Catching Up with Juliana Donald, TNG & DS9 Guest Star
Juliana Donald is recognized today as a jewelry designer, but in a previous life she hung out with Kermit the Frog, got embroiled in the drama when Dr. Apgar was murdered and Riker was accused of the crime, and gave Quark oo-mox. That’s to say that Donald starred as Jenny in The Muppets Take Manhattan, her feature debut, before playing Tayna in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter of Perspective” and Emi in the Deep Space Nine hour “Prophet Motive.” Donald is set for an autograph/photo ops appearance at The Hollywood Show, which will take place July 8-10 at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel. And, in advance of the event, StarTrek.com spoke to Donald about her Trek experiences, which also included Star Trek: Borg, as well as The Muppets Take Manhattan and her current projects. Here’s what she had to say…
What's life like for you today? What are you working on? Where do you live?
DONALD: Life today is a total turnaround for me from my acting career. I made a decision about eight years ago to go to graduate school. Originally, I was studying business, but it turned into geology, then design and gemology and now I am designing jewelry and traveling to India regularly. It is a wild change in my life and I still do occasional acting gigs, but most of the time I am at a computer or with a sketchbook in my hands, or in a factory in Jaipur, India.
I still live in the Los Angeles area at the moment. Outside of acting and design, I have two other obsessions, piano and ballet. I used to be a professional ballerina, dancing with the Washington Ballet, and still take classes twice a week. I would do more, but have so many dance injuries that I swim other days. I was a varsity swimmer in college, so being in a pool regularly is my time to totally relax and shut out all the phones and computers from my life. It feels like a Zen experience when I swim laps. My other passion is piano. I have been playing classical piano since I was three. I learned to read music before I learned to read. I take weekly lessons to learn jazz piano, which is something I have wanted to learn since as long as I can remember.
I am not married, but am in a long-term relationship. No kids, but I do have two cats named Mingus -- yes, after Charles Mingus – and Doctor. He was originally named Django Reinhardt, but he seemed to prefer the name Doctor, so I obliged his desire.
You'll be at the Hollywood Show in July. What's the pleasure you take in meeting the fans, signing photos, posing for photos?
DONALD: I love meeting new people. I think everyone is special and there has never been someone I have met I have not learned something from. So, it is a pleasure. Signing photos and posing for pictures is a lot of fun.
We'll talk about Star Trek in a minute, but we and a lot of people first fell in love with you as Jenny in The Muppets Take Manhattan. What do you remember most about that experience?
DONALD: Working on The Muppets Take Manhattan was one of the best work experiences of my life. Jim Henson was a genius and an amazing person. I will never forget one of the scenes we shot together in the park. Jim had quite a busy schedule and so many things on his plate. As they set up the cameras, a group of kids started forming around Kermit the frog. Usually a stand-in takes over at that point; that’s someone that stands in place for lighting and camera adjustments since it usually can take a while to get things in place. But, instead of going to his trailer and working – and his assistants were coming to him with people waiting -- Jim stayed on the set and played with the children. The most amazing part was that the children did not see Jim; it was only Kermit they saw. He must have stood there for more than an hour, just entertaining the children. That was amazing and showed how “non-show-business” he was. He was really doing it for the love of delighting kids. There were so many incredible moments on the set but that stood out as one of the best.
A pre-Star Trek Gates McFadden was the choreographer on Muppets Take Manhattan. How often, if at all, did the two of you cross paths?
DONALD: Unfortunately, I did not work with Gates on the movie. Her work was amazing and I was on the set at the same time she was since I was pretty much there the whole time, but we did not work together. That would have been great.
Beyond Star Trek and The Muppets Take Manhattan, when fans meet you at conventions or autograph shows or recognize you on the street, what of your other work are they eager to discuss?
DONALD: It really depends on the age of the person and what kind of movies or TV they like. Recently, someone found out I worked on the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut. He is a really famous Japanese animator who is one of the best. It was a real honor to work with him and people that are into animation are usually huge fans. I actually won a Japanese voice over award for the work I did in his film. Sometimes older people remember me from a spin off I did of Murder, She Wrote called The Law and Harry McGraw. It was a show from the 80’s that stared Jerry Orbach. I played his niece and sidekick.
