The Sci-Fi Summit - Part 2By Joseph Di Lella
Posted at April 14, 2003 - 9:31 AM GMT
Creation Entertainment staged its 11th annual Grand Slam Convention in Pasadena on the weekend of March 28 - 30, with guests ranging from James Doohan (Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott) and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) from the original Star Trek to Voyager's Robert Picardo (the EMH) and The Next Generation's Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi). Roving reporter Joseph D. Di Lella was there to get the latest news straight from the stars.
In part one, you heard my self-imposed confessional for missing the March 28th Grand Slam day and evening shows. Thanks for tuning in again. I promise, no more excuses. I wish I could say that Sunday at the Pasadena Center was jammed packed full of big-name Trek stars. Sadly, it was not. Regardless, I have a few stories that you may not have read on the Internet. I even have a few more photographs of our favourite Trek people. Let the show begin, again...
Hikaru Sulu...Not Just A Helmsman
George Takei (Hikaru Sulu) is not a man to take life easy or rest on his Trek laurels. Since his three-year stint on Star Trek, George has been a vocal spokesman for the Japanese-American community. Mr. Takei has also taken on numerous local volunteer positions in his hometown of Los Angeles to better race relations.
For example, during his time on the Board of Directors for the California Rapid Transit District, George was instrumental in the 'Art in Transit' program. Mr. Takei made sure that every Metro Link station was given its own distinctive look. This action deepened ethnic pride in culturally diverse neighborhoods of greater LA.
Why does he work so hard for the underdog? George understands oppression all too well. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in 1941, his family and 120,000 across the nation were interned in detention camps as 'suspected' allies of the invasion force. Today, Mr. Takei fights for his people, who still need a strong advocate.
"We live in a participatory democracy, do we not?" asked Mr. Takei. "Each one of us must be responsible citizens." During President Bill Clinton's administration, George was appointed to the board of the United States-Japan Friendship Commission, where he served several terms in office. Though Mr. Takei would like to be directly involved in governmental matters today, it simply takes too much time and money to run a campaign. Though he narrowly missed winning (by only 1,647 votes) a council seat in Los Angeles years ago, he sees his days as an elected official as over. "I will accept selected appointed positions, but my days of running for office are over."
Did Star Trek help or hurt his chances when he ran for state office nearly a decade ago? According to Mr. Takei, Trek created a sticky situation for him when he made a guest appearance in a Voyager episode some years back. Due to his eighteen minutes of screen time, Californian UPN affiliates stations had to offer the same time to opposing candidates. "Because of the equal time for candidates law, my episode was pulled in reruns that year. That didn't hurt me financially but it did take money from people on the production crew." Mr. Takei felt it was a slap in the face to the intent of the law. "But I didn't appear as George Takei...I appeared as Sulu. I wasn't giving my opinions on political concerns, right? I felt this was unfair to penalise me, and my friends."
Turning to entertainment news, the fans were pleasantly surprised to hear that George's voice over work in Mulan will be reprised again in a second Disney feature. "I try to play him fat," Mr. Takei joked, referring to the deep, rich voice he lends to the character. George enjoys voicing animated characters and hopes the fans will come out in droves to see Mulan 2.
Fans will likely remember his most recent work - portraying the role that made him famous, Hikaru Sulu - in a 2002 Futurama episode. If you look closely at the credits, you'll find Mr. Takei's voice talents on shows like The Simpsons and other cartoons. Still, George is driven by principles rather than the desire to chase after the almighty dollar. If comes down to taking a juicy dramatic part or working on the behalf of others, don't be surprised if he turns down the lucrative deal. He's that type of individual.
Can Klingons And Empaths Play Nice?
Anyone who has ever seen Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi) on the convention tour knows that she never disappoints an audience. What other actor do you know that hugs emotionally needy Trek fans, coddles their puppies, accepts an alcoholic beverage for her birthday and drinks it on stage? Even with her predictable bawdy humor, she once again made a once strong Klingon warrior blush.
