Meet The Actress Who Almost Played Janeway
Susan Gibney appeared in four episodes of Star Trek – portraying Dr. Leah Brahms in The Next Generation hours “Booby Trap” and “Galaxy’s Child” and Commander Erika Benteen in the Deep Space Nine installments “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost.” However, Gibney very, very nearly spent much more time in the Star Trek universe. She was among the frontrunners for the role of Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. The role, of course, went to Genevieve Bujold, who departed soon after production commenced. Voyager’s producers again called back Gibney, though Kate Mulgrew ultimately won the role. It’s also true that Gibney auditioned for the roles of Deanna Troi, Tasha Yar, Seven of Nine and even the Borg Queen.
Undeterred by her Voyager near-miss, the actress got on with her career, starring on Happy Family, recurring on Crossing Jordan and guest starring on Lost and The Mentalist. These days, Gibney runs Rogue Actor Training, a just-opened acting studio in Rochester, New York, where she lives with her family, and she has completed work on an upcoming horror film, We Are Still Here. StarTrek.com recently spoke with Gibney for an extensive interview that we’ll run in two parts. Part one is below and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
How did you first win your role as Dr. Brahms?
GIBNEY: I lived in New York and I auditioned for the Next Generation pilot. They brought me in several times for the roles that Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby got. I did not get to the finals for those. I was this little actress just straight out of Yale and doing television and some theater in New York, but I thought, “Now, that they’re looking at me, I think it’s time I went to L.A.” So I moved to L.A. and I let people know that I was there. I started going out for roles. And it seemed like every single week the Star Trek people would bring me in to audition for some role that was being cast for the show. I’d say, “OK, all right,” and I’d go and do it again. I’d say, “See you guys next time.” They’d call me again. I'd say, "See you again." So they’d brought me in at least nine times for various roles, until I did Leah Brahms.
Did they tell you at the time that Dr. Brahms would be on more than once?
GIBNEY: Actually, she was supposed to be on three times, but I got pregnant. They had a third episode planned, but I was pregnant at the time, so that didn’t work. But what they told me when I first got the role was that is what they always tell you on any show, which is, “There is a possibility of this recurring.” They don’t commit to it.
Dr. Brahms was a great character. What did you appreciate most about her?
GIBNEY: Oh my gosh, I got to do everything. First of all, she was Geordi’s love interest. I thought, “This is fantastic.” I don’t know if Geordi and Leah was the first interracial relationship since Uhura and Kirk, but that was exciting to me. So it was a doctor role and a romantic role, which gave it a lot of different arcs to play. There’s the stern part of being a professional and the work ethic and the strength and being immune to emotional things, and then having the opposite happen, too. She has this romantic, loving relationship with… well, it gets torn down a little bit, but there was so much to do as an actor. And, let’s face it, I got to be beamed up. I got to design an engine. I got to restructure the dilithium crystal chamber. The only thing I didn’t get to do was shoot a phaser. I got to do so much of the classic Star Trek stuff.
What do you remember of actually shooting the episodes, of being on set?
GIBNEY: Everything. I knew some of the people on the design crew. I went up, and they were showing me all of the other things that they were working on, the models and stuff. I loved that. I remember LeVar Burton was super-nice. He had to wear that VISOR and he said to me, “I never-ever-ever take this VISOR off on set when I’m doing something, but I’m going to do it for you so that we can look at each other and really have a scene happening.” I said, “LeVar, thank you,” because I didn’t have to look at the metal. I could look at him and we could rehearse the scene and establish it as two actors. He was very nice and I felt quite honored that he would do that for me.
You did your episodes of DS9 in 1996, after you ended up not landing the role of Janeway on Voyager, which we will discuss in detail later. Were those DS9 episodes something of a consolation prize?
GIBNEY: Yes, they were. I think they were, and it was lovely that they did that. Rick Berman was awesome. I think it had been such a huge process, auditioning for Captain Janeway. It was painful.
OK, since you’ve started the conversation… You tried on Janeway costumes. You had different Janeway hairstyles. You shot test scenes with actors who’d already been cast…
GIBNEY: They filmed, yes. They did a whole screen test and brought in the other actors and a crew. We did several hair tests and several costume tests, and then they brought in everybody who’d been cast and the entire crew. And they filmed most of the scenes in the pilot that day. Was that the first test or the second test? I did three tests for them. Every time I thought it was over… I guess I was up against Genevieve (Bujold). She got it. I was in New York at the time (when Bujold left) and I was told, “Susan, you’ve got to fly back to L.A.” Then there was another audition. Then I was told they were thinking of using a man. Then I had an audition with another woman, but evidently, the other woman didn’t do as well that day as they would have liked, so they thought Rick was trying to get me on the show by not having good-enough people opposite me.
Then it went to the last round and, anyway, we know the results of that one. This was weeks and weeks. I was there and I was in and I was out and I was in and I was out. So it was a long process. So DS9 may have been a consolation prize or they just liked having me around. I think they just liked having me around. I’m fun on the set.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two of our interview with Susan Gibney.