Talking to TNG's Admiral Jameson, Clayton Rohner
Clayton Rohner is one of those classic character actors who works and works and works, and who probably appeared – memorably so – in one of your favorite shows or movies. In Rohner’s case, we’re talking Just One of the Guys, I, Madman, April Fool’s Day, The X-Files, Murder One, G vs. E and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Rohner guest starred in the first-season episode “Too Short a Season” as the ill-fated, caught-in-a-time-loop character, Admiral Mark Jameson. Rohner, who’s set to appear at Star Trek Las Vegas next month, spoke to StarTrek.com last week, candidly discussing his current projects, the arc of his career and his memories of making “Too Short A Season.”
What are you up to these days?
I'm moving to New Orleans in October. I'm working a little bit less because of age, traveling, etc. But I did work on an interesting indie film called We Are Boats. That’s with one of the Hemsworths, Luke, and the gal from Westworld, Angela Sarafyan. I got to kill somebody in that. That's always fun.
IMDB lists a movie called Mope…
It's a very weird film, based on a true story about these two kids that were horribly involved in the porn industry, kind of losers, wannabes, and ended up killing each other. One of them jumped off a cliff right in front of all of the TV cameras, on live TV. I play the father of the kid that ends up killing the other kid and jumping off the cliff.
Your career dates back 35 years, an impressive feat for any actor. How satisfied are you with the way things have played out?
Good question. I doubt you’d get a lot of honest answers from actors on that one. I think most people like to characterize their careers as a lot more grandiose than they are. I had very lofty aspirations as a young man. I didn't care if I worked or didn't work, as long as I got to practice my craft. You have to be crazy to go into acting thinking you're going to either make a living or work consistently. Statistically, it doesn't happen. I was happy just to be a struggling actor. I was extremely fortunate I had a quick start. I was lucky to work consistently for 25 of those 35 years. I wouldn't say I made a lot of money, but I did a lot of fun jobs, and there are a handful I'm proud of. I wish I could say it's continued that way, but I'm very proud of Mope and We Are Boats. Sometimes, especially on TV, your job as a guest star can be generic. You play the same character you always play and say lines you've said in other shows. But I am really proud of G vs E. I had fun on Star Trek, and it was different, and everyone wants to be a part of Trek.
Thirty-one years ago you made a one-off appearance on Star Trek. How surreal is it to talk about it all this time later?
In a vacuum, it’d be very odd. Seeing that it's Star Trek, it's not odd at all. Such is the world of Star Trek.
What did you know about the original Star Trek? Had you even seen TNG when you did your episode, since it was season one?
I was a huge fan of the original one. I was really excited when TNG came along. They offered me the part, which was nice. They called me up to talk to me about it. Gene Roddenberry's lawyer, and I'm trying to remember his name….
Yes. Leonard called me up and said, "I've got this fun part. I think you’d really like it." He was a good friend of my father, who was an entertainment lawyer. He said, "It's an offer. If you can do it, we'd love to have you." I was like, "Hell, yeah." And it was a great part. I wish the makeup... I'm not knocking anyone's skill because so often in this business it's not how good you are, it's the time they give you. Someone can be very good and the work can be poor because they were hamstrung. They weren't given the time. That's what happened with that makeup. We ended up using pieces from someone else, not made pieces. That was a big disappointment to everybody, I think, down the line. Like I say, I'm not blaming anybody. You luck out with time and money sometimes, and sometimes you don't.
What interested you most about Admiral Jameson and his arc?
The age thing is an incredible challenge for an actor. My frustration with the makeup aside, the great thing was they actually gave me a 70-year-old wife, which was lovely. Marsha Hunt is a legend. She, by the way, had been blacklisted for years in Hollywood by the whole McCarthy thing. She's a wonderful lady (and still alive, at 100). So, that was great, working with her. I liked the ideas in the episode. Do you intervene? Do you give weapons to both sides? That's one of those classic Star Trek dilemmas. Do they help one side, or both sides? So, that was fun.
Reportedly, your wheelchair was a nightmare for the props team, for you, for Bowman. Give us your take on what went down with that…
It was a nightmare. First off, it was supposed to be this incredibly complicated chair you could program and it’d go three feet forward and turn right 90 degrees, go six feet, turn left 80 degrees. It was supposed to literally go all around the room. I wasn't controlling it. It was supposed to have memory. Well, the first action, the thing just went right over, practically took me through a wall. It did nothing it was supposed to do. It wouldn't roll. It wouldn't go anywhere. It was just a nightmare. It really hampered Rob. That and the makeup. I feel we just got so close to being able to do something really well, really great, with the chair and the makeup. Everybody tried their hardest. We did the best we could with the circumstances we had.
This next question may be a touchy one, but…
Oh, I know what you're going to ask.
There are stories that supposedly there was tension between you and the cast. What was your experience?
That’s in a book, and I have no idea what they're talking about, not at all. I came in for makeup when Michael Dorn came in. We were there three hours before anybody else showed up. Jonathan Frakes, I love Jonathan Frakes. Patrick Stewart, I mean, come on, have you ever heard anybody say anything bad about him? LeVar Burton, I didn't interact with him. I can't figure out where the conflict was. The only thing I can think of is my character outranked everybody and they had to listen to me, and I could order them around. Maybe that irritated them. This guest star telling them what to do? And I don't mean off camera. I mean on camera. That might have pissed them off because, even Picard… I had to yell at Captain Picard and tell him “I'm the boss, and do what I tell you.” Maybe I relished that a little too much and that irritated them.
Maizlish never said anything. They even talked to me about possibly coming on the show the next year as a regular. I talked to Leonard, and it didn't work out because they stayed with the cast. So, I don't know where that tension story comes from. No one has gone on record saying, "We don't like him." Believe me, if they'd put a name to that, I'd be the first to call and say, "I'm sorry. Whatever I did pissed you off and that's not cool." I’d apologize in a heartbeat. But I've never been able to lay a face to this claim.
You’ll be at Star Trek Las Vegas in a few weeks. I'm assuming that thanks to things like X-Files, G Vs E, etc., you've done previous conventions and autograph shows. How do you enjoy meeting the fans, sharing your tales, hearing their stories?
You know what, I do like it. Everybody's really sweet and they're very nice. The only problem is you always get a cold.
You always go home with a cold, inevitably. I haven't done a lot of them. This will be my very first Star Trek show. Some of the shows I’ve done have been in these little towns. (STLV) should be a lot of fun, because it’s a huge show in a really big city. So, it should be exciting. And, again, it’s Star Trek. Just to be a part of the experience is an honor.
Go to creationent.com for details about Star Trek Las Vegas 2018, and to purchase tickets.