Natalija Nogulich knows how to make an impression. Tapped to play Vice-Admiral Alynna Nechayev in the sixth-season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command, Part 1,” Nogulich turned a one-off opportunity into a recurring role. She returned to TNG to play the formidable, no-nonsense character in “Descent,” “Journey’s End” and “Preemptive Strike,” often clashing with Picard, and then beamed over to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the episodes “The Maquis, Part I” and “The Search, Part II,” butting heads with Sisko. Nogulich remains a fan favorite and attends a couple of Trek conventions a year, and she’s still in demand as an actress, with upcoming projects including a role in an HBO biopic about music producer Phil Spector and a recurring part on the upcoming ABC series Red Widow. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Nogulich for an extensive conversation about her Trek work and career.
Let’s start with Star Trek. What was your path to TNG?
Nogulich: My agent got me auditions for a couple of roles in Star Trek, and I was not cast. The feedback they got was, “She’s too strong.” I don’t remember what the parts were, but they were guest star parts. The producers said, “We liked her and we’re going to keep her in mind.” Sometimes you go in and you don’t get something, but they’ll put you on the short list for something else. Then I was asked to come in to play this apparently Russian woman, Alynna Nechayev, but they didn’t want a Russian accent. She was a very strong woman. I have the feeling that they may have had me in mind for it specifically, though there’s no way for me to know that for sure. I went in and I booked it.
Was it meant to be a one-off?
Nogulich: As far as I knew, that was it. I was doing that one episode. I had no idea it’d turn into a recurring part on TNG, but also on DS9. I absolutely loved her. I loved her because she was principled, unafraid and had the strength to stick by what she believed, even though Captain Picard always countered me. We were worthy adversaries.
How did you enjoy working with the TNG cast?
Nogulich: Patrick and I had a wonderful time working together. He’s a brilliant, amazing, generous, sweet and supportive actor. My favorite scene in all of the episodes is the little tea party I had with Patrick. Jonathan Frakes and Marina (Sirtis) and the whole gang… it was just thrilling. And then when I went on to work with Avery (Brooks)… Sisko would also blow his top when I gave an order about the Maquis or whatever was going on in an episode. We had this wonderful, combative relationship. It was just so much fun. I wish I could have done a dozen more episodes of both shows. I had such a wonderful time as that character.
So you’re probably glad you didn’t land those earlier TNG roles for which you’d auditioned…
Nogulich: Exactly. Thankfully I did not get them, and it led to something better. Let that be a lesson to me. Sometimes when something doesn’t work out, it just means that something better is waiting for you.
Let’s talk about what you have going on these days. What is Red Widow?
Nogulich: Red Widow is an exciting new series for ABC which will air in January, midseason. It’s about the Russian syndicate in San Francisco. It’s kind of a Russian Sopranos. I play the ex-wife of the head guy, who’s played by Rade Serbedzija. My daughter is played by Radha Mitchell, who’s a brilliant Australian actress. Her character is the red widow. I don’t want to give away too much, but she is the red widow. It’s really great, and it’s created by Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplay for Twilight and has done many other things. She’ a very enlightened writer, and the whole staff is amazing. ABC bought eight episodes, and I’m doing five out of the eight, which is very exciting.
What’s your character like?
Nogulich: My character is a little bit of a diva, a Russian diva. She loves her kids and would do anything for them. She brings in a lot of the old-school Russian values and humor, even though the show is a drama. I like her. It’s such a pleasure to get scripts and go up there (to Vancouver) and act and to be able to embrace who you’re playing. Plus, all the other actors are just splendid, just top-rate actors.
What do you play in the Untlitled Phil Spector Biopic?
Nogulich: David Mamet has written and directed that, and Al Pacino is playing Spector. I think it’s going to air in January, but I’m not sure yet. Helen Mirren plays Spector’s first attorney, Linda Kenney Baden. Dame Helen is a genius and my idol. It explores the first trial, in which Spector was acquitted. Of course, he ended up being found guilty in the second trial, when the old girlfriends came forth. I have one little scene as an Italian journalist. David Mamet seems to like to put me in roles where I’m not speaking English. I speak a little bit of English as well in it, actually. But it’s funny; my career has blossomed into this (spate of) playing foreign characters. I also recently played a Romanian clothes designer on Suburgatory, and that episode will air on October 24.
Aren’t you from Chicago?
Nogulich: Yes. I was born in Chicago. Isn’t it interesting? I did live in Europe for a while. My parents are from Serbia. I speak six languages. So maybe it’s a natural niche.
What else do you have on the way?
Nogulich: I do have some other acting irons in the fire, but I can’t say anything until they’re finalized. I will tell you that they’re also foreign women (laughs).
You teach. You’ve also written a book, right? Tell us about the book…
Nogulich: I have just finished my first novel. It’ll be published by Lulu.com and out by the end of this year. It’s called One Woman’s War, and it’s the beginning of a trilogy. It’s about revenge and forgiveness, and it has a lot of humor in it. It takes place in the Balkans and in New York City. I’m very, very thrilled about the novel. That’s been keeping me busy. I’m not one to sit around and go to the beach. I love the beach, actually, but I’m usually working on something.
Wording this as sensitively as we can: you are over 40 and you’re female, which can often be the kiss of death in Hollywood. What does it mean to you to be so busy right now?
Nogulich: That’s a really interesting question. I have a lot of colleagues who are having the struggle. I’ve had that down time. I’m grateful, because there are a lot of great actresses out there that aren’t working. I consider myself a good actress, but there are lots of others who aren’t working. So I’m grateful that the cards have fallen this way, but I also think a lot of it has to do, for me, with my versatility and being able to do a lot of different kinds of character. I can play comedy, drama. I can play different foreign women. I think that has helped me. I also think hanging in there is a lot of it. I have colleagues who turned 40 or 50, even, and just said, “You know what? It’s not happening. I’m going to pursue something else.” If you hang in long enough and you’re left standing, you’re going to get work. I think that’s part of it. I just feel grateful.
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