John Schuck is many things to many people. To moviegoers of a certain age, he’s Walt Waldowski, the dentist in the original movie version of M*A*S*H. To millions of television viewers he’s forever Sgt. Charles Enright from the series McMillan & Wife. Cult show aficionados will never forget Holmes & Yo-Yo, a comedy that cast him as an android cop. And he spent several seasons co-starring as Herman Munster opposite Star Trek guest star Lee Meriwether as Lily on The Munsters Today. Schuck also spent years, decades actually, starring as Daddy Warbucks on Broadway and in touring productions of Annie. And then there’s Star Trek.
Actually, Shuck’s Trek connections are, to borrow a familiar adjective from an old Vulcan friend, fascinating. Schuck played the Klingon ambassador in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and reprised the role in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Many years later, he returned to the Trek fold as Parn, a Cardassian legate, in the Deep Space Nine episode “The Maquis, Part II,” Chorus Member #2 in “The Muse” episode of Voyager, as well as another Klingon, Dr. Antaak, in the Enterprise hours “Affliction” and “Divergence.” Off-screen, Schuck was married to actress Susan Bay until they divorced in 1983. Bay subsequently married Leonard Nimoy, and Nimoy helped raise Aaron Bay-Schuck, Schuck’s son with Bay.
For obvious reasons, Schuck has long been on StarTrek.com’s must-interview list. And last month, during Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, Schuck – tall and fit, and speaking in his familiar authoritative voice -- sat down to chat with us between an appearance on stage and an hour’s worth of autograph signing. Here’s what he had to say:
What’s it like for you to come to an event like this and revisit your Star Trek work with people who probably know more about it than you do?
SCHUCK: That’s it, exactly. I must confess to you that I went on the computer this morning to look up the cast lists of the films and episodes of Star Trek that I did, so that I could have the names of actors I worked with and the characters I played right on the tip of my tongue. I’ve been an actor for 52 years now, and it’s always nice to know your audience and to know that, at events like these, of which I’ve only done two or three, the fans are so knowledgeable and have invested so much of themselves in it. And meeting the fans, having that give and take, it’s as close as you can get to doing live theater, which is my favorite thing, without actually doing live theater.
Star Trek IV marked your first Trek appearance. How did you come to be a part of that film?
SCHUCK: I knew Leonard and he said, “There’s a part you might be right for.” Then I heard from him again, and he said, “Would you come in and audition for this Klingon ambassador. Small part, but important.” So I read it and thought, “Well, this is very Shakespearean. I like this. Big character. Wonderful language.” Then I saw the costume design and went, “Oh, this is great.” So I went in and auditioned. Here, I thought I was shoo-in, but Leonard say, “I don’t think you’re right for the part.” But I got it and that’s how I did my first Trek piece.
Nimoy was already married to Susan Bay by this time, right?
How strange was that?
SCHUCK: Well, we co-parented together. We were there for our son. He and I got along fine.
How surprised were you to Klingon up again for Star Trek VI?
SCHUCK: I loved it. I loved it. I also had much more work to do in Star Trek VI. That ended up being about two weeks’ work, which was really nice. When people ask me about the movies, the first thing I think of is the makeup. It was heavy makeup. Getting it on was hard and, I always say, getting it off was harder. The makeups today are far more advanced, how they get them on and off.
You ended up doing quite a bit of Star Trek later on…
SCHUCK: I did. Deep Space Nine and Voyager were auditions, and I’m not sure about Enterprise.
You had a long, memorable conversation scene with Avery Brooks in your Deep Space Nine. What do you recall of shooting that?
SCHUCK: The space station set was as round as this table we’re seated at now, and I had to walk and talk at the same time, and then I had to stop at this specific spot. But it all looked the same to me. They didn’t want to put down marks because of the nature of the lens. We had to do it over and over, and it was at the end of the day, so at that point the lines started to go. And it turned into a little bit of a nightmare. Avery was great, though. I just said, “Give me a few minutes,” I put my mind in order, we did it and it was perfect. But it was a little hairy there at one point.
What are your memories of doing Voyager?
SCHUCK: We had this outdoor set that looked very realistic. Tony Amendola was great. I do remember the makeup because it was so different from the Klingon look or the Cardassian look that I had that I had a hard time. I didn’t think I had the right hook on that character and that was because my look didn’t match my perception of myself. I felt out of place. I was not a big fan of the episode. The idea was interesting: classic Greek or Roman theater, a chorus. Associating it with that style of drama was a very clever idea, but I remember being a little disappointed.
We’d argue that your best visits to the Trek universe were your Enterprise episodes, which came with the bonus of explaining the change in the appearance of the Klingons…
SCHUCK: Those were a lot of fun, those two episodes, and I loved that story about how the Klingons got their ridges. Technically, it was so well done that you really felt like you were in that world. It was quite wonderful. James Avery played my nemesis in that episode, and we got along great. It was fun to play the character across two episodes because that meant we had two directors and that there was always something new that really inspired the moment.
What are you up to these days?
SCHUCK: I have a couple of little independent films that I’ve just finished. One of them is called Tale of the Kite, which is a fantasy film that we actually started about 14 years ago. I also just went off to Texas to do a short that a friend of mine wrote. It’s powerful, and I hope he can expand it into something bigger. It’s about a father whose daughter was killed on 9-11, and her husband has asked to meet with his wife’s mother and father. It’s about 15 minutes long and it takes place in a diner. We really just did it, and it doesn’t have a title yet. And then this fall, I will be doing White Christmas, which is musical that tours around the country every year around the holidays. So my Christmas will be in Boston this year.