asked René to talk about Paul Lewiston (no, it wasn't me! I was too busy taking notes and photos to ask a question!)

Paul was an afterthought from David Kelley. After the shooting of the fourth episode of the first season, René was called and offered a serious role. He was then added into the first four episodes so his character would be known from the beginning. Paul was an answer to all the other characters, a kind of balance. In the third season, there was no reason for him to be there so the character "moved upstairs." René wished that Paul had taken a ride in a boat and died.

For the fifth season, which will only be a half-season, Paul arrives in the last episode and has an important role.

René said that he loved the show, not because of the character but because of the political debates included in many of the episodes. Besides, there were a few Star Trek actors on the show. René had never worked with Shatner in Star Trek. He didn't really know him, except from conventions, but the man had a reputation (he is an icon), which didn't show him at his best advantage. He is a very warm man and René found it really interesting to see how he works.

The first day René came on the set, Bill was very welcoming, supporting, and generous. They are very good friends now. Bill arrived at a point to his career where he recreated himself as Denny Crane and that can be seen physically. He is very relaxed and he is a funny man.

René also spoke about Avery Brooks, saying that the man has a great force. He influenced the mood on the set of DS9, because he is very serious about his work, and that influenced the show in a good way.

Then, someone asked if René had a few anecdotes to share about Boston Legal.

René said that this was a very difficult question to answer. James Spader was the captain of the show. He had long speeches to do. In a way, it was more relaxing to do Boston Legal than DS9, but it was serious as well. Everything needed to be functioning very well. René couldn't remember funny stuff about Boston Legal.

Someone then asked about his feelings about the very last episode of DS9.

The ending of a story is always hard and doesn't satisfy everyone. For Odo, it had to be that way. René wasn't surprised, but Armin was disappointed about his ending story. For the others, René doesn't know.

His only regret about DS9 is that it was so much about war. When one talks about something taking place so much in the future, René thought there would be something else than "bang bang" and violence. He does hope that the future would offer other, less primitive solutions.

René never saw the Italian version of Star Trek but he saw Benson in Japanese and it was very weird. But he thinks that Italians are the best dubbers. In general, he prefers subtitles and he doesn't like the movies or TV shows being dubbed.

As soon as the Q&A sessions were done, I went to René's autograph table.

The row of people waiting for autographs was already formed but both Alice and René were asked to sign a few items for the staff first. Finally, the people began to walk up to get autographs. Giancarlo was there again and the dream team went into action. Since he had to take care of the row, he would suggest Odo's bucket cartoons to the people and, when they wouldn't be interested, I would pretend to blame him and cry, or be very angry at the person.

As the queue was getting bigger, Cristina, another staff member, joined Giancarlo and the dream team got a new member, because she would have more time to present the project. I gave her René's drawing and helped with the first presentations before I went back to the table so I could welcome people who were interested.

As a matter of fact, this system proved to be both funny and successful as René had more and more buckets to draw. Plus, our little trio had a lot of fun, even if at the end we were a little tired.

When he was done with the people, René had a lot of stuff to sign for the staff and the club, so there were pictures all over the table and I helped Jessica to sort them, otherwise they would have been all over the place.

I did take the opportunity to ask Jessica about me leaving with Alice and she said she would see how to organize it and that it wouldn't be a problem.

When it was time for dinner, it was kind of strange to see so few tables busy. Almost all the restaurant had been full of people attending the convention during the last few days so it was pretty empty--and quiet--in comparison… My two friends had left already so I was more or less on my own again.

At dinner, I sat between René and Jessica. On the other side, next to René, was Alice, then Judith. The dinner was quiet as well, sometimes I followed the conversation in English between Judith, Alice and René, sometimes I followed the conversation taking place in Italian. René also asked about me being driven to the airport with Alice, and both Alice and I realized that we had our flights at almost at the same time!

After dessert, René and Judith left to get some rest, while Alice stayed with us because she wanted to talk with one Italian guy who had asked interesting questions (in fact the guy had been my neighbor for all the Q&A sessions). Paolo was there as well to act as a translator again, and the conversation was suddenly very interesting. We were mainly talking about film distribution, then we went onto the subject of the Internet and how it could be used as a tool, then we talked about how morale could play such a major role in our modern society when science could allow us to give the same message without the risk of censorship.

Alice left after 10:00 p.m. and the rest of us went to the bar, where I sat with Alberto and Gaby (his wife) until 1:00 a.m., talking about writing, mostly, and planning the next day's trips. Jessica and Marina were going to take René and Judith back to Bologna while Giancarlo and Raffaella would drive Alice and me to the airport.

Monday, 23 November 2008

It was the big goodbye day. Everyone was leaving, bringing all the stuff away for next year.

I managed to join Jessica and Marina after breakfast and I stayed with them as they were about to leave and drive René and Judith to Bologna. Jessica was really tired and she was already talking about going to bed as soon as she got home. We had some good laughs, took a few pictures together, and promised that we would stay in touch. Actually, it was kind of sad to see everyone leaving. René and Judith came to the reception area, then left almost immediately. I had time to say bye to René (and asked him to give a big hug to Marguerite when he sees her, since in a way he is our living link) and Judith.

After they were gone, I joined Alberto, Gaby, and Nicola and helped them gather up all their materials. We put everything in the cars as they, too, were leaving right away.

Finally, after lunch (a very quiet one, as there was almost no one left), Giancarlo, Raffaella, Alice, and I left for the airport and it was time to say goodbye for good… until the next Reunion, maybe….

Photos by Suzanne Vanweddingen

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