Monday DS9 Panel
Final Deep Space Nine Panel at Dragon*Con
Monday, September 6, 2010 • Atlanta, Georgia
(originally published in the April 2011 of the ORACLE newsletter)
This is the final installment of reports and Q&A transcriptions from Dragon*Con, an annual science fiction convention which, last September, filled a long, eventful Labor Day weekend.
As mentioned in the January issue of ORACLE, our little digital recorder couldn’t catch all of the comments made during the Q&A sessions. Audience laughter and cheering, as well as small random noises, drowned out parts of some sentences. Among the actors, Avery is particularly difficult to record, because of his deep voice and tendancy to speak softly. Especially during this panel, which took place on the last day of the convention, the actors often made side comments and jokes to one another that weren’t picked up by the microphones.
What follows are the portions of the Q&A sessions that were audible, as best I was able to make them out. Audience reactions and other descriptions are included in parentheses, as appropriate. Any missing or misunderstood words are entirely the responsibility of the transcriber.
As at most of the panels at Dragon*Con, the actors are introduced one by one, to enthusiastic applause, and take their seats at a long table, equipped with several microphones. René sat at stage right, and seated to his left were Armin, Avery Brooks, Robert O’Reilly, and J. G. Hertzler.
J.G. (to convention staff who made the introductions): This is sort of like a reverse curtain call. So, just for the future, you always introduce the lesser lights—that would be Bob and myself—(laughter) first, going through the large leads, that would be starship captains, they go last. (applause and laughter)
(Staff member introduces Garrett Wang)
Garrett: Well, according to what J.G. was telling you, I’m the least of the least. (laughter)
J.G.: Garret, no problem.
Garrett (to panel members): Good morning, fellow Star Trek actors. (inaudible conversation among the actors)
René (to audience): Don’t you guys have a plane to catch? (laughter) (Actors wait for someone to ask a question)
René: This is really exciting. What’s supposed to happen now? (laughter)
Robert: This is the committee for Un-American ethics. (laughter) Next witness please? (laughter)
J.G. Would you speak closer to the microphone, please.
Fan: Would you please consider doing a play, or reading some scenes, here at Dragon*Con some time in the future?
Avery: (inaudible, some reservations about idea, ends with) But yes, we will consider it. (applause)
Robert (to fans waiting to ask questions): You gotta line up closer behind, otherwise you’ve got a long walk down there.
Fan: Hey, guys, it’s great to see you. This is for René. I absolutely loved you in the play, Dance of the Vampires, but my copy of the CD got scratched. Where can I get another one? (knowing laughter in the audience)
René: How did you get a copy of a CD of the show? It was never recorded.
Fan: Online. (more laughter and groans)
René: That was a pirated copy.
Armin: That was illegal.
René: Let me refer you to Armin Shimerman. (laughter) (indecipherable chatter among the panelists, audience laughter)
J.G.: Check her purse.
René: Yeah, it was never recorded. And it’s not that interesting a story of why it wasn’t. I can’t tell you where you can get another copy of it. But you got it online, huh? I shudder to think what the quality of it was. But, whatever.
Fan: Good morning. This question is for everyone except Mr. Brooks. (laughter, as Avery pretends to be offended and stalks off stage)
Garrett: This is my first year! (laughter)
Fan: Sorry! (laughter dies down) Yesterday I got an autograph from René, and I was really excited to have it, and as I looked at the photo, I realized, this really is “Odo”. I was just wondering, if those of you who had to put on all the make-up, when you see images of your characters, do you feel like it’s you?
Garrett (to J. G.): Why don’t we start at your end of the table?
J.G.: (not ready to answer, instead leads audience in chant of “Avery! Avery!” until Avery reappears and resumes his seat. Then J.G. leaves.)
Garrett (to Avery): You’re back. Good. (lowering voice to confidential whisper) She was just here to offer you a break. A small break.
(Indecipherable chatter among panelists, poking fun at Avery and his deeply thoughtful, philosophical way of talking)
René: We were doing Larry King Live, years ago, and he asked Avery a question, and Avery went into one of his wonderful, jazz-oriented riffs. And Larry King looked around at all of us and said, “What did he say?” (laughter)
Garrett ( to fan): What was the question?
