Published Apr 3, 2023
WARP FIVE: Daniel Davis on the Return of the Dastardly James Moriarty
The legacy actor weighs in on his role as the adversarial hologram over three decades later.
By Christine Dinh
SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Picard Season 3, Episode 6 "The Bounty" to follow!
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
On the list of memorable foes Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise-D crew took on, Professor James Moriarty instantly comes to mind for most fans. Despite only appearing in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in A Bottle”), the fully fleshed out hologram feels as if he’s been present for far longer.
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to talk to actor Daniel Davis about the iconic Sherlock Holmes foe, his relationships with the Star Trek family, returning to Moriarty over 30 years later in Star Trek: Picard.
On the Star Trek Family
For most Star Trek guest stars, they always recall being greeted with welcoming arms by the cast of any series, and the experience was no different for Daniel Davis.
“It’s a big of a cliché to say that the cast is like a family but they are, and I am part of that family now and it’s wonderful,” shares Davis. “They’ve included me at Star Trek conventions. On the last night, they typically go out for a big dinner with each other, and they’ve invited me along for the last several times that I’ve seen them. I really do feel close to them, and it was wonderful to just walk back into that world because they have a lot of fun. They’re very serious about the work and they enjoy each other still to this day, and that’s rare and wonderful to be a part of.”
On Reprising His Holographic Yet Sentient Role
Moriarty first appeared in the second season episode “Elementary, Dear Data,” as part of the Enterprise-D’s holodeck programs based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels. However, Data has memorized all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and their cases, solves all the mysteries without going through the holo-simulation. At the suggestion of Dr. Pulaski and Geordi La Forge, on finding a program that’s challenging for an individual like Data, they have the ship’s computer develop a new Sherlock Holmes-inspired story. Unfortunately, for the ship’s crew, when Geordi set the parameters, he asked for a “Holmes-type mystery with an opponent capable of defeating Data,” resulting in a sentient holographic Moriarty who is aware that Data and Geordi are not Holmes and Watson, respectively, possesses thoughts he cannot comprehend, and can control the ship’s computer. His demand is clear; Moriarty wants to exist outside of the holodeck.
Star Trek: Picard’s “The Bounty” marks Davis’ third appearance as Professor James Moriarty. On his return as the Holmesian foe, Davis remarks, “Getting back into the character was a little strange because it wasn't really Moriarty from The Next Generation.”
“There was something slightly askew about it,” explains Davis. “I was never sent the entire script; I only had the pages that I was on because they're very protective about material getting out. And I couldn't make heads or tails of it. And even Jonathan [Frakes’] character says, ‘This is not the Moriarty we knew on Enterprise.’ And I thought, ‘That's right, and who am I?’”
On Star Trek: Picard’s Iteration of Moriarty
Davis only had the opportunity to view the episode in its entirety before his press interviews where it suddenly all clicked into place for him.
“It wasn’t until I saw the episode myself that I realized that I was a figment of whatever powers Data had left to guide Worf and Riker into where Data was so they could find him,” Davis elaborates. “It was really the perfect choice of character to be recognizable to Riker. You put in the black bird, you put in the tune, and you put in Moriarty. Then somewhere in Riker's mind, he goes, ‘Ah, Data's around. Data's here somewhere.’ That's when I figured out, ‘Oh, that's what I was doing.’ I didn't know what I was doing until I saw it. I'm curious to see how the fans are going to react to it. I really am.”
With Davis portraying a version of Moriarty from Data’s mind, how did he approach the role? He first revisited the Moriarty he knew from The Next Generation.
“It was interesting because again, it’s that thing that actors do,” states Davis. “They just work off the material and off the writing and off what they’re getting and receiving from other people in the scene. To hear LeVar’s character, Geordi, program Moriarty to be smarter than or as smart as Data, suddenly Moriarty appears with more understanding of his situation than any holodeck character prior to that. The fact that he realizes that he is a sentient being, but he can’t leave the holodeck.”
“To get back into the character, I just put the clothes back on and realized, ‘Oh, I’m back to where I was 30 years ago,’” Davis continues, “The only thing that was different was that I had grey hair now. I kept my hat on, so they didn’t see it that much. It wasn't really a challenge to go back into the character; it was just a challenge to know which aspect of the character I was getting back into. But Moriarty wears a lot of hats in Sherlock Holmes, so it made sense. It made sense finally.”
On Davis’ Experience with Star Trek Fans
Fans first caught a glimpse of Davis’ Star Trek: Picard inclusion in footage revealed at last year’s New York Comic Con. To say that fans went wild would be an understatement as Moriarty has been a fan-favorite adversary, not just in The Next Generation, but in the Star Trek pantheon.
What has Davis’ experience been with the Star Trek fandom?
“I have loved going to the conventions so much because when I'm working in the theater, I know immediately how things are playing, how it's being received and how the audience is reacting,” details Davis. “And on television, you don't know that until somebody comes up to you and says something.”
“There’s been so many [fan interactions], but I think one of the most touching ones was a young man in a convention in Australia,” adds Davis. “I was sitting at the table signing my picture and all that, and he was standing off to the corner and he was dressed in a beautiful suit and a tie, not the usual fan. I was there not only as Star Trek, but also The Nanny. And this is so touching, it almost moves me to tell the story. But he stood and he wouldn't approach, and finally, at the table, the line had diminished and there was nobody there. I kept seeing him and I just finally said, ‘Come on over.’ And he very shyly came over and I said, ‘Would you like a picture?’ He said, ‘I can't really afford a picture. I just wanted to tell you that I was bullied all through school, and every day I would come home, and I would watch The Nanny and I would forget about being bullied.’”
“It was so beautiful and very sweet,” Davis continues, “He said, ‘You just gave me so much laughter and joy. I love Moriarty, I love Niles, and I love everything you do.’ So of course, I gave him a picture. I said, ‘You're not going to have to buy it. Don't be silly.’ Those kinds of encounters- I had one couple show up in Las Vegas, and they had taken a photo of me and blown it up to- It was as big as a wall. And they said, ‘Could you please sign this?’ And I said, "Yeah, of course. Where will you put this?’ And they have a barn, and they hang all these pictures from the rafters in the barn. And they had me and they had Patrick [Stewart]. They had tons of people that they love from the show, and we're all now hanging in their barn.”
On Designing His Own Holosuite Program
Where would the legacy actor go if he could design his own holosuite program?
Davis ponders before stating, “In my simulation, I would want to create something where I was in Italy. I love being in Italy, and that I would be making a movie with Franco Zeffirelli where I’m dressed and looked like Marcello Mastroianni.”