Catching Up With TOS Guest Star Lawrence Montaigne
The date was December 13, 1966. That’s the night Lawrence Montaigne first appeared on Star Trek, guest starring as Decius in the TOS episode “Balance of Terror.” It was September 15, 1967, when Montaigne turned up in his second TOS episode, “Amok Time,” which cast him as Stonn. And, 40-plus years later, Montaigne reprised the role of Stonn in the fan film “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men,” directed by Tim Russ. Montaigne’s Trek adventures are among the highlights of a long and varied life and career that’s been punctuated by work as an actor, stuntman, teacher and author, and that’s seen him appear not just in Star Trek but also in such memorable shows and films as The Great Escape, Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Batman, The Fugitive and Escape from Witch Mountain. He also just published his first fiction book, The Guardian List: A Novel, making now the ideal time to catch up with the Montaigne, who is 81 years young and lives outside of Las Vegas.
Go back to 1966. How did you land your role in “Balance of Terror”?
Montaigne: My agent called me and said, “You have an interview for a show called Star Trek.” I went in and did the interview and got the job. “Balance of Terror” was the Romulan show. I played Decius and Mark Lenard played the Commander. Now, I’d gone out and read for the Commander. I felt very comfortable with it. Then I got a call from my agent and he said, “I’ve got bad news for you. You didn’t get the role of the Commander.” I said, “Well, OK.” Then he said, “But, on the good side, they want you to play the role of Decius.” I said, “What’s a Decius?” He said, “It’s the heavy, the bad guy.” I thought, “Well, that’s my forte.” So I agreed to do it.
That episode introduced the Romulans…
Montaigne: Exactly. So, when we showed up on the set none of us had a clue of what we were doing. Star Trek. I mean, who the hell knew what Star Trek was? Who knew what a Romulan was? Even when they explained it to us, we were thinking, “How do you get into this outer-space type thing? These alien characters?” Obviously, it turned out well and Mark Lenard was great to work with. I’d worked with him before on Here Come the Brides. So we had this great rapport, and it cooked. It really cooked. People come up to me at the conventions and say, “This is my favorite episode.” That makes me feel good.
The line, "… If you refuse, permit me the glory of the kill, commander," is a classic…
Montaigne: I loved that line. It still plays beautifully. And it sums up the whole mentality of Decius.
You also appeared in the episode “Amok Time.” How did that happen?
Montaigne: Between the first and second episodes, Leonard Nimoy was possibly going to leave the show to do Mission: Impossible. They called my agent and said, “We’re considering Lawrence to replace Leonard.” They did the contracts and the whole thing, but there was a stipulation in the contract that said if Leonard comes back, then the whole thing is over. I was going on the assumption that I was going to play Spock when my agent called and said “Leonard is coming back to do the show. He’s in and you’re out.” I said, “Fine.” A week or two later they called me to do this role of Stonn, who was a Vulcan. It all boiled down to the fact that Leonard and I looked alike to a great extent. I guess that’s what they were looking for with Stonn.
You didn’t care much for the role…
Montaigne: It was just four or five lines, and I wasn’t very happy, but I did it. I was uncomfortable because I had nothing to do. I was in almost every scene, but I had nothing to do. So, as an actor you’ve got to bite the bullet, and I did. Funny thing is, at the conventions, people come up to me and tell me how much they loved Stonn. I say, “What’s to love? The guy stood there and he glared.” For some reason, though, it was a character that people identified with.
Did you and Nimoy ever discuss the fact that they’d lined you up to replace him?
Montaigne: No. We never discussed it. It was history. It was over and that’s all there was to it. I moved on. This was the 1960s, and I was doing a whole bunch of shows and films, and having the time of my life. So, when Spock didn’t happen, it really didn’t change my life in any way.
Oddly enough, you played Stonn again in Of Gods and Men. What was it like to do that, to revisit the role 40 years later and to have more to do the second go-round?
Montaigne: It was so strange, so absolutely strange. I got a call and the producer said to me “The writers have written the role of Stonn in Of Gods and Men. Would you be interested in playing it?” I thought, “Oh, my God, yes, but you’ve got to give me a script because I’m not too good at learning lines now.” They said, “No problem.” They sent me the script. I worked on it. I busted my butt. Then, I came into Los Angeles and we went to location, and when I got to set they handed me the script and said they were giving me some of (Tim Russ’s) lines since he was going to be so busy directing. They handed me the pages of dialogue and I went into outer space. I was panicked. I said, “You’ve got to help me.” They drew up some cue cards for me so that I could make it work, and I did it. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun on set and with everyone I was working with, and I just wish it had gotten a wider release, because it was a good show. It was really a good show.
When you look back at your career, what’s the credit that stands out most, for whatever reason?
Montaigne: Well, there’s one film that whenever it plays, and it plays all the time, and that’s The Great Escape, people will call me and say, “I just saw you in The Great Escape!” Sometimes they’re watching it on TV and they’ll call me, and I’ll say, “Hold it, hold it, hold it. That was a motion picture, not a television show. I die at the end, so don’t keep watching it, because I’m not coming back.” But that was the highlight of my career, working with that all-star cast, with Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Dickie Attenborough, Charles Bronson and Johnny Leyton, and having people continuously see the film. They run it all the time and people tell me about it all the time. I have a line in my autobiography: “Every actor should have a Great Escape.” And I meant that.
You just self-published your first novel. Give us a preview of The Guardian List.
Montaigne: A friend of mine, who helped me publish it and wrote the intro, said, “Have you ever thought about it what it would be like to give retribution to people who violate the laws and get away with it?” So the book is basically about a number of retired police officers who are willing to give their lives to mete out retribution to killers. That’s basically what the book is about. It didn’t come easily to me. I had to do a lot of research because I don’t know the first damned thing about the police. A friend of mine is with the Las Vegas Police Department and he sat down with me on a number of occasions. We talked for hours, and then he got me printed material, and I read that. So I got a pretty good idea of what went on in the organization. That helped me a great deal. People whose opinions I trust and respect have read the book, and they’ve said, “This is good reading.” That’s all I wanted to hear.
You’d previously published an autobiography, A Vulcan Odyssey. What did you learn about yourself from penning that?
Montaigne: I wrote that in 2006. I took it to Star Trek conventions, and I had a number of sales. Then I started to get letters and emails. People were coming back and saying, “This is great reading” or “This is a lot of fun.” So I did my job. It was fun. My life has been fun, and I wanted to share that with people. I’ve lived all over the world. I’ve traveled throughout the world. I’ve gotten in a little trouble along the way, but I’ve gotten out of trouble, too. I’ve been very lucky as far as marriage goes, because I’ve had five wives. It’s been a blast.
What else are you up to these days?
Montaigne: I’m working on another book. It’s another novel. It’s still in the works, so I may put it down and do something else or I may go forward with it.
You’ll be at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas in August. All these years later, how much do you still enjoy meeting the fans, signing some autographs, reminiscing?
Montaigne: I love it. I’m out of touch. I’m living in Vegas, not in Los Angeles. I’m not in the hub of things. So, when I’m in Vegas, not only do I enjoy seeing the fans, but I have the opportunity to see people I’ve worked with, people I’ve known for years, people I don’t otherwise have an opportunity to see on a social basis because of geography. The fans are so great. Some of the fans come back year in and year out, so we’re on a first-name basis. We’ll talk about the things they’ve done in the past year and, likewise, I’ll talk about what I’ve done. So, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t imagine an actor who’s worked on Star Trek not wanting to get involved and do these conventions.
Click HERE to visit Montaigne’s official site and HERE for details about his appearance at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. Also, click HERE to purchase The Guardian List: A Novel.