Published Jul 11, 2016
Talking to TOS & Enterprise Guest Jack Donner
Talking to TOS & Enterprise Guest Jack Donner
By StarTrek.com Staff
Jack Donner hasn’t been working since the beginning of time. It just seems that way, much to the entertainment of moviegoers and television viewers who’ve seen his work all these years. His credits span back to 1960 and include Death Valley Days, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, Kojak, Baywatch, Frasier, Charmed, Stigmata, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Imaginary Heroes, Alias, Criminal Minds, General Hospital, J. Edgar, Suburgatory and Fear the Walking Dead. He also lent his talents to Star Trek, playing Tal in the third-season TOS episode “The Enterprise Incident” and, 36 years long years later, portraying the Vulcan Priest in the Enterprise episodes “Home” and “Kir’Shara.” Donner will be among the guests at Star Trek Las Vegas, which will take place at the Rio Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas from August 3-7. The upcoming appearance provided us with the perfect opportunity to interview Donner, and here’s what the actor – who is 87 and still working -- had to say:
You've been acting since 1960 and you have a very distinctive face. So, when people meet you in the street or at the supermarket, what are the films and shows they cite as their favorites of yours? And, what are our favorites?
Well, fans recognize me from Mission Impossible, Star Trek, stuff like that. All About Evil, too. It’s mostly Mission: Impossible. J. Edgar is another one. Whatever I'm working on is what I’m proudest of. I put my heart and soul into whatever I'm doing. So it's all my favorite. If there's any one -- well, I guess Star Trek would have been one of my favorites.
We had to postpone this interview a day because you had an audition. What does it mean to you that, at 87 years young, you're still landing roles?
Well, I expect to be working. And I think I'll be working for a long time yet. It's what I do.
What is it that you still love about it?
Well, doing it. Doing it, and the challenge of every new role. And the accolades that come with it. I enjoy that very much. It's my work.
Let's go back to Star Trek? By the time you got “The Enterprise Incident,” Trek was in its 3rd season. How well did you know the show at that point?
Not very well. You know, it was just another show, as far as a lot of us were concerned. And we were just interested in working. We didn’t think about the show as being such a success as it turned out to be. So I was delighted that I got the job, and I was delighted doing it. And it was a lot of fun. And very interesting. And it was a different sort of a role, Subcommander Tal. I love that name. I call myself Tal now and then. And I'll answer the phone sometimes, "Tal speaking." They'll say, "Oh, is Jack Donner there?" And I say, "Well, it's the same person."
Had you auditioned beforehand for Star Trek?
No. That was my first audition, my first job for the show.
What did the powers that be tell you about Romulans? Did they have you go back and watch a couple of episodes?
No. No, they didn’t say much about it at all. And I think the reason for that is that I was so into the role that they just assumed that I knew all about it. So they didn’t say much about it, except the director said, "Go here, go there, try this, try that." And that's the way it went.
What interested you about Subcommander Tal as a character?
Well, that he was an alien. And it was a different kind of a role. I wish I could be very -- you know, as an actor, I try to understand the person. The inner person. And so I don't concern myself necessarily with the trimmings. As far as I'm concerned, it's another life to fulfill, to become, to...
Embody is a good word, yeah.
What do you remember about making the episode? Any anecdotes that come to mind?
Yeah. It went along regularly, like a show should. I don't remember anything unusual or specifically poignant about it. Doing that kind of a role is fun, it's unusual. It's hard to explain, actually. However, as an actor, you just get into the character itself. And so you don't trouble yourself with outside factors very much.
The costume, and that severe look that he had, must have really helped you become even more foreign and alien.
Exactly. That's it, you know? You said it even better than I could. It was all of that that contributed to the depth of the job.
Star Trek exploded between when you did it and maybe 10 years later…
It did, and a lot more people probably saw the episode later on than when it first aired. The show, it's a source of pride. It's a source of pleasure. And self-recognition. You know, I was very proud of myself for doing it and, I think, doing it well. And as you say, it's the differences when they layer character that made it interesting.
More than 35 years later, along comes Enterprise. How did that fall into place, and did you know you'd be in more than one episode?
Oh, boy, that was good. Well, you know, like I say, I love to work. That's why I'm still trying to do it. I just love working. And so whatever job I'm doing, it becomes the entire focus of my attention and my being. Because work, to me, is not just a job. It's a fulfillment. It's a purpose. And it's a means and an end in itself. I’m pretty sure I auditioned for Enterprise. I’m not sure if they knew I’d done The Original Series. And I don’t think when I got that I was aware I’d end up doing a second one.
What do you remember about shooting your episodes, which were “Home” and “Kir'Shara”?
I'd say that it was a regular tone, so far as shooting it. So there was nothing outstanding about it. It's, "OK, next thing." It was a good group of people, led by Scott (Bakula). You get to know your colleagues a little bit and the experience really has to do with the character you're playing, and the characters they are playing. And it's the interaction that's important. But there was nothing, "Oh my God!" extraordinary about it. Now, to other people, actors are mythical characters, I guess. But to us, it's work.
I remember in your Enterprise episode, people thought you were playing Spock's brother, because you looked a little like Leonard Nimoy.
I know. I remember even the crew members, I would be sitting there waiting for my scenes, and one particular crew member walked past me and whispered, "Spock." [laughs] He was just saying, "You look like Spock, you act like Spock."
Did you keep your ears?
You mean, personally? Do I have them in a box somewhere? No. No. I have my own ears, that I pay attention to.
They're doing a new Star Trek series that starts shooting in the fall. How interested would you be in doing more Trek?
Well, I'm an actor. I'm still an actor. And I'm really interested in working. Absolutely. I was in a doctor's office, and a young man said, "Oh, Mr. Donner." I said, "Oh, how do you know my name?" He said, "I'm Leonard Nimoy's grandchild." [laughs]. It was funny. That was about eight months ago or so. That was interesting.
Speaking of more Trek, you'll be at the big Star Trek Las Vegas event in August. How do you enjoy those kinds of experiences, meeting the fans, telling the old stories, signing autographs?
It's fun. For me, it's a lot of fun and I enjoy doing it very much. But I'm a ham, so... [laughs] So, of course. So I love being with people. Especially when it has to do with my work.
Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What does it mean to you to be a part of something that’s such a pop culture phenomenon like this?
I was talking to my partner about that. And she said, "You have touched so many people's lives." Well, as actors, we do that. That's part of our job, and that's a phenomenal part of being an actor. So I really appreciate and love the fact that I was in these Star Trek roles. And it being on film, it goes on and on and on, and it lives forever, in a way.
I was just going to say, that in another 50 years, you and I will be long gone, but people will still be talking about that.
No, I plan to be here. [laughs]
You'll be 137, but God bless you.
Well, there you are. You know, the human body is a phenomenal machine. If you take care of it, it'll take care of you. Our life span is much longer than typically evidenced, because people do not appreciate or respect their bodies, their lives, as the miracle that it is.
Well then, I'll make you a deal. In 50 years, you and I will have another conversation...
Won't that be great? It’ll be a hell of a conversation. I'll tell you everything that happens to me, or that will have happened to me in the next 50 years.
Go to www.Creationent.com for additional details about Star Trek Las Vegas.