René: Don’t make her repeat it.
Someone: We lost J.G.
(Audience chants “J.G.! J.G.!” until he emerges from back stage)
J.G.: I’m going to hold off on answering. You asked about the face. I hate watching myself. I cannot stand to look at myself on television, or the very few feature films that I’ve done. But I do like watching Martok, for instance, because I don’t really see me at all. I see this craggy old bastard. So the answer is yes, I do.
Robert: You’re a craggy old bastard in real life. Trust me, I know. I’m married to you. (laughter) To answer your question, the first time I ever got into the make-up, there was a part of me that was afraid of playing a Klingon. As the make-up went on, I felt like I “became” my character. The make-up helped me, so much, to create what I was doing. I sort of would get lost in the fun of it all. Not in the fun of it, but I enjoyed the make-up so much. An hour later, I hated the make-up forever (laughter) because of what it did. The make-up wasn’t really bad, it was the costume that was the horror of it all. It helped me tremendously.
Armin: I’ve said for so many years how much I disliked wearing the make-up so I’m not going to do it again. But I will tell you a piece of wisdom my wife taught me. I was complaining at home, and she said, “Armin. If you want to be a knight, you have to wear the armor.” (applause)
René: I was struck by what J.G. was talking about, it really resonated, because of not being comfortable watching yourself as an actor when you’re completely exposed. I think that’s part of being a character actor and always wanting to hide within a character. You use a lot of yourself but you’re basically hiding. I’m basically a shy person. So seeing yourself when you’re covered up in character like that is a lot easier. What it brought to mind was that the other thing, when you do a voice for an animated film, often they’ll give you a picture of what your character is going to look like eventually. It’s not you. He might be an Italian policeman or a Zen master or Chef Louis like in The Little Mermaid, then you see…. (phone rings in the audience, René looks toward it) Hello? Is that my agent? (laughter) You see it two years later, you see it, and it’s a very weird experience, because you know it’s your voice, but there’s this big fat man running around on the screen. I don’t know why I even brought that up. (laughter)
Fan: Good morning. I just wanted to thank you all for coming and letting us interact with you, it’s been really exciting. What I want to know is what are you all planning on doing, so we can follow you? What’s going on?
Armin: (repeating for someone who didn’t hear) She very kindly asked us what our plans for the future are, as far as other projects are concerned. This scruffy beard I’m growing out is for a play that I’m currently rehearsing, just started, a South African play called, A Road to (inaudible). So that’s the play I’m doing.
René: Tomorrow morning at 9:30 I have a recording session for Pound Puppies and at 11:00 I record a novel all day, called Bull Dancers. And life is just whatever comes along that seems interesting, challenging, fun, and….
René: Grandchildren. I’ll show you pictures of my grandchildren…. (pretends to reach for his wallet) (laughter) In our business, a lot of times, you just wait, you’re waiting for the call to action. Even when you’re working. You’re waiting for the call to action.
Avery: Music. Music. (applause)
Robert: Tomorrow I’ll make breakfast for five. And under threat for their lives, they will not fight at the table. I’ll see them off to school, then I’ll go get hoards of food and feed my children, and take them to football practice. I stand over them, and they obey. (laughter) That’s what I do.
J.G.: Before 1999, I spent five years, when I was not working on Deep Space Nine frequently…. These guys were regulars, they worked every day, I would come in, like, once a month, sometimes. Anyway, I spent between 5:00 a.m. and 12:00 just writing in my garage, which I had handsomely converted into an uglier place. (laughter) But all my books were in there, and I would sit there and fill it up with cigar smoke. I may not be a helluva writer but I would drink in the morning and smoke cigars, I’m sure I just about killed myself. But my daughter was born in ‘99 and she, oddly enough, started getting up at 5:00 a.m. as well. So that ended my writing career between 5:00 a.m. and 12:00. Now she’s eleven. I wrote four, five screenplays in that period of time. Some are more polished than others, but one of them is on the verge of, knock on wood, getting something to happen on it. It takes a long time, these things, in any venue, but in theatre and film it takes forever. So, anyway, that’s what’s actually about to happen, so that’s what I’m concentrating on in the next year. (applause)
Avery: By the way, the CD is on the table.
