Meet Billy Campbell - The Actor Who Was Almost Riker
By StarTrek.com Staff - January 08, 2014
Billy Campbell and sci-fi/horror go hand in hand. He’s appeared in everything from The Rocketeer, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Out There and Menno’s Mind to The 4400, Ghost Town, Meteor and Eureka. The actor also guest starred as Thadiun Okona, the womanizing captain of the Erstwhile in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Outrageous Okona.” Many Trek fans also know that Campbell came oh-so-close to winning the role of Riker on TNG; he was the runner-up to Jonathan Frakes. Campbell’s latest sci-fi project is Helix, a new series from longtime Trek writer-producer Ronald D. Moore. The show, which Syfy will debut on January 10, casts Campbell as Dr. Alan Farragut, a Centers for Disease Control pathologist who arrives with his team at a remote Arctic research facility to contend with a virus that’s transforming people into zombies. StarTrek.com caught up with the amiable Campbell for an exclusive interview in which he talked Trek, previewed Helix and discussed his other upcoming projects.
Let’s go all the way back to the 1980s. How close did you actually come to landing the role of Riker?
CAMPBELL: Oh, I think I was pretty close. I think it was down to Jonathan and myself. And the best man got the job.
How different do you think your life, your career might have been if you’d won the role?
CAMPBELL: Oh, I don’t know. There’s just no way to measure that. It certainly would have been different, but I have no idea how.
During the second season of TNG, you played Thadiun Okona. Was that a consolation prize, a thank-you from the producers and casting directors for you having just missed out on Riker?
CAMPBELL: It was kind of that. It was kind of a consolation prize. I think Junie felt sorry for me… Junie Lowry, the casting director. So I’d phoned her up and said, “Junie, do you suppose there’s any chance I could do a spot on the show?” And she was all over it. So I got to be on the show anyway, which I was thrilled about because now I’m part of the Star Trek universe.
How did you enjoy the shoot?
CAMPBELL: I had a great time. I had a fantastic time. It was just such a thrill to work with Patrick (Stewart) and Jonathan and all those people. My transporter chief was Teri Hatcher. I think that was her first gig on camera.
You mentioned Frakes. That could have been awkward…
CAMPBELL: We spent a fair amount of time together. He was, of course, a gentleman. He’s a gentleman through and through. And it was actually very friendly in the run-up to auditioning for the part. I was as thrilled for him as I was disappointed for myself. There was never a moment of anything but good will.
Did you follow Trek after that experience?
CAMPBELL: I’m what you’d call a medium-sized Trekkie. I’m not a rabid Trekkie, but I love it. So I’ve seen all of the movies, the theatrical releases. I can’t say that I’ve watched every permutation of the TV show, but I’m a big-enough Trek fan. I enjoy it.
Let’s move on to Helix. Dr. Farragut is in this remote facility. His infected brother is loose. He’s got his ex-wife and his possible lover there, too. Give us a sense of his relationships and how they evolve…
CAMPBELL: Well, you’ve done a pretty good job right there. It’s my ex-wife (Kyra Zagorsky), it’s my possible lover (Jordan Hayes) and my infected brother (Neil Napier). It’s kind of a cauldron of family drama. As one of the characters says, it’s the most eff-ed up family reunion of all time.
Actually, they use the phrase frakked-up, which must be a tip of the cap from Ron Moore to his Battlestar Galactica days...
CAMPBELL: I know, exactly. That was definitely on purpose.
Going back to the personal dynamic versus the chaos that’s happening around them…
CAMPBELL: All that personal stuff is going on in a situation where people are running around trying to not get infected by these other folks who are driven to infect. They’re compelled to infect by the virus. So it’s all those personal issues sort of amped up by the situation.
According to IMDB, you have several other film and TV projects on the way, including Delirium, Red Knot, The Scribbler and Lizzie Borden Took An Axe. Give us a sentence or two on each of those titles…
CAMPBELL: Delirium was a pilot that didn’t go. It was a show that was slightly futuristic, but it didn’t get picked up. Red Knot is a beautiful little film that I shot in the Antarctic with Olivia Thirlby and Vincent Karthesier. I’ve seen it and it’s gorgeous. It’s more like an art film. It certainly won’t be in a big theatrical release anytime soon, but I hope it gets some kind of a release.
Lizzie Borden Took An Axe is a TV movie, right?
CAMPBELL: Yes, that is a TV movie (airing January 25 on Lifetime) and it’s with Christina Ricci. Christina plays Lizzie Borden and I play her lawyer. I’m the guy who actually got her off.
And what is The Scribbler?
CAMPBELL: The Scribbler is an adaptation of an English graphic novel of the same name. I play a very, very small part in that movie. In fact, you’ll probably even wonder why I did it, but it was really only so that I could come back to L.A. for a couple of weeks and hang out with my friends.
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Album: Prop Shop
Caption: My Federation jacket insignia. The final piece to make my uniform complete.