We can hear you thinking right now: “Neidermeyer from Animal House, the Maestro from Seinfeld, the Master from Buffy the Vampire Slayer… was in Star Trek?” Yup, he was. Veteran character actor Mark Metcalf played Neidermeyer, the Maestro and the Master, not to mention the big bad in a couple of classic Twisted Sister music videos, as well as the Hirogen Medic in the Star Trek: Voyager two-parter, “The Killing Game.” Believe it or not, “The Killing Game” premiered 20 years ago today – March 4, 1998 – which gave us the perfect opportunity to chat with the amiable Metcalf by phone from his home in Ohio. Over the course of nearly a half-hour, Metcalf discussed his career, Voyager experience and upcoming appearance at the Chiller convention in New Jersey. He also previewed a new movie, Depth of Field, that he recently completed. Here’s what Metcalf had to say:
How did you land your role on Voyager?
It was one of those auditions that's really an offer, I think. What had happened was, when they conceived of the Hirogen, they cast every 7-foot tall actor they could find in Hollywood. I was living in Hollywood at the time. They went through them pretty quickly. They certainly went through the ones who could act very quickly. Then, they started working their way down the height chart. This is what I was told. I'm 6' 2", so they got to me after a while. They were just casting tall actors, because Hirogen are all big.
They didn’t make the costumes your size, right?
These costumes were all padded and gave actors muscles where they didn't have muscles, shoulders and pectoral muscles, but they were made for 7-foot or 6-foot-8 actors. They didn't want to make new ones for the 6-foot-2 actors that were now available, and so they just folded them over. That costume I wore was from head to foot, and heavy, and it smelled because it’d been perspired in by a number of 7-foot-tall actors before me. They folded it over in the middle. They didn't cut it out because they didn't want to waste it, in case they found some more 7-foot actors. I swear the thing weighed 50, 60 lbs.
I think I wore it two or three weeks on those two episodes. I lost 15 to 17 pounds, just perspiration, because once you're in it in the morning, you just stay in it. If you have to go to the bathroom, they have to take it apart in the middle. You don't take it off, because it's too much trouble to put it back on. And you sit in there and sweat. You're in your own personal little steam bath. It was kind of horrifying.
Was the head a full prosthetic?
Exactly. It was like a Halloween mask you put on. It was also made for somebody with a bigger head, so they had to gather it in at the back. Prior to that, a year or so, I'd done Buffy, where it took literally five hours to apply the makeup, because the face was one piece, the skull was another piece, each ear, it all went on separately and then had to be painted once it was on. These were already painted and done, and they just slipped it over your head. They glued them and attached them so they didn't move around much. Then, they painted creases.
What do you remember of the character, the experience?
I liked the concept of the Hirogen, of this super-race. It fit into a Nazi, fascist metaphor that was part of the story. I don’t mean to whine about the costume, but I remember the director wanted me to run across a room for a scene, and I couldn't move. We did many takes and the director was frustrated because I couldn't move this thing. I couldn't look graceful as I was crossing the room because my thighs bumped together. But, Bob Picardo was fun to work with. I don’t think I had any scenes with Kate Mulgrew, but we'd studied together and done some scenes together with Uta Hagen at HB Studios in New York, when we were both a lot younger. It was fun to work with her. Those guys earned their money because they worked long, hard days, and they put a lot of production value on the screen. I don't know what season it was for them, but I could tell they really enjoyed new actors coming in, especially actors they may’ve known from before
I haven’t seen the episodes because I don't watch my own work. Honestly, when I can see my face, all I see is pimples and bad acting. I watched the original Star Trek, actually, but I didn't watch television once I started working in it, because it's hard to eat sausage after you've made it in a sausage factory, because you know what went into it. It was, as I say, fun working on Voyager. It's an amazing world to go inside of because of all the shows and movies. Every one of those films and shows added layers of detail to the franchise.
How amazing is it to you that it’s 20 years since “The Killing Game” two-parter aired?
Boy, that’s depressing. Forty years ago this year, we made Animal House. Life is like rolling down a hill. You start out slow, and then you're just going really fast and there's no stopping it. It's become an avalanche, this aging process. The fact that the Hirogen Medic was 20 years ago, Seinfeld was 21 years ago, Buffy was 21 years ago, Animal House was 40 years ago, it doesn't make sense to me. I don't get it. It's an alternative fact.
Are you still acting? Podcasting? What are you up to these days?
I'm not podcasting anymore. I just moved from Montana to Columbus, Ohio, so basically, I'm getting reorganized after having moved my whole household to Ohio. I was born in Findlay, Ohio. I hardly think of myself as from here, but I was born here, and I spent summers here until I was 12 or 13, when my grandparents lived here. So, it's sort of my roots. I've been working on a book about my brother, so it maybe inspired me to get back into that book, I don't know.
IMDB lists a film called Depth of Field as completed. Is that accurate and, if so, what's it about?
The name is accurate and my work on it is complete. Whether the film is complete, I have no idea. The director is Tate Bunker. I made one other film with him called Little Red, which took two or three years from the time we finished shooting until it was available to be seen. He takes a long time cutting and getting it just right. Last I heard from him, it was finished, locked, and they had a distributor. That was a few months ago. It's about a parallel universe that my character lost a woman to when we were both 17 and then she comes back when we're in our late 50s, early 60s. She comes back utterly changed. So, there’s a bit of readjustment. Then there's the plot of the movie. That's my part of the story. Like all actors, I think anything I do is about my character.
You’ll be attending the Chiller Show next month in New Jersey. How do you enjoy doing meeting fans, signing autographs, posing for photos?
When people first asked me to do conventions, mostly because of Buffy, I’d say, "No," because I didn't understand that level of fandom. But once you go and you see how completely dedicated and knowledgeable and sweet these people are, who come, it really changes you. I have a new appreciation now for fans. I'm very much anti-celebrity nonsense, but you have to appreciate the level of emotion, passion, compassion, caring of the fans. Some of these people go to a lot of conventions, and it's a little gypsy community of people who are deeply involved in the stories and characters they’re following. I've done Chiller four times, and they have wrestlers there, and they throw each other around and do demonstrations and throw you ... It's a wonderful, bizarre circus. I have Voyager photos when I do these shows, but I’ve never actually done a Star Trek event. My son and I just watched Galaxy Quest, and if Trek conventions are like those, I want to be part of that.
You are one of these great character actors who’s seemingly been in everything. Not at an event, but out in public, what are the credits or roles of yours people are most excited to discuss with you?
Well, it depends a little bit on the city. It doesn't happen very often in New York or L.A. because they're so blasé, but it’s different in places like Montana, Milwaukee, where I lived for a while, and Columbus. Animal House comes up big in places like Columbus. On the other hand, in Milwaukee, Seinfeld and the Maestro, the character I played in that, are big. In Missoula, it was 50/50. Those are the two. Because of the makeup, hardly anybody ever recognizes me from Buffy, and certainly nobody ever recognizes me as the Hirogen Medic in Voyager. Even when I do autograph shows, if I have photos of me, especially from Voyager, someone who was talking to me about Animal House might say, "Oh, I didn't know you did Star Trek. Wow, you've done everything."