Alice KrigeBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 7, 2006 - 5:35 PM GMT
Alice Krige became legendary among Star Trek fans for her portrayal of the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, a role she later reprised in the Star Trek: Voyager finale, "Endgame", and in Borg Invasion 4D at Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas. She has appeared in several other genre productions, including the dystopian dragon film Reign of Fire, the prehistoric children's favourite Dinotopia, Stephen King's Sleepwalkers and the highly acclaimed miniseries Children of Dune.
The South Africa-born actress also played Bathsheba to Richard Gere's King David, appeared in Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire and guest starred as Maddie on several episodes of Deadwood. Her next film, Silent Hill, reunites Krige with Sean Bean, with whom she appeared in Sharpe's Honour. A Laurence Olivier Award winner for a production of Arms and the Man, Krige also spent two seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Krige spoke to The Trek Nation about playing the Borg Queen and her upcoming work to celebrate the release of Star Trek Fan Collective - Borg on DVD. The four-disc set contains ten episodes from The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise, tracing the history of Starfleet's contact with the Borg.
Trek Nation: When you play the Borg Queen, you're playing a character who is not only thinking for herself but for this entire Collective. What does one draw on to be the hive mind?
Alice Krige: I don't know where she came from. I never know, when I embark on a role, whether it's going to develop a life of its own; you can only start the process and hope that the character will grow and take on its own life, but you never know that that will happen. I typically just throw my net of research and exploration very wide. In exploring the Borg Queen before we started filming, I spoke to everyone I came into contact with on the Paramount lot about her and everyone had a different idea about who and what the Borg were.
Trek Nation: You'd see the Borg episodes?
Alice Krige: Yes, I got hold of them before I went in for the audition. Everyone had a different idea of what the origin of the Borg were -- who and what they actually were. At the same time, one of the things I was doing was revisiting A Brief History of Time, and that kind of impelled me to believe that the Borg Queen had actually been around since the Big Bang. We just weren't aware of her. But she is the hive mind; the drones have been colonized by her, as it were, and are her minions. She has absorbed them and they are an extension of her. She's been there, and we will never be without her. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it just transmutes into another form.
Trek Nation: She seems almost gleeful to have met worthy adversaries. Which of the captains did you find more formidable, Picard or Janeway?
Alice Krige: The more powerful the adversary, the more interesting it becomes. In fact the most formidable was Data, but you know the captains were just by-the-by. It was Data who was interesting. I think she understands that she is immortal, so I don't think it worries her, I think it fascinates her.
Trek Nation: How difficult was it, after you had played the role in the movie and you were the person everybody associated with the role - then somebody else played it for several television episodes - then you came back for the Voyager finale? Did you watch what Susanna Thompson had done with the role?
Alice Krige: I didn't watch what Susanna had done. I asked to read the episodes. I read the scripts, but I didn't watch any; I'm sure that she was wonderful, but it wouldn't have been helpful to me. I went back and actually watched First Contact and got very anxious and nervous and thought, 'I don't quite know how I'm going to do this again.'
In fact, a couple of nights before we started filming, it suddenly dawned on me that First Contact had been the Borg Queen with two men, that she used sexuality as a means of manipulation, and I called the producer and I said, 'This is two women. It's going to change, it's going to shift the energy, will it work?' And he said, 'Think of her as omnisexual.' And I thought, 'Oh! Okay!'
Trek Nation: Was this Brannon Braga who said that?
Alice Krige: It probably was, yes. And that kind of opened up whole new vistas and territory for us. So I went and enjoyed it! Which is rather perverse to say but it was actually quite wonderful working with those two women.
Trek Nation: Since the Borg Queen reproduces by assimilation, is she sexual herself, or is she playing off what she thinks the humans want? She knows their deep dark secrets if she's been in their heads.
Alice Krige: Think about it: if she has assimilated humans, she has experienced it, hasn't she? She has direct experience of it. I just think her attachment to it is different than human experience of sexuality. She isn't invested in it the same way, so it gives her a different take on it and she can use it differently.
