Robin Curtis Looks Back At Saavik & TNG, Part 2
Robin Curtis, in part one of our two-part interview, recounted how she won the role of Saavik in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the experience of shooting that film with director Leonard Nimoy. Today, in the second half of our conversation, Curtis – whom StarTrek.com caught up with following a recent convention appearance -- tells StarTrek.com about how/why Saavik barely registered in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and how she landed the part of Tallera in the TNG two-parter “Gambit.” Curtis, who is pretty much retired from the acting game, also filled us in on what she’s doing now.
Your appearance in Star Trek IV ended up being a cameo. You were surely hoping for more. What happened?
Curtis: That was just such a weird left curve, to be honest. Given what had happened with Kirstie Alley, they negotiated for each film after the third, for the fourth, the fifth and the sixth. For somebody who’s 28 years old and had never made than a few bucks a year, that’s quite an event, to have a contract that provided for three films in years to come. Then, weeks and weeks before the filming (on Star Trek IV) was to begin – and the contract would then be void, because it had a timeframe on it – my people were reaching out to Paramount, saying, “What’s going on?” They wouldn’t say anything. They wouldn’t reveal. They kept putting us off. That, of course, raised a flag. “Something’s not right. This character isn’t being groomed. They will not be following the storyline that we had been led to think they would,” which was that Saavik would be pregnant and there’d be this whole connection between her and Spock. Lo and behold, all this hope that there might be greater involvement for the character turned into those few lines.
Was there more, even just on paper?
Curtis: It was just slightly more than that and then it got ratcheted down to even less when the shooting actually occurred. I do think there were a couple of lines that might have hinted that something was going on with her, and those were eliminated. So I handed over the disk and simply wished him a journey free of incident, and that was it. That was such a comedown from where they had led me to think it would go. The band-aid for me at the time was I thought the film was fabulous. I thought they’d returned to the winning recipe for Star Trek, a really simple message about the preservation of life, great use of the ensemble and giving each of the actors their own little moments, and I thought the humor came back tenfold. I thought that was all good stuff.
OK, now do us a big favor and settle an issue. Some fans argue that Saavik was Vulcan-Romulan and not just Vulcan. It's an important distinction because there are people who compare your performance to Kirstie Alley's and describe yours, for better or worse, as far more Vulcan-esque. Then there's the whole matter of the Trek novels at the time, including between Khan and Search for Spock, which stated that Saavik was half-Vulcan and half-Romulan. So, what was your understanding about all this?
Curtis: I am so glad you asked this question, and there's a lot of room for discussion on both sides of it. My understanding was that Kirstie Alley and (Khan writer-director) Nicholas Meyer wanted Saavik to be Vulcan and Romulan and he directed her to include elements of both. And the books may have elaborated on that. I'm aware of the argument about the books, in general: Are they or aren't they official, or canon? But in the case of Star Trek III and Saavik, it really didn't matter. Leonard felt that Saavik was Vulcan. That was his choice, and his choice was my choice. I played Saavik the way he asked me to play her. My job as the actress is to do what my director wants, and that's what I did.
You later returned to Trek to play Tallera in the TNG episodes “Gambit, I and II.” How did that come about, and how much did your previous Trek experience help in landing the role?
Curtis: People ask that, and it’s sweet that they do, and you’d think there would have been some connection between Star Trek III and IV and TNG. But there wasn’t. Never once, when I went in to audition for TNG, was I acknowledged as someone who had a history with Star Trek, of any kind, which was odd to me. But, from the first audition, I realized that that’s the way it was going to play, that these were two separate things, that they would not cross over and I would not be treated any differently than anyone else who walked into the room. I was OK with that. I was actually offered a part and, believe me, I wanted to be on the show because the fans would ask me, “When are you going to be on?” I was doing conventions pretty regularly at the time, and so I heard that question a lot. I’d say, “If it were my choice, I’d be on the next morning, but we all know that’s not how it works.” So it meant more to me on several levels than just getting a job and paying my bills. I was offered the role (K’Ehleyr) that Suzie Plakson ultimately played, and I couldn’t do it because I’d already committed to another job that directly conflicted with the schedule. Believe you me, I tried everything I could to make it work and nobody would compromise. So I was forced to let Star Trek go. That nearly killed me, and I’m not exaggerating. It was a huge loss at the time because I didn’t know another opportunity would come.
Then it did come, thank goodness. I got the “Gambit” two-parter. And, again, it wasn’t handed to me. I did have to audition. I had to go back for a callback, and it was very tough waiting to hear because so much was at stake for me. And I was thrilled to get it and to have such a meaty part. I worked for three weeks. To work so much with Patrick Stewart was really exciting for me. It was fun to work with Julie Caitlin Brown, whom I knew. So, I was just tickled pink and over the moon; I can’t even tell you. And they were good episodes, which, I like to think, hold up.
What are you doing these days?
Curtis: I live in New York, just southeast of Syracuse, on a pretty little lake. I bought an 1830’s house about eight years ago. I must have been out of my mind; a woman in her late 40’s buying an old house. I didn’t know better at the time, but now I do. I’ve since become partners with a custom home builder. We own our own little custom home-building company called Zellar Homes. It’s a small, very mom-and-pop outfit. I got my real estate license, and so I’m an associate broker with a real estate company in upstate New York, in order to sell the houses we build. So I wear a lot of hats. I’m decorating. I’m making help make style choices, design choices, etc., etc. I write all of our collateral and marketing material. So I definitely get a bit of a creative outlet and it’s called reinventing yourself in this life and surviving in this crazy economy. And I still make convention appearances, which I love. It's great to meet all the fans.
Are you still acting, or still open to acting?
Curtis: I supposed I would be open to doing more acting. But real estate is not the kind of career you can just abandon when something else comes along. It’s a very demanding career. As tough as the market is now, it’s even more of a 24-7 obligation. However, I do have a one-woman show that I wrote and, if I could just find the right confluence of factors – a producer who could light a fire under me, and the right venue, and the time – I think it’d be a very exciting thing to do. It’s a current, viable piece, a one-woman show that I wrote about my own… I’ll say romantic odyssey, but it’s more sexual than romantic, though I think the two are synonymous for me in many respects. So I have this one-woman show – it’s called A Good Girl: A Sexual Odyssey of a 55-Year-Old Woman -- that comes out of the closet and off the dusty shelf once in a great while to a terrific reception, which is always a shock to me, and I love it. And then the show goes back on the dusty shelf because I think, “I’ve got to work. I’ve got to get going.” So that would be the one way that acting would actually pull me out of my current world and current work.
To read part one of our interview with Robin Curtis, click HERE.