An Interview With TNG's Young Q, Olivia d'Abo
Olivia d’Abo earned her place in Star Trek history – and in the hearts and minds of fans, too – with her portrayal of Amanda Rogers in the sixth-season TNG episode “True Q.” Amanda was the beautiful young woman who, during an internship on the Enterprise, discovered that she was actually a powerful Q. The British actress, who is best known for her roles as Karen on The Wonder Years and Nicole Wallace on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, continues to appear in features, on TV and on stage, and she’s also a respected singer-songwriter. StarTrek.com recently caught up with d’Abo for a wide-ranging interview in which she recounted her “True Q” experience and filled us in on her current projects, which include We Have Your Husband, a Lifetime TV movie airing tomorrow night, and some new music.
Let's start with Star Trek. First, what did you know about the franchise in general and TNG specifically when you landed your role in "True Q?"
D’Abo: I really didn't know anything about the franchise of Star Trek and I wasn't as familiar with The Next Generation as I was with TOS. But I was immediately excited by the endless possibilities creatively and the mystery of getting to explore a role that seemed really unique to me. Ultimately, when I was cast, I considered it a real honor to be working on the continuation of the Star Trek legacy I'd grown up with, but also to work alongside of some of the most seasoned actors in the business. I learned so much from them. As kids, both my brother and I had grown up with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and from that moment on we got majorly hooked on science-fiction. It had a huge effect on my childhood and not unlike Star Wars it made me more curious about space, other life forms in our galaxy and the wonder of astronomy in general.
What intrigued you most about the role of Amanda in "True Q"?
D’Abo: Amanda had a vulnerability I related to because she was an orphan and in the episode was clearly at a stage in her life where she had some pretty important choices to make about her future. She had a strength and a wisdom about her. She was searching for the truth and searching for her own sense of truth. Though she was impressionable at times, it was inevitable to me through playing her that through her own self discovery she'd know which choices to make and what path to take.
What do you remember of the shoot? Of working on the set and with the other actors, especially Gates McFadden and John de Lancie?
D’Abo: I remember everyone being so warm and so kind to me. From the director to the actors down to everyone on the crew, it was an extremely happy group of people who were there to support each other and do their best every day. The sets were absolutely top-notch and made me feel like I was really aboard a real Enterprise spaceship. My favorite features on set were the space doors that would automatically open and close as you entered and exited each room. There was a lot of new dialogue to learn each day, which happens in television, so you just roll with the punches and embrace the changes in the words as they come. A large component in getting cast on the show was that you had to have extensive theater training and an ability to memorize dialogue well and quickly. Luckily I'd just done a play at the Mark Taper Forum and my memorization chops were where they needed to be, which came in handy, especially in my scenes in the lab with Gates. She was so easy, giving and wonderful to work with. I loved her.
I really enjoyed the challenge of exploring Amanda's serious side and focusing on experiments while using unusually unfamiliar scientific words to communicate and get my point across. John de Lancie was great to work with. He had tremendous energy and reminded me of Puck from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was wonderfully mischievous, always so excited on set and eager to educate me on the importance of what a true Q represented. He also continually reminded me how Star Trek lives on forever, that it's immortal and so important to so many people all around the world. I wasn't necessarily sure what he meant at the time, but he was right. In some way strange way, for that episode's moment in time, we were contributing something to science fiction history.
How tough a role was Amanda to pull off? She had to think like a human, but have the powers of a Q.
D’Abo: She was actually a lot of fun to play and I think I was more interested and challenged by how she dealt with the obstacles she had to overcome in the storyline. I had fun discovering and revealing her inner conflicts and where the possibilities lived inside her. I was also looking for places to have the freedom to play with her curiosity. I definitely made a choice to play her as human as possible. And I made that choice because we all have a great power inside us. Sometimes, others see it in us before we see it in ourselves, so there's a process we must go through to recognize it. I saw Amanda that way. She had great depth, power and potential. That can be scary at times for all of us because our potential for greatness is so vast and expansive that we shy away from it. But hopefully it's what we aspire to claim for ourselves... when we're ready.
