John de LancieBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 31, 2006 - 9:04 PM GMT
Next Tuesday, Paramount Home Entertainment will release the Star Trek Fan Collective - Q box set, containing all 12 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager featuring John De Lancie as the omniscient being who tests Picard's crew with the fate of all humankind at stake and who offers Janeway a way home if she'll bear him a child. Raised in Philadelphia, de Lancie attended the Juilliard School, worked at the American Shakespeare Festival and appeared in dozens of films and television shows, perhaps most memorably as Eugene Bradford on Days of Our Lives before he became known for Star Trek. He has numerous other genre credits, including Stargate SG-1 and the original Battlestar Galactica, and has also been involved in many theatrical productions as an actor, director and producer. The son of a professional oboe player, de Lancie is co-founder with Leonard Nimoy (Spock) of Alien Voices, which produces audio recordings of classic science fiction.
Trek Nation: Did you think of Q as an antagonist or do you assume he thinks of himself as the hero?
John De Lancie: I've played a lot of villains, and you always have to think of them as being the hero. Otherwise you just serve the dynamic, and you can do more than that. You look around you. If everybody's serious, you undercut by being funny. If everybody's funny, then you become serious.
Trek Nation: I know that Picard was always the straight man to Q, whereas with Janeway, they had a more flirtatious relationship. Was one more fun to play than the other?
John De Lancie: Probably Picard was more fun to play against. They were so concerned with Janeway that somehow Janeway would become infatuated romantically with Q.
Trek Nation: Well, he wanted her to have his baby! You and Kate Mulgrew are old friends, right? Did you get to improvise any of that?
John De Lancie: Sure, a little bit, but they were so concerned. Which I thought was sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the room. They said to me, 'We just don't think that you could be on Voyager,' and when I asked if they minded if asked why, they said, 'You would be able to get them back home.' And I said, 'I'm sorry, but let's think of what that dialogue might sound like':
Janeway: Q, do you know how to get us back home?
Q: Yes, I do.
Janeway: Will you?
So that's sort of taken care of!
Trek Nation: I think the most memorable Q line was when he said to Picard at one point in the Vash episode that if he'd known Picard was susceptible to romantic advances, he would have appeared to him as a woman. They weren't worried Picard would become infatuated romantically with Q?
John De Lancie: Didn't I show up in his bed?
Trek Nation: In 'Tapestry', the one where Picard was dead. I assume from Alien Voices that you must be a long-time science fiction buff.
John De Lancie: Yes. Science fiction is not only something I enjoy just because of the stories and the idea of it -- it's sort of history in advance, as it were -- it was my entry point into reading. I started reading late, as a kid, and I really didn't pick up my first book until I was fourteen or so.
Trek Nation: Kind of like what Harry Potter is to a generation now.
John De Lancie: Exactly. Mine was Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Trek Nation: Do you follow Battlestar Galactica or any of the newer shows the Star Trek writers have worked on?
John De Lancie: No, I don't, and it isn't because I don't think it's good or I don't like it. I just tend not to watch very much television, ever, and I never did. As an adult I find it much more interesting to look at documentaries, and I don't really derive any pleasure out of the drama, because in a way it's a little bit of a busman's holiday for me.
Trek Nation: What do you think about the way science fiction trends have gone since The Next Generation? I know a lot of people think sci-fi on television has gotten a lot darker.
John De Lancie: I tend to like darker sci-fi. I never was a big fan of didactic sci-fi. But I also think it's one of these instances where the canvas, which up until let's say the end of the '60s was Westerns, and then we went through a whole period of cops and doctors and what have you...then the canvas became science fiction. To my mind, there's still only about ten percent of it that's any good, anyway.
Trek Nation: Before you were on Stargate, did you have to watch a certain amount to get a sense of the series?
