Interview: 1996 Q&A

This is the text of a taped interview with René Auberjonois from January of 1996. The questions came from members of the René Auberjonois Internet List (RAIL).

Catherine Weller asked:
1) Q. Are you ever thinking of becoming part of the ‘Net “community” and why?

A. Well, I think about it all the time, but the truth is I’m a little scared of it. Not the least of the reasons is that I’m a computer illiterate; I wouldn’t even know how to turn a computer on, let alone tap into it. But I know that that’s, of course, within my grasp, it’s just a matter of taking the time to do it. And I guess time is why I’m nervous about it; I have so many other things I want to do, apart from my work on DEEP SPACE NINE , which allows me time, gives me time, because for instance this season I’ve been quite light, and have had a lot of free time. But I have a lot of other things like my artwork, that I’m interested in, and my photography, and I’m just nervous that if I got into the Internet community, I would just be totally obsessed by it. So I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve resisted the impulse so far.

2) Q. How did you get talked into the just-for-kiddies-version of A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court?

A. Well, it was a job, and Merlin is an interesting character, and it was a chance to go to Hungary for the first time, which is where my wife’s family is from and so, it was a terrific trip. My wife and I went there, and visited old family, and got to see the city of Budapesht, which is a truly extraordinary place. It’s just part of the business of being an actor; you do what you do to support your family, and if the part is interesting and not a total embarrassment, you go for it. It’s a paycheck. It was an adventure, and I’m glad I did it. I never saw the show, didn’t seem to me to be a very good script and I didn’t have very high hopes for it, so it wasn’t something that I went out of my way to see.

3) Q. Was it fun to cut loose for a change in the DEEP SPACE NINE episode “Facets”? Marvelous stuff to watch, in my humble opinion, the little ‘flips’ between Odo and Curzon.

A. Yeah, I had a great time doing “Facets”, again it’s an episode that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch. Mostly I would be interested in seeing it (and I will, one day, sit down and watch it), mostly I’m interested in it to see how the other cast members handled their “different personalities”. Of course, it was great to play Curzon, because he’s a character who we hear so much about in other stories, and he has such a long history with Sisko and with Dax, and so it was fun to do that. It was also fun because I’ve been very interested in exploring Odo’s capacity to shapeshift into other humanoid beings, and the writers so far have resisted that, so it was a chance for me to show them that that might be an interesting way to go. I’ve actually heard, via the grapevine, that actually Ira Behr, the producer-writer, wasn’t very pleased with that episode. I don’t think it was particularly my performance, I’m notthat egocentric, but I guess he didn’t think it turned out as well as he had hoped it would, the whole episode, so I don’t know if that will happen any more. But I mean to talk to them about it, near the end of this season.

4) Q. I’ve heard some of your work in Batman, the animated series, as both Dr. Freeze and Dr. March. The latter of these two actually ‘guested’ twice — I noticed that there was a lot of Odo in March’s voice, is that deliberate? (In the second appearance, I saw that the animators were using a little Odo-body-talk; deliberate dig? Or were you in makeup that day?

A. Gee, you know, I don’t even, I mean I remember doing Batman, I don’t remember the characters I played (chuckles). You know, you do so many of these things, and the characters sort of come in and out. It certainly wasn’t deliberate for me, to make him sound like Odo; I mean, the instrument of my voice has limitations, and so, as much as I’d like to think that I’m unrecognizable from character to character, I know that isn’t true. And I don’t know whether the animators (I never saw the show), so I don’t know whether the animators using what you call a “little Odo body-talk” was a deliberate dig. And I certainly wasn’t in makeup that day! (Laughs) I don’t go around, I don’t go to other jobs in the makeup, I get out of the makeup as soon as I possibly can ’cause it’s quite uncomfortable. A little side note: I came very close to playing the Riddler in that show. I can’t remember the actor, they cast another actor, and then they weren’t happy with him and they replaced him with another actor, (laughs) both of whose names I’m now totally forgetting. Maybe I’ll get back to that, when I think of their names. You probably know who’s playing the Riddler, now. Is it the Riddler? No, not the Riddler. The Joker. The Joker, yeah, that was the character.

5) Q. You have said in some interviews that you like to keep working. That now includes directing, voices, reading the audiobooks, and probably a few etceteras I don’t know about yet. Just how busy is your schedule anyroad?

