Published Nov 21, 2020
Alexander Siddig's Social Club is One of 2020's Few Bright Spots
The actor is using his fame to bring people together through the pandemic.
By Julian Gardner
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many people around the world feel isolated and alone as they socially distance themselves from those around them. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine star Alexander Siddig, who played Dr. Julian Bashir for seven seasons, realized he was in a position where he could bring people together. He began the Sid City Social Club, a bi-weekly Zoom session where fans can sign up to talk with him one on one for fifteen to twenty minutes, as well as chat with other DS9 fans.
But, these aren’t just chances to ask the actor questions about his time on Star Trek, Game of Thrones, or any of his other popular roles. Siddig engages with attendees to check in on them and see how they are doing during this uncertain time, making the interactions more about them and their lives rather than him. Fans from around the world have shared their stories, ranging from nurses and teachers sharing what they’ve gone through over the past months to artists and musicians sharing their craft. These stories can be anything from heartwarming to tear-jerking, and Siddig takes the time to empathize and connect with each speaker. As these conversations go on, the Zoom chat section buzzes with activity as fans swap recipes and stories, connecting beyond just their shared fandom.
Continuing to give his time and energy to fans, Siddig also organized a Zoom performance of a four episode fanfiction play called Alone Together, which reunited him with co-stars Andrew Robinson (Garak), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys), and Armin Shimerman (Quark). The story involved Bashir and Garak reuniting to deal with a pandemic on Cardassia Prime, and was written by Star Trek fan Matt Campbell.
Siddig and Robinson also performed a second fanfiction play titled Little Achievements. Written by another member of the social club, Elmie K-E (also a fanfiction author), the script saw Bashir and Garak happily married, much to the delight of the Bashir/Garak shippers. Both Alone Together and Little Achievements can be viewed on the Sid City YouTube channel.
StarTrek.com had the chance to sit down with Siddig over Zoom to talk about the club, Bashir’s legacy with fans, and whether or not Alone Together would have a sequel.
StarTrek.com: In your own words, how did the Sid City Social Club begin?
Alexander Siddig: Melissa Lowery, who has run Sid City (my fan club for want of a better way of putting it) for 25 years, said that she thought that we should be doing something in March when COVID broke out. And I thought at the same time independently that we should be doing something, [so] it just so happened that when I picked up the phone, she said, "I've been thinking about that exact same thing. What can we do?" We figured that it would be best to talk to people, find out what they were doing, how they were coping, because at the time it was a really intense lockdown for most people in the States, and most people in the world. We were worried that people weren't going to get out, weren't communicating with people, weren't getting the comfort of communication.
There were a few people who consistently logged in to Sid City to find out what's going on with each other as much as with me, so we said, "Let's go, let's do it." I think it was just 30 people for the first Zoom meeting we had on a Friday. And then after about three or four weeks, we said, "Well, we need another meeting because we've already reached our 100 person cap." So we opened up a Tuesday meeting too, and we just figured out that we would call it Sid City Social Club, so that was how we started way back, some 17 weeks ago.
You've covered a variety of topics during the social calls with fans. Do you have a particular favorite moment or several favorite moments from these conversations?
AS: It's astonishing. It's almost impossible to pick a favorite moment because they are so wildly varied. I mean, we're talking to people in Russia, in South America, in Central America, in Europe, in Australia. We have a lot of people in Australia [and] New Zealand. We have a group of people who come twice a week from China, even though some of those calls are in the middle of their night. I find it really hard to pick something because actually my mind is really not very good at holding onto this information. I'm so in the moment trying to process what they're saying, [while also having] a conversation and listening to what the people are saying, that I don't hold on to a lot. I find it's very hard to hold, because we have maybe seven or eight, 15 minute conversations in a two hour slot twice a week.
We've had some wonderful things. We have people singing. I think one of my favorite moments, actually, very early on was two people in Germany. One person who flew to the other person's house just in time to be there for COVID lockdown. And they're very young, they looked like they were in their early 20s to me. They said they sang. I said, "What are you singing?" And they said, "we write our own songs."
20 minutes later they came back and sang their socks off. It was a live moment that just unlocked something for me. Since then we've had many songs; we've had people show us their houses, their gardens, all this stuff that we're nosy about.
Everybody comes on at first saying, "I can't possibly follow whoever just talked, because my life is nowhere near as interesting as that." Then 10 minutes later they're saying something that just blows our minds. The friendships that I think people are creating are real, even though the communication is virtual. It's just a wonderful place. It's a wonderful space to talk.
