TNG Cast Reflects On How They Got The Part
Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in syndication the week of September 28, 1987. So, believe it or not, the 25th anniversary of the series that captured lightning in a bottle… again, is upon us. Events of all kinds have been occurring in the Star Trek universe, from the release of TNG Blu-rays to a handful of full-cast convention appearances. StarTrek.com thought it’d be revealing, informative and entertaining to reach out to as many full-time first-season TNG actors as we could corral and ask each of them to answer six questions. Today, in part two of our cast interview, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Wil Wheaton and Denise Crosby answer the following question:
What, if anything, did Gene Roddenberry say to you when he told you that you had won your role? How'd he tell you? Did he give you advice? Suggestions?
Jonathan Frakes: Gene called me directly. He, by that point, had spent so much time explaining the character and the 24th century and his vision of Riker. I think he had to fight for me. I’m not sure if he was pro-Billy Campbell or if people at the studio were, but I know that it was not a unanimous decision. I think Roddenberry saw a little bit of himself in Riker, or more than a little, and he told me that indirectly.
Gates McFadden: Well, one night after I had turned it down, he called me from his outdoor Jacuzzi and told me to "Just take the part." He assured me I was to be the love interest of Picard and a sort of Chief Surgeon of the Universe, plus a good mother. It was "a great part, a new kind of female role." But it was kind of strange to hear the water jets pumping in the background. It was my first-ever Jacuzzi call, you know. He said, "Take the part and you, too, can have a Jacuzzi in your backyard." But I put a pool in instead.
Wil Wheaton: I didn't ever have the kind of character conversation with Gene that Frakes or Baldy did, but I was profoundly affected by knowing and working with him anyway. By talking with Gene and learning why he made Star Trek, and his personal philosophy about life, the universe, and everything, I ended up becoming the Secular Humanist I am today and have been since I was a teenager.
Denise Crosby: Since I had originally auditioned for the role of Troi, it was really a surprise to suddenly get my head around Tasha. However, you have to be able to sometimes turn on a dime. I found Tasha to be a compelling character. Gene always was there to answer questions we had and to fill in the blanks for us. Originally, for the first season, the cast and writers would do a table read of the script we were about to shoot and everyone was free to stop on a particular line or scene and ask a question or make a suggestion. I noticed that didn’t happen anymore after the first season. I thought that was too bad.
Michael Dorn: Gene didn't tell me. In fact, after my last audition -- and I had three -- they told all of us, me and two other actors, "Thank you We'll be in touch.” And as I was leaving, the casting assistant asked me to stay behind because they had a VHS of my work that they wanted to return. As I was waiting outside, the director (Corey Allen) came outside and said, "It's going to be nice working with you." That was how I found out. I wasn't told who the character was or any back story. They got me into makeup and I was on the set the next week. Only later did I have a small meeting with Gene and I asked him what he wanted from the character. He said "Make it your own. Don't listen to or go by anything you've heard in the past." Which was smart on his part. When an actor has the freedom to create his own character's back story and personality, he has an "investment" in the character and so he is more committed to making it great.
Marina Sirtis: He didn’t call me. They did it the normal Hollywood way. The casting agent called my agent and then my agent called me. Then, when I got the role, I started going in for the fittings and hairdo tryouts and everything, and I went in to see Gene. I had done lots of background for her based on the first script and her relationships. He said, “That’s fine. Go ahead.” I really don’t think he cared. It was like, “I wrote the role. I think you can play it. So you do what you do,” and he basically let me run with it.
Brent Spiner: I don’t know that he said anything. I do remember Gene asking me if I’d be willing to change my appearance, and I said, “Certainly,” thinking it’d be something simple like ears. But I think he gave me the typical warning of “Life will never be the same for you again,” that he said to everybody.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow, as the TNG cast discuss their favorite guest stars. And click HERE to read part one of our cast interview.