What’s the common denominator between Happy Days, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? The answer is… Anson Williams. As an actor, Williams co-starred on Happy Days. Post-Happy Days, Williams emerged as an in-demand television director, and he ultimately directed two episodes of DS9 (“Statistical Probabilities” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”) and four episodes of Voyager (“Real Life,” “Demon,” “The Gift” and “Course: Oblivion”). Williams is at Star Trek Las Vegas as your read this, and StarTrek.com caught up with him for a conversation about his Trek work, a new life-saving product his company produces, and more.
Let's go back to Star Trek. How did you land your first gig with the franchise?
Jeri Taylor saw my work. I did SeaQuest. I was one of the regular directors for the last years of SeaQuest, which had a lot of effects. She hired me from that.
Let’s look back at some of your episodes. The first one was “Real Life,” for Voyager…
It was a brilliant script. It was about the Doctor, and the hologram wanted to know what it was like to have a family. That was one of the best scripts ever on Voyager. Then, on Deep Space Nine, I was lucky to direct one of the top-five segments of their entire run, and that was "It's Only a Paper Moon."
Obviously, the Trek team liked “Real Life” enough to keep bringing you back...
I’d agree, because I did a lot of episodes. It was great, “Real Life,” because it was really challenging, as a director, because it had different tones to it. The first tone, you had a Brady Bunch family. The second tone, you had a dark and nasty family. The third tone, you had a real family, and he had to deal with the death of his daughter to find out what real love is and what loss is. I thought it was an important script. I thought it just echoed so many areas of priorities in living and loving and caring and family. I was just thrilled to be able to do that as my first show. And Bob Picardo was brilliant.
Your next episode was “The Gift.” Exit Kes and enter Seven of Nine…
I introduced Seven’s transformation, and I did a few episodes with her. Jeri Ryan was great, but what was so funny is I had no idea how beautiful she was. We'd always meet on the set, and she'd be in all that makeup. I had no idea what she looked like, really. She's just this great person. We had this great time. When we did the transformation, I was blown away. I went, "Oh my God, you're gorgeous." The other two episodes I did were "Demon" and “Course: Oblivion.” All of them were challenging because of the effects. "Course Oblivion" was the one with the melting, right? Yeah, yeah, it was always good writing, and it was always great fun, and the cast was just sensational to work with. They were just so prepared, and so cooperative, and it was a real wonderful collaboration.
Let’s move on to your Deep Space Nine episodes. How different a vibe was the DS9 set, if you remember?
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You, before, described “It’s Only a Paper Moon” as one of DS9’s top episodes. Did you know it from the script that it had the promise to be really something special?
Yeah, and also, as a segment director, it's hard sometimes to get something you can really put yourself into, but this one was so open, I was able to really bring a lot to the party, and it felt great. Music is very much a part of my background. I understood that life, and so it was just great to be able to bring in the tone and pick a shooting style and know the kind of personality of that period.
Now, were you ever a Star Trek fan, or was this a job that came along and you immersed yourself in the universe at that point?
I was a Star Trek fan, but I wasn't a hardcore Trekkie. I was a fan of a lot of things. I do have a good Gene Roddenberry story for you. He wasn't doing much, and he had an office at Paramount, and he invited Ron Howard and me up and showed us his first computer. He was just the kindest man, and he spent time with us and explained things. It was wonderful to have been able to meet him, in my lifetime. That was a very rare opportunity.
Let me ask you an unfair question. What's the single best scene from the six episodes you directed?
Wow. Gosh, I'd have to think about that. I think my proudest scene, honestly, is the simplest scene, and that was the death of Bob's daughter in “Real Life.” It's simple, but it's powerful. But one of my favorite personal moments was from “Paper Moon.” I was able to go down and be there when Jimmy Darren pre-recorded in Frank Sinatra's studio at Capitol. Just to be there, and experience that, it was fantastic.
Your worlds really tend to collide. How strange is it that here you are, all these years later, and you and Don Most have a Star Trek connection, since he guest starred on a Trek episode? And both of you are at Star Trek Las Vegas this weekend.
Exactly. It's wild. I'm there because I directed some. He's there because he was in a two-parter or something. I think it's very coincidental. I don't do too many conventions, but I love the Star Trek one because it's so diversified with the people that come. It's so different than any other convention. It's so much fun, and I meet so many intelligent people... scientists, engineers, big Trekkie fans who are just brilliant people. It’s a fascinating experience to hang around all these people. I learn so much.
What are you working on these days?
Oh my gosh, I don't know if you've heard about it, but I've been in the product business for many years, along with entertainment. We've done a lot of good stuff, but we have a product now that's saving so many lives. Years ago, I almost killed myself. I was directing Slap Maxwell with Dabney Coleman, and I was driving back from location, and I was so exhausted from directing that day. It was so hot in the Palmdale desert. I ended up falling asleep and bouncing around in the desert. I almost died. My uncle was Doctor Heimlich…
Creator of the Heimlich Maneuver…
Right. I helped him promote it years ago. Well, we were very, very close, and I told him about it, and he said, "Anson, just cut up some lemons, keep them in the car. When you feel drowsy, just bite into it." He explained how this citric acid hit with the sour lemon hits the lingual nerve, on top of the tongue, and what happens is the body has an automatic reflex action of adrenalin. So, without anything in your system, you're immediately, instantly alert, awake and clear. He was such a genius at how the body helps the body. I looked it up. Sure enough, it's very old science. So, I did that for years and never had the problem again. Then, a few years ago, as we're thinking what's the next problem-solver product to produce for my company, I started researching drowsy driving, and I don't know if you know how catastrophic it is.
More people die from drowsy driving than texting, drinking and drugs combined. There's 168 million drowsy drivers and growing every year. One out of five admit to falling asleep, so you know it's more. More death, tearing families apart, losing kids, losing fathers, losing mothers, all from falling asleep at the wheel, and no one's done anything about it. Coffee doesn't do it. It takes 20 minutes for coffee to take effect. Then, you need more, and then your whole sleeping pattern's screwed up. No Doz, it's just huge amounts of caffeine, which take 20 minutes to take effect, and screw up your whole body and your sleep and everything else.
What happened next with Dr. Heimlich?
Are you still directing?
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