Interview: 1997 Q&A

by E. Cristy Ruteshouser

This is the text of a taped interview with René Auberjonois from January of 1997. The questions came from members of the René Auberjonois Internet List (RAIL).

I. Cristal Martinez

Q. In your discussion of the episode “The Quickening” (August’96 interview), you showed a great amount of consideration for the technical aspects of the production, i.e., wanting to establish the huge panorama in the beginning and following it through to make sure that all the work that had been done on the set didn’t go to waste. I read in another interview that you had had some training in technical theater, and I wondered; how much did you have to learn concerning technical production, and how has it fit into your work as a director? As someone involved in technical theater, I was thrilled to see such concern from someone from a (gasp!) acting background!

A. Well, you know, when I first told my family that I wanted to be an actor, they were terrific about it, and as a kid I did a lot of acting… not professionally but in groups that we would pull together and of course we did our own sets and costumes and so I got involved in it that way. And then, you know, as I was getting older and still interested and I would go off to do summer stock, I was really basically an apprentice and mostly what I got to do was work on the sets. Or even when I got to act we still had to work on the sets, to strike the show and put ’em up…And my father, being a good Swiss puritan, always really insisted that if I was going to be an actor, I shouldn’t just be an actor, I should know about the whole process. So as encouraging as they were to me as an actor, they were also really adamant that I didn’t just live in a fantasy world, but that I rolled up my sleeves and learned how to do it. And so I’ve always been fascinated by the technical end of theater, and a lot of my closest friends are not actors, but in the other end of the business.

You know, even when I first got out of college and I was working, for instance, at Arena Stage and I no longer had to be involved in the technical aspect of the theater, I still did get involved with it, and I would stay and help them put up the sets, because that was always such an exciting time to me to see the set go up for the first time. And then I would stay when the show was over and help them strike the sets. It always just seemed to me part of being part of the community of creative people.

Of course, in a film business like this, it’s a much larger, it’s not quite as hands-on, but I’m still very sensitive to it, and a lot of the people I work with… Bob Blackman, who does the costumes, Laura Richards, who is our dress-setter, Herman Zimmerman… are theater people, some of whom I’ve worked with before in the theater–Bob Blackman and Laura Richards–both of whom I’ve been involved with in the theater. So it carries over, and I have a great respect for it, and I enjoy it.

Tracy L. Hemenover

Q. Do you feel that the overall Odo storyline has become overshadowed by the fact that he is now only one of several characters on the station who are outcasts among their own people (i.e., Worf, Garak, Ziyal, and now even Quark)?

A. That’s an interesting point. (Laughs.) It hadn’t even really occurred to me, so obviously I guess I haven’t felt that the storyline has been overshadowed by that fact. I’ve had a really good season, I’ve had wonderful stories to do so I really can’t complain. Last season wasn’t a particularly inspiring season, but… I mean, I had some wonderful stuff to do last season… but this season I really can’t complain, I mean I think the episode that LeVar Burton directed, the flashback episode about Odo’s guilt, was fabulous; I thought with Quark and I on the mountain, that was great; I know that the episode which hasn’t been shown yet, where I get my powers back, is a wonderful episode and I just finished, you know, what I gather is being known as… on the Internet as the “Odo gets laid” episode; I just finished that episode this week, and it was, you know, it was just great, so I really can’t complain about that. But that’s avery good point about the fact that there are a lot of outcasts on the station.

I think that is really… I think that’s what “Deep Space Nine” is about. I don’t think anybody knew that’s what it was gonna be about. But it’s this object floating in space. It’s not part of any one world, it’s a satellite, and it’s a meeting place of people all searching for who they really are. And I think as the years go by, when we get some perspective on the series when it ends, I think people are gonna recognize that it has a very special place of its own in the “Star Trek” legend. So I think that’s good, I don’t think it overshadows, I think that’s part of the bittersweet feeling of “Deep Space Nine,” the sort of dysfunctional aspect of it that I find gritty and interesting.