So pardon the awkward phrasing of this question, but how did Alone Together first come together?
AS: Good question. Matt Campbell, who wrote the series, is my wife's childhood friend. So I got to talk to him independently on Zoom. And it just so happens that he is a fanatic Star Trek fan. But not only fanatic, but encyclopedic — has watched every second of every show like everybody else, several times over and holds on to that information. He's a school teacher in Canada. And we were talking about that, about his knowledge and about how impressed I was that he knew things about my character Dr. Bashir, that I had completely forgotten.
And he writes fanfiction. I said, "Well, can you write something for us?" Because I was trying to find a play. When we first started I just wanted everything to be happy. I just wanted us to have variety. I didn't always want it to be, sit down and talk with me; I just thought that might get boring. It weirdly didn't actually, but the play was just a lovely, lovely bonus.
Sure enough, three or four weeks later after knocking a few things around — suggesting that it has to be COVID specific. I.e., you can't have two people in the same room — he came up with a play. And I think it was pretty special, pretty good. People have really responded really strongly to it, because it hit the bells that Star Trek should hit. People really like to see Bashir and Garak together again, and we were able to bring Nana Visitor, Armin Shimerman, and Cirroc Lofton back. And I think it was just a real injection of happiness for a bunch of people.
You and Andrew Robinson have teamed up before to explore your characters further with The Nexus, a play you both wrote together and performed at cons. Which is something you often don't see actors doing. So is there something unique about Star Trek and the fandom that made you feel that you had the freedom to do so?
AS: There is. First of all, there's a huge number of Star Trek fans. So we know that in front of 2,000 people in the convention, for example, people won't be disappointed or groan. They would probably hang around. We were always thinking of trying to do new things, because both Andy and I just didn't like the format of conventions back in those days. There would be huge cattle lines of fans waiting after paying to get a signature, and they would spend two seconds with the actor and move on because we just had to get through this huge line of people. Then we'd talk for an hour [in front of the audience] and I would try to be funny and Andy would try to be funny. Finally, we just thought, well, maybe we can do a better thing. Maybe we can give them something else.
Andy's very creative about Garak, his character, and has written a wonderful book called A Stitch in Time. I think he prototyped A Stitch in Time — although I'm not sure it's the same subject matter exactly — with The Nexus. And exploring the character of Bashir and Garak together. We were just fascinated by it, because [when the show aired] everything was innuendo between Bashir and Garak. And there was something just wonderful about it. Miles and Bashir were a wonderful combination too, but there was just something so secretive and fertile about Bashir, Garak, and their relationship [together]. Especially now that Ira has basically admitted that it was a homoerotic relationship — not necessarily homosexual, but certainly homoerotic. Garak is much more sexually aware than anyone ever thought.
I mean, obviously I played it that way when we were acting way back. The first time we met together there was a table in between us, and I was so flustered. Bashir was so deeply in like a... well, he wasn't sure about this attention, so it was really nice. It's been really nice to keep that going, to keep exploring that. And Star Trek fandom is broadminded, and extensive and loyal and interested enough to [explore] any number of these kinds of things. To be honest, I'm surprised there hasn't been a great deal more.
I'm going to veer slightly off topic for this question, but when did you first realize how much Bashir resonated with both neurodivergent fans and fans who are part of the LGBTQ community? And what does that response to the character mean to you?
AS: I think that's the treasure of the character. I think that's the breakthrough of the character. Myself, I was a fairly awkward young man. A stranger in a new land. Always been an outsider, having never quite been Black enough, and never quite been white enough. I could fulfill [Bashir], imbue him with my sense of respectful awkwardness, and sudden flurries of enthusiasm that I probably had myself. I'm very proud that the LGBTQ+ community and the neurodivergent community wrap their arms around him, and in a way I think this Sid City Social Club is me saying thank you [by] actually getting people's stories. We have a disproportionately high percentage of those communities in the social club who have become great friends as a result of being together in this. I'm really proud of that. And I'm really proud of Bashir being the catalyst for that.
What is it like returning to the role of Bashir, in a way, after the series has been off the air for so long?
AS: Like a duck to water. I never forgot what swimming was like. I never forgot who Bashir was. In fact, he's kind of been in a load of different characters I've played since, you just wouldn't know unless you were looking for it, you know? If Bashir had been a prince of a Middle Eastern country, he may well have been the Prince I played in Syriana. The mirror version of him may have become Ra's al Ghul, which I played in Gotham. There's an element of Bashir that's always going to be part of me, and I'm not really sure if it's a chicken or egg situation. It's kind of a little weird to think that a writer in the 1990s actually wrote a part of my character still exists to this day —That I have actually absorbed and I am becoming Bashir, to a degree, or whether I made Bashir out of me. It's a combination of both.
