Trek Directors' School: Rene Auberjonois
Who on Earth is most surprised by the fact that Rene Auberjonois directed eight episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? That’d be Auberjonois himself. DS9’s beloved Odo actor called the shots on “Prophet Motive,” “Family Business,” “ Hippocratic Oath,” “The Quickening,” “Let He Who Is Without Sin...,” “Ferengi Love Songs,” “Waltz” and “Strange Bedfellows.” StarTrek.com, as part of our ongoing Star Trek Directors’ School series of interviews, sat down with Auberjonois in late April, backstage during Destination Star Trek Germany in Dortmund. He graciously – and frankly -- looked back at his unexpected time in the director’s chair and touched on a couple of more-current matters as well.
Can we assume that you approached Rick Berman about directing?
Actually, no. Rick had said, “You know, you should think about directing.” I sort of went, “Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.” And then Jonathan Frakes was directing one of our episodes, and he said, “Are you going to direct?” I said, “I don't know. I'm not sure I should do that.” He said, “Are you crazy? If you're offered the chance, what you're basically getting is an education as a director that would cost you thousands and thousands of dollars to go to the best film school in this country. And it will just be given to you. They'll be paying you to do it.” So, I said to Rick, “OK, I'll do it, but I'm not ready to do it now.” I went through the process of going to script meetings and editing sessions and learning the ropes. I remember Rick passing me in the parking lot one night at the end of work, and he said, “Are you ready?” I said, “Oh, no, not yet.” He said, “Yeah you're ready.” And they threw me in. I think I did 8 episodes and...
Let’s break that down. Who were the directors you shadowed as part of attending the Star Trek Directors’ School?
Well, really all of them. There were no duds. They were all terrific, and all very different. It was good for me to not just have one that I shadowed. Once I knew I was going to direct, I was very focused on each time I worked with a director on how they did things. Some seemed to be able to just wing it and they would walk on the set and it was totally natural to them. Others came across very, very prepared. I’m sure they were all prepared, so I’m talking now about how they came across on the set. Either way, it all fell into place. Some, like David Livingston, were incredibly meticulous and did shot after shot and retake after retake. Others wanted far fewer takes. Those were good lessons to learn.
Your first episode was “Prophet Motive.” What do you recall of that experience?
I remember it vividly. Mostly, I remember being terrified. But I was really lucky because I got to work with Armin (Shimerman) and the Ferengi… Max (Grodenchik) and the others. These guys were pros and not given to not paying attention and not focusing, not concentrating and not being ready. So, I was very lucky in that sense. But I mostly remember being very scared. I know you probably want to discuss all eight episodes, and I’ll try to break a couple of them down, but – and this is sort of a thing that I say off the top of my head -- I think two of the episodes I was proud of. I thought I really hit the mark. Then, about four of them were acceptable. I kept the train on the tracks and delivered perfectly acceptable episodes. And I would say two of them were not up to snuff. I walked away from them at the end and thought, “I'm really out of my depth here.” And it wasn't that I got more and more confident as it went along. It didn't work that way. Some scripts I felt a natural affinity for as an actor, and even if I wasn’t performing much in them, I sort of knew the way it should feel and what it should look like. Sometimes I read the scripts and I just had no idea of how it was supposed to look. I'll tell you one of the episodes that I know I was proud of and I couldn't even give you the name of it, but it featured Sid (Alexander Siddig)…
“The Quickening.” That one, even though it was a very difficult one because it was on location and we ran out of time and we had to really try to do everything we could to make it work, I felt that was the most filmic of the eight I directed. Someone told me that Sid mentioned it from the stage here the other day as an episode he liked. So, that’s nice… But I don’t know that I could go through them one by one, especially since – (laughs) – I’d prefer not to discuss the ones I didn’t feel were up to snuff.
Fair enough. So let’s come at it a different way. How surprised were you that you ended up doing eight episodes?
I was very surprised, actually. I'll be totally candid… I've never been comfortable as a director. I've always been happy to collaborate and throw in my ideas and to say, “What if we did this?” or “What if we did that?” That has often given producers the idea that it would be a good idea if I directed. But the truth is I never got really comfortable with it. Nearing the end, I remember people saying to me, “Well, when this is over are you going to go on and direct on other shows?” I said, “I cannot imagine going onto a set where I was not surrounded by family, by actors and crew and people who had my back all the time.” The concept of going into a show and trying to make it work… I just never pursued it after that. I was very grateful for the eight episodes of DS9 I got to do, but once I was done I was done.
Since we’ve got you here now, let’s quickly talk about a couple of other things. You’re involved in What We Left Behind, the upcoming DS9 documentary. What was it like to sit down with Ira Steven Behr and really dig deep into your time on DS9?
Ira was fantastic. We did extensive interviews at my place and at conventions. I'm glad that Ira has been passionate about it and determined to make it because it's pretty easy for us to feel like the middle child who never got the attention we deserved. And that's all bulls--t. The fact is the show stands on its own and my sense is -- and we’ve talked about this a little bit, and I discussed it with Ira, too -- but the further away we get from it, I feel like the show has gotten more popular than it was when we were actually doing it week to week. Maybe that’s because now people can stream the show and they can watch the arc of it. It feels like an entire, complete novel, like a Russian novel. So, I'm really pleased that Ira and David (Zappone) have focused on it and been determined to do it. It'll be fun to see it, and I don't think it will be your ordinary documentary. I think it'll be a little quirky and a little bit strange, just like DS9.
You had a great line of dialogue in the DS9 episode “The Dogs of War.” It was… “Interesting, isn't it? The Federation claims to abhor such Section 31’s tactics. But when they need the dirty work done, they look the other way. It's a tidy little arrangement, wouldn't you say?” I’m not sure how aware of this you are, but Section 31 from DS9 will be carrying over to Discovery...
I wasn’t aware of that. I wish I could say I had anything to do with making up the line. I'm amazed I was able to memorize it. But hasn't that been sort of the nature of Star Trek, the idea that as different as each series might be – or how we think they’re different from the other versions -- basically there is a bloodline that has come from the very beginning, and they’re all somehow connected? I quite like that.