StarTrek.com readers sent in hundreds of questions for Chase Masterson and the actress, who made an indelible mark as Leeta on Deep Space Nine, took the time to answer as many as possible -- and did so with tremendous affection and in great detail. Part I of our Q&A with your Q’s is down below and return to StarTrek.com tomorrow for Part II.
Masterson: That’s a great question. Being a part of such a huge, respectable legacy is definitely a humbling experience, provided you keep it in perspective. And it can definitely be a confidence booster. But the line between confidence and ego in an actor often gets blurred, and that’s where actors need to give themselves a reality check. Even Jesus washed people’s feet. Ego is also the death of creativity, and if you let success at work go to your head, it creates a false high. All that really matters is what we leave the world with, and none of that has to do with what our resumes say.
I think that having a fair degree of success has taught me that nothing but the real stuff can satisfy you. The people who work in this industry have such a high overall rate of addiction, divorce, and other causes and symptoms of pain. Yet, ironically, we’re the ones that people want to be, the ones who the whole world thinks have got it made. Here’s my point of view, straight up: the same things that make you happy are the things that make us happy. Nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it’s extremely nice to have a job doing what it is that I love. And it’s also very nice to not have to spend all day at a job I hate. But none of the things that this job offers are the things that really fill you: family, strong friendships, a hug at the end of a long day.
Don’t get me wrong – this business can be fun, on a day-to-day basis. And it can also be frustrating if you get into a mindset that you need to be at the next highest level, as can definitely be the tendency. Put your stock in the things that will never fade, that’s one thing that working in this business has taught me.
How hard was it to kiss Max/Rom with that prosthetic makeup on his face and those teeth in his mouth?
Masterson: Well, after the laughing subsided, it was fine. Make no mistake, actors often suddenly revert to being nine years old during kissing scenes – and Max and I were no exception. The only rough thing was that he got his orange make-up on me, which I guess was fair play, since girls are always getting their lipstick on guys. I guess that’s part of Rom’s feminine side…
In most other Star Trek series a secondary character would show up for long enough to say something stupid and then disappear, but you actually got to play a part. Did this make the experience of being a recurring character instead of a main character more enjoyable in your opinion?
Masterson: DS9 was so well-written that there wasn’t really an issue of main characters without much to do; indeed, one of the strengths of the show was that our writers created an entire world in which the audience got to know individuals who weren’t always in the spotlight, just as you would if you were living in that world. Completely apart from the fact that I was one of those individuals, I always respected that about the show.
There were other reasons that being a recurring character, rather than a series regular, worked well for me. I got a lot of experience playing a wide variety of different roles on other shows during the run of DS9 that I wouldn’t have had if I were a series regular, including a grieving mother on the Emmy-winning episode of ER, a recurring role on UPN’s Live Shot, co-host of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies with Ryan Seacrest, a guest star on Sliders, Showtime, Nighttime, which I did for a year on Showtime, Sci-Fi Entertainment, which I hosted on the Sci Fi Channel,” and movie roles including a commanding officer in Stephen King’s Frozen. Being a series regular would have been nice, of course, but I enjoyed the versatility of the other work I was free to do during those years.
Do you still keep in contact with any of the other DS9 actors? And who was your favorite person to act alongside?
Masterson: We’re all pretty busy working on other projects, but I see the other actors from time to time, and when we see each other, it’s like family. We all share a pretty sentimental bond, even so many years later. I really did love working with Max and with Armin, they are both lovely people to be around, and so committed to the work. Armin would have table reads for some episodes at his house, because there just isn’t time for rehearsal on set; it’s great that he would take time out to do that, not every actor does. Max is truly a good-hearted, sensitive, and vastly creative guy; he’s really invested in everything he does, and he’s so truly excellent at combining the elements of what it takes to do great work. Honesty, vulnerability, humor, inner conflict – he really knows how to bring it. Another actor that I couldn’t take my eyes off was Wally Shawn. He brought his own, signature brand of whimsicality to Zek, and he had so much fun doing it. And his fun was contagious, so great to be around, whether I was in the scene or just watching.
What was the most exciting episode to film, and why?
