Star Trek’s Mr. Everywhere – A Jeffrey Combs interview, Part 1
If you were to turn on your television right now and watch a repeat of DS9, Voyager or Enterprise, chances are you’d catch Jeffrey Combs acting up a storm. Combs, you see, was pretty much Star Trek’s guest star of guest stars, the go-to guy whenever the producers, casting people and/or a particular director needed someone they could count on to deliver the goods. The actor – who at the time was best known for his role as Dr. Herbert West in the cult-favorite horror film Re-Animator -- played Brunt and Weyoun, and variations of them, as well as Officer Mulkahey and Tiron on DS9, Penk on Voyager and Krem on Enterprise. Combs has kept busy in the years since his last Trek appearance, acting in films, on TV and on stage, and appearing at conventions around the world. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Combs at his Los Angeles home for an exclusive two-part interview in which he recounted his Trek experiences, filled us in on his current projects, which include several movies and the animated series Transformers: Prime, and talked about his packed schedule for Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention next month in Las Vegas.
Go all the way back. How did you land your first Trek job?
Combs: I had auditioned a number of times, maybe three or four times, for Deep Space Nine. I only auditioned for The Next Generation once, and that’s when they were casting the pilot. All those years, and I was never invited to come in and audition for The Next Generation. Then DS9 came along and I kept getting in the batter’s box, thank you very much. One day I walked in and Jonathan Frakes was directing the episode. I knew Jonathan slightly. We’d both auditioned together for a film some years earlier and we had mutual friends. And he cast me (as Tiron in “Meridian”), bless him. The really lovely thing about it was that once I was on set I reconnected with Rene Auberjonois, who I’d done theater with. It just so happened that Rene was starting to cast for what was going to be his very first episode as a director (“Family Business”). Rene suggested me and, bless them, the producers agreed and cast me for Brunt. There was some resistance at first because I’d just done a show, but they went, “Yeah, but no one will know.” So out of that I start recurring, and then they tagged me for Weyoun, and the rest is DS9 history.
At what point did someone – and we’re assuming that someone was Ira Steven Behr – say, “Be ready. We’re going to keep using you and using you and…”?
Combs: It’s all Ira. It’s all Ira. I did not know that Ira had been a fan of my work. He told me a story once. He said, “Even before you were on DS9, I saw you in a supermarket.” I said, “Well, did you come up and say hi?” He said, “No, no, no, I didn’t, but I saw you?” I was like, “Why didn’t you do that?” But it’s Ira. Bless him, and bless him again. I remember the day that I was standing on the sound stage in full Brunt makeup and Ira came up to me and said, “You know, we want to use you as another character, where we’ll see more of your face.” I said, “Oh, wow. That’s great. Thanks.” But I didn’t really believe it. It’s Hollywood. People say stuff. But Ira is a breed apart. He means what he says. And out of that came Weyoun. Of course, they killed Weyoun at the end of the episode, but the writers realized afterwards, “Wait a minute, this is a character we find interesting.” So that’s how Weyoun could be cloned at the drop of a hat. Problem solved.
You ended up in dozens of episodes of Star Trek, spanning from DS9 to Enterprise. For the sake of time, let us throw the names of some of the characters you played at you, and please give us a few thoughts on each. Tiron…
Combs: Tiron had a weird nose, and I had problems breathing out of it. I had gills, and every time I’d breathe in through my nose, the nose would suck in. So I really had to make sure, technically, that I didn’t blow the makeup by breathing! But I got to work with Armin Shimerman. He was the sweetest guy. He was the one who came to me and said, “Welcome. If you want to run the scene, if you want to work on it, I am at your disposal. Just find me in my trailer or wherever. It doesn’t matter. We’re really glad you’re here.” Boy, that was a big thing. That generosity and professionalism is, to this day, what Armin Shimerman is all about.
Combs: That headpiece. Even though I had big ears, I could not hear. But, man, did I have the best time playing Brunt. To be able to make Quark squirm… delicious would be the word that I would use to describe Brunt.
Combs: Weyoun is your best friend. He really is, and he wants you to know that. He wants to alleviate all of your problems. There’s really nothing to worry about, until the knife is in your back, and then you realize you’ve been had. It was a wonderful counterpoint. I loved being so evil and yet being so good-natured and pleasant about it. That was a decision that I made, honestly, the first day that I shot Weyoun. I had no idea what a Vorta looked like until the makeup was done at 6:30 in the morning, when I looked in the mirror and went, “Who is this guy? OK, make a decision.” I decided right away that he was a very pleasant fellow, very placid. Sometimes you’ve got to run with your initial instinct, and in that case it was a good one.
Combs: I would say meeting the Rock. Also, running the scanner down the body of Seven of Nine was not too unpleasant. But meeting the Rock; I’ll never forget, he came up to me and said, “Hey, how are you? Listen, call me Dwayne?” I remember thinking, “Dwayne?! OK, I’ll call you Dwayne.” He said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “Can I take a picture with you?” I remember thinking, “He wants to take a picture with me? Wow, that’s very cool.”
Combs: I loved Krem. He was such a weak sweetheart. That really gave me the opportunity to play the opposite of Brunt, to show that there are sweet and good-hearted Ferengi as well. Of course, Max Grodenchik with Rom could make that argument in spades, but still, for me to able to play that note was really interesting. Also, introducing the Ferengi was interesting. If you notice, they never called them Ferengi in that episode because that would be going against the Trek bible. But, still, it was the first encounter with the Ferengi, and that was very cool.
Combs: Ah, Shran was a gift. I loved Shran. I got to play a completely different color, and I was excited about that. And I don’t mean blue. Shran gave me a totally different spectrum than I had with Brunt and Weyoun. I got to play a captain, someone with a real chip on his shoulder. My prototype… I looked at the Vulcans as if they were the British and the Andorians as if they were the Irish, and Jimmy Cagney was my ideal. That’s kind of the guy I saw Shran as, a tough little guy who holds his ground, and you’ve got to go through him, not around him.
To keep track of Jeffrey Combs and his current projects, visit his official site at www.jeffreycombs.com. And check back at StarTrek.com again tomorrow for part two of our interview with Combs.