Q. I’ve heard that your grandfather was an artist, and that you yourself are one. Is this is true? What kind of artwork do you do?

A. Well. My grandfather was a great artist, and in Switzerland is recognized as one of their great artists, almost every museum has at least one or two of his paintings, often whole sections devoted to his work. Really, a great… he was a post-Impressionist, and a great artist, and I’m named after him.

I would hardly call myself an artist in that sense; I doodle, I draw, I’m not a trained artist, I couldn’t sit down and do an accurate portrait of anyone. I’m a cartoonist, basically. And I, you know, I dabble, I doodle, I do things, I make masks, I use rubber stamps, I take photographs, I color them with my hands, with pastels, I do ink drawings and cartoons. I’m just a doodler. I’m definitely a naïf, I’m not a professional artist in any sense of the word. But it’s part of me and part of my… part of the way I am, and I could never stop doing it, and I love to do it.

Q. What’s the strangest role you ever had?

A. Boy, why are questions like that so hard? What’s your favorite role? What’s the strangest role? What’s the funniest thing that ever happened? Whenever there’s an “est” on the end of a question, or at the heart of a question, I feel like I’ve run into a brick wall and my mind goes totally blank. You know, it’s not… nothing is that simple, you can’t answer questions like that. They’re just unanswerable. If we sat around with a glass of wine, talking over an evening, it might evolve that I would think of something, and I might say “oh, well, that was the strangest role I ever had,” but it probably wouldn’t be. It would probably be just at that particular moment in the context of that particular conversation, so I really have no answer to that. I’ve played lots of strange roles. But I can’t say what would be the strangest. EST. Huh.

Q. What’s your take on the way Odo has been written since becoming a solid? I was expecting at least some angst over the fact that he’s had something taken away from him which was a major part of his identity and was one of the only things he took joy in, and the fact that it was taken from him completely unjustly (at least from a solid point of view, which is the still the only point of view Odo really knows). I know that in the episodes so far shown, there haven’t been very many opportunities, but except for the season premiere, we’ve seen Odo mostly acting like he’s just fine with being solid. Is this another case of denial (as when Odo was pretending it didn’t bother him that his people were the Founders)?

A. Yeah, you know, they never really did focus on that, much. They took away the powers. In the show “The Link” where they took away the powers, he has a very moving speech to Sisko, and then they never really dealt with it, because they had other things on their mind, they were telling other stories, and so it’s hard to sort of jam in feelings and things about what you’re thinking about your character if they’re really focused on something else, so, you know, I guess I would have liked it if they had done an episode… they make passing reference to it, you know, he hurts himself because he forgets he’s not a solid any more, and jumps off the stairs, and he’s not a solid so he bangs down. And when he’s with… he breaks his leg when he’s with Quark on the mountain, and things like that, but they never really focused on that. I would have been disappointed except I think when you all see this show in which I get my powers back, you’ll see, I think, that it’s sort of resolved, in a certain way, in a very beautiful way, and so I hope that will fulfill your… the hope that you had that there would be some kind of a real reference to it or investigation of it. I hope that’ll do it for you.

Catherine Weller

Q. You said you’d like to ‘do’ Curzon/Odo again, sometime. Did anyone take that up, or is it yet another wonderful idea that disappeared?

A. Yeah, I think it’s a wonderful idea that disappeared…I’ll tell you why. I think they did… I don’t think the producers were happy with that episode. It’s not particularly that they didn’t like what I did with Curzon, they just weren’t happy with the way that episode came out. The writing, the way it was directed, it just… my sense is, they weren’t happy with it, so it just sort of… when they’re not thrilled about something, they just sort of drop it and move on to something else. They’ve got to deliver twenty-six episodes a season and they’re not going to beat their heads up against a wall if they feel something didn’t, like, pan out the way they had hoped.