René: And it’s a bargain. (laughter)
Avery: It is. And it’s called Here. H-E-R-E. Here.
J.G.: Actually, it’s there. (laughter)
(More joking back and forth among the actors, with Avery taking the ribbing with a good-natured grin.)
Fan: My question is for Mr. Auberjonois and Mr. Shimerman. On DS9, your characters, Odo and Quark, had this great friendship, this great dynamic, and I was just wondering if you had a favorite episode or a favorite moment between the two characters that explored that relationship.
René: I have such…. I hit a wall when people ask me what “the best” was or my favorite or the funniest, I don’t know why, I sort of brush, I…
Armin: He doesn’t answer them. (laughter)
René: That sort of sums it up. (laughter)
René: I don’t know….You know, it’s always amazed both of us that people are so sweet and responded to the relationship that these characters had, when actually, in the great scheme of, over seven years, how many episodes, how many hours of film that were shot, we actually had very little together. And I guess we take that as a great compliment that you respond to it that way. And I think that that was the way it should be, it was sort of like a spice put into an already very rich stew. And a little bit of us would go a very long way. (laughter) It was smart of the writers to use us judiciously. We only had one episode in all those years which was really centered on the two of us. (looking at Armin) What, two? He’s going to correct me now. (laughter) One half doesn’t count! One episode that was all us, we went on location, we were up in some place pretending it was cold, that’s the only episode where it was really all about those two characters. The rest of the time, I would walk into the bar and insult him, (laughter) and the next episode he would walk into my office and insult me. (laughter) That’s it.
Armin: (partially inaudible, something about the writers appreciated the fact that people appreciated their relationships and made a point of putting the characters together.) That being said, I suppose, some of my favorite episodes were the ones that René wasn’t in. (laughter)
Fan: (question for Avery, about his theatrical work, including Paul Robeson, much of which he did during Deep Space Nine) How did you fit all that in? And do you still keep that kind of busy schedule? It seems like a lot.
Avery: It was! (laughter) The timing was full, with Deep Space Nine. This thing about Paul Robeson. There is a need to proclaim yourself. To renew your spirit. So, all year, Deep Space Nine is where it is, or was. Right? You see? (laughter as some on stage pretend to have difficulty following Avery’s rambling style) Somehow, to ground yourself in it. You know, television, da-da-da-da-da, okay. Four hundred years into some future, someone’s imagination, okay. But to renew my spirit, to be grounded, I want to go and do and be inside the reference of what I come *from. See? That’s very important to me. Howard Thurman (sp.?) this wonderful Christian mystic called it “singing the rains”. So it doesn’t matter. I can be in someone else’s (inaudible) but I also have to go home. I have to go home literally, I have to go home in my mind, I have to go home in my spirit. And that’s where Paul Robeson brought me. And that’s why I do it in the midst of whatever else there is to do. (applause)
Fan: I already asked this question of Armin, but for the whole panel, I was just curious, what moment in your life did you decide you wanted to be an actor.
