Denise Crosby spent just one season playing Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unhappy with the role and not seeing much of a future for herself on the show, Crosby asked to be released from her contract, a request that Gene Roddenberry granted. Crosby ultimately returned for several memorable guest appearances, reprising Yar in “Yesterday's Enterprise” and “All Good Things...” and portraying Sela in “Redemption Part I,” “Redemption Part II” and “Unification Part II.” StarTrek.com recently caught up with Crosby for an interview in which she recounted her Trek experiences and filled us in on her current projects, which include a recent stage performance directed by Gates McFadden and an upcoming TNG reunion at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. Below is part one of our exclusive conversation, and visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two.
What were your hopes for Tasha heading into TNG?
Crosby: Oh my gosh… I always talk about a scene I had to audition with, that never made it on to film, and I never understood that. That scene, to me, was what was so exciting and interesting about the character. She was really, deeply insecure and had this wonderful paradox going on. She was so physically capable and had this very strong persona, but inside was just this little girl that felt very much out of her depth. That was the scene that I had to audition with, and it gave me a clue to the character. And then nothing was ever done with that. I was always trying to find moments where I could sort of play that, as an actor, and have that stuff going on inside. It was really a letdown in a way, once the show got up and running. My favorite episode was when I died and came back. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” was just much more realized writing for this character.
Rewind just a bit more, though. The story everyone has heard is that it was Gene Roddenberry himself who suggested that you and Marina Sirtis switch roles, that you should play Yar and she should play Troi. Is that true?
Crosby: As far as I know, that is true. We were in a series of auditions at a certain point and, if I can recall, my agent said, “Now they want you to take a look at this character. They’re going to switch you.” We were still auditioning. I think we had to go in five different times and somewhere, maybe after the third audition, we finally got to (audition for) Gene Roddenberry. I’m sure Marina got the same call, but my agent said, “Gene Roddenberry likes you very much, but he wants you to now read this role.” The next time I went in, it was for Tasha.
Crosby: What was so wonderful was the humor and the absurdity of it, and the delight of playing forbidden thing. That episode was fun because you got to see the other side of Tasha. You’d seen her as this fierce warrior, this take-charge character, and then she gets contaminated with this virus or whatever it was, and she takes on this other persona. That was a lot of fun. She was basically just drunk through the whole episode. I think people delight in seeing characters be inappropriate to who they are.
Crosby: I just remember that that episode was very difficult. That whole setup was actually pretty dangerous. They way they rigged that rubber suit, the actor (playing Armus) had to literally be submerged into and out of that muck. That had to work within a minute because he had no oxygen in that suit. That’s no special effect. You saw him literally come up out of this muck, and it was very hot and really dangerous. Then Jonathan had to get into it or under it. It was all slightly dangerous. So it was not laughable on set, and I was not thinking about my death in any way. I was thinking, “Oh my God, is this going to be OK?” I had to be jerked with a little wire filament tied around my waist. It was all very almost low-tech, when you think about it. It was kind of crazy stuff. But what I’ve always gotten from fans was, “What a weird way to kill one of your main characters.” It was so indiscriminate, without a fight, without any confrontation or battle. This thing just takes her out. Then, when I came back for “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” there was some sort of redemption there.
Let’s ask this as a yes or no question. Did you make the right choice, leaving TNG when you did?
If you had the chance, today, knowing what you know now, to make that decision again, would you make the same choice?
Crosby: Yes. For me, I was miserable. I couldn’t wait to get off that show. I was dying. This was not an overnight decision. I was grateful to have made that many episodes, but I didn’t want to spend the next six years going “Aye, aye, captain,” and standing there, in the same uniform, in the same position on the bridge. It just scared the hell out of me that this was what I was going to be doing for the next X-amount of years. I think you have to take your chances. I was really young. I didn’t have to make house payments or put kids through private school or support people. I was free to make those kinds of decisions. I’d been in acting school really dreaming of playing all kinds of different things. Whether it’ll happen or not, you don’t know, but you’ve got to give yourself a chance. God forbid you go through your life thinking, “What if?”
Check back tomorrow for part two of our exclusive interview with Denise Crosby.