In Little Achievements, the second fanfic play that you performed, the relationship between Bashir and Garak is openly romantic. What inspired the decision to perform a fanfic with that element rather than just leaving it to subtext?
AS: Well, there's a lot of things. First thing is that Elmie, who wrote it, is a very prolific fanfic writer in the community. Everybody seemed to know them, and they certainly seemed to know everybody else and seemed like a really, really nice person. We had a chat online in our Zoom thing, and they said that they would love to write the piece if I wouldn't mind. And I said just deliver it and we'll have a look at it and see what we think. [Andy and I] thought that they'd done a really good job — it was charming, it was pure, and it was completely non-canonical, but that's not the point!
This [play] is different and delicious, so it’s kind of an amuse-bouche. Ira [Steven Behr], funnily enough, said in front of everybody that had he been able to write a little bit more explicitly back in the 90s, he would have, regarding Garak. He just knew [then] that there was absolutely no way he was going to win that fight. So in a way, [performing Elmie’s play] was a full circle. It was really nice to go, oh, this is what's happening. I just think it's a very sweet story.
Why do you think fans have been drawn to the Bashir and Garak relationship since the beginning of the series?
AS: I think it was a very sophisticated relationship, especially for TV, because there was no judgment in it. Clearly there was one boy being bedazzled. It felt a little uncomfortable because clearly Garak fancied Bashir, or at least insinuated that he did — he was certainly flirting. And I just think that's almost a unique thing for certainly mainstream television back in the 90s, and you're not mentioning it, you're not judging it. You're not going, “well that guy's clearly homosexual. He should be thrown off the station.” The fact that it wasn't mentioned at all really let people's imagination run riot, and you can see what's happened over the years since then.
It would have been lovely to say more at the time, but in retrospect it's pretty cool.. Andy and I could play a little cat and mouse with it, and we had a lot of fun.
Will Matt Campbell be writing a sequel to Alone Together, or is this the only new adventure for Bashir and Garak?
AS: I think there's a strong likelihood that Matt will write [more]. I'm certainly hoping. He's a teacher and work is beginning to start again, so it's possible that he may not have so much time. But I don't think that this particular situation that we're all living under right now — the COVID, the pandemic — is going to disappear anytime soon. Ever. The seriousness of it will dissipate, but I've got a feeling we're still going to be uncertain this winter. And so I'm preparing for it to help reassure people.
Are you aware of the fan response to both Alone Together and Little Achievements? And what does the gratitude the fans have expressed mean to you?
AS: I've read one page of some fan responses and I just thought it was really lovely, heartwarming. Really good for the writers, Matt, and Elmie too. They need all the credit they can get, because most of the time, these people are just never heard of except by the tiny community. And so the chance to give them a voice that puts them on a kind of proper stage where maybe 5,000 or 10,000 people will watch it is a real privilege, as it is for something actually that does a lot of good to a lot of people. So I'm very grateful.
Many fans have shared online how they've turned to Star Trek in this tumultuous time. Why do you think Star Trek has resonated so strongly with so many people? And they're sort of drawing hope from it?
AS: Because Star Trek has never been wrong, you know? Gene Roddenberry, I should say probably more accurately, has not disappointed us. His vision of what he thought the world might be like given a certain set of circumstances, was always full of hope. And the producers who followed in his footsteps, who marshaled the various different shows, right up until Picard have echoed that. But those tenants of inclusiveness and multi-ethnicity... That is really what we all really want. We really want to be part of the same family. And especially at times when we're under COVID, and our countries appear to be so divided. Star Trek is a life jacket in these tumultuous waters.
What plans do you have for the social club in the future? And then, will it continue on past the pandemic?
AS: I don't think I'll be able to continue it as it is, four hours a week, although I give my time willingly and happily, and joyfully. I don't think that my work — if I ever work again — will allow for that sort of schedule. I hope maybe we do some reunion events. Or, if I think people are in danger of losing touch with everybody, it would be nice to come in and say hello. But while COVID lasts, I'm determined to keep going.
This interview has been edited and condensed. For more information on future meetings of the Sid City Social Club, go to sidcity.net.
Julian Gardner (she/they) is the editorial assistant for StarTrek.com.