Armin: (can’t get his mic to work) I’ll just project, I am a theatre-trained actor. (cheers and applause) I think most actors, I’ll just speak for myself, escape into acting because they find something slightly missing in themselves. So, the moment that I decided, or was sent into acting, was probably a moment when I thought I could be better than what my existence was at the time. And I certainly found from doing my first three plays that I experienced that “songs of angels,” that Mr. Brooks has referred to, and it was like a call from heaven. And I’ve had the good luck to inhabit characters that made me feel more alive than perhaps I sometimes feel as Armin Shimerman. So the moment is nebulous, as far as when that was, but the overriding continuum has been glorious. (applause)
René: Oh, I’ve told this story so many times, I don’t even know if it’s true any more. (laughter) We were in Paris, it was the end of the first year of school, you know, the kids were performing for their parents who came, and we were performing “Do You Know the Muffin Man?” and kids were playing triangles and wooden sticks and tambourines, and I think I was probably not very good at that, so they let me conduct it with a pencil. (laughter) So I conducted it, and we did (sings and mimes conducting) “Do you know the muffin man? The muffin man, the…” I still remember my lines. (laughter) And at the end of it, the adoring parents applauded, and I turned, and bowed. Then my parents came to get me to go home, and I had enough sense to know that I wasn’t really a conductor, that that was something besides… that I was pretending. And I said, “I want to be an actor.” And I never changed my mind. So, here I am. (applause)
Robert: There’s a film, if you haven’t seen it, everybody should see, it’s called Michael Collins. In a scene, Julia Roberts plays Kitty Kiernan, Kitty Kiernan was my grand-aunt. And there’s one little scene where she is singing at the end of dinner. And when part of the family—Kiernan family, the O’Reilly family—moved to America, that tradition was upheld, that after dinner everybody, whether you were 3 or 95, and there were lots of 95 year olds, got up and had to do something. And I used to do Marilyn Monroe. I won’t do it for you. (laughter) Later on it became poems, later on it became… And this tradition, a lot of people sang and did funny things, we had tap dancers, and this tradition, it got into my soul, somehow….and I ran from acting most of my childhood, most of my life, I would always end up in it again. When I became a graduate from college, I was the lost person. My dad turned to me one day, he was an attorney, and he said, “You know, Bob, you should just try to go back to acting. You’re really good at it.” And I said, “Uhhh…yeah, I guess. But I’m really terrified. He said, “We’re all terrified. Do what you have to do in life.” They were great words. But I did that, and it’s great. Sometimes a rough ride, but a great ride. (applause)
J.G.: I come from a long line of impoverished actors. (laughter) I’d love to be a tank driver… (laughter, some inaudible interactions on stage)
Avery: (inaudible, something about 1965, Corinne Jennings, a theatre institute) I didn’t want to go. But all that time before, it wasn’t a matter of choosing, as being told to go, and do the church pageant. Go, and do. You couldn’t say no to Mama. (laughter) (inaudible, in 1965, learning about the world) And I was trying to figure out what I should do. I really wanted to go and be a part of the movement in the South. All my people are from Mississippi. But my parents wouldn’t let me go, because they feared I wouldn’t survive it, and they were probably right. And then, at the same time, I read Gordon Parks (inaudible, other influences, philosophies) So in the combination of all that, I started to think about the utility of what I’d been doing. The choice. And so, with my father’s voice, with my mother’s heart and mind, their music of my lineage, the knowledge and history of my people, I decided to do this theatre thing. This decision to act, as opposed to be silent. So theatre and this way of this expression is to tell about the world, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. (applause)
Garrett: I didn’t really do theatre in high school, or anything like that, because where I went to high school I felt that they would never cast an Asian kid as the lead of Oklahoma (laughter). And it was tough, living in Memphis at the time, my sister and I were the only two Asians, actually the only two minorities, there were no other minorities in the private Christian high school that we went to. And you’d think that it being a private Christian high school that you’d be treated in a Christian way, but there was always one or two bad apples who made it a point to remind me that I was not like them, by throwing a racial epithet at me, threatening my life… I would try to map my route to all of my classes to go around where these guys were walking. It was rough. There were a lot of times at lunch, I would go squirrel away in the library, just to make sure I didn’t see these… in each grade, there was one bully. So when I was a freshman, there was a sophomore, a junior, and a senior who were bullying me, when I was a sophomore, there was a freshman… (sympathetic laughs) So every grade, I got crap from them. And I’ve always tried to entertain people. As long as I remember as a kid, I always did impersonations and accents, everything. I