That’s often why you see characters that look like they might be ongoing characters just sort of disappear, it’s not ’cause the actor has failed, it’s because maybe the story didn’t live up to the producer’s expectations, maybe the director didn’t deliver what they had hoped, maybe… whatever. It’s all chemistry and so things tend to come and go, and that’s one of the ones that I think went. It is too bad, it was fun to do, I would like to do… I really would like Odo to be able to take on other personas, and they haven’t bought into that one yet. They’re still resisting that. But I hope… I live in hope.

Q. Is there any hope that you might attend another convention in Australia?

A. There’s a lot of hope. In fact, there’s a concrete… I’m gonna be there. This… 1997, for the month of June. For the whole month of June. We’re doing four conventions in Australia. I think we go… I can’t remember right offhand, but we’re going right around the outer edge of Australia. We’re gonna be in Sydney, and Adelaide, and Melbourne, and…wherever, I can’t remember right now. Brisbane, maybe. I don’t remember. But definitely gonna be there, and looking forward to it. We just love Australia. And I just saw Kitty Swenk, Armin Shimerman’s wife, this morning, at the place where I go to work out, and she said she was reading all about Australia, because I finally convinced Armin that the long flight there wasn’t so terrible and that they really should go and that they’d love it, and so they’re coming in May.

Q. What’s the best scene you can recall doing? Why that one?

A. See, there’s an EST on the end of that, in the middle of that word, in the middle of that question. Est. Best. I can’t answer that. This is just an unanswerable question. The best scene is the last great scene I did. You know, this last show, with… where I fall in love…fabulous actress, Dey Young, and we had great scenes together, I just loved working with her, and so I would say that. But, you know, couple of weeks from now, ask me again, and I may have a different answer. Est. Est.

Q. Any gossip you’d like to pass on?

A. No.

Gary E. Himes

Q. After a career of playing character parts, how does it feel to be playing a heroic lead?

A. Well, I’m a character actor, and actually throughout my life I’ve… I have relatively speaking played few heroic leads, but I’ve done it. I don’t really think of Odo as a heroic lead, but that’s nice if you do. So, I guess I don’t really characterize the parts I play that way. They’re just beings that I try to inhabit, and I try to learn from them, and I try to bring something of myself to them, so I don’t have sort of generic… I guess I do, that’s not fair. Of course, I know I can call Clayton Endicott a nitwit, and I can… whatever. But I… I guess I don’t think of Odo as a heroic lead. He’s a very complicated character, that’s why I like him.

Carolyn R. Fulton

Q. Successful public figures often have some remarkable support in the background … I was wondering if there was anything you’d care to tell us about your wife, who from all accounts is a talented writer and an all-around lovely person? And how do you make a long-term relationship work in a town famous for its break-ups?

A. Well, yes, we have been married for thirty-three years, amazingly enough… I don’t even feel that old… and I would have to say that a good deal of that credit goes to Judith, who is a remarkable, powerful, strong woman, even though she’s quite diminutive, she’s five feet tall. But she comes from a family–she’s first generation–comes from a family of Hungarian immigrants who came here under very trying and difficult circumstances, and with very few resources made their way in the world, brought up two lovely daughters, sent them both to University, and they should be very proud. Judith has borne two of our beautiful children, and helped to bring them up wonderfully. She’s a person of incredible insight and has always worked very hard to make our lives stable and rich.

We’ve always, from the moment we were married and lived together, we’ve always lived in the most beautiful environments. Not because they cost a lot of money, because certainly in the beginning we didn’t have any money, but she just has an exquisite aesthetic which she translates into the world we live in. People come into our house, and this has happened throughout our lives, and they’re always, I mean, there is something so wonderful about the environment which Judith establishes… I mean, I have something to do with it, of course, because I’m part of it and I’m a collaborator, but it really is Judith who is the producer of this. People always sense a great feeling of peace and serenity in our house, which is wonderful, because I’m a real high-strung person, and things get a little crazy, but this is really a sanctuary, and a beautiful one.

You know, no marriage that lasts as long as ours has is just a nice calm sea, and that would be ridiculous to portray it that way, and would be in a way not giving credit to the two of us for working at it. You know, things… you cannot have, as my yoga teacher used to say, you cannot have the wave without the shore, you cannot have the mountain without the valley, and we’ve worked very hard over the years at maintaining our relationship.

