EXCLUSIVE with Star Trek's Victor Brandt
We’re not sure what’s more fascinating, Tongo Rad’s righteous hippie look or his awesome name. Either way, an interview with Victor Brandt, the actor who played Rad in the third-season TOS episode “The Way to Eden,” has been on our radar for a few years now. We finally caught up with Brandt last week for a wide-ranging interview in which he discussed playing both Rad in “The Way to Eden” and Watson in “Elaan of Troyius,” chatted about long career, shared his excitement about his appearance at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention next month in Las Vegas, and filled us in on his life today.
It’s 45 years ago that you did your episodes of Star Trek. Did you have any clue at the time that these two appearances would loom so large in your career?
BRANDT: Absolutely not. I was a fan of the show when it was on. I’d go out and hang at a local pub which was called The Raincheck Room. It was an actors’ hangout, sort of a restaurant-bar. You could play darts. If you were doing theater, you’d go there after your play. If you wrapped a TV show or movie at around 6 o’clock, you’d go there to have some dinner before going home. I’d be there on Friday nights and wait until Star Trek was on, to watch it. So I was delighted to get both parts on the show.
Let’s break them down. You landed “Elaan of Troyius” thanks to John Meredyth Lucas, who’d directed you in The Invaders, right?
BRANDT: Yes. John directed me as Roy Thinnes’ brother in an episode of The Invaders, and I got killed in that episode. He called me up and said, “I’ve got another death scene for you.” I went in and played Lt. Watson. Of course, I was killed by one of Elaan of Troyious’ bodyguards.
And how did you end up in “The Way to Eden”?
BRANDT: Subsequent to “Elaan of Troyius,” I was working for my dad, who was a producer at Paramount. His office was down the hall from the Star Trek offices, on the same floor, and I was my dad’s gofer on a film called Cactus in the Snow, which he was producing. I was walking down the hall and the door to the Star Trek office was open. I knew (TOS story consultant) Arthur Singer and I knew Bob Justman and I knew Herbert Solow because I see them all in the hall. They saw me walking down one day and they said, “Victor. Victor. What about Victor? He’d be good for the boy.” They called me in said, “Victor, we want you to read for this part. He’s a hippie.” I said, “Well, I have to go. I need to work.” They told me, “That can wait. Take this script and sit down.” I said, “Can I go outside and study it?” They laughed and said, “Sure.” I went outside and came back in and read for the role. David Alexander was the director, and he was an old friend of my family from the New York stage days in the 1930s and 1940s. I read for it and, the next thing I knew, I got it. This was December of 1968 and, I tell you, to this day I’ve run in to more who go absolutely bananas when I tell them I was on Star Trek.
What’s funny is I’m still working. I’ve done a lot of voiceovers in recent years. There’s a whole new generation of producers and directors. Some of them IMDB me and some of them ask me what else I’ve done. I tell them, “Well, I was on the original Star Trek series,” and they go crazy. They’ve got to get a picture with me. But like you asked, I had no idea at the time Star Trek would be on my gravestone. It will say, “Here lies Victor Brandt, who played Tongo Rad.”
What do you recall of the “Elaan of Troyius” shoot?
BRANDT: Well, I remember that I was terrified of Frances Nuyen. She scared the crap out of me. Subsequently we met at a bunch of conventions. We sat next to each other and she was just delightful. She was still a knockout in her 60’s. But when we were on the set of the show, she was in character, and she had an energy that was really intimidating. That’s the main thing I remember, and also that I had to remember all this technical crap about the working of the ship.
Switch to Tongo Rad and “The Way to Eden.” First, what did you make of that great name?
BRANDT: In the original script he was called Ton Rad, but when I got the rewrites they’d added the “go.” I was just delighted to do the role, but there was a lot makeup. I had to get there at 4 in the morning to get made up. They had to pull a skullcap on and all of that stuff. I remember going to the commissary to have lunch and I got a lot of catcalls for my purple and silver hair. They’d made me a wig, and it was Westmore’s son who was the makeup artist. It took almost two hours to put everything on, including the grapes on my forehead and the tattoo, which I grew into. The biggest problem I had was learning to play the bongos, because I don’t play the drums at all. If you look at the episode very carefully you’ll notice that my hand is in the air when you hear the sound of the drumbeat.
When was the last time you saw either episode?
BRANDT: Oh my gosh, well, I’ve been channel flipping and run across them. Or they‘ll be on and someone will call me and say, “Your episode is on.” I actually haven’t seen either one recently, but I have them. I have a collection of The Original Series.
Post-Star Trek you did Mission: Impossible with Leonard Nimoy and T.J. Hooker with William Shatner. Did you get a chance to reminisce with Nimoy or Shatner about Trek?
BRANDT: I never had a chance to talk to Nimoy because he’d work and then go in his trailer. And I had a very small part in that Mission: Impossible. But on T.J. Hooker, I went in and auditioned, and I got the part. It was an interesting part, a cabbie who was being coerced into ratting out a fare. I went on the set in the morning – and this is true – and I introduced myself to Bill. I said, “By the way, Bill, do you remember me?” He said, “From what?” I said, “Well, I did two episodes of Star Trek.” He looked at me and he said, “Victor, I’ve got to tell you the truth.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I only remember the women.” I wasn’t insulted. We both laughed. He wasn’t kidding.
For a long time now you’ve done voiceover work for animated shows and videogames and films. You’ve done everything from Gargoyles, Men in Black: The Game and Spawn to Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Metalocalypse. Is there one experience you’ve particularly enjoyed?
BRANDT: I’ve loved them all, but I so enjoyed doing Metalocalypse. I worked with Brendon Small and his company, and with Mark Hamill. I just had a blast because I got to play many different characters. I’ve always been kind of silly that way and, finally, I got to do it and have fun doing it and got paid to do it. I looked forward to going in to record because he wrote very strange scripts and the characters had these very strange names, and you could just do whatever you wanted. I had no idea how popular that show is.
You’ll be in Las Vegas for Creation’s big event next month. How do you enjoy doing conventions, meeting fans, signing pictures and telling the old stories?
BRANDT: I love to tell the old stories. I love meeting the fans. I’ve gone to many conventions and I’m always impressed by the faithfulness of the Trekkers. Most of them are sweet people.
Final question... What else are you up to these days?
BRANDT: I race cars. I've been a participant in the Lotus Cup USA, which is equivalent of Lotus Cup Europe. It's a race series sponsored by Lotus and several other companies. I've been doing that for five years. I'm taking the year off to do a lot of stuff around the house. I have a little ranch in the Santa Monica mountains. So I'm getting that all squared away again, but I hope to go back to compete next year. That's been my passion for the past several years and it's a place to get rid of as much money as you can. And I'm still doing voiceovers for shows and TV commercials and radio campaigns. That's what has afforded me the disposable income to go racing.