wanted to be in theatre, I wanted to try it out, but we were dealing with more racist attitudes. So when I get in college, it’s pre-med, I thought, “I’m going to be an anesthesiologist, I’m gonna be the guy who knocks you out.” (laughter) That was the goal. I graduated high school, I went to college at UCLA, I was an 16-year-old college freshman at UCLA, and everyone was saying, “Ah, you’re like Doogie Houser, you’re going to go to med school, you’re going to be done with everything so early!” And that was my plan, to be in college for three years, so from 16 to 19, I’d be done with college, and I was going to do med school in three years (audience chuckles), 19, get out of college, 22, be done with med school, 23, 24 residency. So I was going to be a full-fledged doctor well before 30. That was my plan. And that plan hit a wall. I took chemistry, I remember chemistry, I dropped out of chemistry after the first week, I said, “This is for the birds!” (laughter) And that’s required for biology majors, so I started looking for another major. I switched majors about three, four, five times, actually, until I finally landed on Asian-American studies, or Asian studies. Because I felt all the time in Memphis I ignored who I was, stayed as far away from who I was, trying to blend into the crowd, that essentially, I didn’t know anything about myself, or my people, or anything like that. So, the day I made that decision, I walked into the Asian Studies department to get the course requirements, and the secretary of the Asian Studies department, before I could ask her anything, I go, “Hello!” and she says, “Do you want to go out and audition for a TV movie?” And I said, “What?” (laughter) “I’m here to get the course requirement for the Asian Studies major.” And she says, “Well, a casting director called us, and they’re having trouble casting this role for a TV movie. And they need a Chinese-American, a Chinese guy to come in here and play this role.” And I said, “What’s the TV movie about?” And she says, “Oh, it’s some story about an American English teacher in China, a woman, who falls in love with her student, who was a grad student. This is in China. They cast Melissa Gilbert, from *Little House on the Prairie, as the teacher. And it was called something like China Nights (laughter) And so I said, “Yeah! You know, that’d be great!” Because in the back of my head, I always thought, wow, I love entertaining, this may be a sign from God, that this is the direction I should go. So I go on the audition, and I walk in, and you got to understand, at that time, I’m 19 or whatever, and I go in there, and she looks at me and she says, “Oooh! Wow, you look… how old are you?” Because Asians always look a lot, with that crazy melanin thing, Asians, Mr. Brooks, also, anybody with extra melanin, we’ll look young for a *long time. And then we hit this one age where we turn *really old. (laughter) Age 75, we look like we’re 120. So she says, “You know what? Hon, this is not really working out, because you look like you’re still in high school, or junior high.” But then I thought, maybe I can do this. I took my first acting classes at UCLA, the theatre department, and at UCLA, you don’t have to be a theatre major to take these classes. So I walked in that quarter, and the instructor said, “Look, I have to fill my class with freshman, incoming theatre majors, so, if you want to come back in spring quarter, if I have any room, I’ll let you in.” I came back spring quarter, she says, “I have one space open.” So I hopped in. The next class I took, every class afterwards, you had to fill out this paperwork saying what other theatre classes did you take, blah blah blah, and I kept listing each class, and I took everything that all the theatre majors were supposed to take, that I wasn’t supposed to take, because they all assumed that I was a theatre major, so I got in on the first try. (laughter) So I got my conservatory training at UCLA, in voice, in stage combat, yadda yadda yadda, that was the beginning of how I decided to be an actor… (on stage, inaudible joking around among DS9 actors, teasing Garrett for having talked so long about himself, lots of audience laughter)
René (in a confused tone): What was the question? (laughter)
Garrett: All right, I’ll turn over the mic, I’m sorry… (more laughter and applause)
Fan: A question for you all, about working on Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, when you’re working hard and you’re all tired, and it seems like the day should’ve been over 12 hours ago, which one, or more than one, was the prankster who kept everyone going? And a story to go with it.
Armin: Let me answer that question. (inaudible) Although we had an enormously good time (inaudible) and on the set as well, but we were serious actors (someone on stage makes a face, causing giggles in audience) regardless of what these guys are doing behind my back (laughter). There was no class clown, per se. We each did something, but we took the work seriously, probably for the very reason you mentioned. It wasn’t 12 hours, it was 16 hours. And if we fooled around, it would be 18 hours. So the others may differ with me, but that’s my answer to that. (applause)
Robert and J.G.: That’s right.
Avery: We laughed a lot. Sure. Or I did, anyway. (laughter) I’m first laughing at myself, before I laugh at anybody else. That’s the way it was. We were funny. (inaudible) Colm Meany made me laugh every day he worked.