Deanna Troi's on again, off again lover, Worf, a.k.a. Michael Dorn, may be getting a bit old for this type of behavior, but Marina plays to the crowd like an egomaniacal conductor of an orchestra. She loves any and all audiences and Michael, well, he plays second banana with a grain of salt.
On Sunday, Marina scorned Mr. Dorn for being late to the convention site. Ms. Sirtis then chided him on his lack of facial hair (according to Dorn, he shaved off his moustache and beard as a birthday gift). Marina even slipped her hand down the backside of his pants when a fan asked the ultimate, poor taste question: Do you wear boxers, briefs or silk? Though a thoroughly emasculating gesture to most men, this didn't phase the stoic, but bemused actor.
A fan asked Ms. Sirtis if she was ever approached to guest star on Deep Space Nine. Marina laughed for several minutes. "They couldn't handle me over there." Ms. Sirtis noted that, as opposed to the TNG set which was a blast, the DS9 stages were funeral-like in mood. She went on to say that she once visited Michael on the DS9 soundstage, and as usual, talked loudly to him and other production people. When David Livingston, a frequent Trek director, heard the noise he demanded quiet — and the name of the perpetrator. As she walked over to him, waving a big hello, he retorted: "Oh, it's you." His tone inferred, according to Ms. Sirtis, that she never darken the sets of Star Trek again while he was directing an episode.
Another attendee asked Mr. Dorn, "Will you be appearing on Enterprise?" His blunt, but self-effacing response: "I'm too difficult to work with and I cost a lot of money. No, they don't want me there."
This comment dovetailed into another scathing, but all-in-good-fun ribbing of Patrick Stewart's (Jean-Luc Picard) stints as a TNG director. "When we ever had problems with potentially dangerous or unhealthy conditions on the set, Patrick was the first to complain. He went to SAG and made sure people came out and tested for toxins when the smoke machine was used," said Marina.
Yet when Mr. Stewart directed the two in "A Fistful of Datas" the tables were turned — and so was the director's opinion on his fellow actor's health. "Do you remember all that smoke in the bar?" asked Mr. Dorn. "Well, I'm coughing my lungs out and asking for them to stop. All Patrick could say was, 'Come on Michael, it's not that bad, really now.' And he calls for more smoke."
Mr. Dorn also recalled another bar incident in TNG's "Preemptive Strike" where he and Brent Spiner (Data) made Stewart's life miserable. "We thought we get back at him for all those years of torturing us as a director. In the scene, we're supposed to enter a bar, asking if the patrons have seen a Bajoran woman. We both decided to use different dialects (Australian, mid-western USA, British, Scottish, etc.) with the dialogue. That made him lose control. I don't know how many takes it took to shot the scene. He didn't yell at us, but he couldn't control his own laughter. When a Paramount executive walked onto the set unexpectedly, it made everyone nervous. But we did the funny voices again, anyway. Patrick was quite embarrassed. He tried to scold us afterwards, but couldn't keep a straight face."
Buffy Actors, Authors & Auctions
Unless you were a Buffy or Angel fan hanging around for James Marsters (Spike), Nicolas Brendon (Xander) or Andy Hallett (The Host), the convention was primarily over. However, there were various Trek authors and illustrators — Larry Nemecek, Rick Sternback, Geoffrey Mandel and Tim Earls — speaking just down the hall from the main convention floor. The biggest crowd gathered for Walter Koenig (Chekov), who promoted his movie, Illegal Aliens.
The most interesting event of the afternoon in the Little Theater was the final charity auction of Star Trek memorabilia. Most of the photos and artifacts made for crazy, low bidding wars. For our efforts, we paid $60 for a fleece sweater and a regular sweatshirt with Trek logos.
Trek Guest Stars? Please Join Them in the Annex...