Masterson: We all had a huge amount of fun with “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” partly because it was a drastic change of scene – everybody loved getting out of the studio, into the fresh air, and onto the baseball diamond. And the episode itself was highly spirited, based around the Niners’ “courage, teamwork, and sacrifice,” as Sisko called it. It was an interesting parallel in that, halfway through DS9’s seventh season, we all had that same spirit – partly because we had a sense of how soon the show would come to an end. I remember sensing a cast-wide feeling of appreciation for being together, much like the Niners. As cheesy as that sounds, it was very real.
Lastly, that episode was fun because everyone has his or her own relationship with baseball. For instance, Max is an excellent ball player, and he is a particularly good pitcher. So, in order to sell the idea to the audience that he was awkward, he threw with his left hand. There’s nothing quite as disarming as the chance to get to play. Without mentioning names, even the most dignified cast members cut loose a bit. Quite a bit. Hey! I didn’t mention names!
Any funny backstage stories you can share especially during the alt universe episodes?
Masterson: I’m always at a loss when people ask for backstage stories; many of the DS9 cast will attest to the fact that we weren’t really a jokey bunch on set. TV works very quickly, and there is so much pressure to get the episodes shot quickly and under budget, that there isn’t a lot of time to joke around or even to have that mentality. That said, it came pretty naturally to the Voyager cast; you should definitely ask them!
Regarding stories, maybe this one will do… Sometimes fans ask why there was a different scenario, including wardrobe, shown in the massage scene previews of “Let He Who Is Without Sin” than when the episode aired. We originally shot the scene on a closed set, with very little clothing. Then – and I’ll never forget this day – I got called into Rick’s office, and he told me, “We have to reshoot the massage scene because it’s too sexy for Star Trek.” I said, “Wow, thank you! I mean – I’m sorry!” I’m really glad we redid the scene– it’s much more elegantly done than the original.
Although I love the fact that overall aspects of current sci-fi shows are more honest and gritty, I also have a lot of respect for the ways that Trek dealt with sexuality onscreen; there was a “less is more” aspect to it, leaving more in a viewer’s the imagination than on film. Anytime a production plants an element of sensuality that the viewers are then left to mentally embellish, it’s much more powerful. And it leaves an element of respect for our viewers intact, which I feel is essential.
What were your motivations to become an actress?
Masterson: My mom was a theater director and actress while I was growing up. I did my first play when I was five, and continued working throughout high school; instead of going to standard activities afterschool, or just hanging out with friends, I always went with her to the theatre or worked in other, larger theatres in programs at universities, etc. I also was a ballet dancer – I danced en pointe until I was 18 – so there was a lot of rehearsal and discipline involved in my life early on. Growing up, I never thought of doing anything but theatre, including television or film. I never really had big ideas of being famous; I simply wanted to be a well-respected, working actress, and so all of the TV and film-related acclaim is truly icing in the cake. My being an actress is based in my love for art as communication. Beyond simply being entertainment, I feel that theatre, television and film are the most effective ways to bring messages to an audience, to inspire change, to bring healing. Great storytelling, especially in the beautifully allegorical ways that this genre does it, is a powerful way to awaken the world, one person at a time. Including ourselves.
How did you manage to give believability to a character that risked being perceived as the "yet another Trek babe"?
Masterson: Sexuality is a driving force in many women’s roles in television and film; you can’t fight that, but you do get to stand your own internal ground and bring the elements of humanity that make a character interesting. Sexy looking women, without compelling internal life, are pretty boring, right? Leeta had a lot of built-in elements that made her interesting: integrity, loyalty – and yes, Quark, her own brand of “brains” that served her quite well, thank you. When a woman who wears her brains on her sleeve does something intelligent, that’s nice, but it’s not fascinating. When a woman who’s secure in her intelligence but doesn’t flaunt it does something wise and therefore surprises everybody, I find that interesting. For me, that was Leeta.
Did you have the chance to add something to Leeta or do you only have to thank the writers?
Masterson: Any character onscreen is always a collaboration, although it’s rare that an actor ever changes or adds lines – and that virtually never happens in Star Trek. It’s an actor’s job to add nuance and motivation that fills out a character’s life where the words on the page leave off. The writers gave a lot of clues to who Leeta could be – for instance, even in the first episode, “Explorers,” I could see that Leeta was smart enough to figure out an original, coy way to flirt with Dr. Bashir.
Can you explain the game Dabo to me?
Masterson: Play Star Trek Online! That’s the first and only place there are any real rules to Dabo. I was always shocked that no one created a game sooner. But it was worth the wait. Promise.
