Winn-ing With DS9's Louise Fletcher
Louise Fletcher oozed menace as Kai Winn Adami over the course of her 14 appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Bajoran character was jealous, spiritual, treacherous, condescending, ambitious and manipulative, and never less than riveting to watch. She was simply the character everyone loved to hate, a religious fundamentalist at odds with Sisko, the true emissary of the Prophets. And, really, did anyone get to wear better costumes on DS9? StarTrek.com recently caught up with Fletcher – an Oscar winner for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – for an exclusive interview in which she recounted her DS9 experience and filled us in on her current projects.
This week is the 19th anniversary of DS9’s premiere, and…
Fletcher: No kidding? I did not know that.
The show debuted on January 3, 1993, and there’s no question that you played one of the most memorable recurring roles…
Fletcher: Thank you. That’s very nice to hear.
Let’s rewind to season one. You made your first appearance in “In The Hands Of The Prophets.” What did you know about Star Trek in general and DS9 specifically before your first appearance?
Fletcher: Not too much, not too much at all. My kids watched Star Trek when they were growing up, but I never paid much attention to it, being a young, busy mother. I thought it was safe for them to watch, and I liked that they were watching it, but I didn’t watch it myself. I didn’t know DS9 at all. When I was cast, to me it was just playing a role. I didn’t realize the scope of Star Trek. I didn’t get it until maybe two or three episodes in. Then I began to get the history of it and everything.
How did they approach you about being on DS9?
Fletcher: They just rang up and asked me. I have no idea who actually called me. I don’t remember that. I know I didn’t have to read for it. I felt I knew how to play that kind of person, how to play Winn.
Considering how complex the whole Bajor-Emissary-Prophets-religion-politics storyline was, what, if anything, did the producers do to help you prepare?
Fletcher: They just sent me the script. There was never a discussion. I never met Rick Berman.
Fletcher: Really. That’s not just Star Trek; it’s television. You get the script (and do your job). I had a tough time. My memorization is pretty good. It’s still pretty good, knock wood. I’m knocking wood now. I’m 77. I have to work a little harder to get it buried in my memory box, but I can still do it. But the dialogue in Star Trek was difficult because it involved a lot of learning about other things that have no basis in reality. So I’d supplement my knowledge by talking to the script supervisor and asking a lot of questions. They’re the go-to people, really, and they can explain a lot of things for you. Judi Brown was the DS9 script supervisor. Now, how’s that for memory! She was marvelous and would answer all my questions and explain who the Bajorans were and a little of the history. She brought me up to speed so that I’d have comprehension.
To your thinking, who was Winn Adami and what did she want?
Fletcher: Power. She wanted power and she was ambitious. She was sort of a Margaret Thatcher in space, or, as I used to say, I was the Pope in space. People would say, “Oh, you’re doing Star Trek. Who are you playing?” I’d say, “Think the Pope in space, except she’s like an ancient Pope, from the old days when Popes were ruthless and powerful and exerted their powers and fought wars and did all kinds of naughty things.”
How welcoming was the regular cast?
Fletcher: They were marvelous. DS9 was one of the best memories of my working life, of my day-to-day working life. They were the most professional cast and crew imaginable. It was like playing a symphony for the 99th time. They all knew their jobs. They were supremely professional. Being in the makeup trailer was something out of… science fiction, really. It was just amazing. Things took hours, but they were all so deliberate and they knew their jobs and they made you feel secure. It was marvelous. I had some of the longest hours I ever had working. I think one day we worked 21 hours.
You also got to share scenes with some of the show’s other memorable guest stars and recurring actors, like Frank Langella. What do you remember of working with him as Jaro?
Fletcher: I had a great time with Frank. It was like the performances were almost choreographed, as I recall. We were sort of flirting and yet there was a rhythm and a lot of physicality that was sort of programmed. And it was good, very good, and very rewarding.
Let’s talk about Winn’s costumes…
Fletcher: Once you took that costume off you felt a great weight lifted off yourself. Plus, my head had lots of hair and hats. The costumes and all of that were totally wonderful and perfect for me. They were made for me and fit like a glove, and yet they were very constricting, so they helped me in terms of Winn being her regal and powerful self. I couldn’t slouch. And the hats also kept you very upright. I mean, I had the Sydney Opera House on my head at one point!
Did you ever want to steal any of the costumes?
Fletcher: No, I wanted to throw them out the door many times. They were exhausting.
Do you remember any specifics of your episodes or was it 14 episodes done many years ago and…
Fletcher: It’s all a blur. It’s just a long, continuous, gray streak. I can single out a couple of things. I loved being condescending to Nana (Visitor), to Kira. I loved saying, “My child” or “Dear Child,” and putting her down. That was fun. I saw Nana in London (at a convention) three or four years ago, and she’s lovely. I also remember when Winn died. It was a very intense day and very tense. I remember how annoyed I was that I didn’t know how it was going to be until the script came. I knew I was going to be involved in the ending, but nobody would tell me what was going to happen. So I was kept in the dark until I actually received the script just a week or so before.
Your list of credits is long and impressive, yet many people want to get your autograph on a photo of Kai Winn or talk to you about your experience on DS9…
Fletcher: Isn’t that amazing? I still get fan mail. People are still interested. They still want your autograph. Or they’ll send those (DS9 trading) cards and ask you to sign them and send them back. I would say that my mail is 40 percent Cuckoo’s Nest, 40 percent Star Trek, and 20 percent other shows and movies. And that’s great. I’m glad I did Star Trek. I’m so glad I’m part of that whole happening.
Let’s end it by bringing everyone up to date on what you’re working on now. You’re going to be on Shameless, right?
Fletcher: Shameless starts again this weekend, I think. I play Bill Macy’s mother, which goes a long way to explaining his character’s behavior. I’ve never played a role like this in my life. It’s incredibly profane and shameless. She’s totally shameless. She’s in prison because her meth lab blew up and killed a few people. Then I get out of prison by pretending to be ill, but in fact I am ill, and I go home and live with them for three episodes. That was hysterical and a lot of fun, but as I said to my son, my granddaughter cannot, ever, watch this show. I’ve also just finished a Lifetime television movie called Of Two Minds, which was very interesting, and I worked with Kristin Davis and Tammy Blanchard on that.
You mentioned that you’re 77 years old. Everyone knows how ageist and sexist the entertainment business can be, and here you are, busy as ever…
Fletcher: Well, isn’t it great? Actors don’t have to retire. You can not know it and say “I’m not retired,” when you really are retired because you’re not working. But, knock wood (and she does), I’m still in there and I love it whenever I’m able to do it.