Yesterday, in part one of our conversation with Star Trek’s Walter Koenig, the actor talked in detail about his days as Chekov, answering a variety of questions from StarTrek.com readers. Now, in part two, Koenig replies to queries about other aspects of his career, shares his thoughts on passing the Chekov baton to Anton Yelchin and fills us in on his latest projects.
You were great as Chekov, but I also loved you as Bester on Babylon 5. Did you prefer one character over the other?
Koenig: Yes. And as sacrilegious as it might be for Star Trek fans, Bester was a more exciting opportunity and a more challenging role. It was a fleshed-out character, which was fun to play. Something interesting is that on Babylon 5 one of the actors on the show said that I was going too far with the character and suggested that I tone it down. I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t. I feel I put a stamp on that character and that I made him my own, and I had a great time doing it. I was able to be a little bit more inventive and try things. It was just a terrific experience, a treasured memory, being on Babylon 5. And this is not an afterthought, but I will always be enormously grateful to Star Trek because without Star Trek I’m sure there would not have been a Babylon 5 in my future. Plus, Star Trek has provided me with a living, off and on, for almost 45 years. So there’s that to be said.
What other roles in your career are you particularly proud of?
Koenig: I loved a lot of the theater work that I’ve done. Some of it was quite substantive. Mark Lenard and I did a play called The Boys in Autumn, which was just terrific. We played Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and it was an opportunity to really cavort on the stage. It was a two-man play and that was quite rewarding. I did a play called The White House Murder Case, which was a black comedy and during the course of the show my character starts falling apart, literally, until he’s sitting with his genitals in his hands, apart from his body. There’s an image. Another show I was involved in back in the day was called Night Must Fall, and I played a psychopathic bellhop who went about cutting people’s heads off. It was a real melodrama and it had been done on film with Albert Finney and Robert Montgomery at different times. I was also in a production of Antony and Cleopatra for the Britannica Library that was shot as a film. It was with Lynn Redgrave and Timothy Dalton and John Carradine, and it was exciting to work with those folks and to speak those immortal words.
How did you enjoy playing the Chekov-esque character you took on in the fan film Of Gods and Men?
Koenig: It was a much better experience than I anticipated. Initially, I thought I was doing it as a favor for Doug Conway. But when I got the script and I saw that the non-standard Chekov character that I played was really full of passion and energy and anger, it became a much more appealing role for me. It was quite challenging, and the performance was at least modestly successful. So I thoroughly enjoyed doing that.
What did you make of Anton Yelchin’s performance as Chekov in Star Trek (2009). And we know that you met and talked to him. What kind of advice did you offer Yelchin going into the movie?
Koenig: I just told Anton to make it his own and not worry about any history, that there’s nothing here that was sacrosanct. I told him he is a different actor with a different perspective and that he should embrace the role as if he created it. And I think he did. He’s a terrific young man and a talented actor. He had a resume already, going into Star Trek, that I would have been very happy to have had. He’d already acted opposite Anthony Hopkins. He’d played the title role in another movie (Charlie Bartlett). He’s got a great career ahead of him. I met his parents, actually, and they seem very, very nice as well.
How strange was it to see someone else in your old role?
Koenig: I thought it was going to be a lot stranger than it was. I went in, frankly, a little apprehensive. I didn’t know how, exactly, I’d deal with that situation, whether I’d feel envious or intimidated watching somebody else in the role. I’m certainly capable of feeling intimidated because I’m certainly capable of feeling neurotic, so I didn’t know what my feelings would be. But when I sat down and began to watch it and relaxed, I appreciated a very good performance in a movie. I stopped comparing myself to Anton almost immediately. He was 19 and I was 73 at the time. There’s no way I could have played the role. So, therefore, I thought, “Just sit back and enjoy it.” And I was actually quite proud of Anton. I found myself rooting for him. The moments that he had that were funny, I laughed, and the moments that showed other qualities of the character, I thoroughly appreciated and applauded as well.
What are you working on now?
Koenig: I have signed a contract to do graphic novels for a company called Blue Water. The first one is the bundling together of three comic books about a character called Raver that I did in the 1990’s, with the addition of a fourth, new story. So it will run the requisite 95 to 100 pages. I’ve already outlined that fourth issue. The other one is called Things to Come, and it’s about vampires after the Apocalypse, and the fact that they’re the only intelligent species alive. It’s a very introspective piece about them trying to figure out why they’re there, who they are, what their role is in the universe. Are they the final statement or a bridge to something else? I wrote it as an outline for a script, but then I decided that the shortest distance between two points – as opposed to going through agents and producers with a screenplay – is doing what is effectively a storyboard of the entire tale with the graphic novel. It’s still in the back of my mind. I’d love to see it adapted into a screenplay and into a movie, but the process of writing it into a four-issue comic book is also an adventure and quite exciting. And it’s something I look forward to working on every day when I sit down at my desk. When it gets closer to actually being done I’ll put updates on my official page and Facebook and wherever else, so the fans know what’s happening with it.
To keep tabs on Walter Koenig, visit his official site at www.walterkoenig.com. Koenig regularly updates his site, providing news and details about upcoming convention appearances.
To read part 1 of this interview, click here.