Though the big names were gone, a fan could always talk with supporting cast members that have made the various Trek series so enjoyable over the years. Several dozen actors from the various Trek series graced the cramped quarters in the Pasadena Center's main annex over the three days.
Highest ranking officers? Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest) of Enterprise, Natalija Nogulich (Admiral Nechayev) of TNG and Richard Herd (Admiral Paris) of Voyager kept the lower ranks in order. Aliens and villains? Brian Thompson (guest spots in TNG, DS9 & Star Trek Generations), Martin Rayner (Dr. Chaotica) and his henchman, Nicolas Worth (Lonzak) made time for the fans. Pretty faces? Arlene Martel ("Amok Time"), Barbara Luna ("Mirror, Mirror") and France Nuyen ("Elaan of Troyious"). Ms. Nuyen still has that deep, penetrating stare that buckles the knees of most men — including me.
Several Trek actresses have worked very hard to shed their stereotyped 'fem fatale' images. For example, Celeste Yarnell ("The Apple") has earned a doctoral degree in veterinary science. She has also authored several books in her selected field as well. Celeste also promotes her own line of animal care and food products. In fact, Celeste remembered us from our visit to the Star Trek Slanted Fedora Convention in Las Vegas last August. I wonder why — Elsbeth bought a book and talked with her about cats, dogs and birds for about an hour and a half. And me? I ended up wheeling her luggage out from her behind the sellers' table to a SUV outside the hotel. For my efforts, Ms. Yarnell gave me a generous hug, a hand fan, plus a bottle of water for my troubles. Can you say toady?
Kathryn Leigh Scott (Nuria in TNG's, "Who Watchers the Watchers?") is another bright lady who has parlayed a writing career in-between acting gigs. A four year veteran of the spooky and popular soap, Dark Shadows, Ms. Scott recently completed a book on the life of Playboy bunnies. Not a salacious text, it chronicles the real life troubles and pitfalls of subjected young women in men's clubs.
Actors With A Common Person's Touch
The most pleasant encounter was my visit with the sincerely gracious, thoughtful and funny, Mr. Richard Herd. Richard didn't care if you bought his autograph, photos, etc. He simply wanted to speak with the fans, make jokes, or talk about, well, anything.
Elsbeth and I spoke with Richard about the US economy, the Iraqi War and how convention goers seem reluctant to part with their dollars these days. When I spoke with him about my screenwriting ambitions, he offered advice on how to break into the world of Hollywood. After about twenty minutes, we three parted company — but not before he asked me to remember him for a role if I ever landed an Enterprise pitch or sold a movie treatment. If you're reading this Richard, I won't forget you.
My last impromptu visit was with Max Grodénchik (Rom of DS9). When I mentioned my friend, freelance Trek writer Jack Trevino, Max warmed up to me right away. Max had a load of fun in his episode, "Little Green Men". Mr. Grodénchik told me a story of the final DS9 cast party. Held on set, the actors ate their lunch and watched television monitors with segments of selected DS9episodes. "When 'Little Green Men' started to play, Nana Visitor (Kira Nerys) and Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), and other principal actors of the show, started to bust up laughing. They had never seen the story before." Max was never prouder to play Quark's bumbling brother than the day his fellow actors gave him such marvelous kudos for his comedic interpretation of a Roswell alien.
All Good Things...
Elsbeth and I hated to say goodbye to our friends, but the convention doors closed on us about 6 p.m. The road back to San Diego, with light traffic, made the journey back easier much than the trip up. What had we accomplished at the Sci-Fi Summit? For one, we generated two reports for TrekToday. On Saturday, I met up again with Voyager writer Harry 'Doc' Kloor and revamped our book proposal. And who could forget the effervescent Mr. Eric Stillwell, The Dead Zone and the people who make it go. Till next time...
Contributing reporters and photographers: Elsbeth Wolf and Dainis Kiperts
Joseph Di Lella is a freelance writer and panelist at the San Diego Comic Con. He can be reached via this page at AllExperts.com.