You've attended a few Star Trek conventions and autograph shows over the years. Why do you think so many people are still eager to talk to you about “True Q” and Amanda? To get your autograph on a picture of you from the episode?
D’Abo: Actually I've done very few conventions and only just went to my first Star Trek convention this year (she attended the Creation’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas this past August), so I'm fairly new at this. I'm not really certain why people are still eager to talk about “True Q” and Amanda, but I've noticed Star Trek fans are very picky about what makes a great episode and “True Q” was extremely well written and portrayed. I feel very I'm very lucky and honored to have played the only female Q in TNG. I've met many fans recently who collect the game cards and have mentioned a Q card can be very valuable because of the character's powers.
What question about Amanda and your Trek experience are you most often asked... just in case we didn't ask it?
D’Abo: What was it like to kiss Jonathan Frakes?
The episode seemed to leave open the possibility of a return engagement. What did the producers tell you at the time? How close did you come to returning in another episode?
D’Abo: As far as I knew it was always just going to be one episode. Who knows? Maybe that's what made “True Q” special. By the time we'd shot the episode the series had less than a year to go, so I'm sure they had their storylines set in stone for the following episodes to come. Incidentally, I met a screenwriter at Creation this year, before I went on stage for a Q&A, and she shared a very touching and beautiful story with me. She said that “True Q” inspired her to write a spec script with Amanda in it and that it was that script that started her career as a writer on the following show, DS9. Hearing that story was the biggest gift I could have received from fulfilling my role as Amanda. Knowing things you do can inspire others to create is very rewarding to me.
If you had reprised the character, what would you like to have seen for Amanda?
D’Abo: Oh, well, that's hard to say, but probably more of Amanda being mentored by Captain Picard, because of how well he backed her up and guided her in “True Q.” I absolutely loved working with Patrick Stewart, especially in the last scene of “True Q,” where Captain Picard lets Amanda choose. He truly backed her up and protected her to (let her) find her own individual power and sense of purpose. He gave Amanda the opportunity in an urgent situation to save a dying planet. And in return, the situation proves to be the most powerful scene in the episode, as it allows Amanda to use her powers in the most positive way and finally find herself. If there had been a reprise it would have been cool to up the stakes even more and see Picard call upon her to use even more aspects of her intuition and powers to save lives and worlds and work efficiently and effectively in problematic areas or situations that they might have encountered.
In addition to Amanda, what other roles from throughout your career do people most like to speak with you about?
D’Abo: People really love Nicole Wallace from Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She seems to get under people's skin and people are really curious about her and just what makes her tick. Obviously, The Wonder Years as Karen, as a lot of people grew up with that show. My first film, Conan the Destroyer, because I was so young and it's now considered a classic. Wayne's World 2 because Garthette is the ultimate nerd. The role of Jane in Kicking and Screaming, Greedy, Eureka, Jedi Master Luminara in Clone Wars, Live Nude Girls, and The Last Good Time for indie fans. I'm very fortunate to be able to have the range to play roles I really love and don't get bored of. Luckily, people are still connecting the dots, because the roles have been so diverse.
Let's talk current events. You’re also a singer-songwriter and recorded some new music recently, including a duet with Seal. Tell us more about the songs, their titles, where people can get them. How would you describe the sound?
