Published Dec 18, 2023
The Retro Interview: Majel Barrett
In an interview from 1988, Barrett details her hopes for 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and more.
Many — too many — of the people who helped make Star Trek the phenomenon that it is today are sadly no longer with us. But what they helped create, and what they said about doing so, remains out there in the ether, and on the pages of many official licensed Star Trek publications. Today, we're pleased to present a conversation with Majel Barrett, written by Bill Florence for Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Official Magazine Series, Vol. 2, which was released in January 1988.
Sitting behind her Lincoln Enterprises table at a convention dedicated to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Majel Barrett takes a break from signing autographs and talking with fans. Interested television viewers have joined diehard Star Star fans for the two-day event, eager to get their first glimpse of the show.
Earlier in the day, Barrett introduced slides, character descriptions, and live footage from the first segment of The Next Generation, "Encounter at Farpoint." She has even brought various props from the show’s set and delighted audiences with demonstrations of a "working" tricorder and phaser weapon.
Barrett is eager to discuss something she is very excited about — her role in The Next Generation.
"I don’t see much of a future for Christine Chapel," she notes of her previous Star Trek character. "I really see much more of a future for Majel Barrett playing Lwaxana Troi." Troi, her character in the new series, is an alien — a Betazoid — and the mother of Enterprise Counselor Deanna Troi.
"Lwaxana is sort of the Auntie Mame of the galaxy," Barrett says. "She’s a much more fun character, and I can play her forever, because I’m at an age where that’s totally believable. I would like to continue to do that. I could leave Chapel very easily. However, if somebody gave me the chance to do her again, of course I would."
Barrett, as Troi, first appears in the episode, “Haven,” in which she beams aboard the ship to pressure her daughter into an arranged marriage. "Gene [Roddenberry] had said that he thinks there will be another script down the line,” which would feature the character again. But I would like to have more than one script," Barrett says. She will be trying very hard to make the part a recurring one. "I would like to put a little pressure on Gene. But the idea of nepotism sticks in his craw sometimes and people tell him, 'Gee, it looks funny.' So he’s listening to that more than to my pleas and tears.
"If the audience likes my character in the episode, however, they should write the studio. If they write to Gene, he’ll say, 'Oh, another one of these,' and into the wastebasket it goes. I would like the other people involved in Star Trek to find out that, yes, there is some interest out there for me."
The cast of The Next Generation garners high praise from Barrett. "These people are not Hollywood stars, they aren’t faces, they aren’t pretty boys and pretty girls," she says. "These people have a background of mostly stage, and with the exception of LeVar Burton, Patrick Stewart, and Wil Wheaton, they’re not widely known. They have been working actors, and they have been doing their thing." She completes the thought with great emphasis, "They have paid their dues, and they are good."
For Barrett, the decision to become an actress was gradual one. "When I was 10 years old, my mother put me in the Cleveland Playhouse, just because I was a backward child," she recalls. "As I went through school, I felt that this was what I wanted to do, but it was more of an avocation than a vocation. Then, when I graduated from college, I went to law school for a year, but I had been doing acting all the way through. I finally decided that, after flunking Contracts, a six-credit course, I really didn’t want to take it again, and I wasn’t going to be a very good lawyer anyway. So, I went up to New York and gave professional acting a try."
She attended Flora Stone Mather College of Western Reserve University (now Case Western University) for one year before transferring down to the University of Miami. "I always kid everybody and say I majored in Underwater Basket Weaving," Barrett laughs, "but I actually had a major and minor in Radio & Drama/TV."
There was no specific actress that Barrett tried to emulate as she trained to become a professional. "I just wanted to be a damn fine actress," she says. "I saw stardom, fame, and notoriety, but mostly I saw work and ability. I can’t honestly say that I had an idol at that time. I loved Katharine Hepburn. I still do. But I would like to be great on my own, in my own way, and do the best that I possibly can."
The year 1969 saw both the cancellation of the first Star Trek TV series and the marriage of Barrett and Roddenberry. They had met some years before Star Trek, as Barrett explains. "I knew him when I went over to Screen Gems for the first time on interviews. I was introduced to him, and we just became friends for two or three years. I would stop by when I was on the studio lot, and we would have coffee or something. There were no romantic interludes. We became good friends before we ever managed to start dating. And from that point on, it was kismet."
Barrett credits the creation of Star Trek entirely to her husband’s powerful imagination. "The expression 'Behind every great man is a great woman' does not work out here," she laughs. "If there was any inspiration to give, maybe I inspired him a little. The creativity and the imagination are all his. And as far as writing is concerned, I’m lucky I can sign my own name to the bottom of a check."
The couple have a 12-year-old son, Rod Jr. who is interested in "girls and wasting time," according to his mother. Barrett would love to see him follow his parents’ footsteps into show business, "because it has been very good to us," she says.
A golfer for 17 years, Barrett has played with such people as Harvey Korman, Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, and others. She also attends Star Trek conventions frequently. "It’s not very difficult to come to a place where people look at you adoringly, and where there’s such adulation showered upon you," Majel Barrett observes. "People here are so nice, so friendly and so warm, and I get so much love that I love to give some of it back."