There are an awful lot of celebrity Star Trek fans out there and Jason Alexander is one who really put his money where his mouth is by making it known he wanted to guest star on a Star Trek episode and then actually appearing in one. Alexander turned up as the alien Kurros in "Think Tank," a fifth-season episode of Voyager. As fate would have it, Alexander is the artistic director of the Reprise Theatre Company in Los Angeles, and they're currently staging a production of Cabaret that will run now through September 25. Among the stars of Cabaret is StarTrek.com favorite Bob Picardo, who let Alexander know that we'd love to speak with him. And sure enough, Alexander found some time to discuss his unbridled appreciation of Star Trek (especially for William Shatner and Michael Forest), recount some memories of "Think Tank" (including an anecdote about him looking like, in his son's word, "snot") and talk about his current projects, among them Cabaret.
Alexander: Well, I've started to really re-evaluate my "artistic vision" for Reprise and Cabaret was a perfect example. When you have the entire panoply of musicals to pick from, you can really justify doing any show you want to do. So the question I've started to ask of myself and my colleagues is "Why should we do this show?" I'm trying to find shows that are vital for the times in which we are reviving them. Cabaret is a piece about the insidious nature of evil and destruction that comes when people are desperate and distracted. Sound familiar? Our national politics are so divisive and so fanatical right now, and I frankly believe that most people are oblivious to the real issues and the real agendas behind the politics. So to see that played out so eloquently in this production - the perfect use of the Cabaret mentality as an escape from reality - the way that we find ourselves charmed by the characters who will turn out to be evil - the dramatic placement of the song and question of "What Would You Do?" - it all makes me so happy to see musical theater used as a real tool for self-reflection and to provoke questions.
You've got Bob Picardo in Cabaret as Herr Schultz. To your thinking, what makes him a good Schultz?
Alexander: First and foremost, Bob is a wonderfully gifted musical actor. Schultz is at the play's heart -- a good man, a gentle man and someone who has a chance for love late in life. He needs to be someone who, despite being older, is a romantic figure for the audience. You have to root for him. Bob has a goodness to him, a courtliness, a decency that is so attractive. Plus, he has humor and the right touch of the common man. And a sweet voice. He is really magical in this role. And the audience agrees.
There are a lot of jobs out there that pay a lot more money, so you're obviously serving as the Artistic Director of the Reprise Theatre Company out of pure affection for acting and live theater. What does it mean to you to be an artistic director, and what imprint do you hope you're making on RTC?
Alexander: I have seen so much wonderful theater in L.A., despite the fact that it is not thought of as a theater town. I know there is a real and vital audience here. There is no other company dedicated to musicals and they are my favorite art form. We are so accustomed now to the mega-musicals where sets are stars or puppets or flying superheroes. I want to breathe fresh life into work that has touched people before. I want musicals to be reinterpreted the way Shakespeare is - with respect for the original creation, but with enough elasticity to mold them to modern audiences and sensibilities. I don't love museum theater. Theater is alive and the material needs to be, as well. Being at the heart of Reprise gives me the chance to bring my knowledge and love for this art form to fruition and try to build a new generation of audience and artists.
Let's talk Star Trek for a few minutes. Who first turned you on to Trek, and what was it that you loved about Trek? The morality plays? Funky aliens? Cheesy effects? Some combination of it all?
Alexander: I was probably 10 years old when I first discovered Trek. I had three cousins who were big fans and they introduced me to it. I was hooked on the first episode. Originally, it was the escapist fantasy of being a superhero/spaceman that intrigued me. But later, yes - it was the quality of the writing. It was the dedication to use the genre to explore the social issues of the day in dramatic form. There was always humor and poetry in the writing of Trekisodes. And so many of Roddenberry's creations of concepts, sounds, structures have stood the test of time. They are the foundation of all the derivations of Trek that have followed. Gene's vision has never been outgrown despite decades of innovation. That's quite an accomplishment.
Many people identify with a particular Trek character. Which one most represented you? In what ways?
Alexander: Kirk, Kirk, Kirk. The power and responsibility and loneliness of command, the ways in which he wielded that authority, his combination of intellect and passions, his sense of humor and his "I don't believe in a no-win scenario" mentality. To me, he is one of the greatest creations and I give credit to Roddenberry and then I bow down to the great Shatner.
The story goes that Trek inspired you to pursue acting. How true is that?
Alexander: I can tell you as a staunch heterosexual, Shatner rang my bell. I wanted to be him. And I literally impressed his essence into my cells. I thought to speak like Kirk was to be a great actor. In my audition for college, I did two monologues and channeled Shatner in each one. Bill takes a lot of hits about his larger-than-life performing style, but I tell you, he is one of the most inventive, original and courageous actors I have ever seen. And those standards I have tried to maintain even as my commitment to imitating him in every role has waned.
Are you a TOS guy, or have you followed all the Treks, up to and including the J.J. Abrams movie? If you've followed them all, which are a couple of your favorites and why?