D’Abo: I have an awesome album out right now called Not TV that consists of 10 narrative pop songs I've written that are both reflective and introspective in theme. It's available in retail stores now, as well as Amazon.com. The digital version of Not TV will be released on the 22nd of November and available at Amazon.com with two free bonus tracks. The first track is a smoky, sensual duet I wrote that features Seal called “Broken,” and the second track is a song I recorded called "Alright," which appears in the newly released film Waking Madison. Not TV is definitely alternative pop in style with catchy melodies and lyrics and it pays homage to my classic influential Brit rock sensibilities. But it’s also layered with jazz undertones and soulful R&B rhythms. There are some amazing musicians on the album including Wendy Melvoin from Wendy and Lisa, Richie Sambora, Patrick Leonard, and Susie Katayama's incredible string arrangements. My dad (Mike d’Abo) has been a huge influence on me musically, as he was the lead singer of Manfred Mann and has written classic songs such “Build Me Up Buttercup” for The Foundations and “Handbags and Gladrags” for Rod Stewart.
The song "Broken" was originally recorded by me on my own and placed as the end-title track song in a movie called Loving Annabelle, directed by Katherine Brooks. Being that the song was so strongly embraced by listeners, the producer and co-writer, Thomas Barquee, and I thought, “Wouldn't it be great to record it as a duet? Seal was the first and only artist I could think of to sing it with me, as we were good friends, supported each other's music and had an already built-in history that's reflected in the song. Luckily, he really loved the song when he heard it. So, not soon after that, we went to his house to record it. It was so effortless to record that we literally got the vocal take in an hour. What I love about the song as a duet is how open and disarming the vocals are and the blending of our voices together.
You've completed a TV movie called We Have Your Husband, which will premiere on November 12. Give us a feeling for the story and your role in it.
D’Abo: The film is a gripping and suspenseful drama. I think viewers will find it to be quite a roller coaster ride. The cast is great, and though it's a Lifetime movie it's shot like a cool freestyle documentary with a great sense of underlying urgency in most of the scenes. We Have Your Husband is actually a book and a true story that's been aired (as a segment) on Dateline. It’s about a married couple called Jayne and Eduardo Valseca, whose story became a life-altering experience. Jane (Teri Polo) fights to get her husband (Esai Morales) back from kidnappers down in San Miguel. I play the role of Olivia, Teri Polo's bohemian ex-patriot best friend, who's sort of a butterfly. I fly in and out of the mayhem. Olivia is an artistic free spirit who met Jane when she moved down to San Miguel a number of years ago with her husband. In hindsight, through the film my character has a big lesson to learn about herself and where her depth and character lie.
What else do you have wrapped or about to start?
D’Abo: I'm really excited, as I'm about to guest host Second City on November 12th, which will be fun because I'm getting a chance to do live sketch comedy and play funny characters. I've just come off a high-paced, completely exhilarating run playing the role of Kath in Stan Zimmerman's prestigious theater production of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane at the Actors Company Theater. It's been an amazing experience and a rare opportunity to play against type as a frumpy, tragic hilariously funny human being who against all odds figures out how to get exactly what she wants by the end of the play. It's hands-down the most amazing character and arc I've ever played. Plus, I got to wear vintage 60's wardrobe designed by Kevin King. He also made me the most phenomenal fat suit. It really helped me morph into my character and lose myself. Funnily enough, I get pregnant by the second and third acts, so even more padding was made for me to pull that off effectively. The casting was flawless in this production, with Ian Buchanan, Emrhys Cooper and Robin Gammell. We've just won six StageSceneLA Awards… for best comedy production, best comedic performances (including d’Abo’s) and best director. And I just found out today that we've been nominated for 10 BroadwayWorldLA Awards. So it looks like we'll be bringing the play back in the not too distant future, hopefully in both L.A and New York.
I've also just recently finished shooting the post-apocalyptic action-thriller film Nuclear Family for Michael Eisner's VUGURU Inc., directed by Kyle Rankin, and Justice League: Doom, a movie for Warner Bros. Animation, portraying both Star Sapphire and Carol Ferris, directed by Andrea Romano. And for all you science-fiction fans, you can catch me on Clone Wars playing Jedi Master Luminara.
To keep track of Olivia d'Abo and her latest projects, visit her official site by clicking HERE.