Robert O’Reilly, best-known to Star Trek fans as the Klingon Chancellor Gowron, explains the Klingon character from how Gowron was conceived by O’Reilly to how Gowron developed.
When O’Reilly first took on the role of Gowron, he had just finished Shakespeare‘s King Lear and Gowron’s character was based on one of the characters from the play, Edmund, a cunning and opportunistic man.
“I took a lot of what Edmund was and sort of slipped him into the character,” said O’Reilly. “I thought it absolutely fit. Remember, the way Gowron came in is not the way he went out. He went out as this bad, terrible Klingon, which I disagreed with strongly, but that’s fine.
“But the earlier part of Gowron’s arc, he was the outsider, the only one with honor, and he was sort of a crazed warrior who did not want to be anywhere near ‘hew-mons.’ So it started off very, very differently. If you take the point of view of Edmund, he’s the outsider. He’s the ‘bastard,’ just out there and not part of the group, and then he decides to defeat everybody and become head of the group. That’s really what Gowron did, too. He became the head of the group. So they were very, very similar in nature.”
O’Reilly’s bulging eyeball trick may have helped lead to the role of Gowron, but his sense of humor also was a factor. “I think what happened, basically, was that they had one line that could be interpreted as an edge of humor,” said O’Reilly. “When I’d first come in it was, ‘Klingon, Klingon, Klingon, ugh.’ I think what Jonathan Frakes hired me for was that crazy loon eyeball thing, but he saw also a sense of humor, and he has one of the great senses of humor of all time. I think that created a curiosity in him and he wanted to see more of me. I think that’s why he hired me. Then there was that line. The young Duras says, during the trial, ‘One day, the Duras family will rule the Empire.’ I’m already the Klingon leader and I lean down to him and I say, ‘Perhaps, but not today.’ It got a big laugh out of the audience at home. All the Klingons loved it. I think everyone watching laughed because they’d never seen a Klingon have that kind of a sense of humor.”
The writers picked up on that humor and began cautiously using it. “I think the writers started edging towards that,” said O’Reilly. “They were also scared of it. They didn’t want to go too far. Eventually I think most of the writers went, ‘Yeah, we can go there.’ From that moment on, I think Klingons could have a sense of humor.’
O’Reilly is currently retired from acting, and is raising three sons as well as attending Star Trek conventions worldwide.