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Laurence Luckinbill Talks Trek V, Sybok & Career, Part 2

Laurence Luckinbill Talks Trek V, Sybok & Career, Part 2

Laurence Luckinbill remembers Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – and the experience of playing Sybok in the William Shatner-directed feature – as if it were yesterday. The actor, in part one of an exclusive interview, recounted his memories of landing, preparing for and actually playing the role. Today, in part two of our interview, Luckinbill shares with his thoughts about Sybok’s “share you pain” sequences, the character’s there/not there ponytail and the film’s critical assessment, and he tells us about what he’s doing these days.

Who else from the cast Star Trek V did you get to know?

What interested you most about Sybok as a character?

Luckinbill: He was a charismatic leader and he was inspired to help the whole world. He wanted to relieve all of the pain in the universe. That was extremely attractive. Then, the script, I thought it was brilliant because it confronted him with the reality of his own power, how to use it. What do you do when the choices are absolutely dilemma choices? Horns of the dilemma -- when both sides are bad in some way to somebody, what do you do? It’s the ultimate leadership/power question, and I thought it was written quite well. I thought it was underwritten in the sense that the whole business of climbing Yosemite and the camaraderie of the guys took a lot of precedence and took up a lot of film time. I thought, “Well, this part is not getting everything it should, the scenes.” To their credit, they didn’t cut scenes once we started there. They were professionals, great pros. Harve Bennett and some of the other people on the set were just marvelous writers, marvelous people, as well as marvelous professionals. I know it’s boring to say all of this. I had a great time. I loved Bill. I grew to like and connect with Leonard (Nimoy) after the picture. I’d go to his house and hang out. He used to have fundraisers and his wife was doing some stuff.

Take us through the “share your pain” scenes and also the Sybok-vs-Sybok moments…

Luckinbill: The question was, “How serious was the ‘share your pain’ thing? Is he a fake? Is he not?” I couldn’t ask Bill at that point. We’d discussed it enough anyway, and I kind of knew where he was at. The show biz aspect of that, I didn’t want to give any indication whatsoever, no glimmer, that I could be a charlatan because I thought, “This will kill the movie instantly.” So I went deep on that, and I took to it all the personalization I could, all the stuff that I could bring to it from my own life, trying to help people, wanting to help, not being able to help, then mysteriously being able to help. That was the work I did on that, and I’m really, really proud of this performance. I think I did a good job.

Fighting myself, that was a bit of a confusion because at that point they’d started rewriting the ending. There were different versions of who the monster was in Sha Ka Ree. Eventually they decided on one, but it was sort of… I don’t know… a bit of a letdown for me. But I’m a self-starter. None of that stuff bothered me at all. I just kept trekking on, so to speak.

Your ponytail seems to come and go at will throughout Star Trek V. Movie mistake sites have a field day with it. How aware were you at the time of what was happening?

Luckinbill: I was aware of it. The idea that Bill had was that I was this wild man at the beginning and then, as I got control of the starship, I would do a sort of ceremonial Samurai purification before going to the God planet. So I cut my hair, cut the pigtail off, as it were. So they made two hairstyles for me. If there was ever a flip back and forth, maybe it was justified by some sort of flashback feeling, but actually once I had control of the ship and beat him in the fight... After that, I had control and we were going to go through the Barrier and end up with God. For that scene – I remember distinctly – they cleaned me up and gave me a white tunic, rather than the old beige and dirty one that I had. It wasn’t very realistic or justified or motivated, but it was literal given Bill’s desire to have Sybok look different. It’s like, did Sybok bring a suitcase with him, with a spare outfit? But that outfit was the one I wore from there on, to the big fight with the god.

They did a lot of tests, you may not know, a lot of makeup tests with me as the god, myself, in various phases of being persuasively satanic. I thought they should have ended up with that because, really, the psychological truth is that when you come face to face with yourself and with your ego, and the reason you’re doing is not what you thought it was, it’s because of a very much grimier motivation, that is when people become changed and become illuminated. So I was plumping for that ending. It wasn’t a battle. I’d never do anything like that. It was just my input that I thought those things were better. And I thought the tests were good. Somewhere, there’s a whole set of pictures of me in four or five different looks. It ended up with that sort of standard Jehovah feel.

Some fans love Star Trek V, many fans dislike it. What did you make of it and what did you make of the reaction to it by the fan base?

Luckinbill: I was surprised and disappointed that anybody hated the film. I thought it came down to their dislike of Bill himself. That seemed to be the leading edge of the whole thing, Shatner’s need for comeuppance, blah, blah, blah, “He’s too arrogant,” this and that. I did agree with one of the streams of comment that said that the film was in two pieces. It broke in half with the comedy of the old guard trying to retire and not being able to, climbing and joking with each other in the woods and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and the serious story of Spock’s brother, who is attempting to change the universe with this movement of power. I felt the movement of power story was by far the more interesting part of the movie, but that may be because it was my story.

What was it like to see your Sybok action figure?

Luckinbill: I thought, “Wait a minute! This guy is too short. He’s too stocky, and I’m tall and buff. What’s this about?” It’s weird. It’s weird-looking. I’ve got a couple of them.

What are you working on these days?

That set you off on a series of touring one-man shows, most of which you’ve written. You've played Clarence Darrow, Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, and have often been buried beneath three hours worth of makeup in order to become these historical figures. So, who's next?

Luckinbill: My wife and I go to the Unity Center for Practical Spirituality, in Norwalk. The minister said, “Hey, why don't you take a shot at doing 5 or 10 minutes on Abraham, from Genesis.” I sort of pooh-poohed it, but I opened Genesis one day and began to read about Abraham. The end result of that is I wrote an hour-and-15-minute play, and I call it The Abraham and Larry Show. It’s about my take on Genesis, really, and how Abraham arrived at the place he arrived at and what he did with Isaac. I try to understand it from today’s perspective. It turned out to be very funny. So I’m revising that, trying to make it work better, and I’m working on a second act. My shows are all two hours long. If I do a second act, it will be about Jesus, who’s at the other end of the bookcase from Abraham. So that’s what I’m doing now.

To read part one of’s interview with Laurence Luckinbill, click HERE.