Penny Johnson JeraldBy Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 4, 2006 - 3:44 PM GMT
Penny Johnson has spoken to the Trek Nation before (story), but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to speak with her live at the Farpoint Convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland on February 18th. Currently appearing on the comedy Eve, she also teaches acting workshops and produces and directs for her 11-year-old Outreach Christian Theater Company. She and her husband Gralin Jerald, who have been married for nearly 25 years, both have CDs coming out in the next few months.
Trek Nation: The last time I interviewed you, you had never done a convention and you said that was on your list.
Penny Johnson Jerald: George [Takei] and I were up doing that 9/11 movie together, and he said, 'Why don't you do conventions?' I said, 'Aren't they for unemployed actors?' and he looked at me with this face! And I realized, oh my God, I'm insulting him. He said [in Takei's voice], 'No, darling, on the contrary. Life will change as far as your relationship with your fans, and since I know that's important to you, you should entertain doing it.' And the fact that my husband is, well…
Trek Nation: He's a Trekkie, isn't he?
Penny Johnson Jerald: He is a die-hard Trekkie! Though he doesn't dress up...well, not in public!
Trek Nation: So you're happy to be here? Baltimore is your home town, right?
Penny Johnson Jerald: I am really home. As a matter of fact, my two little nephews and niece came, and we sneaked in a swim. I was just sitting by them in the pool.
Trek Nation: Had you followed Star Trek since you were on Star Trek?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Personally, I think Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek. And I must tell you, I didn't follow the others. The group of actors that they put together were really so willing to work together, as an ensemble...you can look at the other Star Trek teams and there's a star of the show. You can look at Deep Space Nine and say that Avery is the star of the show, however, it was a true ensemble there. I do have to watch with my husband, who started watching the very last one, Enterprise, and we stopped. He was not satisfied with the format - the time period took away from the futuristic, unimaginable yet now we're doing it today kind of thing. It robbed him of that sci-fi feel. And one of the views of Trek is the elevated language, making it language but still elevated. When you get into the vernacular of Valley Girls, you don't want to tune in so much.
Trek Nation: The 'Make A Deep Space Nine Movie' campaign has morphed into a 'Make A Deep Space Nine Miniseries' campaign. Would you be interested in doing that?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Every time I'm at a convention now, they ask. I intend to ask Harve [Bennett] about that! If he could just pull a few strings, because he's the guy, he co-wrote all those great movies and started the franchise all over again. I think it's going to take somebody like that.
Trek Nation: Do you think Star Trek needs a break right now? Or does your husband, as a Trekkie?
Penny Johnson Jerald: They're always coming out with something else. He's searching for something to take its place, but nothing really takes its place.
Trek Nation: Does he watch Battlestar Galactica?
Penny Johnson Jerald: No. He is just a Trekkie. I used to think he was a sci fi guy, which he sort of is, but truly it's Star Trek.
Trek Nation: Do you keep in touch with any of the people from the show?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Avery [Brooks] and my little Cirroc [Lofton]. When you create a family on television, you kind of become a family. But you do put your distance. Those are my Avery stories!
Trek Nation: Have you followed Kasidy's development in the Pocket Books?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Somebody educated me about it. If I had known all the history and all that stuff, she might have been different. I think there's such a thing as too much information for the actor.
Trek Nation: Did you know the Maquis storyline was coming?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Let me tell you, when I saw that word in the script, because my husband was there, and I said, 'And the Marquis...' And he said, 'How do you spell that?' And I looked at him and said, 'It's Marquis.' And he said, oh no! I'm thinking I'm going into a building or something. My husband had to sit me down and explain it to me. Prior to that, the writers were really good; I was doing The Larry Sanders Show so they had to grab me when they could. They would tell me what the story might be. They did say that she might be going to jail, and I'm thinking, I guess I'm finished with Star Trek. But it's the best going to jail I've ever played, I'm telling you! Sherry had nothing on Kasidy when it comes to going to jail. She had her man by her side even though he's the one who put her there!