Alexander: It's kind of original recipe for me. I am a devotee of TOS and a dabbler beyond that. I was not a big TV watcher when the followup series came about, so I never was religious about any of them. I've seen all the films. My faves outside of the original series would be Wrath of Khan and Voyager. I fell in love with Kate's Janeway. To me, she was the bastard step-child of Kirk himself and I loved her for it. I think J.J.'s film was great fun. I didn't love the story, but I adored seeing the characters re-imagined and really enjoyed the "movie" of the movie.
When you guest starred on Voyager, had you approached UPN or the producers, or did they approach you?
Alexander: I had put the word out that I wanted to be part of the Trek world. Each of the series would come to me and either the dates were not good for me or, more often than not, they wanted me to play a human --- and kind of a "George"-like human. I told them the big departure for me would be to play an alien. I did so much histrionics as George, I was kind of hoping I'd wind up as a Vulcan so that I'd get to play some great intellect. It was finally Voyager that understood that and called with the perfect part.
You played Kurros in the "Think Tank." What intrigued you most about the character?
Alexander: They gave me everything -- an alien guise, great intellect and evil. The tri-fecta. What more could you ask for?
How long did it take to do the makeup, and what did you make of the final look?
Alexander: The makeup guys are ace on all the Treks. The first time in the chair was about two and a half hours to put it all on. After that, probably 90 minutes. But it also took time to get it off and, after a long day, that was actually more torturous than going in. I loved the final look. My older son was about 10 when I did the show and when I finished getting the makeup on, I called my wife and said to "Bring Gabe over." I thought he'd be either frightened or intrigued. He came up, took one look and nonchalantly said, "Dad, you look like snot."
How pleased were you with the episode?
Alexander: Extremely. I thought it was really smart and dramatic and they used my best moments. I was thrilled with it.
How cool was it for you to meet Michael Forest and BarBara Luna a few months ago, backstage after The Prisoner of Second Avenue?
Alexander: You have no idea. First of all, BarBara still looks amazing. I would definitely have remained in a hostile alternate universe for that prize. But Michael... my absolute favorite Trekisode is "Who Mourns for Adonais." The whole idea of that episode, that an alien race came and impacted human development and civilization... I actually believe that. And I loved the writing on this episode. More, I adored Michael's portrayal of Apollo. He was absolutely gorgeous. That physique in the 60's? Come on! And every moment of his performance was exceptional. I know every line, every gesture. And suddenly, there he was -- still every inch god-like. I ran up to him and told him how much his performance had meant to me. He couldn't believe it. Then I started quoting him some of his lines. He was floored. What a charming, lovely man. He was everything I would have ever hoped he would be and I would love to find some way to work with him.
Given your aforementioned bro love for Shatner, did you ever meet the man? If so, how'd it go?
Alexander: Bill and I have become friends. He was given to me as a present on my 35th birthday. We met at Aroma Cafe, had a great conversation and have supported each other as friends and colleagues ever since. To say that it blows my mind to sit in Kirk's house watching Monday Night Football is an understatement. Especially since I don't follow football.
Let's cover some other ground. The Seinfeld-centric episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm seemed to be the perfect way to have a non-reunion reunion. Did that arc do the trick, in terms of sating people's Seinfeld hunger, or can you imagine everyone getting together again at some other point in time?
Alexander: I think, as Porky Pig would say, that's all folks. It was a great thing to do... so Seinfeldian. I can't imagine any idea or situation that would be so good, so perfect that we would all be compelled to try it again. The expectation from the audience would be better than anything we could actually do. Better to leave everyone wanting more.
You've done a lot of voiceovers lately. What's the kick you get out of lending your voice to animated shows?
Alexander: Same kick as any other acting. It's all characters. It's all fun. At least with voice overs, I can skip shaving.
IMDB, which we never quite trust, says you've got Delhi Safari and The Voyages of Young Doctor Doolittle on the way. Are those children's series? What are you voicing? Are your roles one-offs, regular or recurring?
Alexander: I think those were both one-ers. And the truth is I do so many that I kind of forget them after I do them unless they turn out to be repeat roles or have some kind of enormous success.
Lastly, is there anything else that you're working on for stage or TV or films? Acting-wise or as an artistic director? If so, give us a little preview of the project and tell us how you're involved.
Alexander: I've just sold an interesting project to Fremantle. It's a talk show/game show hybrid that I would co-produce and possibly host. We are out to networks at the moment. I have a one-hour series pilot script at TNT that I absolutely adore. I have directing projects out there. I am deriving a lot of joy from directing and teaching these days. I do master classes all over and I am really thinking of trying to make more of a commitment to teaching. I love working with young artists, hence Reprise, too. I'm hoping over the next few years that I can get back to something good in the series world, as well as really rev up my career as a director. Again, far less shaving.
For more information on Reprise Theatre Company and its current production of Cabaret, click HERE.