OK, let's talk Star Trek. Before you played Tayna on The Next Generation, how much did you know about Star Trek in general and TNG specifically?
DONALD: My brother, who is now a commercial producer, was obsessed with the original Star Trek. That was all that was on TV every day I returned from school. So, I feel like I grew up with Captain Kirk, Spock and the rest of the gang. I watched the episodes from The Original Series so many times that I can quote lines from the show. The Next Generation was so great. I was thrilled that they were doing the series, and the creative team was so impressive that they were on the level of film teams. At that time, television did not use the same careful considerations that film did. So, it was great that attention was being paid to this series.
How did you land your role?
DONALD: I auditioned so many times for Star Trek before I was cast. It was always tough because the language and pronunciation of words was so specific that you needed to get to the auditions early so you could double check you were pronouncing the words correctly. I auditioned in front of a large team of producers, director and writers. They filmed the audition so they had something to reference later.
What intrigued you most about Tayna as a character?
DONALD: The most interesting thing to me about Tayna was her lack of emotionality on the outside. That is always something difficult to play because no matter what is going on with characters, they do have inside emotions. She was stoic as that was how her clan was. So, it was a challenge finding that balance.
What do you remember of the costume and the makeup, the latter of which was actually done by Doug Drexler?
DONALD: The main thing about the costumes and makeup is that the process starts well before shooting. You have to get a mold made of your face. It is a plaster they put over you and you have to breathe out of a straw. It is not great for someone with claustrophobia. Makeup was four hours every morning and two hours in the evening to remove. Because of the schedule I got only three hours of sleep a night when I was working on the show. It was extremely intense. Costumes are made by hand for you. So, the costume department set up many fittings for the outfit.
How did you enjoy working with Jonathan Frakes, Mark Margolis and the rest of the cast?
DONALD: Jonathan and Mark and everyone on the set was amazing. It was the nicest bunch of actors and people you would ever meet. There was no ego. Everyone was always in a good mood no matter how long the days. You could not ask for a better group to work with.
Five years later, you played Emi on DS9, in the episode "Prophet Motive." How did that come about, and did the casting people remember you from TNG?
DONALD: I went on an audition and was cast in the regular way. Yes, the casting directors were familiar with my work before this, but I still had to go through the process and audition against many talented and accomplished actresses.
Emi and Quark had a nice oo-mox session going on there. How hard was it for you and Armin to play that sequence with a straight face?
DONALD: Hard. Armin is a great actor and great to work with. We did have rehearsals before, so we were prepared. So, it wasn’t as hard as it looked. I don’t know if the crew was laughing, but you try not to focus too much on the people behind the camera when you are working.
What was your experience like, working with Rene Auberjonois as your director?
DONALD: Rene is a super-talented actor, so working with him was unlike any other director I have worked with. We had rehearsals! Which is unheard of in television. He wanted to make sure everything was set before the cameras came in, so it was almost like we were working on a play instead of a television show.
We have to ask about the makeup for this one, as well. How different was the makeup experience versus the one on TNG?
DONALD: Since they already had the plaster mask made from TNG, I didn’t have to go through that same challenge. However, the makeup for this one was much more intense since I had to be an attractive alien. This was four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. So, eight hours a day for makeup.
If we could magically arrange for you to play either Tayna or Emi again, which character would you want to play -- and why?
DONALD: That’s a difficult question. I guess it would depend on what I was doing. But, probably Emi since she was so silly. I love playing silly characters.
You weren't done yet with the Trek universe, or maybe it wasn't done with you. How did the role of Lt. Shoreham in Star Trek: Borg come along, and what are the first things that spring to mind about participating in the game?
DONALD: This was the only Star Trek job I was offered. I did not have to audition. They called up my agents and just offered me the part. It was before all the games meant so much to people, so it was great, but I had no idea how it would be perceived.
Lastly, with Star Trek celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, what does it mean to you to be a part of the phenomenon?
DONALD: It feels great. I am really happy to have done something that means so much. And, it feels like a full circle from my childhood when I was watching The Original Series almost every day.
The Hollywood Show will take place July 8-10 at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel. Go to www.hollywoodshow.com for details.