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The Trek Nation - James Cawley

James Cawley

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 7, 2008 - 12:59 AM GMT

James Cawley, the star and producer of online series Star Trek: New Voyages, has been credited with bringing fan films out of obscurity by securing the involvement of such actors as George Takei (Sulu) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) and original series writers D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold, as well as for the exceptional sets that he has shared with other fan projects. In addition to playing Kirk on New Voyages, Cawley has made guest appearances in several other productions, including a turn as Captain Mackenzie Calhoun in a Star Trek: Hidden Frontier episode.

Recently Cawley, who worked briefly behind the scenes on Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed a small part in the upcoming Star Trek feature film. An Elvis impersonator who began producing New Voyages in 2003, Cawley took the time to talk with the Trek Nation at the Farpoint convention in Baltimore.


Trek Nation: Are you finished with everything you'll be doing for the movie?

James Cawley: I am basically a glorified extra. It started because Marc Zicree, who directed "World Enough and Time," was friends with J.J. Abrams; J.J.'s a big Twilight Zone fan, and Marc Zicree wrote the Bible about The Twilight Zone. They met and Marc said, 'I'm doing this Star Trek thing' and J.J. was very interested because he had just taken the job to do the new feature film. As things progressed, Marc said, 'You really should take a look at James. Maybe there's something in the picture you could put him in. That would be really cool.' I thanked Marc for that, but never expected anything. Then I got a call for an audition. I auditioned in New York. They videotaped it, sent it out.

Trek Nation: Did you read for Kirk?

James Cawley: No, I did not read for Kirk. They were trying to cast a 20-something, and I'm 41. They were also doing it at a different period in Kirk's life, from all the things that I was hearing. I thought, first of all, I'm not 26, so they're not going to be interested in me. I auditioned and I didn't hear anything. Then the writer's strike happened, and I didn't know what was what. So I put it behind me and didn't think anything about it.

I flew out to California on other business, for New Voyages, and while I was on the plane I had a call from another gentleman at Paramount who wanted to talk to me in depth about some New Voyages projects. That's what I was doing on the lot. I was with a friend of mine who had been a stuntwoman on Voyager. She said, 'Let's walk by the soundstages.' J.J. came out on lunch break and recognized me. He knew who I was and said 'What are you doing here?'

So I told him I was there for this other meeting, and he said, 'When you're done, you're my guest; please come down.' I ended up being a glorified extra in the movie, which was more than enough for me. Even if they cut me out of the film, I'm satisfied because I've met J.J. and I got a sense of what he was trying to do.

Trek Nation: I know the producers keep saying that they're all big fans. That's for real?

James Cawley: Bob Orci and Damon Lindelof are hugs fans. Bob Orci is an original series fan and he basically said, 'We wrote this movie for you.' Meaning, I was the litmus paper, so to speak: if I would like it, then they would feel comfortable that many Star Trek fans would like it. Because I'm a die-hard purist. I know it backwards and forwards.

Trek Nation: Did you see much of the script?

James Cawley: I did not see any script. I was involved in four scenes, and based on what I was witness to, I think it's going to be a terrific story. I had a number of conversations with J.J. Abrams and the most important one was, what did Star Trek mean to him and what was he trying to bring to it? He told me that it was all about capturing the feel of what it was like to be in the 1960s. What that meant to Star Trek. The message of hope and optimism and diversity. Once he talked to me about that, I thought, he's got a sense of it. The Enterprise can be different, or whatever he's going for physically; the production design can be different, but he's got the heart of what made the show so great. He's got the characters. They're in good hands.

Trek Nation: In terms of what you're doing in New Voyages, is it going to change anything if canon shifts in the movie?

James Cawley: Even if things change, and I don't know whether or to what degree they may - I'm sure they're taking some liberties with canon because they have to, let's face it, the original series even had problems with its own canon, and fans have forgotten that - it's not going to affect what I do. My goal with New Voyages was to prove two things. I wanted to prove that the characters and the original Enterprise were what really was Star Trek at its core. It was that group of people we loved and cared about. And I always felt that they were Shakespearean. Anybody could play those parts - any competent actors could play those parts, because they are what's important, those characters. I proved that; I honestly think that our numbers, our downloads and the attention that we've gotten from our fans, said to these guys, that's Star Trek. So I accomplished what I set out to do with that.

The other thing is, I always treated it as though the show never got canceled; it was renewed in 1969 and they went on to another year. That's why my production design is so faithful, because that's what I always wanted. In 1979, when I was 12 years old, I wanted that show back on the way I remembered it. I didn't want it all changed. I never got that, and a lot of fans never got that. I wanted to continue with it.

So even if things change with the movie, New Voyages will remain what it is, although we are planning some major changes with what we're doing. What we're doing now is that we're rebranding the show and we're getting ready to do a big overhaul on the web site. We're renaming the show, which is no longer going to be Star Trek: New Voyages. It is literally going to be Star Trek: Phase Two. That's been my goal all along: to bring in aspects of that aborted series.

Trek Nation: And that's okay with Paramount?

James Cawley: Yeah. Paramount and CBS have been very good to us. They've certainly been aware of us since Day One. There's never been a time where I haven't worked with somebody there or had communication with somebody there. And I have to say that this group of people that's behind everything gets Star Trek and has a level of appreciation for the fandom that I have never seen, not since Gene Roddenberry was there. They get it.

Trek Nation: Better than Rick Berman?

James Cawley: Rick did his thing. People can bash him and say bad things about him, but in the end, he gave us 700 hours of Star Trek roughly I think and not many clunkers. That's a pretty impressive record and I'm sure they all fell down under their own fatigue.

Trek Nation: I know the Hidden Frontier people said they had an end stop in sight before they wrapped. Do you have that?

James Cawley: Our end stop will be to segue into the first motion picture. We'll end the five-year mission.

Trek Nation: If you're not doing Elvis impersonations, where is your funding going to come from?

James Cawley: Oh, I'm not doing it right now but that's not to say that I'm not going back. I always have a season when I perform and it's generally in the summer. Hopefully when I film this year it's going to have the look that I've wanted which is the blond hair. I don't have the darker hair.

We have a lot of things planned. We've had to recast some of the actors because some of them have moved on in their personal lives, which was going to happen. We have more-than-competent actors coming in.

Trek Nation: Were any of them jealous that you got to be in the movie?

James Cawley: They've all been excited for me. They all called me the minute the news broke. I was in L.A. and it was so spur of the moment, I couldn't call anybody and my phone was in a lockup because of security. When I got it back, my castmates said, 'We saw it on the internet! That's wonderful!'


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Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.