Trek Nation: Last time I talked to you, you were working on a theatre project, I think through your church.
Penny Johnson Jerald: I still am. We still are. We just did a huge fundraiser for the Katrina victims. I wrote a piece based on that, and what we did with those funds was, we gave them to families. We didn't send a check; families were relocated in Los Angeles and one Sunday some of them were invited to our church home, and they were given checks on the spot. There was no talk about OCTC doing a fundraiser for Katrina victims. They didn't know that monies were going to be given to them, they didn't know who was going to benefit from this, whether they were given to the American Red Cross...when the pastor asked them to stand up and they were handed checks, that was very sweet.
And Gralin and I have completed his album - it's released on March 1st - and we have almost finished my CD. Mine is not music, however, there is music attached to it; mine is a voice and speech workout CD. Which I have done for over 20 years. I put a program together many, many years ago and decided, if people keep asking me for this, then let me get it ready for them. Actors, lawyers, public speakers, those who find themselves in the pulpit, those who just find themselves speaking will see results. Not just hear results: you will actually see results on your body. That's the fun part! That's what we're doing together. But I'm most excited about 400 Years; that's my husband's CD. I could just marry him 400 times over just because of the music. It's so beautiful, and so close to the heart.
Trek Nation: Now, are you dead on 24 now? For real?
Penny Johnson Jerald: You know what, the spiritual side of me, let me get a little deep here, never wants to say dead. I was wounded, and you never saw my funeral. On television you're never dead unless you see the body! However, 24 is in my past. As it is in a lot of people's pasts. This is supposed to be the last season. They've been talking about a movie since the first season, and they were saying, would it be a movie before, when David was a Senator?
Trek Nation: So David and Sherry could be back?
Penny Johnson Jerald: The Palmers and 24 just go together. When you no longer have them, it's kind of a different show. I have to tell you, I was mortified that Leslie ceased working after the first year. I thought it was ingenious of them to kill off a character like that, however, I am a working actor and I love when other actors work. The bad side is that you have a friend who is no longer on a show, and that's not usually the way it's done in Hollywood. I don't know if it's financial reasons, or ratings. What happens in the television setting when you have a lead actor, you have a Kiefer Sutherland, you don't want him to be married. You want him to be a player because you want every woman out there to be able to fantasize about him, you know? That's part of good television. That's why soaps are so popular. Even if they're married, they're all having affairs! For some reason we are just really immoral people! We like that!
Trek Nation: Which do you get recognized more for: Star Trek or 24?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Sometimes I try to guess, when I can see someone who's ready to come over and I need to let them know whether it's okay to come over or, 'Right now I'm dealing with my daughter, don't do that.' And I'm not right...it's almost always not what I think it is. I think they see Sherry Palmer over here and it's Beverly from The Larry Sanders Show. And then I think they see Beverly and it's Kasidy Yates. And kids love the Disney movies. So I never know. I can't guess anymore. Except when I hear words associated with characters...if it's the B word, I know it's Sherry Palmer!
Trek Nation: What would you like to do next? Would you rather be playing a role model or is it just too much fun to play the B word?
Penny Johnson Jerald: I think Sherry was a combination of both. I certainly hope I am going to be doing this new series where I get to let women of age just enjoy themselves onscreen. How wicked or how wonderful we are at that certain age!
Trek Nation: You don't look like you're at that certain age.
Penny Johnson Jerald: But I do have a 23 year old! A lot of people ask me about playing Condoleezza Rice, because I'm actually playing her again. They ask political questions which I don't really have answers to because I am of a different politics than Condoleezza. But I find myself madly in love with her just from playing her.
