Published Nov 14, 2016
Catching Up with TNG Guest Star Barbara Williams
Catching Up with TNG Guest Star Barbara Williams
Anna did everything possible to make Captain Picard fall in love with her in the seventh-season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Liaisons,” but it didn’t quite work, in large part because Anna wasn’t real. Rather, she was Voval (Eric Pierpoint), an Iyaaran ambassador trying to understand the emotion of love. The Canadian actress Barbara Williams played Anna, and memorably so. At the time – 1993 – Williams was best known for her roles in Thief of Hearts, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling and Spenser for Hire: Ceremony (with Avery Brooks). Post-Trek credits include Inventing the Abbotts, The Outer Limits, Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way, Bones, Flash Forward and White House Down. Also an author, songwriter and activist, she penned the acclaimed memoir, The Hope in Leaving, published in March. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Williams for an interview, and here's what she had to say:
How did you land your role as Anna in “Liaisons”? Take us through the audition process and then the experience of shooting the episode…
I think I had auditioned for something on Star Trek previously, which I didn’t get. But the producers liked me and brought me in for "Liaisons." I was playing a male alien who transforms himself into a female human to try to understand intimacy. So, they made me ultra-feminine. Lots of hair, and padded bra.
How did you enjoy working with Patrick Stewart?
Patrick was just lovely to work with. We both have stage backgrounds and there was a Shakespearean quality to the episode. So, we indulged our theatre chops to the max. I was just about to get married at the time and he was a fan of my husband’s, so I invited him to my wedding. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Williams’ husband, politician and activist Tom Hayden, passed away last month).
And that kiss?
A kiss is just a kiss, especially on screen. It’s all about lighting.
Your performance was, in a way, half of a whole, as Eric Pierpoint played Voval. Did you see the performances as symbiotic? And how much of a chance, if any, did you have to discuss it, even work with Pierpoint?
I guess the people making casting decisions thought we were believable as the same alien. I don’t remember discussing it. I rarely saw him because we weren’t on the set at the same time.
What's the line in the “Liaisons” script that you got that you just couldn't wait to get on the stage to play? And why were you so excited to play it?
Anna/Voval did everything she could, with her limited understanding of human intimacy, to win Captain Picard’s affection. She stages an accident. She disables him with a device. She nurses and coddles him, but he doesn’t respond to her in the way she thinks he should. Finally, she throws him to the ground, quite forcefully, and says “Why don’t you love me?” That was so much fun. We did it several times because we kept breaking up.
If you could play any character from Trek other than the one you played, who would you want to play -- and why?
I wish they would have made my character permanent. I loved representing human femininity.
Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary year. What does it mean to you to be a part of the franchise on this huge occasion?
It’s an honor just to be a small part of the franchise.
What are you up to these days in terms of work?
I wrote a memoir that came out in April entitled The Hope in Leaving. It received wonderful reviews and I am currently adapting it into a film and writing the next one.
How cathartic was it for you to write The Hope in Leaving?
A teacher of mine pushed me to go to my deepest voice with my writing. When I expressed trepidation, he encouraged me with this quote from the Thomas Gospels: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” So, I plumbed the depths of some very personal and painful events in my life and, in bringing them forth, I released the pain. In touring (to promote the book), it’s been very gratifying to hear from so many people who derived comfort in reading about experiences they had in common with me and from others who were fascinated by the world I come from. Apart from being very personal, my book articulates the struggles of itinerant workers at the time I was growing up and still continues today.
Trek fans, of course, know you from your Trek episode, but if people run into you on the street, what of your other acting performances are they most eager to talk about with you?
It depends where I am. In Canada, I have done a number of films and worked extensively on stage, so I am recognized for those performances. I am still recognized for Thief of Hearts, my first film in Hollywood. I had a small role in White House Down that brought a lot of attention.
Last question. You mentioned that you're writing the next book. What period(s) of your life will that cover?
The Hope in Leaving ends when I am leaving the West Coast of Canada, on the heels of a life-changing tragedy, heading into the unknown with, literally, an empty suitcase. My next book is called Handsome Jack and focuses on my working-class dad’s exploits when he came to visit me in Hollywood.