INTERVIEW: Voyager's Doctor Chaotica, Martin Rayner
Martin Rayner played one of the most-colorful characters in all of Star Trek, even if his scenes were in black and white. The actor portrayed the megalomaniacal, mustache-twirling, Janeway-obsessed Doctor Chaotica in three episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, namely "Night," "Bride of Chaotica" and "Shattered." Chaotica was just one role in a long, busy career that's seen Rayner concentrate mostly on stage work, but has also encompassed such films and shows as Victor Victoria, Dallas, Problem Child, Frasier and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The actor's current project is also an old project. Rayner will play a dying Dr. Sigmund Freud in the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's upcoming production of the Mark St. Germain comedy-drama, Freud’s Last Session. The Show will open on January 13 and the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. and run through March 4.
Back in 2010, when Rayner was battling prostate cancer while performing the show off-Broadway in Manhattan, he collapsed during a performance. True to the rallying cry, "The show must go on," Rayner ended up in the hospital that night, but returned to the stage the very next day. Rayner's latest turn in Freud's Last Session provided StarTrek.com the opportunity to chat with Rayner, who talked about the show, his health and his memories of bringing Doctor Chaotica to life...
You're about to star in Freud's Last Session, again. Is this your first time back in the role since the Off-Broadway production?
Yes, it is. I don't usually revisit roles, but with the time going by, and then with life experiences, I thought I maybe could do it better.
What continues to appeal to you about the show and the role?
For an actor, it's like going to the gym. It's got so many levels to work on that you never get bored. We did 850 performances in New York and didn't ever get stale. That’s because it's material with endless layers to explore. By that I mean the layers between two great minds and their egos and all of that, and then simply the pitfalls and the advantages of the material itself, because everything in the play was either spoken or written by the two guys. It's all things they said or thought. It's complicated stuff that you can fall into all kinds of traps with, like declaiming or putting spins on it or making it too speechified. The secret is to find the passion and thought underlying the dialogue because it's a lot of talking.
You casually mentioned you've had some life experiences between then and now, but they were life-altering events. How have they changed your performance?
Well, quite a lot has happened, actually. At the time I did it in New York, I was fighting cancer and had been given five years to live. The New York Times did an article about this, saying, “The actor playing Freud in his last three weeks of life with cancer, is battling cancer.” They suggested I wasn't going to make it. It really affected my career for a while. People would say, "Well, is he still around? Is he alive?" So, that was a major thing, because I've been living with that cancer now since 2006. That’s more than 10 years. I've beaten the doctors’ prediction by five years. That's been an interesting little constant trend, as you might say. Then in March of 2017, my aorta dissected and I wasn't supposed to survive that. The hospital called my family and said, "He's probably not going to make it. You should come now."
I think what saved me was that I was up in my little cottage north of San Francisco and it happened very suddenly while I was working and digging a muddy trench in the rainy season. The circumstances just happened to save me. I was helicoptered up the Stanford Hospital, where a legendary surgeon happened to be on duty, who basically saved me. So, my life changed on a dime. What' I've been doing since March is I got on my feet really quickly and sort of surprised everyone, and I'm even running now. Also last year, my brother died of the cancer I have. He also had prostate cancer, but we went after it in different ways and, sadly, he didn't make it. As you can imagine, dealing with these things has been hard, but everyone is dealing with something.
So, coming back now to revisit Freud, I’d been away from acting for a while and things are different. They have to be. I think we always grow. Actors grow more between jobs rather than during jobs. You have life happening. You come back to your work and think, “Oh, I used to fall into that trap. That's a silly thing to do.” So, there's that part of it and then, having come back to a role after eight years, you have quite a different take. Plus, of course, it’s a different director and a different partner in crime.
Let's talk about Voyager and Doctor Chaotica. First, what did you know Star Trek in general and Voyager specifically?