John De Lancie: I watched an episode. I actually did a show once where I got the job at four o'clock in the afternoon, flew to Salt Lake City, was given the script at midnight...I had a very large part, and I thought, 'I have to be up at 5:30 in the morning. I can either stay up and try to memorize lines, or I can try to get a decent night's sleep and see what happens in the morning.' So I'm doing the show, I'm doing these lines, the camera's on. All of a sudden I said, 'What is this show? I have never said the word God so many times in my life.' And they said, 'John, it's Touched by an Angel!' I hadn't seen an episode. I just didn't have time to do my homework.
Trek Nation: You were on the first-ever Next Gen so you couldn't have done any homework. What did you channel to play an omnipotent character judging the human race?
John De Lancie: My kids said, 'Gee, it's not unlike you walking around the house, Dad!' There are things that you know to do: if you're playing a king, just being a king is not enough. Or an omnipotent being - you have to be the omnipotent being who's too stupid to know it, the omnipotent being with the feet of clay, or the omnipotent being who has a real self-image problem. You try to fracture it as much as possible.
Trek Nation: Did the casting people tell you what it was in you that made them say, 'This is the person to play God opposite Patrick Stewart'?
John De Lancie: Well, I know that Bobby DeNiro auditioned for it and didn't get it...no, I'm teasing! I have no idea. What you'll see in an audition - because I direct enough that I've run them - is that in the first bit, let's say the auditions run for three days, and you're seeing wall-to-wall Qs. In the opening salvo you're actually hearing the material for the first time. After a while, you get a whole slew of people who are all sort of doing it the same, and that becomes boring. Then towards the end of the process, somebody comes in with a completely different take, or you feel, if it's not a different take, that they are quintessentially right. That audition sort of pops. That's when you say 'Okay'...you don't look any further.
Trek Nation: Was that a role you got pretty quickly?
John De Lancie: I was working at the Mark Taper Forum doing a play with Donald Moffatt, and we were getting ready to go off to Japan. I was playing Amundsen in Terra Nova and Donald Moffatt was playing Scott. What might have helped was that I was playing a character who was sort of in that realm. It's this completely white set with white costumes, except I'm all in black.
My agent called me up and said, 'We have an audition for you - it's for Star Trek.' 'Star Trek! They already did Star Trek.' 'Well, they're doing it again. This character, it must be a typo...it's just one letter.' I said I was rehearsing, and they said, try to get out for it, but the fact is that I was the co-star of the show. I couldn't just leave.
So about a week later, my agent said, 'You didn't go to that audition...they're really calling for you.' I said, 'If they can make it at lunchtime, I can shoot up from downtown to Paramount.' That's exactly what I did; I grabbed the sides, I looked at them for maybe fifteen minutes, I did it, I walked out, and a guy followed me out. He was a big guy, because I'm already 6'3". He put his hands on my shoulders and he said, 'You make my words sound better than they are.' I said, 'You must be the writer.' He said, 'I'm Gene Roddenberry.' I had no idea who that was, but he said, 'I think we're going to be seeing more of you,' and I said 'Yeah, right.'
Then, as I continued to walk out, I was told, 'This is a payback. About six years ago, I was lying on my back at Cedars with a quadruple bypass operation, and every day at one o'clock in the afternoon, you came on and you made me laugh when I thought I was going to die. And I decided that if I ever had an opportunity, I would give you a shot.' I had done this sort of funny character on a soap opera...
Trek Nation: This is the one with the penguin in the basement? Days of Our Lives?
John De Lancie: Right. So that's how it happened.
Trek Nation: And what are you working on now.
John De Lancie: I'm shooting a movie with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, a Mike Binder film. Right now it's called Empty City, which is a really lousy title. I play, of course, the jerk - or not even a jerk, I'm a psychiatrist who thinks he is going to be able to handle Adam Sandler very easily, don't worry about it. And I'm going to direct an opera; I'm staging Tosca in Atlanta. Then I have a series of shows that I wrote for orchestras about the composers that are being filmed in December.
The Star Trek Fan Collective - Q DVD set can be pre-ordered from Amazon.com.
Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.