A. My schedule, like when I work on DEEP SPACE NINE, during the season, the most I can get away for is, as I did to do that little tiny part in Batman, they let me go for a couple of days to do that, and I do keep doing some animated stuff when that comes along, and I do record books. What I am aching to do is get back to the stage, but I really don’t have time for that while I’m doing this show, and that’s something that will have to be on the back burner until DEEP SPACE NINE comes to its final conclusion because the few months that we have off between seasons isn’t really enough time to rehearse and mount a play and give it a fair chance at running, so I think I’ll just have to bide my time. And I hope it’s not too soon, as much as I want to get back to the stage, I want to keep doing DEEP SPACE NINE for a little bit longer.

6) Q. Is it true what I heard about Odo finding an abandoned Changeling still in its pod?

A. As always, you guys know more about this stuff than I do. I haven’t heard that. We certainly haven’t shot that story, and I haven’t read that story, and I haven’t heard anybody tell me that story is coming down the line, but, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if you know more than I do about this.

7) Q. Do you know about some of the – ah, more imaginative stories around the ‘Net?

A. No.

8) Q. Are there going to be stories more about Odo’s history? They sort of brought in Dr. Mora for a one-episode fight scene, then the whole Research Center thing was just forgotten… what happened?

A. Well, you know, they just got onto other things. And maybe they’ll get back to it; I don’t know. I don’t know. You know, there are a lot of stories to weave, and a lot of stories to tell and they’ll tell one, and then they’ll sort of drop it and go on. It just depends on how long we run as a show; if we go on long enough and they run out of ideas, they may get back to that.

9) Q. What episode/story are you working on now?

A. We are right now working on, I think, the fifteenth episode of the fourth season, and it is called “The Bar Association” and it is a Quark/Rom episode directed by LeVar Burton in which Rom starts a union, a waiter’s serving union, in the bar and it totally freaks Quark out and it’s really a big shift in their relationship; in fact, at the end of it Rom is no longer working for Quark. He has gone off on his own to follow his own star. Which makes Max Grodenchik sort of nervous, but I think it’s actually a very good development for his character, and it will be interesting to see where they go with that.

Stephanie Moore asked:

Q. What is the nature of your relationship with Robert Altman? How did you meet him, etc.? You were in some of his coolest films, and I’d like to know how you became an Altman regular.

A. Well, when I was a young actor, and I was working in New York, I was actually in rehearsals for my first Broadway show, which ended up being not a very successful show, it ran about a week; but while I was in rehearsals, my agent, they were casting M*A*S*H, and Bob Altman was in the city meeting actors, and I met him, and we talked about what I might do if I were going to play a priest, and I talked about a friend of mine, who I had, an old dear friend of mine who had, as a young man, thought about becoming a priest and then didn’t. But he still had a wonderful personality; he was a very sweet, shy, kind of bumbling guy. And I said that that’s how I would do it, and there wasn’t much of a part in the original script of M*A*S*H the feature film, but as we did the film, the part developed because when you work with Bob Altman you do a lot of improvising and he’s very open to any actor’s input. He’s a wonderful director to work for. I worked for him for four films in a row, until my daughter was born, and somehow the birth of my daughter coincided with the end of our really intense relationship. He was really my mentor, and I guess having a child of my own made me move on in my own direction and, although we’re still very good friends, and stay in touch, and I did a little tiny part in The Player along with a lot of other actors who did little cameos. As my father said, it was easier to find Waldo, you know, in those “Where’s Waldo?” things, than it is to find me in The Player. But I may work for him again, I don’t know, he’s just a good friend who gave me my first break in feature films, and I owe him a lot.

Christine Bichler asked:

1. Q. Are you surprised that women find Odo sexy? Any theories about why women find Odo attractive? (I’ve got a few of my own, of course, but for now I’ll keep my mouth shut).

A. Am I surprised? Yes, I would have to say I am surprised that women find Odo sexy. But then, it’s always a mystery what is sexy and what isn’t sexy; you never know, it has nothing to do… always a surprise. We tend in this country to think, in this culture we tend to think that, only if you look like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean have you got a chance of being sexy. But, of course, that isn’t the case at all. Being sexy is something that really doesn’t have that much to do with the way you look. If people do find Odo attractive, I think it’s because of his vulnerability. On the one hand he appears to be quite sure of himself and strong, and that’s a rigid cover that he has, and I think people recognize that underneath there’s a real vulnerability. I think also they recognize that he’s quite passionate, his feelings are very passionate, his emotions are very strong, even though he tries to cover them. And I think all those things add up to possibly being a reason why he might be found to be attractive.