I didn't know Voyager. I knew the original Star Trek because in England as a kid, I watched it and loved it. I never thought I’d be in it. I never thought I'd be in America. My grounding was TOS, but I wasn’t watching a lot of television, period, later on. I went in for a cold audition. No one knew me and I remember this particular moment in that audition where the stage manager gave me a chair and said, "You can do what you like with this chair." There were all these studio people sitting there, so I said, "Oh, OK, I think I'll destroy it with a look." These people looked up and said, "Who the hell is this?"
I did this way over-the-top, very-evil version of the audition and left. As I was walking out, they came running. "Can you come back in?" They said, "Can you now do it very, very small and very truthfully?" I did that, and I basically could tell I had it and that I was a natural for it. It was so fun to do, because on the first day there was this microphone, this old-fashioned microphone with a cord, and I was in this art deco outfit. I took the cord and snapped it, like a real snap of the wire, and the sound man said, "No, no, no. You can't do that with the sound... Now we're going to have to put it in everywhere." The director said, "No, let him do it." So, I did it, and then Kate Mulgrew picked up on the idea. When she got the microphone, she did the same thing. Everyone started cracking this whip. I don't know, there was something about that moment where I felt like I had permission to be me.
It just became such fun. Chaotica was such an over-the-top character, yet in a way, you also had to be true and real. What I love about it now, looking back, is it's kind of timeless because it's on the Holodeck. My son always says, talking about my credits, "Well, the cool one is Star Trek." I say, "But I've done all the other things." "Yeah, but Star Trek's cool."
Did you know it’d be a recurring role?
It was one episode at the time. The writers liked it and went on to the second one and then the third one. Toward the end, they started talking about a spinoff, like that Saturday morning pictures idea of a character like Chaotica. It was just an idea, and then it sort of went away.
When you were playing the role, did you have Ming in your head, or no?
Not at all, because the truth is, I was ignorant about Ming the Merciless. It was purely my instant reaction to the material. I thought, “Oh, I know who this guy is.” He was a big bad, very theatrical, yet he's got reality and fight in him. He's yearning. He’s in love with Arachnia. And he’s just gone astray. I’ve always had a soft spot for him, this poor guy. These roles only come along now and again. And it’s been very good to me, actually, because I've done some Trek conventions and signed trading cards and various things. I got quite lucky, really.
How did you get on with the Voyager cast?
Very well. Kate and I got along great. We’d sit during breaks and smoke, and she’d tell me about her family. I know that “Bride of Chaotica” was one of her favorite episodes. She was so good in it. All the actors loved the episodes because the holodeck scenes were fun for them. It was a nice break from the usual.
What do you recall of the costume and the fact that your scenes were shot in color but aired in black and white?
They were shot in color so they could be made into sepia. I have a color photograph of me on the throne in my full outfit. It's really beautiful. But it looks fantastic in the sepia effect. The make-up, I didn't even know what that was going to be until I sat in the chair and they took, I guess, a couple of hours to do it. What I liked about it was that it was still nicely me. I wasn’t completely covered over by makeup. So, that was my ego that I felt, but I thought, “People still know it's me.” They had all this new technology with air brushing, and it was pretty fascinating to watch them do it.
Just as you didn't know Chaotica would recur, can we assume you didn’t know “Shattered” would be your last time in the role?
Exactly. I didn't know. It seemed like, “I've had my great episode, so what more can I expect?” So, “Shattered” was a bit of a nice, little bonus. The only thing was, I know they were talking about having an action figure and, again, the writers kept mentioning the idea of a spinoff. But I knew better than to expect anything to come from that.
We’ve been at conventions and seen quite a few Chaoticas, often accompanied by Arachnia. Have you had the pleasure?
Yes. I’ve seen a lot of young men dressing up as Chaotica, and they did quite well. They’d come up and I'd be full of admiration with the way they’d put it all together. I'm sure there were Arachnias. I just didn't see a whole lot of them. I do remember one convention, I was walking down the corridor and Kate Mulgrew was coming the other way with her entourage. I didn't want to intrude, so I just said, "Hi Kate," and I walked on. I heard her say, "Who's that?" She'd never seen me out of makeup. Somebody said, "That's Chaotica." She said, "Stop,” turned around and came back. And we went off and had lunch.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information about Freud’s Last Session, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.