One Trek Mind #23: Character Actors On Trek
By Jordan Hoffman - April 12, 2012
Star Trek isn't just a vessel for timeless stories, rich characters or innovations in technology. It's an opportunity to point at your television and say, “Hey, it's THAT guy!” Since the beginning, Star Trek guest shots have been the domain of some of the best character actors in Hollywood. I could list a hundred of them but, considering that I eventually have to leave the house once in a while, I've decided to stick with 10.
Mind you, this is a little different from my recent least-likely guest-shots column. I'm not thinking young actors on the rise (like Sarah Silverman or Adam Scott) or someone doing a promotional tie-in (like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). I'm also not thinking of big stars having fun popping up in uniform (like Kelsey Grammer, Christian Slater or Jason Alexander) or even the appearance of a super-respected award-winner (like F. Murray Abraham, Frank Langella or Paul Winfield).
Okay, so who in Gre'thor am I thinking about? Here are my favorites.
10 – Kenneth Mars
Probably best known as the deranged Nazi author of Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks' The Producers (or maybe the wooden-armed Inspector Kemp in the follow-up Young Frankenstein), Kenneth Mars appeared in Deep Space Nine's “Shadowplay.” He was Colyus, the head of the group of holograms who didn't know they were holograms until Dax and Odo showed up.
Mars has a whopping 204 credits on his IMDB page, ranging from TV, film, animation and video game voice overs. His strangest hour, perhaps, was his comedy album Henry the First, wherein he sang a cover of Bachman Turner Overdrive's “Takin' Care of Business” as Henry Kissinger.
9 – Clancy Brown
Last summer, I attended a special screening of the film Cowboys & Aliens. Despite giant names in the credits like Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, it was the cult figure Clancy Brown that got the biggest cheer from the audience. (It was a weird crowd.) Best known as The Kurgan in Highlander, Zim in Starship Troopers and Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Clancy Brown is a giant of a man with soulful, endearing eyes.
In the Enterprise episode “Desert Crossing,” he plays a terrorist (or is it freedom fighter?) named Zobral. It is one of the better Enterprise episodes, featuring a complex conflict, survivalist drama and a shirtless Trip Tucker playing a version of Space Lacrosse called Geskana.
8 – David Ogden Stiers
People of a certain age look at that face can immediately state, “Hey, it's Charles Emerson Winchester the Third!!” But do they know his real name?
In addition to playing the replacement to Major Frank Burns on thirty-seven seasons of M*A*S*H, David Ogden Stiers has appeared in five different Woody Allen movies, had recurring roles on The Dead Zone and Stargate Atlantis and does narration work for a significant percentage of PBS specials. You may not recognize his voice as Winchester's however – turns out he's not really a patrician New Englander.
7 – Brad Dourif
There are few cooler character actors than Brad Dourif. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to Dune to Lord of the Rings to five different Werner Herzog films to Doc Cochrane on Deadwood, Dourif is one of the most recognizable faces that can still totally disappear into a role.
Dourif's Lon Suder appeared in two Voyager episodes (technically three, as “Basics” was a two-parter) as a mentally unstable Betazed. For my money, he was something like a darker version of Lt. Barclay – never quite fitting in with the rest of the crew (in this case, because he would kill them!) but also able to pull through in a clutch situation (Suder did save the ship from the Kazon-Nistrim, after all.)
6 – Theodore Bikel
When I was a kid, the only record I remember my grandmother owning was Theodore Bikel's “Songs of Russia Old & New.” In addition to being a folk singer, Bikel was a stage actor (he's said to have played Fiddler on the Roof's Teyve over 2000 times) and he's done guest spots on pretty much every major TV show from the 1950s to today. From Alfred Hitchcock Presents to The Equalizer, you've seen his face.
5 – Ronny Cox
I have to wonder if Ronny Cox gets rude service whenever he goes out. Because we may not know him at first glance, but anyone who's ever watched TV or movies has seen him be a real Grade A jerk. Does the world automatically treat him with contempt, because we've been trained to dislike him?
He was the meanie behind the desk in Total Recall and RoboCop and the Beverly Hills Cop films. And he was the man who dared to take Captain Picard's place in center seat in the memorable two-parter “Chain of Command.” His Captain Edward Jellico was a stern leader, and will forever be damned for forcing Deanna Troi out of her turquoise dresses and purple catsuits and into standard Federation uniforms.
4 – John Rhys-Davies
As if being in Star Trek weren't enough, John Rhys-Davies has to one-up the competition by being in two of the other coolest franchises of all time. Yes, in case you didn't know, Sallah from the Indiana Jones films (“bad dates”) and Gimli from Lord of the Rings (“and MY axe!”) are the same dude. He's also got 200+ other credits, everything from I, Claudius to In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
He appeared twice on Voyager, as a holodeck version of Leonardo Da Vinci. (He was something of a therapist to Captain Janeway for a little while.) Of course, hardcore Trekkies know that the REAL Leonardo Da Vinci was “Requiem for Methuselah's” tragic villain Flint. (And super hardcore comics-reading Trekkies know that Flint is also DC Comics' Vandal Savage in a parallel universe!)
3 – Richard Herd
With a face that screams “where do I know this guy from?” Richard Herd played Tom Paris' father on Voyager, as well as the Klingon L'Kor on TNG.
You may remember him popping up in a number of 80s comedies (Summer Rental and Planes, Trains and Automobiles) or from Seinfeld or from the original miniseries of V. (As a result of being in V he also appeared in a seemingly endless series of my childhood nightmares, but that's another story.)
You just look at his mug and you can see why Tom Paris was a problem child. So disapproving! How can anyone turn that frown upside down?
2 – Dick Miller
With 175 acting credits (and a directing credit on one episode of Miami Vice,) Dick Miller will forever be known to cult film fans as the murderous beatnik sculptor in Roger Corman's masterpiece A Bucket of Blood.
Miller showed up in every type of project imaginable – exploitation pictures, soap operas, cop movies and horror film. He's worked with Spielberg and Scorsese, and also had time to play a character like Crazy Mel in Howard R. Cohen's Space Rangers.
He appeared in the TNG episode “The Big Goodbye,” but his crowning Trek achievement was in DS9's two-parter “Past Tense.” As Vin the security guard, he represented the everyday working man who grows to question the unfair nature of the status quo. His capture during the Bell Riots is a key moment on the road to utopia we associate with Gene Roddenberry's future.
1 – DeForest Kelley
Well, I started this thinking we'd only discuss journeyman actors – those who appear for one episode and move on. How, then, can I list one of the cornerstones of all of Trek? Because, before he put on his medical tunic, DeForest Kelley was one of these men.
He was the veteran actor on the set and had done a little bit of everything in show business before serving on the Enterprise. He did a slew of Westerns, most memorably the role of Morgan Earp opposite Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but that's just tip of the iceberg. He did radio, live television, broadway, a musical with Bing Crosby and appeared in the reenactment show You Are There. Once Trek came his way, he slowed up and is now primarily known as Dr. McCoy.
With a canvas as wide as the entire galaxy, I'm sure I left some of your favorites off the list. Please let me know which familiar faces you love best.
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.
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Caption: My Federation jacket insignia. The final piece to make my uniform complete.