Trek Nation: Do you enjoy playing that kind of scary, dark woman?
Alice Krige: I have played several of them. I wouldn't say it was more fun, it's just different, because I have played villains in different situations. Last year I worked on a film in which I was effectively the antihero; I wasn't the antagonist. Although on first sight the antagonist turns out to be the hero. I wind up being the one who is morally deeply questionable, and she's a real woman, she fits in the real world.
So I have played, as it were, the antagonist in a verité situation, but mostly I've played the bad guy, the villain, in a larger than life situation and it is very interesting because what you can do, and what becomes exciting, is that you can draw on archetypes, and archetypes have enormous resonance in the human psyche. And so you kind of have backup; you're doing the job but you have the backup of Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, Indian mythology...the mythologies of cultures all have similar archetypes and you kind of set those archetypes reverberating when you get to play a villain in a piece that allows you to be big, like Star Trek which is not about verité. It's not having to create someone who you could be buying a can of soup next to in the marketplace. You wouldn't think 'Oh my god, this is the Borg Queen I'm standing next to!'
That's the fun associated with it, but there is also a challenge and a different kind of enjoyment in creating someone who is indistinguishable from the person next door to you, or sitting in a seat next to you at the dentist. If you would actually not know that she is responsible through the FBI for the assassination of a whole slew of people, you're just buying bread in a supermarket line next to her, it's a different deal.
Trek Nation: I have to ask you the very shallow question that I'm sure everybody has asked you about the costume.
Alice Krige: It's not shallow. Everyone does ask it and it's very germane, because without the costume and without the look of her face and head...it is impossible to separate the character from her physical appearance. In fact, the costume and the makeup were extraordinarily helpful to me in finding who she was. I go in search of a character and I really never know if I'm going to find her, so I never know what it is that's going to trigger the life of the character. There were three things that triggered the life of the Borg Queen. One was watching the video of A Brief History of Time and rereading the book. The other two things were the costume, the suit and the head. By the time we had put her together physically, it was like going through a portal. By the time I put in the lenses, I was in a different state. I'd opened the door to that entity as it were.
Trek Nation: Was it very uncomfortable?
Alice Krige: By the end it was frankly painful. I was so high by the time we were in the second week of it - I shot for fourteen straight days with half a Saturday and a Sunday off in the middle. Basically, we were working 18-hour days. I was working an 18 hour day! Sometimes Scott would leave the second crew of the day to take the makeup off me so that he was fresh in the morning to put it on again. What we did was to work an 18-hour day, have 9 hours off, work 18 hours, have 9 hours off. Everyone else was having a regular day! When we were making the movie it took seven hours to put the makeup on and two hours to take it off. That left us a nine hour working day. Everyone else was having a 12-hour day or a 9-hour day but I was working 18 hours.
So by the time we got into the second week, I was just kind of floating. By the end we could do two takes and then I would have to take out the lenses and go outside. We were filming on a stage at Paramount, and the stages are old, and they're dusty. When you're wearing hard lenses, eventually your eyes can only handle so much. But it didn't matter because it was a curtailed period of time. I wasn't on a series. I wasn't doing this for nine months of the year. And it was so helpful; it really was a doorway into the role for me.
Trek Nation: Do you get recognized? Do Star Trek fans follow you?
Alice Krige: When it first happened, it was kind of alarming that someone should say, 'Oh my god, you were the Borg Queen!' I thought, 'So it wasn't only the makeup!' But I think what happens is that people recognize the sound of my voice or my eyes, and they look at me, and they know that they know me but they don't know why, and then it dawns on them that that was the character. So I do get recognized from that role. There was a period about three years after the picture opened that I did a series of conventions but I've been very, very busy in the past three years so I haven't done many recently.
Trek Nation: Can you talk about Silent Hill?