René: And he didn’t have any make-up on! (laughter)
Robert: You know, once he did.
Avery: So did I. (inaudible) We had a very good time.
René: The show was, I think now, in retrospect, and I guess I thought it at the time, was the darkest, the most… I felt there was a complexity to it, from the very inception of it, the nature of who the captain was and where he came from and what his journey was, resonated throughout the seven years. And the kind of things that were going on, the political, the deep political struggles that happened in it…. And not to get too grandiose, I mean, listen, folks, it’s television, there’s only so much you can do in the, what, 40 minutes you get to tell a story in a one-hour format. The very complexity, the neuroses of it all, the deeper nature of the stories was not always, not everybody’s favorite Star Trek, way to go with Star Trek, but it was what it was, and I think that effected the way we felt about the work. You know, we were in a show, the great danger is to take yourself too seriously. And in that case, I don’t think we did, we had people like J.G. to bring us down to earth, because he’s a wonderful cynic (laughter as J.G. reacts). Anyway, gosh, I’m going on too long. Did I make any point at all? (more laughter, inaudible comments and laughs among actors)
Garrett: Well, the fact that he has focused on the acting really shows. (applause)
Fan: (inaudible, question about people being too fanatical, or any stories about craziness that you’ve encountered from a fan?)
Avery: There was a memo, you know, a piece of paper, from someone that said, (looks at other actors) you know…
Armin: I’m not sure… (inaudible)
Avery: Okay, tell us the story about the phasers.
Armin: Our prop master showed it to us. There was a memo from some stupid official in the Viacom administration to Pat, the prop master, that said, we have new safety regulations on the phasers (laughter). Please show the actors that they’re not loaded. (hysterical laughter) As soon as the shot is over, please take the phasers away. (more hysterical laughter)
Robert: Oh! How dumb can they be!? Oh!
Armin: If anyone doesn’t know, a phaser is a block of wood. (laughter)
Robert: Oh! That’s why they run a corporation! (laughter)
Armin: This worries me.
Garrett: I just want to say one thing. (laughter) This is something that I don’t know if you guys know, but it has to deal with Deep Space Nine. When Voyager finished the pilot episode, we had like a month off, whatever it was, we got a videotape, all the Voyager actors, and a letter, Federal Express. I opened it up and it says, (adopting upbeat voice) “Dear Voyager actor.” (laughter) “My name is Kim Friedman, I’m the director of your first episode after we come back. Now, I need to address one situation. I looked at the pilot episode of Voyager, and I have to inform you that none of you on the Voyager cast knows how to shake correctly.” You know, when the ship hits something…? (laughter) “I’ve included a videotape with different compilations of scenes of Deep Space Nine actors shaking correctly.” (much laughter and applause) “I require you to practice before you come on the set. Remember, to shake correctly, you must shake from your center, and let your extremities follow.…” (laughter) “Now, after practicing in a mirror, if you find that you’re still unable to shake correctly, please feel free to go to any of the Deep Space Nine actors and ask for a demonstration.” (applause and laughter) I never got to ask that question, so could I just ask for a demonstration? (laughter). Honestly, I was floored. So I called everybody and I go, “Was this April Fool’s Day on Ensign Kim, because I’m the youngest?” but everyone got the same letter, and I just kept thinking, my god, do you really think I would walk up and knock on Avery Brooks’ door (knocks hand on mic).
Avery: And ask me to shake. (laughter) I might’ve done it, actually. (laughter)
Armin: You missed an opportunity with Terry Ferrell. (much laughter)
Garrett. Did you all know about this? Did anybody know about this? (all shake their heads)
Avery: No. But I believe it. I believe it. (laughter)
Garrett: My reaction was, if I had gone to Mr. Brooks’ trailer, and knocked on that door and asked him that question….
(At his end of the table, René starts to shake in his chair, as if the stage is shaking, and eventually topples to the floor, to roars of laughter and applause)
Armin (swirling the ice cubes in his glass): This is the only shaking I ever do. (laughter)
Garrett (to someone offstage): Is it time? (to actors) It is time. It’s been great having you here and (to audience) thank you for showing up… (long applause as everyone leaves the stage)