Yesterday, former longtime Star Trek casting director Ron Surma told us about the ins and outs of beaming up actors for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Now, in part two of our interview, Surma discusses casting Voyager, Enterprise, Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Trek games, and updates us on what he’s doing now.
You did not cast the Voyager pilot, right?
Surma: Right. I was doing DS9 and Junie was on leave because she’d just had twins. So they brought in Nan Dutton.
Dutton handled what’s referred to as “original casting.” So, at what point did you get involved with Voyager?
Surma: Well, the first episode after the pilot. And I knew what was going on with Voyager.
OK, we’ll name guest stars. You comment. John Rhys-Davies, who played Leonardo da Vinci…
Surma: John was terrific. He enjoyed it. After he was in the Lord of the Rings trilogy he didn’t do very much TV. So we were lucky to get him when we did. He’s a terrific guy and he is that big personality in person. He’s very outgoing and fun.
Sharon Lawrence played Amelia Earhart…
Surma: Junie and I had worked together on NYPD Blue and so we knew Sharon. We knew her before she became famous on NYPD Blue and she’s just a fabulous actress. So it was fun to have her do that part, and it was something very different for her.
How about Susanna Thompson as the Borg Queen?
Surma: Alice (Krige) was not available. Junie and I had used Susanna in many movies of the week and other shows, and I knew she had that in her. Alice wasn’t available and we had to find somebody else, and Susanna was really the only other choice for the role. And then she was magnificent. So was Alice. They both were terrific. But that was not easy, for Susanna to come in and do that. Alice had set such a high standard and I think Susanna matched it. I can tell you they BOTH hated the makeup, and you can’t blame them.
And let’s not forget Jeri Ryan. Jennifer Lien was written off the show as Kes, and the casting department’s task was to find the show’s sexy new Borg character, Seven of Nine. How did Ryan land the part?
Surma: Anytime there was a role for a beautiful woman it was a challenge because Star Trek was so specific in what they wanted. You couldn’t be a contemporary beautiful woman. It didn’t fit the show. Junie and I had cast Jeri in several movies of the week when she was available, because she lived in Chicago. So we knew who she was. We’d gone through a lot of actresses for that role, a lot of good actresses who just missed. At the beginning of the process I don’t think she was in L.A. She usually came out for a couple or three months, and she was in town. And it worked out. She’s a wonderful person and a very good actress. Like I say, luckily, she was in town.
Were you in on the ground floor casting Enterprise?
Surma: Yes. We all wanted Scott Bakula and, there was a wish list choice that worked out. He was on the top of every list and it worked, thank God, because he was terrific. Connor Trinneer, I had no idea who he was, really. He came in and read for me, and I was like, “I think this is the guy.” And he was. His audition was terrific. Jolene (Blalock)… That was the toughest role to cast. My assistant at the time, Chad, had put her picture up above his desk from the beginning. Her agents said no numerous times. She wasn’t interested. And that last week, she decided to come in. Thank goodness, because she was terrific. But that was the toughest role on Enterprise to cast. Dominic Keating had come in and auditioned for a Voyager episode a year or two earlier. And we did not cast him because Rick (Berman) said, “I think there’s something for him (on Enterprise). He came in and nailed the role from the beginning. Everyone was very good.
Unfortunately, the show never quite caught on…
Surma: How many years was Star Trek on the air at that point?
Probably 14 or 15 years.
Surma: The show had probably been on the air too long, all the different series.
How about the guest stars and recurring actors on Enterprise?
Surma: I liked the Xindi guys when we were in the Void. We’d used Randy Oglesby (Degra) on many episodes of all the shows, and it was the same thing with Rick Worthy (Jannar) and Scott MacDonald (Dolim). Those guys were a lot of fun.
You also cast the first three TNG feature films. In general, how different is casting a film vs. a TV show?
Surma: Very different. You have a group of actors who don’t want to do series TV, but are more than interested in doing a film. Any actor is interested in doing a film. So there’s a wider pool of actors to choose from.
The TNG films had loads of great people. Who were you particularly happy to land? Who stood out the most in your mind?
Surma: I think Alice Krige. She stood out as the Borg Queen (in First Contact). We had wonderful actors in the movies. We had Malcolm McDowell, F. Murray Abraham, Alfre Woodard. But, for me, Alice as the Borg Queen stands out.
How did you end up casting so many Trek games?
Surma: The games (laughs). I don’t know how that came about. I remember that the first one we did was directed by Jonathan Frakes. The day after we got the script, Jonathan came into the office and he was like, “Oh, my God!” The script was hundreds of pages, because of the different ways you could go. But we actually had a good time doing that first one. That one had a lot of live-action. Then they became much more voiceover (in nature). I’ve never played one of the games. They are all sitting in a closet somewhere.
Did you ever cast yourself in anything?
Were you ever tempted?
Do you have a face for radio?
Surma: (Laughs) No. You know what? It’s sort of a conflict of interest for a casting director to put themselves in a show. The acting bug had left me many, many years ago.
OK, but pretty much everyone who had anything to do with DS9 turned up in that final scene…
Surma: I did not because I was casting something else that day.
You didn’t work on Nemesis and you left the Trek fold after season three of Enterprise. Why was it time to go?
Surma: I was no longer having fun. It’s a very tough job and I’d always told myself that if it wasn’t fun I would quit. And it came to that point at the end of season three. It wasn’t because of Star Trek. I loved doing Star Trek. But I was tired of the whole process of casting. And instead of trying to get through another year – and we all sort of knew that (season four of Enterprise) was going to be the last year – I just couldn’t do it.
That was 2004. So, how’s life for you now and what are you doing?
Surma: I have been retired and I’m just enjoying my life.
Read part one of the interview here.