Published Dec 16, 2013
Remembering Star Trek: The Experience Actor Tom Deishley
Remembering Star Trek: The Experience Actor Tom Deishley
By Darren Benjamin
Fans of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Experience, the attraction once located in the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, have lost one of their favorite cast members: Tom Deishley. He played the Klingon Dahar Master General Motog, a character known for his leadership of his fellow Experience aliens and for bringing Star Trek to vivid life for millions of fans for more than 10 years.
Tom took great pride in his work as an actor, making General Motog a gruff and somewhat angry Klingon totally believable to Experience visitors. Witnessing his work on a daily basis, I was able to let the worries of the day be cast aside as I watched him interact with his fellow Klingons or deal with those dastardly Ferengi who always seemed to be trying to get something past Motog, or just interacting with humans (tourists) as he told stories of his past glorious battles for the Empire.
Jerad Formby, who played the Ferengi character Quan, offers some unique insight into the man who was Motog:
“Tom Deishley hated the Klingon costume he wore every day,” says Formby. “It wasn’t for kicks or to be closer to the Star Trek mythos. It was a gig and Tom was an actor. He had done and he still wanted to perform Shakespeare on a stage. He learned everything he knew about Star Trek from what training they offered at Star Trek: The Experience and from his fellow alien actors. The costume weighed close to forty pounds, all said and done. The armor and the heavy platform boots (to make him taller) added up to a lot of sweaty weight to haul around an eight-hour shift. He was there to pose in pictures with patrons and he was there to be a real Klingon.
“He was an alien who was expected to be in the moment of improvisational theater—to be funny or to be just a little scary. Everyone there got to name their alien character in the training process and Tom (not being a big ol’ nerd) went with the tried and true Motog. Spelled backwards, “Motog” is “Go Tom.” Tom performed as a Klingon forever, despite how much the armor hurt him. He was a true professional and Motog’s voice could be found anywhere in the 70,000-square-foot facility when he raised it. When he did that, everyone knew that he’d trained on the stage. Any visitor will remember the “old Klingon” and his broken speech pattern; as Tom assumed English wasn’t a Klingon’s first language, he skipped words in his performance to emulate a foreigner.
“In the later years, before Star Trek: The Experience closed, Tom’s costume was changed to something lighter. That made it easier for the “old Klingon” to be a daily sight in Las Vegas, but by then the pain was already part of Motog’s cranky character. When he was performing, he was always Dahar Master Motog, a character he created and would never break. Backstage, he was Tom. He had a little portable DVD player that allowed him to consume all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He loved his cats and he loved discussing acting theory and sharing experiences he’d had with the tourists out in Star Trek land. The costumes were hung up in 2008, but it’s still remarkable to think about Tom and how he made the pain of his costume into Motog’s pain. Because the pain was real, just like Motog had to be real. His job was to make Star Trek real for more than four million visitors for over a decade and he played it well. He played it like Shakespeare.”
Kersten Szczepanski, who played the Andorian K'Stran, also has fond memories of his fellow performer:
“Gentleman. That’s the word that keeps coming up in the outpouring of grief over the tragic loss of Tom Deishley this weekend. Tom reflected the courtly tradition he admired in his participation in Ren Faires across the country. Even when he was upset with someone he’d talk to them straight to their face. Courteous and considerate, but also gruff and quick to anger on behalf of someone he cared about; a more fiercely loyal friend would be hard to find. Leery of the Establishment, I remember Tom talking about protesting the Viet Nam War in his youth. He hated injustice and valued honesty above most things.
“He believed in honesty in his acting. Old-school stage actor, you could say. He loved Shakespeare, loved talking about the Bard’s work nearly as much as playing the roles. With a curmudgeonly attitude that bordered on cute, Tom had little good to say about the bright and shiny gloss of Hollywood spectacles, but he loved discussing the Craft so much. The most valuable advice he ever gave me as a fellow actor came in his phrase, ‘The illusion of the first time.’
“All those qualities played so well in Tom’s portrayal of Klingon General Motog. He was the veteran of the alien character program; the Old Man of the Mountain, if you will. Many fans speak with great love of the General’s threats to strike their heads from their shoulders and mount them on the wall at Quark’s. The spontaneous banter on the floor at Quark’s energized Tom. Improvisation and what we referred to as environmental theatre were new challenges for him at The Experience. His time there was one of his longest runs at any job, and if I remember our conversations correctly, his time in Las Vegas was one of the longest stays in any one spot in his adult life. Until Vegas, he seemed to be always on the move, as restless as the seas he used to scuba dive in.
“There are many references to Sto-vo-kor in friends’ and fans’ comments about Tom. That suits him, I think. I will always treasure the colleague I had at work, the friend I had after The Experience closed, and the teacher I had in life.”
Tom has passed away and he will be sorely missed by his many friends, fans, and family.
Darren Benjamin was a bartender for Quark’s Bar and Restaurant at Star Trek: The Experience. He still lives in Las Vegas and is a co-host of the popular TrekCast: A Star Trek Podcast.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tom Deishley died earlier this month at the age of 70 in his Las Vegas home under circumstances still being investigated by police. He leaves behind a son, Sean, as well as many friends and fans. StarTrek.com offers our condolences to Sean and those many friends and fans.