Forever Fontaine – An Interview with DS9’s James Darren
Back in 1998, the producers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine set about the task of casting an actor to portray Vic Fontaine, a sage, talented, 20th century-style holographic lounge singer who’d offer advice about life, love and the ladies to Odo (Rene Auberjonois) in the sixth-season episode “His Way.” Several people were considered and even offered the role – among them Frank Sinatra Jr., Jerry Vale, Tom Jones and Steve Goulet – but James Darren ultimately landed it and, really, there’s now no imagining anyone else as Fontaine. Darren is about as consummate an entertainer as there is. His acting credits include the Gidget films, in which he played the handsome surfer Moondoggie, The Guns of Navarone, and series-regular roles on the sci-fi show The Time Tunnel and, alongside William Shatner, T.J. Hooker. As a singer, he’s released numerous albums and toured the world. He also spent many years in a director’s chair, helming episodes of T.J. Hooker, The A-Team, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Melrose Place, among others. Darren merged his worlds even closer in 1999, when recorded the album “This One’s from the Heart,” which featured songs he’d crooned as Fontaine on DS9. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Darren for an exclusive interview in which he recounted his time aboard DS9 and updated us on his current projects, which will include a full-on, Fontaine-heavy concert he’ll perform during the festivities at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas next month.
The story goes that you initially did not want to play Vic Fontaine. Why?
Darren: They said I was going to be playing a singer and I said, “No, that’s too much on the nose. I want to pass.” That’s what I told my agent. Then, my agent called me again and I passed again. I passed three times. Finally, my agent said, “Why don’t you at least read the script? If you read the script you may love it.” Of course, I did read the script and, of course, I did love it. It was just a great role. Vic Fontaine was like – what can I say? – it was a dream come true for me. It was one of the most enjoyable roles for me to have played. Then, when I went in to see (executive producer) Ira Behr and a whole group of people, maybe eight or nine of them, men and women, they wanted me to read. I hate doing cold readings. I’m not up to that, nor am I good at that. So what I’d done is I’d read the script, oh, probably 10 times, and I knew it backwards and forwards, and when I went in, I just started saying things that Vic would say, things Vic was saying in the script. Ira would say, “Man, it’s funny, I wrote a line just like that for Vic.” I said, “Really?” I did that a few times, only because I did not want to read. And then Ira caught on and said, “Pretty clever. You’re pretty clever. You don’t want to read, so you’re just throwing it in the conversation.” I wasn’t told I got the job then. I left, said goodbye to everyone after a wonderful meeting, and no sooner did I get into the house than the phone rang. It was my agent saying, “They want you do Vic Fontaine.”
As far as you know, was it meant to be a one-off or a recurring role?
Darren: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Ira Behr that. I think it might have been thought of as a one-off or maybe two shots, but I don’t believe they ever thought of it being as many shows as I did. And I was thrilled. It could have been 50 shows and I would have been happy, because I loved playing that character.
What one or two episodes of the ones you did are you still fondest of, and why?
Darren: I loved my first one, “His Way.” Four or five of them, I think, were really very good. The alternate universe episode (“The Emperor’s New Cloak”) was just a lot of fun. But I’d say that “His Way” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” are my two favorites, for sure. Actually, let me add in the finale (“What You Leave Behind”) as a favorite, too. That was great, man. The finale was hard to do. The cast had been there forever, so it was hard for them, and it was hard for me, too, because my relationship with everyone had grown instantly. I loved that entire cast. When it was ending, it was so sad, sad for them and extremely sad for me, too. I’d sing that song (“The Way You Look Tonight”) to Nana Visitor… “Some day/When I’m awfully low/When the world is cold…” and she’d start crying. And when she’d start crying, I’d start crying. It was tough getting through it.
How important was it to you that Vic do more than just sing?
Darren: Oh, it was extremely important. If he’d been just a singer, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it one-tenth as much as I did. Getting involved with the love affair between Kira and Odo was great. Interacting with Nana and Rene was wonderful. And it was so funny to see Vic, this holographic civilian, with all these creatures. Ira Behr is a bloody genius. He made this work. If you think about it or talk about it before you do it, you’d never think it’d work. It just couldn’t happen. Nobody would ever believe it. Nobody’s going to enjoy it. Ira is hooked into that era to begin with. He chose almost all of the songs, actually. He loved the Rat Pack. And on top of that, he’s a bloody genius as a writer and an incredibly wonderful human being, both he and his wife, Laura. I think of Ira often and see him not as often as I’d like, but what an opportunity he gave me to do this role and take us all back to that time when life was a lot simpler, I think, and safer, for sure.
What are you working on these days?
Darren: I’ve been touring. I did several symphony concerts in June, in California and in Vegas, and then I have some other singing dates back east that will keep me busy probably through October.
And in between, in August, you’ll be back in Vegas for Creation’s 45th anniversary convention as both a guest and a performer. How much do you still enjoy interacting with the fans?
Darren: I absolutely love it. That is so cool. First of all, they are there specifically to see you, and they’re just great audiences. Sometimes you work in clubs or theaters or symphonies, and the people may have season passes, so they’re not really diehard fans. But when I do the conventions, it’s always great, always incredible.
What can you tell us about the concert you’ll be staging?
Darren: It’s pretty much the songs that I do throughout the country. It’s pop and I do a lot of humor in my show. I use a film clip, which is kind of fun, too, of past things from my career. And I’ll do a lot of Vic Fontaine songs. I’ll do a whole bunch of them. It’ll probably be about half the show. The Vic Fontaine fans won’t be disappointed.
And our last question: What would the conversation be like if Moondoggie (Gidget), Jim Corrigan (T.J. Hooker) and Vic Fontaine all got together for a liquid lunch?
Darren: (Laughs) Probably women. Moondoggie would talk a little about surfing, but I think primarily the conversation would be about women and how wonderful they are.