Rene Auberjonois did it all on Star Trek. The veteran stage, television and film actor – who also happens to be an artist, director, voiceover talent, audiobook narrator, painter, photographer and gourmet chef – most famously played the role of Odo for seven seasons on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Also on the Trek front, he directed eight episodes of DS9, appeared uncredited as Colonel West in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, voiced Odo for the DS9 video games Harbinger and The Fallen, and guest starred as Ezral in the Enterprise hour, “Oasis.” Though he long ago last played Odo, Auberjonois remains a favorite at Star Trek conventions around the world.
Auberjonois spent his childhood traveling between New York, where he was born; Paris, where he decided to become an actor; and London, where he completed high school. During his childhood, Auberjonois’s neighbors in the Artist’s Colony in upstate New York included Helen Hayes, Burgess Meredith and John Houseman, with Houseman later becoming a key mentor. After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University, he appeared in plays on both American coasts, acting with the American Conservatory Theater, the Mark Taper Forum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. His first role on Broadway was as the Fool in King Lear; and a year later he earned a Tony Award for his work alongside the legendary Katherine Hepburn in Coco. Auberjonois also earned Tony Award nominations for Big River, City of Angels and Sly Fox, all on Broadway, and appeared in dozens of other productions in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
On the film front, perhaps Auberjonois’s best-known early role was that of Father Mulcahy in the Robert Altman-directed feature film M*A*S*H. Other film credits included Brewster McCloud, The Hindenburg, the 1976 remake of King Kong, Eyes of Laura Mars, The Little Mermaid (for which he voiced Louis, the sadistic French chef), The Player, The Ballad of Little Jo, Batman Forever, Inspector Gadget, The Patriot, Eulogy and, more recently, Certain Women, Blood Stripe (directed by his son, Remi), and Cortex. As for television, the IMDB rundown of his appearances is seemingly unending, spanning from Night Gallery, The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Fairy Tale Theater, Benson, The Pirates of Dark Water, Richie Rich and Stargate SG-1 to Frasier, Boston Legal, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Criminal Minds, Pound Puppies, Warehouse 13, Avengers Assemble and Madam Secretary. Auberjonois garnered Emmy Award nominations for his work in Benson and The Practice.
Deep Space Nine came the actor’s way in late 1992, with the show premiering in early 1993. Over the course of the series, Odo served as the space station’s chief of security, with the cranky Changeling often butting heads with his Ferengi frenemy Quark and eventually romancing Kira Nerys. StarTrek.com talked extensively with Auberjonois about DS9 and his other Trek work in a 2011 interview. Discussing Odo’s arc from when fans first met the shapeshifting character in “The Emissary” to his final moments in “What You Leave Behind,” the actor said. “The day that (DS9 executive producer) Rick Berman called to welcome me to the Star Trek world, he said something like – I don’t remember the exact words – ‘This character is like Pinocchio.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ And, over time, I came to understand that that was a certain aspect of the character. He was a very unformed being. Just as Pinocchio was wooden, Odo was a mass of liquid, really, and he was trying to get some kind of shape to his life and to who he was and he wanted to answer the questions he had about what his role was meant to be in that particular universe. People used to say to me early on, ‘Oh, I hope Odo finds out where he’s from and who he is,’ and I’d say, ‘Gee, I hope not. I sort of love the mystery of it.’ But then, of course, I wasn’t one of the writers. So I had nothing to do with that. I was simply the instrument to play the music that the writers had come up with. And we did learn, over time, so much about him. His relationships with Kira (Nana Visitor) and with Quark (Armin Shimerman) and with everybody, really, all made him more and more identifiable in human terms.
“So, where I thought in the beginning that I didn’t want to know where he was from and loved that it was a mystery, I also loved the fact that when we got a script – one that focused on Odo and his world – I’d learn something new that I didn’t know about the character,” he continued. “I would have to ingest it and incorporate it into this character that was being built over seven years. I’ve never really sat and talked to Rick or Ira Behr about it, but I would venture to say that a lot of the things that happened to Odo, they would not have been able to tell you at the beginning of the journey that that’s where the journey was going to go. That is one of the delights of getting to play a character for seven years, the organic nature of the work. It wasn’t prefabricated. It wasn’t a mold. I had nothing to do with it, how the show was written or what was going to happen with Odo or what he was going to say. But I had a lot to do with the tenor of the character because, as I said, I was the instrument, and in that sense you have a lot to do with what the music is eventually going to be.”
These days, Auberjonois still attends the occasional convention, acts when good opportunities avail themselves to him and loves to hike in the hills near his California home. He also supports a number of charitable causes, is active on social media, particularly Twitter, and spends as much time as possible with Judith, his wife of 50-plus years, their two children and several grandchildren. As Auberjonois summed it up to StarTrek.com not too long ago, “I am blessed to be healthy and happy and still creative.”
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