Jennifer Gatti made her mark on Star Trek as Ba’el, the half-Klingon/half-Romulan character she portrayed on in the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter, “Birthright,” and as Libby in the Star Trek: Voyager installment, “Non Sequitur.” But it’s not as widely known that she almost landed role of Kes on Voyager. In fact, it came down to her and Jennifer Lien. Though Lien won the part, Gatti still has a great Trek connection and she’s worked pretty steadily thereafter, guest-starring on everything from NCIS, JAG and Drop Dead Diva to Devious Maids, Nashville and Vice Principals.
Gatti — whom some people may remember as the teen girl at the center of Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” music video — will make her Star Trek Las Vegas debut next week, which finally gave StarTrek.com the opportunity to chat with her.
StarTrek.com: How ready are you to meet the fans at Star Trek Las Vegas, and what stands out most about your previous Trek convention appearances?
Jennifer Gatti: I’m really excited about Star Trek Las Vegas. It’ll be my first big convention. Last summer, I was a guest at the Vul-Con convention in Alberta, Canada and that was the first time I was ever invited to a convention. The fans were amazing – so kind and enthusiastic – and it was a blast to hang out with them. Las Vegas will be a whole new experience for me because of the size of the convention, but I’m looking forward to meeting some of my favorite actors, as well as all of the fans.
How familiar were you with Star Trek before guest-starring on TNG and Voyager?
JG: I’m a big fan of the original Star Trek series, and I was a faithful viewer of TNG before playing Ba’el. When I booked the role, my Dad was so excited because he loved TNG and Picard was his absolute favorite character. I got to meet Patrick Stewart briefly while on set, and it was so thrilling to be a part of that show.
Go back in time to TNG. What was your audition like for Ba'el?
JG: There were three or four callbacks before I booked the role. Everybody wanted to be on TNG, and the producers were very thorough with the auditioning process and making sure they got what they wanted. I felt pretty good through most of that process that I was going to get the part. Sometimes you just know that you’re right for a part, and all you have to do is not blow the audition.
She was part Klingon, part Romulan and 100 percent in love with Worf. What do you recall of trying to get into character?
JG: So, the story was a very human story dealing with bigotry, acceptance, and cultural differences between people – or in this case, Klingon and Romulan. The script was great in helping me find the inner life of Ba’el, but I really needed the makeup and the costume to help me discover Ba’el’s physical being.
How long did the makeup process take, and can you talk a bit more about helpful it was to you in breathing life into Ba'el?
JG: Once everything was made, the makeup process took two hours to put on, and about 90 minutes to take off. The makeup, the hair, the teeth, and the costume were what ultimately helped me fully flesh out Ba’el. It was a two-week process getting everything made. I had a cast mold made of my head and face, a wig was created, I had a molding of my teeth, and several costume fittings to complete Ba’el. During that time I was able to really discover Ba’el’s physicality. The makeup and the costumes forced my body to move in certain ways that were not like my natural body movements. So, Ba’el stands straighter than I do, for example. And what I discovered was that even though she was peaceful and kind, her body had a warrior strength that she does not discover until Worf comes along and teaches the Klingon ways.
What stands out most about sharing scenes with Michael Dorn?
JG: I remember he was really funny. He was very professional and easy to work with, but he also could really make me laugh. It’s always such a relief when you meet an actor you’re a fan of and they turn out to be a nice person. And that’s Michael Dorn.
At some point along the way, you were up for the role of Kes on Voyager. What do you remember of going up for the role? And you came so close, second to Jennifer Lien. That kind of thing happens all the time in the industry, but how frustrating was it then?
JG: Ugh, it was so frustrating. I really, really wanted that part, but I totally blew the last audition. Not that I would have gotten it anyway, but I had been called back 4 or 5 times and it came down to me and Jennifer Lien. I just psyched myself out too much and got nervous because I wanted it so badly that it affected my audition. I basically tried a little too hard and that sometimes comes off as inexperience, so the network heads were not impressed, I guess. Not to take anything away from Jennifer Lien – she totally deserved the role and did a great job. So, kudos to her for not blowing her audition, like I did.
Can we assume that the producers and/or casting people remembered you and brought you in for "Non Sequitur"?
JG: Yes, so the bright side of that story is that they gave me another shot and I got to be a part of the Voyager world anyway.
Libby was a solid one-off role. What interested you most about the character?
JG: Well, it was nice to play a human and not have to show up on set at [four in the morning] to have two hours of makeup put on, ha-ha. But seriously, I just loved the story of Kim waking up next to his fiancé – the place he’s been trying to get back to – only to have to decide about leaving her again because it’s not where he’s supposed to be. And I thought Libby was a great role. As far as she’s concerned, nothing has changed, and now Kim is going to devastate her world by leaving. I still feel like he should’ve stayed, but I’m biased, ha-ha.
You had real chemistry with Garrett Wang. What was it like interacting with him?
JG: I know, we really hit it off and worked well together. I got very lucky with both of my Star Trek boyfriends. My experiences with both Star Trek casts were amazing. I have such fond memories of working on both shows. Garrett was very attentive and we spent a lot of time with the director talking about Libby and Kim’s relationship, so when we filmed, the audience could feel the love and the history between these two characters.
You've done a lot of work over the years, but an actor does a Trek show or two and it pretty much lives on forever. What's that like for you, more than 25 years later?
JG: It’s very surreal because it doesn’t seem that long ago. Both of my episodes are still being watched on a regular basis, and new, younger Star Trek fans discover them every day. It also was one of those working experiences for me that was so fun, it’s easy to remember my days on the set.
We really appreciated your performance on Vice Principals. How much fun did you have on that show?
JG: Thanks. Vice Principals is another show where I had the best time and got to work with some great people. Danny McBride is so nice and so good to work with. He creates a fun atmosphere on set. I was only supposed to do a couple of episodes in the first season, but it turned into a much larger role, and I was grateful for that because I got to work with some really talented people.
IMDB lists a short called Indolence as an upcoming project. What is that and what do you play?
JG: I saw that someone put that in there. Indolence is a seven-minute short I worked on in Asheville, NC, which is where I live now. There is a community of actors, filmmakers, and artists who live here and film projects in the area. Most of them are non-union projects, so I’m not able to be involved, but the writer/producer of this film did a SAG contract with me so I could be in it. It’s a horror short and I play a mom. It was a fun day.
What else are you working on these days?
JG: I recently worked on an episode of Swamp Thing [for DC Comics]. I play Dr. Janice Fortier in episode 10. I was supposed to continue on to episode 11, but the show was suddenly rewritten to have it end in 10 episodes. I got to work with Jennifer Beals, which was exciting for me because I’m a fan of her work.