Catching Up With Brent Spiner, Part 1
Ol’ Yellow Eyes is back, sort of. It’s been a long time since Brent Spiner last played Data, but he’ll have some fun tweaking his Star Trek: The Next Generation connection when he guest stars – along with Wil Wheaton, David Gerrold and Dorothy Fontana – on this Thursday’s episode of Big Bang Theory, entitled “The Russian Rocket Reaction.” StarTrek.com figured now would be the perfect time to catch up with Spiner, who subsequently took to the phone to talk about Big Bang Theory, discuss his Web series Fresh Hell – in which he plays a fictional Brent Spiner whose career has been ruined by an undisclosed event called “the incident” -- and to look back at his years in the Star Trek universe. Below is part one of our two-part interview, and check back tomorrow for part two.
You’ll be guest starring this Thursday on Big Bang Theory, playing yourself, and…
Spiner: It’s very brief. It’s not even a cameo. It’s a cam. By the way, I have my own terms for everything. My appearance on Big Bang Theory is a cam, not a cameo. And I like to describe Fresh Hell as a sit-trag, because it’s a comedy, but it’s also sad and the subtext of it all is actually quite serious. It’s really about everybody right now who is losing their jobs. In my mind, there’s a second incident, an even bigger incident, and that is I got old. That’s an incident that is happening to everyone. Everyone is perpetrating that. They keep getting old and you get kicked out and used up. But, anyway, enough of that. The premise of this episode of Big Bang Theory is that Sheldon (Jim Parsons) runs into Wil Wheaton again. Wil is having a party at his house and he invites Sheldon to come and bury the hatchet.
How did you enjoy catching up with Wheaton and working with the Big Bang Theory gang?
Spiner: It was fun. I enjoyed it. It’s a really funny and smart show, with really good actors on it and very talented writers. So it was a blast to be there for a week. It was hardly working compared to what I used to do in Star Trek. I’m really only in the tag of the show, so it’s very brief, but I’m hopeful beyond hope that they’ll bring me back again, which I think is a real possibility. And it was great working with Wil. I see him a lot because we’re at conventions together, but we were standing backstage waiting to make an entrance and he said, “I think this is the first time in years that we’ve worked together.” He was in Nemesis, but his scene got cut, so that doesn’t count. And I don’t think I was in the scene with him.
Between your guest shot on Big Bang Theory and Fresh Hell, how proficient are you getting at playing Brent Spiner?
Spiner: You know, I’ve never been very good at playing myself. I’d done it before. I did it on Joey a few years ago. It’s one of the most difficult characters to play. It’s certainly easier in Fresh Hell because we’ve established all of the parameters of where I am in my life at that point. None of that is important at all when I appear as myself anywhere else. It’s just a person who happens to be named Brent Spiner, who was on Star Trek.
Let’s go back to your TNG days. How quickly, or not, did you get a handle on Data and how to play him?
Spiner: I think fairly quickly because I realized pretty early on that there was really no precedent for it, that I could do pretty much anything I wanted and the audience would either accept it or they wouldn’t. But there was nobody to say, “Oh, that’s not what an android would do” or “That’s not how an android would behave,” because there weren’t any other androids at that point on weekly television. Even in the audition process, there was the question of, “Should we play this character like a machine, like a robot, or should we make him closer to being a person?” And we all agreed, finally, that it would be really tedious if I played him like a machine and a robot for seven years, if we went that long. So we decided to make him much more of a person who was growing in his humanity as time went on.
As the TNG films came out, you stated that you couldn’t imagine playing Data indefinitely because Brent Spiner ages and Data does not. Back during the show, in the moment, did you worry about that? Or was that something that dawned on you as you aged, after you’d been portraying Data for 10-plus years?
Spiner: I really did think about that early on because I was not young when I got the part. I was 38 when I started playing Data. So it occurred to me, “How long is this going to last?” I looked pretty young for my age at the time, but I thought, “If I was 10 years younger, I could play this for 30 years.” But I wasn’t. I was pushing 40. I thought, “How long am I going to look acceptably young to keep playing this part?” Fortunately, it lasted as long as it did.
We know you’re not big on picking favorites, but if you were going to sit down with your son and watch three episodes of TNG, which three would you pick and why?
Spiner: I don’t really look at the show as episodes. For me, it was a seven-year episode that went on and on and on. I’ve only seen the first 20 or so, from the first season, and haven’t really watched any of them after that. I was spending so much time doing the show, reading the scripts and learning the lines for the show, I thought my time would be better spent doing something other than now watching them, too. So I don’t really know. People come up to me and say, “My favorite episode was… fill in the blank,” and I don’t know what episode that was. If we go past the show on the television and we pause for a few seconds to see what it was, I have no memory of it, even if it was an episode of Data’s.
OK, let’s go the reverse route. If you go to Hell and your punishment is watching the worst episode of TNG, which episode is in an infinite loop?
Spiner: Hmm, there was an episode that we ALL hated. It was early on. I can’t remember the name of it. It’s not the one where we killed Denise (Crosby), but it was the one where some kind of tribe of people had the hots for Denise. It was an accidentally racist episode. It was early on, like the third or fourth episode.
“Code of Honor”
Spiner: That’s the one.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our exclusive interview with Brent Spiner. To visit his official site, click HERE, and to watch Fresh Hell, go to Youtube.com and plug in "Brent Spiner, Fresh Hell."