You know, there’s something we do–this is a very private thing–but it’s not a terribly private, but it’s sort of a quirky thing. We change sides of the bed every few months. Just sort of one day one or the other of us will say, “You know, it’s time to change sides of the bed”, just because it’s sort of symbolic of not wanting to get into a rut. And I think that that is possibly the key… not the fact that we change sides of the bed, but that that is something that we think about and that we act on and that we work on.

E. Cristy Ruteshouser

Q. Since Odo has become human, it seems to me that he’s become more social, more inclined to interact with his colleagues. Even his body language in social interactions has changed, seeming to indicate that he welcomes such interactions more. How much of this change is the result of the writing and/or direction of the episodes, and how much is your own interpretation of Odo as a human?

A. Well, I think that happened, yes. I don’t think about things like that much any more, they just happen. And I think some of it is due to the fact that he’s become human, but I can’t imagine that when he becomes…and he is, already… when he’s back to being a changeling, I don’t think that will change. Some of it has to do with, over the five years now that Odo has been in this family of characters, he’s become more comfortable. As has René. And so I think that just translates into body language. He is more intimate and more comfortable with the people. They’re not such strangers to him any more. When the show began, Sisko was a total stranger to him. And Dax was a total stranger to him. Bashir was a total stranger….Those people had not been on the station. And his relationship with Quark has evolved, and with Kira, and so I think that’s partially why it’s happened like that. And so… I’m glad you noticed it, I can’t claim credit for it, or blame for it, I don’t really know how it happened, I didn’t think about it, it just happened naturally.

Q. Would you like to see Odo “get the girl” (any girl)? Have you done romantic scenes on stage or in films, and, if so, did you enjoy doing them?

A. Well, I seem to have answered that question a couple of times along the way. You know, I didn’t care about it one way or the other, I didn’t worry about whether he got the girl, every time they would, like…well, remember in the “Link” [“Broken Link”] they brought that sort of ditsy blonde woman on who owned the shop and when I met her in Garak’s, and… I sensed then, I thought “umm… I hope they don’t think this is what my romantic interest is gonna be,” because it just didn’t seem like something that Odo would go for.

When they were getting ready to cast the role of Arissa, the woman he does fall in love with and consummate that love, they asked me to come in and read with the three finalists. And I did, and they were all really wonderful actresses, but there was one… Dey Young… who I felt was particularly right for the role. It was a new director, and I felt it wasn’t my place to say anything, I thought that was his, you know, I didn’t want to get in his way… so after the readings I just left the room and I didn’t say who I particularly preferred. As it happened, they chose that actress and I was really thrilled about it. The reason I thought she was right was not that she’s like Kira, at all, she doesn’t look like Kira, she doesn’t act like Kira, but there is a sort of a straightforward quality that she has, a no-nonsense kind of quality, and I thought that was what attracted Odo to Kira and I thought that’s what would attract him to her, this woman, and so I was very pleased when she was chosen and it proved to be good, I think we have wonderful chemistry together.

I’ve done romantic scenes on stage, and a few in film…not many in film, but on stage…. You know, they’re not very romantic, because it’s like, it’s sort of like making love on an assembly line, because everybody’s standing around doing their jobs, so that’s…. they’re not… it’s no more enjoyable than doing any other kind of scene. In fact, the real…the scenes that are not romantic, the scenes where characters are falling in love, are to me the most interesting and the most, sort of sexy scenes and so, I hope those work well in this show.

Q. I was struck, when listening to your dramatic reading of The List of 7 on audio tape, by the variety of accents you used and how consistent they all were throughout the book. I’ve noticed this also in your film and TV performances. May I ask how you learned to do such a wide variety of accents?