Trek Nation: Did you get feedback from her or anyone connected with her?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Absolutely -- the last movie I just finished, which will be out in May, playing Condi, the former senator from New Jersey came up and kept staring at me and he said, 'Condi is not going to believe this. I keep looking at you and pinching myself to make sure it's not her up here with us.' We decided to take a picture in the White House on the set together, and he said, 'When I show this to the president, he's going to say, 'Our secret is out!' I took that to mean, Condi's running the country!
Trek Nation: Maybe you could trade places with her and run the country differently.
Penny Johnson Jerald: I thought, 'I should put this on my web site.' There's Condoleezza sitting behind the desk! People do ask me questions about getting into the White House, because they know Sherry was desperate to get into the White House and playing Condoleezza, who is in the White House and probably is running the White House. A lot of people who know the family side of me want to know little things about marriage and how it works, being in Hollywood, and I welcome those personal questions. Of course they also want to know what stories I have about Star Trek. I'm a tell-all! I share as much as I can, but I'm a woman of the present so I always know what I'm doing right now. I took time off last year to care for my mother in law, who we just lost. I decided to say no to a series I so wanted to do, the Trekkies are going to...it was The 4400.
Trek Nation: Ira Behr's show. That has all the DS9 writers.
Penny Johnson Jerald: It was this time last year and that's why I wanted to do it. But the offer came, and I would not have finished shooting the season until September. That's when my mother in law was diagnosed, and I really thought that I would be blessed more saying no to a gig than, after this whole thing, having any kind of guilt or suffering from wondering, 'Why was that more important than a life?' I tend to have a moral thing going on, which gets me in trouble with a lot of people but I feel so content. So now I can take advantage of opportunities. I'm doing a show right now, a sitcom, since September and it's a good way to get back and get your chops going. It's a show called Eve, I am the mother on Eve - the very sexy mother! It's a nice show. I enjoy it because my daughter said I should do it. I didn't know who Eve is - I thought, 'I'm on a show with a rapper?' But the show's so funny! And the demographic are people in their 20s. She said, 'They're going to want to watch this' and I said, 'I don't even think I want to know what you're doing in your 20s!' I find out on the show; they tell all, these young folks! And I think, 'Oh, I hope my daughter's not doing that!' Somehow we get so close to life, it's scary. Like 24. It was life imitating art and then art imitating life, and the world caught up.
Trek Nation: Let me let you go, since you need to be onstage, and then we'll hear what everyone else wants to ask, since fans often ask the best questions anyway.
Penny Johnson Jerald: What will they ask?
Trek Nation: The two questions fans I hear fans ask actors the most at conventions often are 'What do you think the next Star Trek series should be?' and 'Why has there never been a gay crewmember?'
Penny Johnson Jerald: Yes, and those are the interesting questions! I think that you have to first define gay. Is it a sexual preference or something...I asked a friend recently, because I thought this friend was gay, and my friend said, 'Oh, but I'm not gay,' and I said oh, then I don't know what gay is. As far as Star Trek, everyone's kind of asexual unless there's a real relationship, and you don't know, is a male a male in another galaxy?
Trek Nation: Is Odo male?
Penny Johnson Jerald: Yes. It's a unisex kind of thing. I think we already have that going on in Star Trek, if we are going to say that this is our human way of thinking about how that lifestyle is. But I don't know! I've had people tell me and had to say, 'I stand corrected. You know more than I do.'
Trek Nation: And what do you think the next Star Trek should be?
Penny Johnson Jerald: I think you have so many rich stories and untapped stories with the Star Treks that have already come and gone. I just think, wouldn't it be interesting if somehow all of us were caught in the same time? So you saw the Siskos and Janeway and Picard, if you saw them in this community together? They wouldn't be the stars of the show, they would be the recurring group - maybe it's their purgatory!
I think Star Trek is so deep. You have to think on another level and dig deep and imagine, and it's so much fun. What more fun can you have? Today I'm walking down the hall with my nephew and he sees a Klingon coming out of the elevator, and I see his eyes!
Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.