After more than a dozen attempts to land a Star Trek role, J.G. Hertzler scored by thinking outside of the box.
Although he had worked on Star Trek before (Star Trek: The Next Generation: Emissary) Hertzler found it difficult to land the next Star Trek role. “I’d auditioned for Trek a lot,” he said. “I’d guess about fourteen times. I’d come in, punch my card and people would say, ‘Good to see you again. What are you reading this time?’ I’d say, ‘Oh, a Cardassian,” or whatever it was. I finally told my agent, ‘Don’t send me up to Star Trek anymore. They’ve seen everything I could possibly ever do and I haven’t gotten a role. Don’t waste their time or my time.'”
But a chance encounter and a decision to do a different kind of Klingon led to Hertzler getting the role of General Martok. “Real soon after that I had an audition (for something else),” said Hertzler. “I was sitting outside, angry about something, and (DS9 casting director) Ron Surma came by. He said, ‘Oh, John, you might be good for this. Take a look, then come in and read.’ It was General Martok. I auditioned and I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to be your usual Klingon. I’m not going to be offensive, overbearing, self-possessed, arrogant, boorish. I’m going to be Patrick Stewart as a Klingon.’
“So I did a quiet and cerebral audition and when I finished, they said, ‘Do you know what a Klingon is?’ I said, ‘Oh, you want it to be loud, aggressive, abrasive, obnoxious, boorish …’ They said, ‘Yes.’ So I did it with that in mind, and I threw a chair against a wall. They had an old plaster wall and it was a metal chair, and one of the legs stuck in the wall a little bit before it fell out. And I caught my thumbnail when I tossed it. I ripped about half my thumbnail off. You must understand, I played linebacker in college, and to play football, especially linebacker, it’s barely controlled rage. So that’s where I’m coming from in terms of life, barely controlled rage. So the linebacker welled up in me and there I was, with a chair in the wall and blood dripping from my thumb, and I ranted and roared. They said, ‘Well, thank you,’ and they looked a little worried. I heard a day or two later that I got the role.”
Hertzler has a favorite episode of those in which he participated. “I think Once More unto the Breach was my favorite because I was dealing with John Colicos as Kor, which was an honor,” he said. “And I got to do a tiny bit of writing in that one. I asked Ron (Moore) if I could add a line to a long speech I had at the end of the episode. I added, ‘Unfortunately, my father did not live to see that day.’ That, for me, rounded out the character’s choice to never forgive, to take his hatred of Kor and his resentment to the grave. It was important to me to not forgive Kor on behalf of my father. They said, ‘People like Martok. They want to root for him.’ I said, ‘You know, it really doesn’t matter.’ As a character, as an actor it’s a lot more exciting to play that ‘human failure’ of never forgiving than it is to forgive. You might be a better angel to forgive, but there aren’t that many angels in the Klingon nature.”