From Dominion space to the beginnings of the Federation, Jeffrey Combs has been everywhere in the Star Trek Universe. Last week, fans got to see him boldly go to a new frontier: the animated Star Trek world. In Star Trek: Lower Decks, Combs voiced Agimus, an evil supercomputer who wants to be plugged in and take over a planet or two as Mariner and Boimler escort him back to the Daystrom Institute. Played with the usual Combs aplomb, Agimus is a worthy and hilarious foe for the ensigns of the Cerritos.
StarTrek.com sat down with Combs virtually to discuss returning to Star Trek, his favorite con memories, and which of his roles he’d love to bring back to life.
StarTrek.com: What was your reaction to being offered a chance to return to the Star Trek Universe in Lower Decks?
Jeffrey Combs: Pleasantly surprised, elation, excitement, all of those things. I've been a Star Trek fan from the get go, and I was just honored to be asked to come in and play in the sandbox again. So yeah, it's an honor.
There have been plenty of evil computers across Star Trek's 55 year history. How does your character stand apart?
JC: You're right about that, but I have to tell you, I didn't really put that together. I didn't think, “Oh my gosh, I'm another evil computer. There's been many of them.” I just took the script and went, “who's this guy, and how does he manipulate, and what do I want and how do I get it?” So if it fits in nicely to that sort of legacy, then so be it. As long as there are technologies, there's going to be evil computers. I don't know if you know, but 2001 opened our eyes to that a long time ago.
Across your time in the Star Trek franchise, you've played Andorians, you've played Ferengi, you played Vorta, but — going back to the supercomputer — this is your first time playing a supercomputer. How does it feel to add a new Star Trek species to your resume?
JC: I feel like the bouquet has got another flower in it. As an actor... I was taught early on to try to be as versatile as you can, because when you're versatile, you can survive and you will work. And that doesn't always work, especially in film and television, because they always want to pigeonhole you and say, "If we need that, we know who to go to." But in the Star Trek world, with the special effects, makeup, and wardrobe, there is an ability to transform yourself. And I was very, very lucky to be able to get in there and then, in quick succession, do two different characters, which then led them to sort of begin to accept that I could do yet more. I'm just really, really one of the more fortunate actors in the business.
I do remember my agents calling me to say, "They want to book you for Deep Space Nine for a next episode." And I would say, "Okay, great. That's great, but wait, which character?" And my agent would have to say, "I don't know, let me call, I'll call you back." Do you know how lucky that is? I knew it at the time! I am asking which role, not a role but which role. This is a blessing of riches here, and [I’m] so very fortunate that they saw me as being able to be sort of a utility player, if you will. Different positions like baseball, third base, outfield, shortstop, where do you want me?
It's a fantastic episode. I was laughing so hard when I was watching it. Lower Decks is fantastic, and having you there was just so wonderful.
JC: He's just trying everything he can. Just see, hey, I love you. It's a beautiful dress. Plug me in. Just anything. He's a manipulator, but he's also pretty transparent about it. He's still a computer. He's not quite... you can kind of still call him on it. I honestly thought that he had succeeded!
When it was revealed that you were returning for Lower Decks, the fandom was just absolutely overjoyed. What does the fandom's affection for you and your roles mean to you?
JC: It's everything. In this time of social connectivity that didn't really exist too much at all during Deep Space Nine, a little more of it during Enterprise, but you were always kind of... For years, people didn't quite get the feedback that they get now. And the only place that kind of did get it was if you went to conventions. It was always an eye-opener for Star Trek actors. They do this job, they go home, they get another one, they do it, but there's no interactivity. When you're in makeup, if you go to the store to buy milk, no one goes, "Hey, you're that guy!" Because you're under all that makeup, so no one recognizes you. But when you go to a convention, you suddenly get flooded with the enthusiasm that's out there for you. When you do stage work, you get it immediately. When you do film, it's a delayed reaction. Star Trek fans are legion, and I love them, and they have good hearts and they're kind, and that's why they're Star Trek fans.
Do you have a favorite memory, or memories, of interacting with the fandom?
JC: Me and some of my buddies, we do a Star Trek Rat Pack at conventions, where one of us is quite good with lyrics and is kind of the Al Yankovic of Star Trek. He has taken familiar songs and put Star Trek lyrics on it, and we just have a blast doing that. We put on our tuxedos, and harmonize, and give the fans a big, big dose of Star Trek humor. And to me, that's therapeutic for everybody.
What was your First Contact with Star Trek?
JC: Well, it started when The Original Series premiered the day before my birthday. So I remember watching the series premiere and being hooked right away. I tried to see as many episodes as I could. I had a little bit of an obstacle there because we only had one TV, and my dad wanted to watch something on another channel and didn't really see the value of Star Trek, but I saw as many as I could. So I was a fan of The Original Series. I loved it. As a young kid who didn't even have a formative idea that I would be an actor, I did instinctively go into my room and re-enact things. I was a fan from the beginning. It's kind of in my DNA at this point.
If you had a chance to reprise any of your Star Trek roles, from Weyoun to Brunt to Shran, which one would you pick?
JC: Well, there's a couple of factors in there. I think I'm too old to play Weyoun now. I don't quite look that youthful, and so it would be a little disconcerting. I think I could pull off Shran if he came along. Of course Brunt. Brunt could create some havoc still, but Shran I think is an unfinished story. I think the plug was pulled too soon there. So there's a lot there, but how you incorporate that, in what format, and in what way, I have no idea. As Armin Shimerman says, "all shows close." And as actors, we know that all shows close. So you've got to be happy with what you did and not what it could have been. So I'm just very proud to be a part of the Star Trek family, which it truly is. We are all always glad to see each other, wherever we are, and may that ever be the case.
What does it mean to you to be a part of this 55 year legacy? Not just sort of tied to one particular show, but across all these different shows that are part of the franchise.
JC: I never would have imagined that I would actually be a part of the Star Trek world. I was a fan. I was an enthusiastic fan as a boy or a young teenager. It spoke to me, and the seed was planted. And I wanted to be a part of The Next Generation, but I never did an episode of that. So that was a frustrating thing for me, as an actor that was now finally in LA and going out on auditions, I seemed to never be able to get an audition for The Next Generation.
Deep Space Nine changed all that. I auditioned a couple of times and didn't get it, and then I was lucky enough to get an episode and that really got the ball started. It was just the one episode, but it allowed me to sort of reconnect with my dear friend, René Auberjonois, who was getting ready to direct an episode where there was this new Ferengi character. He suggested me for it. And out of that, I started reoccurring, and then from that blossomed Weyoun. They just asked me if I would do that, and the rest is just the momentum of it all. It seems so amazing to me. So I'm just thrilled to be a part of it all. Really as I look back, it really hinges on the smallest of connections. It's really quite humbling when you think about it, to tell you the truth.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States and Latin America on Paramount+, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.