It’s impossible to believe and she certainly doesn’t look it, but Nichelle Nichols, Uhura of Star Trek: The Original Series, turns 85 years old today. She’s celebrating with a party in Los Angeles tonight, and welcoming a few lucky fans to join her. StarTrek.com chatted last week with the legendary actress, who sounded energized, engaged and ready for 2018. Here’s what she had to say:
Happy almost birthday. We’re so glad to be talking to you.
I'm happy to have a birthday!
Aren't we all? What does it mean to you to turn 85 years old? How amazing is that?
To turn what?
What does it mean to you to turn 85 years old?
To turn what?
You’re funny. That's hysterical. You got us. But all joking aside, you've been on this Earth a very long time and you're still going. Tell us about your birthday celebration. You’re opening it up for a few fans…
Well, every year my friends get together and throw me one heck of a birthday party. But this year, we had the great idea of getting the fans involved, too. The fans have given me so much over the years, and it feels wonderful to give back when I can. They’ll get to join us at a restaurant, get a photo or two with me, be with me for dinner. That's what it's setting up to be.
How are you feeling these days?
I'm ready for the next trip, wherever it takes me, baby. I was at the premiere of Discovery (in September). I recently made some guest appearances in movies, like Unbelievable, and we’re in pre-production of Noah's Room. That's a feature film about a black family that takes in a white youth, and the mother changes his life and destiny forever. It's an amazing story. I think its time has really come in Hollywood.
And you’re still designing your own line of jewelry, right?
Oh, yeah. When I was a kid, anything I wanted, I'd try to draw it or create it on paper and I'd take it to my dad. My mother would say, "You're spoiling her," becuase he'd then take it and have it designed.
If one other role in your career could have had the same impact as Uhura, what role would that be and why?
The role that I will play as a matriarch in a black family in Noah's Room. That’s something that I'm prepared to do, that I'm ready for. I'm ready for it. I think I could have always done it, but the timing is really good now.
Then, speaking of Uhura, your Uhura, what do you think she's up to out there now in the galaxy?
Changing the whole damn galaxy, of course. And inspiring a lot more to follow in that dream. Hopefully inspiring a whole bunch of people.
If we could arrange for you to have one more scene as Uhura, what would you want her to do and to say?
How about we wait and see if that next role is coming? We can't leak any spoilers, now, can we?
So, you would play Uhura again if you had the chance?
I'm Uhura. Who else am I gonna play?
We all know the story of Dr. Martin Luther King convincing you to stay on Star Trek, but what we've always wondered is... did you ever have a conversation with him after you heeded his request and remained on the Enterprise? And if so, what was that conversation?
Well, sadly, I didn't get much more time with Dr. King. None of us did before he was taken away from us. But we just need to continue forward remembering those great lessons he taught us. I think he would have had more for me, to tell me, more what I call orders to complete. I just remember him as being a great man and a great friend.
You mentioned earlier in the conversation that you were at the Discovery premiere. How did you enjoy seeing Star Trek up on a screen again? And how did you enjoy meeting Sonequa Martin-Green? We know she was super excited to meet you…
Sonequa was so beautiful and so full of life. I think she's going to do amazing things in shaping the next series for a whole new generation. It was our first meeting with each other, you know. I hope to work with her soon on a project. I hope. And seeing Star Trek on a screen again? I really expected to see it, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but it was a huge satisfaction, you could say.
You helped advance people of color. It's now late 2017. You saw Dr. King's ascension and assassination. You've seen African American women become scientists and astronauts, and you inspired many of them. You've lived to see an African American Trek fan in the White House, and you met him there. Now, we have Sonequa, the African American female star of a new Trek show. How far have African Americans come and how far is there still to go?
I’m thinking long and hard about this question. I don't think there's any black boy or girl growing up today who can't find a role model to look at and think, "Wow. Anything really is possible." No, it won't be easy. And yes, there are still roadblocks that they'll all have to face, but they can be overcome. They can do anything. And they know it's possible. So, step up and do it, kids. Step up and do it. Also, prepare yourself. Prepare yourself as an actor or whatever it is that you want to be, a lawyer, a doctor, whatever it is. Prepare yourself while you're young. And get in there and study it, what it means, and get in there and do it.
What's still out there for you to accomplish? What have you not done yet that you're still itching to do?
Make my swan song feature film Noah's Room. I've really got one more story to tell. We're still in pre-production and still trying to get final funding on it. We've got several names that would like to be attached, two or three other well-known actors and actresses. Even with all of the wonderful black-themed films that have come over the last year or two, we’re still hitting the usual roadblocks, but we're getting very close. We're pushing and we're going to make it.
Nichelle, are you a person who thinks about your legacy at all?
Can you talk about that?
Absolutely. If you want to do something badly enough, strongly enough, there's nothing that can stop you. So, don't let anything stop you from going there. You really will be able to do it if you stay on top of it. I definitely am proof of it.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Nichelle. Again, happy birthday and happy holidays to you…
Thank you very much. And my blessings to you and to all the fans.
Last-minute tickets for tonight’s Nichelle Nichols 85th Birthday Celebration are available now. Go to www.nichellenichols.com to get in on the fun.