Catching Up With Trek (2009)'s Green Gal, Rachel Nichols
More than a few people were green with envy that Rachel Nichols played Gaila, the Orion cadet who spent some quality time with Kirk, in Star Trek (2009). Fans, however, and especially fanboys, loved seeing the genre veteran in the role. Prior to Star Trek (2009), she’d appeared in The Amityville Horror, The Woods, Them and P2, and since then she’s starred in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Conan the Barbarian, the current Syfy series Continuum, and the upcoming action-horror film Raze. Nichols also co-starred on the J.J. Abrams series Alias. As season one of Continuum approaches the conclusion of its 10-episode first season, StarTrek.com thought it’d be a good time to catch up with Nichols, who talked excitedly about her many sci-fi and horror credits, chatted about Continuum and discussed her Star Trek (2009) experience in detail.
How do you look back on Star Trek (2009) and playing Gaila?
Nichols: It was a lengthy process to get me that green, especially for the sexy bedroom scene with Kirk and Uhura. I think hair and makeup was five or six hours, and then you’re kind of sticky all day. Then, when Kirk and I would kiss, we’d pull away and Chris Pine’s face would be green and my makeup would have wiped off on his face. Mindy Hall, who did the makeup on the show, who’s extraordinary and who I adore, she definitely had her work cut out for her. And Chris was a very good sport. So it was one of those things where I thought to myself, “I have the best of both worlds. I get to be in the new Star Trek. I get to make out with Chris Pine. I get to be directed by J.J. Abrams. And I get to be completely green, so I’m completely memorable, but I highly doubt anyone will ever stop me on the street and say, “Oh, you’re the green girl!”’ I knew that wasn’t going to happen. So I just knew it was going to be a really cool role.
Any other memories stand out?
Nichols: I got to meet Leonard Nimoy and they’d told me the whole story of the original green girl on the TV show. The people at the studio didn’t know she was supposed to be green, so they kept trying to adjust the color to make her normal-looking, and everybody else turned orange. Also, I’m a big fan of Eddie Murphy’s stand-up movies, and it was either in Raw or Delirious where he talks about Captain Kirk getting with the green girl. So it’s definitely a role I was excited to play.
What was it like to see the film put together, since you only got to read your script pages during production?
Nichols: That’s true. It was so interesting to see it, because J.J. is very secretive about his scripts. Every day I’d show up to shoot I’d only get the sides (script pages) for that day, and I’d have to give those sides back at the end of the day. We had to sign for them. We’d shot a couple of different variations of a couple of different things, and I didn’t know which ones they’d use. And I didn’t know until I saw the movie at the premiere. Also, a couple of things I shot got trimmed. It was great that the movie was received so well. And people seemed to like Gaila. Every once in a while I’ll be in a meeting about a job and someone will say, “So, who were you in Star Trek?” I’ll go, “I was the green girl.” They’ll say, “Oh! Of course. OK. I got it.” It’s one of those iconic characters. I can say, “I was the green girl,” and everyone knows what I’m talking about, which is very cool.
Were you disappointed to not get a call from J.J. about reprising Gaila in Star Trek Into Darkness?
Nichols: Oh my God, of course. We don’t know, obviously, did Gaila die? Did she get blown up? Is she alive? I fielded a lot of questions about it. It would have been great to go back and do more, to do the movie, to see J.J. again. Of course you’re disappointed when you don’t get to go back and do more, but I will be in the seats for the movie and I’m sure it will be just as enjoyable as the first one. I’ve seen the previews and it looks pretty bad-ass.
Right now, you’re acting on the small screen, starring in Continuum, which airs on Syfy. Your character is Kiera, a cop from 2077 fighting terrorists from 2077 in the present day. How much do you need to know about Kiera and what’s happening around her in order to play her?
Nichols: I always say to people “I’m on a need-to-know basis,” and I rely heavily on Simon Barry, the show’s creator, to keep me on that basis. I like to find things out, character-wise, at the same time the audience does, in essence. For me, that’s when I read the script. If it’s not a performance-based beat, then I don’t need to know. There are things I do need to know. I need to know if so-and-so is my father in the future, or something like that. That would be very important. But, for me, the most complex idea I’ve worked with in building the character of Kiera is that I’m playing a character who knows the year 2077 very, very well and has no idea what it’s like to live in 2012. Personally, clearly, I lived in 2012, so I know 2012 very, very well, and I have no idea what 2077 is like.
So, there’s a very important balance between having enough information, the right information and then having too much. If Simon were to sit me down and download on me the seven years he’s got in mind for this show, I think my brain would explode. And if I have a question, I usually go to Simon and Simon will say, “Yeah, this would be helpful for you. Let me tell you the back story,” or he’ll say, “You don’t need to know.” So, definitely, it’s a need-to-know basis kind of thing.
You are in nearly every scene of Continuum and Kiera is constantly running, jumping, fighting. Just how physical a job is this for you?
Nichols: I consider myself extremely to be someone who’s kind of known at this point for being physical and doing physical roles, whether it was G.I. Joe or Conan the Barbarian, and it really began with Alias, as far as the physical roles are concerned. I love fight scenes. I love action sequences. I think they look so cool when they’re all cut together and you’re up on the screen kicking butt. They keep me in shape while I’m working, that’s for sure, because I have to remain very physical, very active while we’re in production. It’s just another level. It’s one of the things I loved about the show when I first read it. Not only was there this great storyline and this great idea and this great character – I’m a mother, which I’d never done before, I’m from the future and I’m a law enforcement official – but I’m an ass-kicker. So it was all there for me. It’s demanding. It’s certainly demanding, but that’s the way I like it. I’m best when I’m busy, so this show definitely takes care of that need.
The fan boys out there love your costume. How about you?
Nichols: I always joke with people on Twitter and with anyone who asks that, "When it’s on it looks so sexy, but getting me in and out of that thing is probably one of the more unattractive things you could ever witness." It’s me lying down on the floor of my trailer, feet in first, sucking it in. It’s a very complex operation. When it’s on, it’s hot and very sexy and, actually, very easy to work in. I’m grateful for that. The fabric is very flexible and I can do all my action stuff. But getting in and out of it is really complex. So that leaves a bit to desired, but I’m a fan of the aesthetic overall.
Continuum joins a list of credits that includes The Amityville Horror, The Woods, Them, P2, Star Trek, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Conan the Barbarian, and your upcoming film, Raze. Are you a genre fan or is this all a case of these are the opportunities that came along? Or maybe it’s something in between?
Nichols: It’s a little bit of both. When I did G.I. Joe, people asked me if I played with the G.I. Joe toys as a child. I said, "No, I didn’t. My brother did, but I didn’t, really." I wasn’t a big comic reader, either. When J.J. did the first Star Trek movie he wasn’t super-familiar with Star Trek, and look what he did. He did such a great job with the first one. So it’s a little bit of both. I like the action in these movies and shows. I find that a lot of the female roles in the genre are very strong. It’s important to have strong female roles. Scarlett in G.I. Joe was tough. Angela in P2 was a real ass-kicker, that one. I like the genre so much because it usually represents women very well. Yes, you can have your certain damsel-in-distress moments, which we all enjoy, but for the most part, I’ve had the opportunity to play characters that really stand on their own and don’t need to be saved because they’re saving themselves. And that’s really cool.