Star Trek hits the big five-oh this year. You’ve all played significant roles along the way – what’s your greatest legacy? Or do you let others judge that?
Dominic Keating: It should be the latter really. But since you asked… (laughs), I think our watch was pretty good. We didn’t let the team down and we put in some good episodes. I’m proud of what we did. I actually took the first step on the bridge – I was the first shot of the show – and I thought ‘Wow, here we go.’ I watched the original show as a kid growing up.
Casey Biggs: You were the first shot on the first episode of Enterprise?
Dominic: Yes, it was Jim Conway and he didn’t take any prisoners, I can tell you! He was quite a difficult guy to work with.
Was there a real buzz when you walked through the famed Paramount gates that first time
Connor Trineer: Well, I drove through…
Vaughn Armstrong: You mean you when you finally came out of your hermit cave and you deigned Paramount with your presence?!
Dominic: There was definitely a ‘pinch yourself’ moment there and I’m very proud of what we left behind.
Casey: No, that was the title of our last episode – What You Leave Behind.
Dominic: Ours was These are the Voyages…
Connor: No, it was called ‘Tripp’s Dead’! (Laughs)
Connor: I wasn’t told far in advance. I received a call from Brannon Braga, one of the executive producers, and I think he wrote most of that final episode (with Rick Berman). He said ‘I want you to read this and then call me back.’ And when I read it I was surprised but I called him and checked: ‘So we’re cancelled right? We’re not coming back?’ And then I said: ‘I love it!’
I loved it for couple of reasons. One – half of the episode was about me and it was the finale, and secondly, I’m the only one who has the luxury where you don’t have to wonder what happened to them. It has almost a theatrical sense to it, the arc of a story that was told and wasn’t left dangling. That was satisfying for me – it brought a finality and conclusion to the life of this character that I had brought to the show.
Vaughn, your recurring character on Enterprise – Admiral Forrest – was another character who sacrificed himself ‘for the greater good’, protecting the Vulcans in ‘The Forge’.
Vaughn: Yes, he died a hero. But not as much a hero’s [death] as Casey’s (Damar in What You Leave Behind). And I wouldn’t say that Forrest was my best contribution to the franchise. I would say that my greatest contribution is that I did more characters on the show than anybody else, and over 16 years. I didn’t go in every day but every role was a good one. [Vaughn played 12 different characters over 28 episodes in four different Star Trek shows].
Dominic: Were they all good?
Vaughn: Yeah, they were all great. [Pauses] OK, there were a couple that were just ‘the bad guy on the screen’, though they still had several scenes.
Dominic: Sixteen years? That’s a hell of a time. All those directors, different casts and… were they [shot on] the same stages?
Vaughn: Yep, pretty much. Certainly Stage 9 and [swing set Stage 16] ‘Planet Hell’. They were some really good characters. The Two of Nine Borg [Voyager: Survival Instinct] where he starts to become human again and Terek R’Mor [Romulan in Voyager’s Eye of the Needle] where he’s out in space by himself and trying to get the people through the wormhole so that they can go back. He’s of a race that doesn’t like the humans but finds a connection – that we all have children. Yeah, a whole bunch of the roles were really good.
Dominic: Did you watch the show along the way in the interim, between appearing in it? It’s just that you talk so lucidly about your shows and yet half the time I didn’t have a clue what the episodes were about!
Vaughn: I watched the episodes I was in.
Vaughn, having played Cardassian, Klingon, Borg, Romulan, Hirogen, Vidiian… I’m guessing that some people would introduce themselves to you and yet you’d met them before and they hadn’t realised because you were hidden under layers of latex?
Dominic: Yes, we talked about this yesterday! He did two guest star roles other than Admiral Forrrest on Enterprise [a Klingon in Sleeping Dogs and the Kreetassan Captain in Vox Sola] and I honestly didn’t know it was him! I had no idea. I had whole conversations with you!
Vaughn: The only one that knew it was me was Scott [Bakula – Captain Archer] and I told him ‘Don’t say anything. Let’s see what happens.’
Casey, as you played Damar in full Cardassian make-up, did you also find that people didn’t always recognise you?
Casey: There were a lot of people who never saw me out of the make-up. But going back to your original question about our legacy, Deep Space Nine was like the black sheep of the Star Trek family, which was good because they left us alone. They left the writers alone, those crazy fabulous wacko writers Ira Steven Behr and Ron D Moore – they just did these huge, great arcs. Sometimes the regulars got pissed off because it was more like our show. For 6-8 episodes we took over the station and they were off on some pod somewhere. It was our show.
Dominic: You were running concurrently with Voyager for a good stretch.
Vaughn: I ran in to her a few times when I was doing Voyager.
Casey: A lot of the time these shows were ‘planet of the week’ or ‘bad guy of the week’ but with DS9 we had the huge arcs because Ira loved what he called his ‘repertory company’: Jeff Combs (Weyoun) Marc Alaimo (Dukat), me and Andy Robinson (Garak). It was a wonderful experience and in my particular case I thought I was going to be on it for just one day… but I ended up there for five years! And they kept making it better; they gave me a sense of humour, they made me an alcoholic. I was drunk for two years on that show … it’s not a big stretch!
