Bertila Damas played two unique Star Trek characters -- or three depending on how one looks at things. The actress first guest starred as Sakonna, the gun-running Vulcan, in the Deep Space Nine episodes, “The Maquis, Part I” and “Part II,” then returned several years later to portray Three of Nine/Marika Wilkarah in the Voyager hour, “Survival Instinct.” Her many other film, television and stage credits include Romeo and Juliet, Nothing But Trouble, ER, Yerma, Dexter, Grimm, NCIS: Los Angeles, La Quinceañera and Lethal Weapon. She’s also been active for many years with the Screen Actors Guild and is set to make her convention debut at Star Trek Las Vegas in August. “The Maquis, Part 2” aired on May 1, 1994, making today not only the 24th anniversary of the episode, but also the ideal time to chat with Damas. Here’s what she had to say…
How well, if at all, did you know Star Trek in general and Deep Space Nine specifically when DS9 came along for you? And how did you win the role of Sakonna?
Oh, I knew Star Trek. I loved the original Star Trek, and I think it was that fact that landed me the role in DS9. I was a huge fan of Leonard Nimoy's. I was called in to audition for producers and (director) David Livingston, simple as that. I came out the winner.
You were playing a gun-running Vulcan who was part of the Maquis. Almost sounds... illogical. What was your process of legitimizing Sakonna's actions?
Yes, that was unusual. However, Vulcan logic will tell you that being a part of the Maquis and dedicated to the cause, there was no other logical thing to do but get those guns.
What was it like to get made up as and play one of Trek's most-beloved species, a Vulcan?
Super-early calls to the set to get all that makeup on. I still have the ears that Michael Westmore gave me. It was just incredible to work with the Westmores, true heroes of the Star Trek world. And I loved that short wig.
How did you enjoying working with Armin Shimerman and the other DS9 cast members you interacted with?
Armin and I are lovers of Shakespeare, so we spent quite a bit of time reciting lines from plays we knew. I think it drove David Livingston a little crazy. It was a giggle. I love Armin and have a high respect for him. We still hug when we see each other. Great guy.
What else stands out in your memory about “The Maquis” episodes -- either making them or the finished products?
Oh, when I got whacked! The mind meld was way cool. I had a wonderful time working with Marc Alaimo, who played Gul Dukat. He was such a gentle, sweet guy.
Five years later you returned to Trek to play Three of Nine/Marika Wilkarah on Voyager. How did that opportunity come along? Was it an offer or an audition that time?
Another audition for producers. I think Ron Moore made the final call. I had to come in twice, as in the first round they couldn't make up their minds between myself and another actress. So the two of us had to come in and audition again. When we completed it, they came out of the room and declared I had won the part. It was a bit strange, like being in a beauty pageant... “And the winner is...” I was so happy.
Tell us about getting into the Borg makeup/prosthetics/costume....
That was 6-8 hours of amazing makeup and getting that bald cap on over my very long hair. Wow, just wow. It’s impressive to walk into the makeup room one way and leave an entire other being. The eye piece had no hole in it, so you could only see out of one eye. My costume was recycled from Star Trek: First Contact, so it was quite thick, tight and tons of rubber. It was so tight at one point they had to rip the thing off me to cut the wick suit underneath that was cutting off my circulation and making my hands turn purple. Jeri (Ryan) and I had a lot of fun on set walking around holding hands, so we could move around the set and see where we were going. This was a great honor for me... and Marika was such a compelling character. No BS for her.
What intrigued most about Marika's plight and the big decision she made to stay on Voyager after the Doctor and Seven woke her from her coma?
I loved her choice to do that. I think Marika had a lot of integrity. Even in the face of imminent death, she chose to stay on and continue her original mission as part of the Federation.
You mentioned Jeri Ryan. What was your experience like working with the rest of the Voyager cast, plus your fellow Borg actors?
Jeri was lovely, and my counterparts Tim Kelleher and Vaughn Armstrong were the best of the best. I was already longtime friends with Robert Beltran, so it was wonderful to share time on the set with Chakotay. I also had fun with Tim Russ. The entire experience was truly special.
What else do you recall from shooting "Survival Instinct"?
So much. The set was magnificent. The hours were long and it was all around just a precious experience. I loved the change from a Borg to a Bajoran. I loved the scene where Marika speaks with Seven of Nine and chooses to stay on Voyager knowing she only has 30 days to live. There's too much to talk about here, and I hope to get a chance to answer more questions at Creation’s event this summer.
What are you working on these days in terms of acting and on the Screen Actors Guild front?
We currently completed an historic negotiation with unprecedented increases to our TV/theatrical contacts. I am currently retired, other than serving on the Negotiations Committee. I was for five years an L.A. Local & National Board member as well as the National Chair for the EEOC in both SAG and the newly merged union, which is as of 2012 SAG-AFTRA.
We recently saw a photo of you with another politically active Star Trek actor... James Cromwell. How do you know each other? And what was the occasion for that photo?
James Cromwell and I were celebrating the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. He is a great supporter of the party, Unite For Strength, which I ran with and that prompted the merger as well as successful negotiations.
Speaking of Trek connections, you were just in Lucky, which -- aside from being a wonderful film, offering a great farewell for Harry Dean Stanton and giving you a terrific role -- was co-produced by DS9's Ira Steven Behr and co-starred Voyager's Ed Begley and DS9's James Darren. How did you get involved? Dnd did you get to talk Trek with Behr, Begley or Darren?
Sure, I spoke with Ira, and he's just lovely. I did not work with Begley or Darren. I did work with Harry Dean Stanton. John Carroll Lynch, the director, was a friend and called me in to audition like everyone else. A few weeks later I had won the part. It was so awesome to be in this film and work with the legend that is Harry.
Last question: How often have you done conventions like Star Trek Las Vegas?
Never. This will be my virgin voyage at a Star Trek convention. I am so excited. I love interacting with fans and I do so regularly on my Facebook page and on twitter. I have also signed thousands of special autograph cards. I love the fan base and their dedication to a series that I consider embodies so many terrific and humane values.
For details about Star Trek Las Vegas and to purchase tickets, go to creationent.com.