Nichelle Nichols turns 83 years young today, Monday, December 28, and, as she put joyously put it during a phone conversation this past weekend, she’s still living long and prospering. 2015, to paraphrase an old friend, proved to be a fascinating year for the beloved actress, a/k/a Star Trek’s Uhura. She was acting and co-producing (the upcoming film Unbelievable!!!!!) and attending conventions – in other words, business as usual – when she suffered a minor stroke in June. Fans feared the worst, but she quickly rallied and exited the hospital. And, just two weeks later, Nichols returned to the convention circuit. Then, in the fall, she hopped a ride on NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a telescope-bearing Boeing 747 airplane. During our call this weekend, StarTrek.com spoke with Nichols about all of the above, and here’s what she had to say…
On behalf of all your fans out there, happy, happy birthday. How are you celebrating it?
Oh, thank you, thank you. I’m celebrating it with my friends Gil Bell and with Angelique and Steve Fawcette, and with other friends, too. Everyone seems to think I’m worth it! (Laughs). I’ve got lots of friends and family, and I’m very excited about it. Thanks for asking.
You had a major health scare not too long ago. How are you feeling? How has your recovery been?
I’m feeling great. And the thing is I continue to follow the slogan “Live long and prosper.” I’m looking forward to living long and continuing to prosper. But I didn’t even regard (the stroke) as a major health scare. It scared more people than it scared me. But I’m glad to be happy, wealthy and wise.
What's it meant to you to know that millions of fans around the world sent so much positive energy and love your way?
I’ve gotta tell you that every ounce of that energy just floated through my body. I think the world of each and every one of my fans. I don’t regard them as fans. I regard them as friends. And friends are fans. I’m a fan of all my friends, too. I’ve got a lot of fans out there and, therefore, I’ve got a lot of friends out there.
You've been back on the convention circuit. How eager were you to get out there again and meet fans/friends old and new?
Well, I was actually at the Miami convention within two weeks after being released from the hospital. I never wanted to disappoint my fans because they never disappoint me. They’re always there for me and care about me, and I care about each and every one of them.
You've been involved as a co-producer and co-star of Unbelievable!!!!!. What's the latest on the film? How's it coming together and when will it be out?
It’s the first film in history, I think, to have 40 Star Trek stars in it. There are so many Trek stars, and we’re proud of it. It was Steve Fawcette’s idea. We’re in post-production on it now. So we’re really moving along, and it’s going to be released in 2016. Angelique has done a great job in getting it (ready for) release. We’ve also just booked Gerald Fried, an original 1960s Star Trek composer, to do the music for our film.
What do you play in it?
As co-producer, I decided to play two roles. I’m Aunt Petunia and Sensei. So I’m delighted about that and I was excited about doing them. Sensei is basically the spiritual teacher of Angelique’s character, Lynn Hastings, who is the head of Mission Control. Aunt Petunia is the aunt of Gilbert Gottfried’s character, LeGrande Bushe. I can’t go into details, but I’m his aunt, and he loves his aunt. She’s an endearing, beautiful, loving, you-fall-in-love-with-her type of character. And it looks like her hair is glowing. It’s a beautiful role. There are a lot of roles in the film, but Aunt Petunia is one of the most-endearing, I think. I couldn’t be prouder to play a character that has such a strength and vitality in it.
What else are you working on?
I’m talking to Whoopi Goldberg about a co-production deal on my legacy project, Noah’s Room. I’d like to be remembered for this, as well as my first interracial kiss on television, which wasn’t such a big deal. (Laughs) No, it was a big deal. It was a big deal... and a big kiss. Noah’s Room is about the first African-American family to take in a white youth who has been through the foster care system. It’s a reverse of The Blind Side, but without the clichés. And I’ll play the matriarch of the family.
You pretended to venture into space as Uhura, but you did it for real, in a way, with your SOFIA trip. How was that as an experience?
You had to have been there. There’s nothing like it, nothing like it. It’s simply beautiful out there. I was very, very lucky to be chosen to even be thought of for it, much less go.
And, lastly, we're closing in fast on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. What does it mean to you to be such a vital part of it all?
Everything. It’s a one-word answer. It means everything to me!
Go to the Unbelievable!!!!! Facebook page for updates on the film. And go to facebook.com/OfficialNichelleNichols/ to follow Nichols on her official Facebook page.