Vaughn: You too? [Laughs]
Deep Space Nine had a very satisfying conclusion. However, many fans felt that Enterprise’s finale was hijacked by the appearance of The Next Generation’s Riker and Troi.
Dominic: It was a homage to the franchise and their watch of 17 years of the show. I had no issue with it. I thought the device was clunky to get (Jonathan) Frakes and Marina (Sirtis) on it, but it was great to work with them – we knew them from the convention circuit. I had one of the funnest days ever shooting with Jonathan – he’s hysterical. He’s a funny guy. A real actor’s actor.
Connor: They also had to pull it out of their hat. They only had a couple of months to sort that out, which is no small task. Tell me a finale that’s actually satisfying on any TV show.
Dominic: Yes, it was quick. But how do you make that decision? The first time we did that get-together 10 years later at CBS – I had no idea that Scott was peeved [about the finale].
Vaughn: That’s one of the few episodes of Star Trek that I’ve seen but wasn’t in and I thought that last scene was great. It just included it into the rest of the franchise. It was supposed to be set earlier, so what’s wrong with a history lesson?
Connor: Syndicate it.
Casey: Get better writers.
Connor: Yeah we could have used some better writers in the early years.
Dominic: Well, I’m not sure it was so much the writing as the steerage of the show and I know that Brannon (Braga) banged his head against the wall a lot of the time.
Connor: He said that 9/11 really dictated what happened following that first year on the show. It changed the lay of the land for us completely.
Dominic: Just the experience of going to work and doing a show. It was hard and felt silly.
And that new perspective was reflected in the Season 3 arc around the Xindi and their weapons of mass destruction.
Connor: Yes, it was a direct reaction to what was happening [in the world].
Dominic: But the initial season was definitely… I had greater hopes for how it might have been more innovative.
Dominic: It was. And we got 13 million viewers. And then quickly we went back into a regular Star Trek episode of going to a planet, sorting out their shit and then going away and doing it somewhere else. And we did that for 22 episodes. I think that anyone who had hoped for something a little more novel and with a fresh twist… it wasn’t there.
Connor: They’d be disappointed.
Dominic: I was under the impression that we might be something like ‘ER in space’, with a lot more interactive drama between the seven characters on this ship rather than always having to go someplace to have a story. And we didn’t get that.
Connor: Do they have a showrunner for the new series?
Dominic: Alex Kurtzman. He’s JJ Abrams’ right-hand man and was part of the reboot of the movies. [Bryan Fuller was announced as showrunner two days after this interview.]
Vaughn: I think they’ve got to hire me.
Connor: You’re like the rabbit’s foot.
Dominic: That’s a good question though. I wonder, will they look back to the history of our shows, or are they going to reinvent the whole damn thing?
Casey: I think it’ll be totally different
Dominic: I would imagine it will be totally different; a show about young people that go into space. And they’re going to be good looking!
The other TV series weren’t averse to bringing in characters from the Star Trek legacy.
Connor: It’s impossible to know. We’re just going to have to wait and see. Especially in light of what JJ Abrams has done with the movies.
Dominic: Yes, but those are characters from the original show. I think I read somewhere that there’s going to be no heritage in this show. New characters, invented from the ground up. And it’s going to be set around the time of the original show. I think they’re finally going to do the Starfleet Academy thing – our first foray into deep space.
Connor: I think that’s probably the way to go.
Casey: That would be more like ‘ER in space’ because you have a static academy. But you won’t be going to ER conventions in 50 years’ time whereas you will be going to Star Trek conventions.
Vaughn: I just thought it was going to be another job.
Connor: Same here. I had a contract but I was not that well-versed in Star Trek.
Dominic: Oh I knew all about it. I’d researched it. I’d seen Trekkies, the documentary. I knew that there was this other annuity appendaged to the gig. I did 10 conventions in the first year and a lot of my castmates were like: ‘You’re going to do that?’ And then I came back with the new Porsche and then it was a case of ‘Where do I sign up for that?!’
One off my favourite Star Trek films is isn’t even a Star Trek film, it’s the comedy satire Galaxy Quest. I love the way that the late, great Alan Rickman bemoans the fact that fans of his fictional TV show forever want him to be in character. Do you ever get this?
Casey: No, though there are some people here who came [to this convention] just to see me. People hook on to characters and… I have a photograph of a woman who has me tattooed onto her back. I signed it for her and the next year she’d had that tattooed too.
Dominic: Oh no, I won’t do that. The signature thing upsets me a little. I’ve been asked but I’m not doing that. I’m just not comfortable with it.
Casey: Hey, this woman’s going to be 80 years old with my name on her back. But that’s her deal.
Connor: I don’t think that people have a lot of interest in us being more like our characters. They want to see us. I’ve never encountered this thing that you’ve said: ‘Why can’t you be a bit more like Tripp?’
Dominic: It’s what I say to Bill Shatner… every time I see him!
The conversation feels like it could continue all afternoon, but with delegates patiently queueing for their photos and autographs it’s back to the work for our fine crew of Star Trek alumni.
With thanks to Andrew Keates, Anne Lindup and all at the SF Ball.