The minute J.J. Abrams became associated with Star Trek, it meant one thing for certain: It wouldn't be long before Greg Grunberg got involved, too, since they pretty much go hand-in-hand. Cases in point: Felicity, Alias, Lost, Mission: Impossible III and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And his long list of non-Abrams include BASEketball, Heroes and Heroes Reborn, Group Sex (which he also co-wrote and directed) and Geeking Out. As for Star Trek, after the timing didn't work out for him to play Olson in Star Trek (2009), Grunberg voiced the character of Kirk's stepfather, Frank. And then, in Beyond, Grunberg played Finnegan. More recently, Grunberg added another, but very different, Trek credit to his resume. He moderated most of the panels at last weekend's Destination Star Trek Europe, including sessions with William Shatner, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Walter Koenig and more. StarTrek.com sat down with the amiable actor during a break from his hosting duties and then chatted with him again briefly after the event. Here's what he had to say...
Be honest, Star Trek or Star Wars... Which one are you a bigger fan of?
I have a water bottle at home, and I got a sticker from J.J. that says, "You have to Trek before you War." Isn't that cool? I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I'm just so honored to be in both. I think we're going to be talking about Star Wars 50 years after it came out. We're here talking about Star Trek, and it's still that ... I think that Star Trek has more of a hopeful future than is depicted in Star Wars. Everybody's just killing each other, and it's wiping out this planet and that planet. I don't know. What I do know is I can't believe I'm sitting here. I can't believe they invited me here to host some of these panels, and to do this. I love the character that I played, Finnegan, in Star Trek Beyond. I got to work with my buddy. It's a tough question to answer. I had such a small part. I'm a fan of both.
How did you become J.J.'s good luck charm? You're kind of in everything J.J. does...
Well, it started when we were four. He's my oldest friend in the world. We've always wanted to work together, and creatively we've done that throughout the years, as we were growing up. Then, as an actor, you can't really choose the projects you want. People have to hire you. Now, I'm writing and producing stuff myself. Still, at the level that J.J.'s doing it, people say, "Oh, you're lucky to have him as your friend for work." I'm lucky to have him as my friend, period. He's the greatest guy in the world. He's my brother. We just want to hang out together. It just so happens that he does the coolest projects around.
Did he ever just one day say, "Hey, you're my good luck charm," because you're like Hector Elizondo was to Garry Marshall.
I know, but we never use that term. Somebody said that, and I'll take it. Look, we all know the reason why these projects are successful... because it's me. I mean, without me, they wouldn't be successful.
You're going to be the next Sam Jackson in terms of the highest grossing actor...
That's right, exactly! Oh, my God, falling into that. No, it's more of like, I'll talk to him and he'll say, "Oh, I'm signed on to do this." I'll say, "Look, it goes without saying, I'd love ... " He's like, "Oh, please." A guy like that he has to look out for ... It's easy to get lost in the cracks. They're big projects. The last thing they're going to be thinking about is someone like me. Although now, I've done some good stuff, and it benefits the movie for me to be in it. Still, it's a testament to our friendship, and how much he wants to hang out. I was supposed to play Olson in the first movie, and I couldn't do it. I ended up doing the voice of Kirk's evil stepdad, or whatever he was. When this opportunity came up, he said, "I think I've got something great for you." Finnegan was just a great... He wasn't named Finnegan on the set. I was like, "Simon (Pegg), you know what? I think... I don't have a name yet." He said, "What do you want to..." I said, "There's a character that I really love from an episode called 'Shore Leave,'" and I said, "That would be a really cool character to bring back, because he went toe to toe ... He was in the imagination. The bully he never faced, in his dreams ... It was cool. Now, with Westworld, it's interesting. You know, that episode was sort of a Westworld kind of episode. Kind of a Fantasy Island kind of episode, which is interesting... comes full circle.
Go back to Olson for a moment. Why did that not happen?
Well, the truth is it was scheduling. I had co-written and starred in a movie that I produced called Group Sex. It's a romantic comedy about a sexaholic recovery group. It was a big project for me. I had Henry Winkler, Tom Arnold, and all these people in it. When you have a low budget, you can't change locations. They called about Star Trek and Olson, and it was exactly when I was deep into Group Sex. That Olson sequence was a big sequence, diving down, and all that hook stuff. It would have been great for people to see me in a red shirt, and go, "Oh, man, he's going to die," but, it didn't work out with my schedule. That was one of the only times that I truly regretted having to say to J.J., "I can't make it work." And they couldn't move their schedule. That was stunts, locations, special effects. They're not going to move it for me. It just didn't work out.
Then Abrams called and said, "Come in and do this voiceover"?
I didn't even come in and do it. I did it at home first as a temp, and sent it in. Then, I went in and we worked together on it. Yeah, it was fun. It was a great half hour working with J.J.
How come we did not see you in Star Trek Into Darkness?
I don't know if there was a role for me in the second one, but it worked out in the third.
How long did you work on Beyond?
Justin (Lin) is also a fan of stuff that I had done, and he is a sweetheart. An absolute sweetheart. I was shooting Heroes Reborn in Toronto, and I had to go over to Vancouver to shoot Beyond. They put all mys stuff in one day. If you look at my scenes, it's all shot the same way. I'm the captain, I stand up, I'm commander, and I stand up. I'm looking at us being invaded. Then I have a scene with Simon and her. It was all one day. Dude, I was on Star Wars for seven weeks, and I'd say that I had sort of the same type, same size role, wouldn't you? It's amazing. The fact that my Beyond character is introduced in the beginning of the movie, and they're saving Yorktown, and that's my area. Suddenly, there was an importance to it. That was great.
What's next for you?
Kevin Smith and I have a show on AMC called Geeking Out. I am also recurring on a very, very cool show that I can't talk about yet, because I don't want to spoil it. I want them to be able to announce it. That'll be phenomenal. It's a big series. It's a big series that they're adding me as a recurring. I've got a graphic novel that is doing really, really well, and Paramount bought it as a feature. It's called Dream Jumper.
What's it about?
My son had a dream. It's like Harry Potter goes into the world of magic. This kid goes into the world of dreams. It's about a kid who's able to jump in and out of his friends' dreams and save them from their worst nightmares. Scholastic put it out, so it's in all the book fairs, and it's all over the world. People are loving it. If you follow me on Twitter, you can see it.
OK, the convention is over. What's your take on the weekend?
It's been amazing experiencing the energy of these conventions first-hand. I have fresh eyes on all of this and I think everyone appreciated that. The were so warm and welcoming bringing me into the amazing Star Trek family.