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Catching Up With Trek Director Cliff Bole, Part 1

Catching Up With Trek Director Cliff Bole, Part 1

Cliff Bole directed 42 hours of Star Trek television, broken down into 25 episodes of The Next Generation (including “The Best of Both Worlds Part I and II” and “Unification Part II”), seven episodes of Deep Space Nine (including “Defiant” and “Explorers”) and 10 episodes of Voyager (including “The Q and the Grey” and “Dark Frontier Part I”). So entrenched was he in the Trek universe that he even earned the distinction of having an alien race – the Bolians – named after him. Bole was no directing novice when he arrived at Paramount to helm his first TNG, as he’d already spent more than a decade as a go-to director-for-hire on such shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, Charlie’s Angels, Vegas, Fantasy Island, T.J. Hooker and more. And, during and after his Treks he called the shots on everything from MacGyver, Baywatch and M.A.N.T.I.S. to The X-Files and Supernatural. Bole was gracious enough to spend the better part of an hour last week talking to for an exclusive and extensive interview. Part one is down below, and visit again tomorrow to read part two.

How did you get your first TNG assignment, which was “Lonely Among Us,” in 1987?

Bole: I had a couple of guys up in management at Paramount who I knew and one of them, a fellow named Jeff Hayes, made a suggestion to Rick Berman that Rick use me. I knew Rick from when he was over at Warner Bros. He’d seen some of my film and that’s how it happened. I went in for one and I stayed for almost 20 years.

At the time, was “Lonely Among Us” just another job?

Bole: I’ve got to be honest with you. Everybody was kind of leery. They didn’t know if TNG would have any legs. It was very much in a test mode at that time. It wasn’t like, “This is a shoe-in.” First of all, it was new attempt at doing major, major filming for syndication. TNG was not a network show. It was sold across the board in syndication. Paramount had two marvelous guys who developed the syndication market and, after about a year, it was evident that we really had something with TNG. I think it was still in everyone’s mind for a while that the original Star Trek only went three years and was marginal in its last year of pickup, and that it was knocked off the air by The Mod Squad. So, when I was first there on TNG, it was, “Let’s hope this works.”

How much interaction did you have with Gene Roddenberry?

Bole: Initially, quite a bit. We met two or three times a week, creatively. He gave his input and, of course, I gave my input. I had quite a bit of Roddenberry, and with Rick and the rest of the group. Roddenberry was totally committed to it. I did one episode with a Spock-like character in it, and this character laughed. Roddenberry saw the dailies and said, “That was the biggest mistake you ever made.” I said, “Well, I was only following the script, because it was written.” Vulcans don’t laugh or smile, but it got by everybody. This laugh was kind of a broad laugh, but it was written. Anyway, we did a retake of it and it was fine, and it never happened again, I can assure you. But that was Roddenberry who picked it out.

You just mentioned Rick Berman. The knock on Berman by his detractors is that he was a studio executive and not a creative guy. What was your own experience with him?

Bole: We had a very close working relationship and I disagree with the argument that he was a manager, studio-backed, production-oriented. I thought he was very creative, very creative, and he definitely learned the franchise. He knew it back and forth, and he had a great relationship with Roddenberry. It was kind of shared up front, the producing credits (by Berman and others), but Berman was the strongest one and it eventually came out to be that he was the guy. As far as I’m concerned, his studio background was always closely related to the creative projects he did out at Warner Bros. I think that he has a great creative eye. I don’t know why he hasn’t surfaced again (as a producer since the end of Enterprise).

It would probably take us several hours to go through all your episodes of all the shows, so we’re going to throw a few at you and ask you to share any anecdotes you may have about them. And, if we leave out an episode that you like, feel free to chat about it. Let’s start with “Hide and Q,” which was John de Lancie’s second episode as Q and his first time back since the pilot.

Bole: The key thing is that de Lancie is a joy and a creative guy to work with. He has a great sense of humor, and sometimes he’d play that a bit, but in a very sophisticated way. He always had a light manner in that character. And the episode was a lot of fun.

“The Best of Both Worlds” episodes are considered right up there at the very top of TNG’s finest hours. They had action, the Borg, an amazing performance by Patrick Stewart. You also had the quite rare opportunity to direct both halves of a two-parter.

Bole: I knew that these were going to be great episodes. I knew it from the get-go, from the script, and I put everything I had into them. Everything. I remember that I had my wife read the script to me as I’m driving back from our place in Mt. Shasta, and then I said, “Do you mind driving?” It was a joy and it was a fish-out-of-water story as far as Patrick was concerned, and he was into it. So it all gelled. I’m not surprised it’s well regarded because of all the work that was put into it.

“Unification, Part II” guest-starred Leonard Nimoy. It was an episode designed to help generate buzz for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Bole: They called me. I was assigned to it. It wasn’t next up. In other words, I didn’t have a four-show (rotation) or anything. They called me and it just happened to fit, and I don’t think they called me just because Nimoy was coming in. Nimoy probably had asked for his son (Adam Nimoy) to direct.

What was your experience like, working with Nimoy?

Bole: Nimoy was great. I’d worked with him years back, when I was freelancing as a script clerk and an assistant. I did a show with him called Wagon Train. I forget the episode, but I remember working with him. And it was church and state, so far as “Unification” and Star Trek VI. They didn’t ask me to do anything specific for the episode that tied into the film.

You also directed “The Perfect Mate,” with Famke Janssen as Kamala. Did you pick Janssen?

Bole: Junie (Lowry-Johnson, the TNG casting director) found Janssen and Rick (Berman) thought she was going to be a future star, which she turned out to be in some ways. She was a newbie, and I remember (that after) the first couple of takes I met with Patrick. He looked over at me and said, “You know, I have to fall in love. This is supposed to be the big thing for him romantically.” It was a long haul, a lot of work. She was certainly agreeable to everything because she was so new, but she was a model and didn’t have any background as far as performing. She did get some chops as (her career) went on.

Any TNG episodes we neglected to mention that you have a particular memory of?

Bole: “The Royale” was fun. After having done three years of Vegas with Robert Urich, it was great to kind of get back into that world. I did almost every other episode of Vegas and lived in Las Vegas for three years. “QPid” was a lot of fun, with the costumes and the fantasy element and going into the Robin Hood thing. Clive Revill came in for that one (to play Sir Guy of Gisbourne). That’s a real favorite of mine.

You have the very unusual honor of having an alien named after you: the Bolians, which turned up first in your episode "Conspiracy," and then repeatedly on TNG, DS9 and Voyager, as well as in the TNG features. How did that come about and what was your reaction?

Bole: When it first happened I thought someone was pulling my leg, maybe Berman or someone else. Then it became an item. I was proud of it. To hear your name constructed into the name of an alien race, I thought it was great -- and I still do. It comes up all the time. People ask me about it all the time. I'm amazed that people still follow the show enough to ask about it.Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with veteran Star Trek director Cliff Bole, in which he talks about his work on DS9 and Voyager.