2. Q. In some of the interviews I’ve come across, you seem to like to talk about the difference between “reality” and “truth”. Sounds very Joseph Campbell-esque to me. Have you read Campbell? Thoughts on the importance of myth and fantasy in our culture?

A. You know, I never have read Campbell; of course I’m aware of his work and it’s one of those things where you think you know about it, just because you’ve heard so much about it, and that’s probably a real disservice to Campbell’s work. So no, I didn’t pick that up from Campbell, it’s just something that I’ve found in my life as an actor, that our intense interest in reality is actually, I think, a kind of misplaced focus. I think that really truth is what is more important. Reality is very limited and is actually, it’s just, what is real to one person is unreal to another. It’s like reality is as elusive as taste. So it’s never been that interesting to me as an actor to be real. For someone to say “Oh, God, that was so lifelike, that was so real”, that hasn’t, I’ve never really thought of that as a great compliment because I think that the fun of acting is being able to take us to places that are not real, in the imagination. But in order to take people there, they have to trust that you’re telling the truth, and so that to me is the touchstone of whether work is viable and successful, is if it’s truthful. I mean, the actor Toshiro Mifune in Kurasawa’s films is very stylized, almost Kabuki, but he’s one of the greatest film actors alive, and it’s because he’s so truthful. And yet, an actor like De Niro, who is incredibly “realistic”, is also so truthful that he also stands as one of our greatest actors. So it’s the truth that matters to me.

3. Q. Why does Odo love Kira? What is it that he sees in her?

A. You know, I think Odo is a little confused because he’s had so little affection in his life, and Kira is his friend, and he’s confusing that with love. He thinks he’s in love with Kira. I actually think that he hasn’t really found his true love yet. We did an episode this season, which hasn’t aired yet, where I think he begins to discover that, or to learn something about himself. What he sees in Kira is his closest and oldest friend, and I think he confuses that with love, or being in love. I think you’ll find that episode interesting; it’s called “Crossfire”; he learns a lot from Quark in that episode, and he learns a lot about himself.

4. Q. And now for the stupid question 🙂 In the movie Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972), there’s a scene where your character walks out into the backyard at a cocktail party to speak to Carol Burnett, who is petting a collie with a distinctive white blaze down its muzzle. (At this point, imagine Christine shouting at the TV screen and her hapless boyfriend: “Oh, my god — that’s LASSIE! Hey, Jeff, doesn’t that look like Lassie? Tell me that’s not Lassie!”) I know the Lassie TV show was still in production at that time, but there was nothing in the film’s credits about the dog or the trainer. I gotta know…was it really Lassie? (This may not seem like a burning question to the rest of you, but Lassie was my very first fannish interest. Wow, Lassie and Rene on the same piece of film. Now that would be impressive 🙂

A. Whoo! I have no idea. (reads question again) Hmm. You know, I just don’t know, and I don’t know how we’d ever find that out. I’m surprised, actually, that the credits of the film don’t say who the trainer was. They usually do. Are you sure they don’t? If you can ever get a tape of that film, and peruse it carefully, I can’t imagine there’s not some reference to who the trainer was, and that would be a way to find out. I can’t remember the trainer, Lassie’s trainer’s name, but it’s a famous name. It’s not coming to me right now. But I think, I’m no help to you. Sorry.

5. Q. Are there any questions that you would like to ask us crazy people on this list? (Like — how did we get so much time on our hands? 🙂

A. (Laughs) Yeah, how do you get so much time on your hands? Do I have any questions for you guys? Hmmm. No, not right now. I’ll think of something.

Cristy Ruteshouser asked:

1. Q. I’ve read that Armin Shimerman has some trouble with kissing scenes because he can’t feel anything through the makeup, and worries that he’ll hurt the lady in question with his sharp Ferengi teeth. Obviously, there’s no such problem with teeth for you, but can you feel a kiss through the Odo makeup? Just wondering, in case we ever see a Kira/Odo kiss (the kiss with Lwaxana didn’t much count, in my opinion, since Odo did not return it).

