William Schallert, best-known to Star Trek fans as the Undersecretary for Agriculture Nilz Baris on The Trouble With Tribbles, shared his memories of playing the cranky official who was offended by Captain Kirk’s lack of respect for him.
When the actor appeared at his first Star Trek convention in Los Angeles, he didn’t even recognize the name of the character whom he had played in The Trouble With Tribbles. “As I came through the door, [the fans] were saying, ‘Nilz Baris!’ I’m looking around and they said, ‘No, that’s you!’ So that’s how I learned my name from that show.”
Although he played a “rather stuffy bureaucrat,” Schallert, who didn’t see the episode until several years ago, was amused by Nilz Baris. “But when I got (Star Trek) I did not see the episode when it was on the air initially,” said Schallert. “I did catch up with it about two or three years ago, and it was fun to watch because I was laying into Shatner a lot. Every once in a while people confused our names; Schallert-Shatner, it’s pretty close for some people. So people would call me Shatner and I guess probably once in a while somebody would call him Schallert. Probably not very often. But what happened was when I saw it, I just got a big kick out of the way I was chewing him out. Baris really laced into Kirk. I got to be very nasty with him, and it was really fun.”
Schallert was impressed with how Star Trek impacted people. “…There was a kid there who was, at the most, eight or nine years old,” he said. “He had six months to live and he was in a wheelchair, and this was the most important thing he could do in the last six months of his life, coming to this Star Trek convention. I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing. This show has a real hold on people.’ He was thrilled to be there. He was being wheeled around and shaking hands with people. I was thinking, ‘He’s going to die, and this is the thing he had to do before he died.’ It tells you something about the show.”
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Sanctuary, Schallert played Varani, a Bajoran musician. Although he had some musical experience, it did not help when it came to playing the instrument provided to him. “I had to play a musical instrument,” he said. “It happens that I’m a trained musician and I’ve played the piano all my life. I’d been a folk singer at one time, so I could play guitar. But I’d never played wind instruments. This thing they gave me had nothing on it to suggest where your fingers were supposed to go, and they were playing a specific tune. So I had to sort of imagine in my mind that these various fingers were associated with various notes. I tried my best to duplicate what the tune of the song was. I kind of got close, but I didn’t get it exact. That was actually the most difficult thing I had to do on the show. The acting part of it was fairly simple.”
Schallert is a recurring character on True Blood, and also attends the occasional Star Trek convention. He will be at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas next month.