A. You know, part of it is just your ear; you know, some people can hear a tune and hum it. I’m not… there are many actors who are far more adept at doing accents than I am. There are a few that I can do easily, like the French and the British. But I work at it, hard, and I listen to it, and sometimes if I’m doing an accent that I don’t know, like a Norwegian accent, I’ll get tapes and I’ll listen to it carefully.

It’s just part of the list of, or the… not the list, but the kind of… it’s part of what I think an actor has to have in their tool chest. Not all actors can do it. Meryl Streep is a genius at it. But I bet she works very hard at it, I don’t think it’s something that just… you know, it’s not like Robin Williams who can do a funny accent off the top of his head. You have to work at it. But I love doing it. One course I took at university was called “Foreign Language Pronunciation.” And it was four semesters of… you did Spanish, Italian, German, and French and you learned to pronounce in that language. It wasn’t learning how to do dialects, but by learning how to pronounce a language correctly, it really helps you when you have to then speak it in English and do the accent. That’s all I can say about that.

Q. The frivolous question; was the mustache you wore to play Clayton Endicott part of the makeup, or was it real? I noticed that it vanished for at least two episodes of “Benson,” then reappeared promptly.

A. Okay. The mustache when we began was real. I guess about the second or third season, during the hiatus I did Richard III, I played Richard III and the mustache wasn’t right for that so I shaved it, and when I came back there was no time to grow it before we had to start shooting, and so it started to be a fake mustache after that. I think you’re wrong. I don’t think he ever appeared without a mustache. I mean, you’d have to tell me what episodes those were, but I don’t really believe there was ever an episode where it didn’t appear. It may have… there was like one flashback episode where we saw Clayton as a little boy, but it was really me, grown up… but… I may have had the mustache off at that moment, just for that scene, but I don’t ever remember not having the mustache for the character.

This isn’t a question, but… would you please, please tell us the story about climbing the tree when you first learned you’d gotten the part of Odo?

Well, you know, it’s probably some sort of apocryphal story by now, but my memory about it is… that we were going to get the answer about whether or not I had gotten the part on, I think it was a Friday, and everybody was sort of on pins and needles, there was a lot riding on it, I really wanted the part, and… for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that I had a daughter at Sarah Lawrence, and my son was about to begin Wesleyan, and it was gonna be very expensive, and I needed a job that was gonna give me a steady income for a while. But I loved the role, and I wanted it, and you don’t want to be rejected.

And so I was… everybody was nervous about it. But I was determined that day not to spend the day sitting around waiting for the phone call, so I went to the museum, which is really just down the street from us, really… and I spent most of the day just quietly wandering around the museum looking at things, just having a restful day, and when I came home in the afternoon Judith was out doing something, and nobody was in the house, it was just me. And the dogs. And the phone rang, and it was my agent, and he said ‘you got it, it’s yours, it’s set.’ And that was great, and we congratulated each other, and laughed on the phone, and slapped ourselves figuratively on the back, and hung up the phone.

And then I was there, alone, in the house, waiting for Judith to come home. And I would sort of wander around, and sort of be full of happiness, and come upstairs and try to sit down and do something, and get up and go downstairs to see if she was home yet, and then I would go outside and see if I could see the car coming down the street. I just was so anxious to tell her ’cause I knew it would make her so happy and I knew it was gonna be a big relief to everybody. And I was just there, and I tried to tell the dogs but they didn’t seem all that interested in it, and then I just was sitting on the front steps of the house waiting, and then I went down to the street to look to see if she was there and she wasn’t.

And we… when we bought this house thirteen years ago there were no trees in front of the house, you know in the green strip between the street and sidewalk, and we planted two jacaranda trees, which give beautiful purple flowers. And, you know, when we first planted them, there was no way I could have climbed into them, but it’s an indication of how long we’ve lived here that, as I was standing there by the tree and looking up the street to see if Judith was coming, I sort of was standing by the tree and I reached up into the branch and it was good and solid, and I pulled myself up into the first branch, and then up into the second one, and I sat there in the crook of the branch looking down the street, just sat there waiting for her.

And that’s the story, Cristy. Good night, sleep tight!