Charlie Brill has the distinction of being famous for several things over the course of several decades. He and his wife, Mitzi McCall, toured the country for many years as comedy act. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night, February 9, 1964, that the Beatles made their Sullivan debut. Game show aficionados will remember Brill for his stints on Match Game and Brill and McCall for their joint turns on Tattletales. Brill also enjoyed a lengthy run on the series Silk Stalkings. Mention the name Charlie Brill to any Star Trek fan, however, and they'll immediately shout, "Arne Darvin!" Brill first played the character -- a Klingon posing as a very cranky human -- in The Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." That was way back in 1967. Then, 29 years later, for the Deep Space Nine hour "Trials and Tribble-ations," producer Ira Steven Behr tapped him to reprise the role.
StarTrek.com caught up Brill -- with McCall by his side -- a couple of months ago at Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. During a laugh-filled and anecdote-laden conversation, Brill, with contributions from McCall, recounted his Treks and filled us in on his life today. Here's what he had to say:
How did you land the role?
BRILL: We were friendly with Leonard Nimoy. My wife, Mitzi, and I used to do a nightclub act. Mitzi got pregnant. I don’t know how. I’m not the father. I told Leonard that we couldn’t do the act for a while and Leonard said, “Why don’t you come and do my show?” I said, “What show is that?” He said, “Star Trek.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Why don’t you come to Paramount tomorrow. I’ll leave a pass and you can come ask for me on the set.” So I went to Paramount and he had a drive-on pass for me. I went on the set and he brought me into office. There was a man there who looked at me and said, “Arne Darvin.” I said, “What is that, a Jewish holiday?” He said, “No, you’re going to play Arne Darvin in a new episode.” I said to Leonard, “Boy, that interview went nowhere.” He said, “What nowhere? You just got a job, you schmuck.”
Did you play him as a human or as a Klingon posing as human?
BRILL: I played him as a Klingon posing as a human. And I’m happy about that because I didn’t have to go into makeup.
How easily did it come to you?
BRILL: It was pretty easy, actually. It was a lot of fun. I started to watch the show and, luckily, there were some Klingons on it. I saw how they were acting and how overbearing they were, and I took some of that from them.
As a kid watching that episode, I hated you as the character…
BRILL: Thank you. That’s the ultimate compliment.
We’re guessing you hear that a lot?
MCCALL: I can tell you, definitely, yes. We’ve heard it several times today, actually.
BRILL: I do hear that a lot and it’s nothing but a compliment. I love it. I love to be hated.
What do you remember about the shoot?
BRILL: I remember Bill Shatner always doing pushups. I asked him, “Why are you always doing pushups?” He said, “You want to try this on? Do you want to wear this skintight yellow costume? You’ll be doing pushups yourself.” I remember having a great time because I knew Leonard and I also knew a guy who is no longer with us, Stanley Adams. He was a friend of mine and he played the guy who sold the Tribbles on the Enterprise. It was a week of fun. It was a week of nothing but laughs.
Decades later, along comes Deep Space Nine. Take us to your close encounter with Ira Steven Behr that led to you reprising your role in DS9’s Tribbles episode.
BRILL: My wife and I were doing a play in Beverly Hills. Next door was a great pizza place called Mulberry Street. I went in when we had a 10-minute break for a slice of pizza. Then I got a call from Ira saying, “We had no idea for this anniversary of Star Trek. We were all sitting at Mulberry Street. You walked in and we knew exactly what we were going to do. We’re going to bring you back in for this Tribbles episode.” So, Ira and I did not talk at the pizza place. He put the call into me after the episode was written. Funny story: He tried to get me to say Klingon without the G, but I’m from Brooklyn, so it’s always going to be Klin-gone instead of Kling-on.
So that call from Behr was totally out of the blue for you…
BRILL: Completely out of the blue. I had no idea. When they told me how they saw me in the episode, I couldn’t believe it. I was doing another series at the time called Silk Stalkings and I asked the producer if he could give me an episode off so that I could do Deep Space Nine, and he said, “I can only give you three days off.” Ira told me had I given him more than three days the part would have been much, much bigger, but I couldn’t break away from Silk Stalkings to give them more than the three days. Still, it was the most fun I’ve ever had. To go on the Enterprise again was mind-blowing.
How quickly did you slip back into being Darvin?
BRILL: Right away. They knew I could do it. The Star Trek people love my work. They hire me once every (29) years. But, really, everyone was very welcoming, very respectful. They knew all about the original episode.
MCCALL: I was there and it’s true. They were all very good to us and Charlie had a great time.
BRILL: Mitzi was there with me (he puts his hand on her arm affectionately). Of course, she’s an original Klingon. (Both laugh)
Star Trek and Deep Space Nine combined added up to less than two weeks of your life and two jobs among so many in your career. How rare, odd, fortuitous – you pick the adjective – is it to be talking about it more than 45 years later?
BRILL: It’s amazing. I had no idea when I was doing it. Of course, Mitzi and I were on The Ed Sullivan Show with the Beatles, and we had no idea that that many people were going to watch that. By the time I did Deep Space Nine I had an idea of how gigantic this franchise was, but when I did Star Trek, the original show, I just thought it was another job. I didn’t know it was going to be an annuity for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful to Star Trek.
By annuity, you mean the conventions. What’s the pleasure you take in meeting the fans, signing pictures and posing for photos?
BRILL: What’s not to like? I think these Star Trek fans are the greatest in the world. They have love in their heart. The show meant a lot to them. And the mere fact that they want my autograph means that they’re wonderful people and have great taste.
What else are you up to these days?
BRILL: I’m enjoying retirement. I smoke cigars, I drink coffee and I hang out with a bunch of guys who drink coffee and smoke cigars. They’re a whole bunch of stuntmen and we hang out in the morning at the Coffee Bean in Studio City, where I live. We talk show business.
You joked that the Star Trek people love you so much that they bring you back every 36 years. So if the phone rings in 2032…?
MCCALL: He'll be there.
BRILL: I will be there. I’ll be there in my wheelchair, with spittle coming from my mouth. But I’ll be there! "What are those fuzzy little things called again?"