How do you feel being a sex symbol for nerds? Has it impacted you in a positive or negative way?
Masterson: That depends on what you mean by the word “nerd.” It has several connotations. If “nerd” means sensitive, highly intelligent, technologically savvy, quite possibly a bit socially awkward and most likely a bit inexperienced with women, due to shyness and/or values – count me in! Those are, by far, my favorite people. Beyond that, my feeling on it depends on their individual respect factors and the way the appreciation is presented. The problem is when people make comments that are off-color and thereby embarrass themselves. Saying explicitly sexual or demeaning things to or about a woman doesn’t say anything about her; rather, it paints a pretty vivid picture of the level of self-esteem, values and loneliness of the person saying it. Explicit comments also say a lot about the level of human interaction they’ve relegated themselves to personally, which is often very sad. The majority of comments I get are quite lovely, and I am honored to have the attention and affection of “nerds.” I’m pretty much of a nerd, myself.
What vocal projects have you done lately besides your recent voiceover work for Star Trek Online?
Masterson: The next project I have coming out is the soundtrack to Yesterday Was a Lie. I sing four songs in the film, and three of them are on the CD. The songs are done in the style of classic jazz, which is what I’ve always loved to sing. The soundtrack is being released today, February 15, by La-La Land Records, a top name in soundtracks. I’m proud of the work on it. It’s available at www.YesterdayWasaLie.com or here. The score is composed and the songs are arranged by Emmy-winner Kristopher Carter, whose work you know from several animated series with epic-style scores: Batman Beyond, Justice League, Legion of Super Heroes, Teen Titans and others.
Yesterday Was a Lie is described as a metaphysical noir film. When you read the script, when the script and story were detailed for you, what intrigued you most about the story, concept... the metaphysical noir?
Masterson: In addition to the rare, evocative beauty of the classic noir, the heart of writer/director James Kerwin’s screenplay is what really captured me. Very few films have a premise as brave and honest as that of Yesterday Was a Lie, and the script echoed experiences of mine that used to take up a lot of real estate in my heart. The film is largely about social responsibility… knowing that we each have huge capabilities to either nurture and infuse our relationships with love that endures, or selfishly use and ultimately destroy a part of each other – and ourselves -- when it suits us to stop that love. It’s really a film for anyone who’s ever processed having his or her heart broken, or tried to process breaking someone else’s. One of my favorite lines from the film is, “That pain goes somewhere…where do you think that pain goes?” The film talks about the cycles of pain that ricochet when we as a society see relationships as disposable. That’s not a common Hollywood message – much less a popular one.
Yet it’s without judgment; Yesterday Was a Lie is a film designed to raise more questions than give answers; its queries takes us on quite an off-road journey, but the consensus from science fiction aficionados has been that it’s a trip well-worth taking. It’s definitely a thinking person’s film, a mosaic of fine art, classic literature, science, Golden Era jazz, synth, and metaphysical theory that, frankly, asks a lot of its audience, but delivers in return. We’ve gotten excellent reviews across the board, but perhaps my favorite is this one, from Pop Matters: “Genius…stunning…beautiful. But be warned: it won’t hold your hand.”
Your role seems almost to have been written for you. She's a thinker…and sexy. The role depends as much on singing as acting. Did it being so spot-on make it easier or in some way harder for you to inhabit the role?
Masterson: No matter how close a role is to who you are, there can still be a lot of work involved in being focused and honest and interesting and vulnerable when the camera is rolling. There are all sorts of things that can get in the way, internally, not the least of which is pride, a sense of “how am I doing?” You have to get away from being self-conscious on any level and be willing to throw all that away. It’s a very brave thing to be truly vulnerable in front of a camera, to take the kind of emotionally naked risks that are needed in order to captivate an audience – to get them to care because we are deeply invested, not just “acting.” There’s actually a lot of work and risk that goes into an actor making it look easy.
That was multiplied about a thousand times by the fact that I literally poured my life into producing the film. I was terrified that I would be so consumed by the technical aspects – the literally dozens of things that I was in charge of, in addition to being Singer – that by the time I got in front of the camera I would be tense, or over-invested, or just plain bad, due to stress. If that happened, the film would end up being a very bad thing for my career, instead of a good one. So the pressure was really on. It was, overall, more difficult than I can say, or than I ever want to experience again. I’m thankful that it turned out well.
Chase will answer more of your questions part two of her interview.