A. Yeah, I can feel a kiss; I mean, it’s a little strange, since there’s about a quarter inch of rubber over my entire face, and since again this is not reality, it’s truth, we’re not kissing like real lovers, so we’re not “gettin’ down to it”, you know what I mean? but yeah, I can feel a kiss. And that’s the answer to that question, I guess.

2. Q. Has being on DS9 made any difference in terms of how selective you feel you can be with respect to parts that are offered to you? I’ve been wondering about this since I heard that you had turned down the spot on WINGS.

A. Yes, it does allow me to be more selective. In fact, I have to be more selective because it has to be something I passionately want to do if I’m going to go to the producers and ask them to write me out of an episode or clear time for me because it creates a real burden on the rest of the crew and the actors when an actor takes time off. By that I mean, Colm takes a lot of time off to do films, which is great for him and none of us resent that, but it does mean we all have to twist our schedules around to make it possible for him to do it. But I respect that, and that’s great; I mean, he’s a younger actor than I and he’s got other irons in the fire. But for me, DEEP SPACE NINE is my main gig. And so, I did turn down Wings because it didn’t seem to me worth putting myself and everybody else involved with the show through a lot of changes to play a part that didn’t particularly challenge me, in a sitcom format, which of course I did for six years on Benson. So I just didn’t think it was worth putting everybody through that. So I turned it down. The fact that I’m making a living, and a comfortable living, doing STAR TREK makes it possible for me to just walk away from things like that, where, you know, if I didn’t have a regular job like STAR TREK, with my family and life to support, I would never have turned it down if I didn’t have a job at the time. It was a perfectly good part on a very good show; I would have gone ahead and done it, because that’s the nature of working, you know, you work, you do what you gotta do, as long as it’s not something that offends you or you feel is going to offend the sensibility of the people that you’re trying to give the gift of your talent to. That sounds a little grandiose; my apologies. Okay, I’m talking on here, I don’t know how this will ever get typed into a computer, but hey, you ask the questions, I’ll answer them.

3. Q. Several related questions: When you first auditioned for the part of Odo, had you already decided to do the gruff voice for him, or did that come later?

A. That came later. In fact, if you watch the first season, as the years (chuckles) go on his voice seems to get gruffer and deeper as I get more confident in it, and as I get more comfortable with it, so no, it was not something that I knew I was going to do. I think the gruffness came out, as I’ve told this story before, as I was walking in for the first audition Ron Surma, one of the casting directors, turned to me at the door before we stepped through into the room to meet the writers and producers and director; he said “No one has been grumpy enough.” And so that for me was the key to Odo’s character, and that grumpiness has translated into that kind of gruff voice.

Q. Where did the voice come from, in the sense of why did you pick that particular voice and had you ever done it for another character?

A. I think I answered part of that question just now. I don’t know if I’ve done it for another character, I’ve done gruff voices for other characters. You know, when I did that little part of Colonel West in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country I jokingly, when we were rehearsing it with Nick Meyer, I jokingly did it like George C. Scott, I started talking like George C. Scott in Patton (doing George C. Scott impression) and I thought it would be funny to do a sort of homage to George C. Scott, and Nick thought it was funny too, but he said “Don’t do it too heavily.” So maybe that’s where it came from, as sort of an extension of my experimenting with it in my first encounter with Star Trek.

How difficult is it to do this wonderful voice?

A. It’s not difficult; I don’t know if I would try to do it on the stage, where I would have to project it to fill a theater and where I would have to do it for two hours in a row, with long speeches. In terms of film it isn’t difficult. You know, I don’t think about that kind of thing any more; I’ve been doing different voices and characters now for so many years that…. It’s not easy for me to do the voice when I’m not in costume and makeup, but I can, because I’ve done it on the CD-ROM game and a couple of Star Trek novels that I’ve recorded; but it’s easier for me to do when I’m in character, it just sort of seems to come out of me, then, more easily.

Q. Did you know that a lot of women (including me and several others that I’ve run into on AOL and rail) find Odo’s voice very sexy?

A. No, I didn’t know that, and now I do, and [does Odo’s voice] maybe I should start talking like that all the time. Because actually my real voice isn’t like that at all, so you’d probably be very disappointed if you heard me talking in real life.

Anyway, thanks a lot for the questions, folks! Hope to talk to you again soon. Bye!
– René