Alice Krige: It's about parallel realities and it's about forces of darkness as opposed to the power of love and light. And I'm afraid I represent yet again the powers of darkness. I think it will be a very intense experience. I didn't cross with Sean [Bean] at all, unfortunately, because I loved working with him on Sharpe. The day he arrived was the day I flew out.
It's a very complex piece. It's based on a computer game, a very popular computer game that's Japanese. I believe it has a base of gamers that's 35 million strong, so it's apparently a huge game. I haven't seen the film, but the first part of it, I believe, closely recreates the game. Christophe Gans, the director, would set up reverberations for the gamers of actually being inside the game. Then, I believe, the second half moves out from the game and goes into, as it were - this is what Christophe told me - the backstory of the game.
I started to play the game, but because I came to the project three days before they started filming - they didn't know if they would be allowed to use me, it had to do with all the conditions that apply with French Canadian co-productions and the quotas and rights, so they didn't know until just before they started that they would be able to use me - I came to it very late and I came off another picture. I flew from Jacksonville to Toronto. So I didn't do a lot of prep. I did start playing the game but it wasn't going to be as helpful to me as actually working on the script and doing other research. I'm not a good gamer, I have to admit! I don't spend a lot of time on computers of any description.
But to get back to Silent Hill, the second part gets into the back history of the game. It becomes very frightening, because it's about a cult that burned witches. And sure enough, yours truly is the cult leader and the burner of witches. I come up against the power of love, and as appropriate, meet my just desserts. Love does triumph. Although I believe the end is deeply ambiguous.
Trek Nation: Is this 'meet your end' the way you did on Star Trek, where despite your death, you came back?
Alice Krige: It's much more horrific because it's much more protracted. It's horrifying! It's too horrible for words! The shooting of it went on and on, and it was a deep, dark experience. It was like we channeled the darkness and it was not good. It was very, very intense.
Trek Nation: Did you have to do a lot of green-screen, and is that hard?
Alice Krige: There wasn't a lot of green-screen on Star Trek. Arriving into the body, and there must have been sections at the end that were green-screen. But not a whole lot of it; most of it was me and Data in a sort of semi-combat, semi-seduction. There was not a lot of green-screen on Silent Hill, though I have been doing green-screen for a very long time. I've watched the process grow. When one is required to act...I worked on a piece that I felt ultimately was profoundly flawed called Dinotopia, in which I had to interact with a dinosaur that wasn't there. There had been someone there when we rehearsed it, but ultimately, you're working with markers that are there for the computers. It's not fun, because for me the joy is the process of exchange.
The bit of the Borg Queen that was entirely green-screen was the installation in Las Vegas at the Star Trek Experience, Borg Encounter. That was shot with me standing on a blue box surrounded by a blue screen, and it was me and two 3-D cameras for three days. It was phenomenally difficult because I was not interacting with anyone. Without the physical exchange of energy, I find it very difficult.
Trek Nation: Are you a fan in terms of what you watch of fantasy and speculative movies?
Alice Krige: It really depends entirely on the piece. Sometimes you see stuff that is truly fantastic and really takes you away. For example, think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That was fantasy, wasn't it? I felt as if I was four years old when I watched that. I was sucked into the magic of it. I offered no resistance and it took me away. So it really depends for me entirely on whether the piece works or not. Some fantasy does and others don't, and the same for totally realistic drama: some of it works, some of it doesn't. I've got a totally open mind.
Trek Nation: Do you have a very favorite role of all the ones you've done?
Alice Krige: No, I don't. I generally learn something new from everything I do. Sometimes I learn more than others and those I rank higher in my list of favorites, but I couldn't choose a particular favorite. There is one film that almost no one would ever have seen, which I think is probably the most perfect piece of work I have ever been associated with, and that's a black and white movie called Institute Benjamenta. It is what you might describe as film as poetry, as opposed to film as prose. But it's only worth watching if you can watch it on DVD, because VHS, the resolution is just so bad and it's a very exquisite piece of work.
Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.