Ready to feel old? The cute little kid who played Artim in Star Trek: Insurrection is 31 years old now, a dad and has worked steadily for the past 20 years (in the likes of The X-Files, Joan of Arcadia, the Twilight film saga, Boy Meets Girl, Scandal and Z Nation). Yes, we’re talking about Michael Welch, who made his big-screen acting debut as the inquisitive Ba’ku boy who befriended Data in the Jonathan Frakes-directed 1998 feature film. StarTrek.com recently caught up with the easygoing Welch, who looked back at his Trek experience and filled us in on his current projects.
You were so young when you were cast as Artim. Had you even heard of Star Trek?
Yes. I actually was a fan of the Next Gen movies in particular at that point. I was super-excited about it. I knew that it was a great opportunity. And it wasn’t just a bit part. Artim was really cool. It was pretty meaty for a 10-year-old, so it was a good challenge.
What was the meat on the role for you?
The character was there. The function of the character was to humanize Data. It was to teach him how to empathize and, ultimately, teach him how to play. I thought that was such a fun thing to be able to do, because as a young actor the main thing that's interesting is just to play. That's mostly what I wanted to do. As you get older, things evolve, your sensibilities evolve and change over time, but I just loved playing pretend as a kid. I loved doing impressions and playing sports and all sorts of activities. Acting was an extension of my being playful. That was at Artim’s core, and I just connected to it really well and enjoyed delving into that.
What do you remember of the shoot?
They built this beautiful set out in the middle of nowhere and everybody had cool costumes and everybody was really nice. This business can be cold sometimes, even for kids, but, man, they couldn't have been nicer to me. Frakes took me under his wing, and Brent Spiner couldn't be a better person. Working with those two, it couldn't have been a better situation. There were a ton of other kids on set, and we’d all do schooling together every day and we became good friends. It was like the greatest summer camp you can imagine.
Some people love the film. Others consider a big TNG episode. Your thoughts?
I love the moral exploration of, “Is it right to take one life to save 10?” -- and expanding that out to a larger scale in the case of the film. That was a very cool thing to explore. I think the film came out well. I can understand why a purist maybe wouldn't be as happy with it as some other Trek films, but I thought it came out really well.
Were you at the premiere?
I was. I’m pretty sure that took place in Las Vegas. I remember getting out of a limo and being with my family. It was such an incredible thing to be a part of. I was next to Michael Dorn through a lot of the red-carpet stuff, and people were screaming for him. I'm fishing in my mind for specific memories, but there's nothing but good stuff.
Let’s get everyone caught up on your life today. If our facts are right, your upcoming films include The Purple Rose, Before Someone Gets Hurt, and Together. What excites you about each one?
The Purple Rose just got picked up by Lifetime. It's a thriller and based on a series of novels, so if it does well there could be a franchise there. I'm looking forward to that coming out and seeing how people respond. Together is a film I worked on in December. They're going to color correct it and hopefully get distribution, and that should be out this year. Before Someone Gets Hurt is a little horror movie I did in New York a couple years ago, and it's out on iTunes. And I just got off the phone with my agent. We closed a deal for a new film. So, it's a very good time for me.
You seem to gravitate toward indie films…
I love indies. There's a different kind of energy on an indie set as opposed to a big studio production. A studio film tends to feel more like a machine and you're a bit of a cog in that machine. That's great because you can be assured of competence at every position. Indie films feel more like you're all thrown into a trench together, and you have to find a way to dig yourself out. It's a different kind of challenge, and there, I think, tends to be more camaraderie doing that together. You feel a little bit more like you're all in the trenches. I really do enjoy it, but listen, as an actor, you just want to work. Sometimes, you go with the opportunities that are available to you, and that's what's been available to me the past couple of years. But it's great. As long as I'm working, I'm happy. It makes no difference to me.
You were just out at Star Trek Las Vegas. Can we assume that based on your credits, especially Twilight, that you’d done conventions before?
Yes, I’ve done a few over the years. Insurrection was my first film. I was 10. It was a pretty incredible introduction to the film industry, and certainly I’d say it set me up for success and longevity for the rest of my career. In addition to Star Trek, I was in an episode of Stargate SG-1, I was in the Twilight films and a zombie show, too, Z Nation. So, I've been lucky enough to be a part of some pretty popular sci-fi and horror projects over the years and, as a result, I've definitely been a part of the convention circuit. For two years during the Twilight films, they sent me all over the world. It was a pretty remarkable experience. So, I'm definitely familiar with the convention culture.
And you're a dad now, right?
Yes, sir. I've got a seven-month-old at home.
Careers are funny things. And life comes at you fast, too. If we’d told you at age 10, when you were making Insurrection, that in 20 years you’d be married, have a kid and still be acting, would you take that?
Absolutely, I would take it. I think I'm in an excellent position. This is one of the things I've struggled with over the years in the industry. People ask me, “What is your vision for your career?” And my perspective has always been that it's not really up for me to decide. As long as I'm doing everything that I can do to produce the best work that I can, to try to empower myself and continue to work in this business, how that manifests is almost not my business, you know? I don't know one career you could point to and then ask the actor, "Is this exactly how you imagined this would turn out," and they would say, "Oh, of course. Project for project it's how I planned the whole thing."
The margins are so tight in this industry. There are so many people trying to do this because it's such an incredible job and such a blessed life, that to shape it in my own mind beyond just being someone who is working almost feels a little too greedy to me. I leave it in the hands of powers higher than myself, and I just try to do the best that I can do.