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The Trek Nation - Scott Bakula

Scott Bakula

By Michael J. Fijolek
Posted at August 27, 2001 - 2:17 PM GMT

Copyright Paramount Pictures On Tuesday, August 14th, a small group of reporters gathered in a private dining room at the Paramount Commissary - the same room where the Enterprise cast had their first meeting and read-through of the pilot script. After a short while, Scott Bakula entered the room with his manager. Relaxed and smiling, in a white sweater and dark slacks, Scott introduced himself to all the reporters before answering all questions in a friendly and conversational manner.

At the time of writing, Bakula was filming Enterprise's sixth episode, and so far his character had met his expectations. "Brannon [Braga] and Rick [Berman] were really great about setting this character up, and explaining him to me, selling him to me. They pretty much delivered on that, which doesn't always happen. You know, sometimes you'll be told 'Well, it's gonna be this, this and this,' and you get to the page and it's not there at all and then you're forced to kind of - find it. But they've done a good job of making him pretty dynamic and interesting and with a lot of room to grow! Over the long haul, when you're faced with a series that's hopefully going to run for a while, [it means] you're not stuck in a corner somewhere with [a character] you're trying to invent fun things for to do."

Bakula described how the producers had sold Jonathan Acher to him. "They talked about going back to a feeling of more of the Kirk, Spock, Bones relationship on board," he said. "[It would be] more about the relationship between the crew, and the captain, and his officers, as opposed to a relationship to the universe. And that, right away, was very appealing to me. [Archer would take] much more of a human approach in terms of emotional and volatile relationships, and things going on on the ship that he's not always happy about. I'm a Starfleet brat, basically. I grew up in the system. My dad was part of the whole thing, and I'm fulfilling this kind of lifelong dream to captain a starship! And then being the first one to go out. Being an avid fan of the original Star Trek series, to get an opportunity to go before, and do all the things that they were talking about, it was a big carrot, it was a good one to put out in front of me. Really good!"

As the first captain to explore outer space, Archer will be investigating countless new star systems. "It's about finally having a capacity to really go out and get into different solar systems that we did not have before. That's the big jump-off here. We're a hundred years before Kirk and Spock. There's no Federation, there's no rules. That's again what was kind of exciting about this - it's the Wild West! There's nobody out there that you can complain to, so you have to find your own way. We're taking Earth into the universe! And how we do that and the mistakes that we're going to make, [my being] a very fallible kind of Captain, makes it very exciting."

A major difference with Bakula's former series Quantum Leap is that Enterprise will not give him such a tight schedule. But the star wasn't certain yet whether he'd also be able to participate in other projects. "You know, Quantum was always like a marathon," he confided. "You just tried to get to the end of it... standing! I'm not sure how this is going to be. I've had much more time off already than I had in four and a half years on Quantum. So I don't know how I'm going to feel. I'm not planning anything, but the doors are open - my production company is still moving ahead, and my agency is proceeding like I'm available for work, but at this point in time it's really hard to get a sense [of whether there will be the time.] We're doing 26 [episodes], while I've only done 22 [on Quantum Leap]. That extra month is a lot. And we're not going to have much of a break - we only had a week off between the pilot and starting the episodes. So I don't know about this year."

Bakula also hadn't considered whether he even wants to pursue other interests during hiatus. "I get opportunities to do theatre all the time, and now I'll have a ten week window to do something like that. The question is where do you want to spend those ten weeks? Certainly, the directing thing is [something] I always like to do. It's fun. I'm not going to direct any this year here. I want to just focus on the show, and my work in it, and the relationships. But Rick [Berman] and Brannon [Braga] are great about letting their actors direct at times. As much as I've done this before, it is kind of a new thing, because Quantum Leap was so overwhelming in terms of my time. And this may give me opportunities to do more things outside."

One of the reasons Bakula will have more time is because he will not have to carry Enterprise almost on his own. "There's seven regulars! It's a big difference. And also, my other regular on Quantum, I was the only guy that could work with him. [Dean Stockwell played Al, a holographic image visible only to Bakula's character.] So I didn't get a lot of relief from Dean," he laughed. "Which he was delighted about! I was the only one who could see him, with the exception of a couple of episodes. So, even then I didn't get a break from him. I was still there."

Stockwell hadn't yet asked for a guest spot on Enterprise, but Bakula was open to the idea - even if only to finally take revenge for years of Quantum Leap isolation. "He called me on Father's Day, and we missed, so I have not talked to him, but wouldn't that be great? It has to be [down the line somewhere]. You gotta do it! Put him in a big mask so he can be miserable for once!"

While most of the aliens seen in Enterprise will be unfamiliar to fans of the later Trek series, at least two well-known species will be heavily featured. "I think it's pretty common knowledge that the Klingons are around, and I certainly have stood toe to toe with a Klingon screaming and spitting in my face. With a knife to my throat. That was pretty great! And then the other aliens so far... well, the Vulcans, we know about the Vulcans. But everybody else is brand new. So far!"

The Vulcans will also play an important part aboard the Enterprise, in the form of Vulcan science officer T'Pol. "My character, in his life, is not fond of Vulcans and never has been. So we're at cross purposes a lot. Also, being a pretty emotional fellow, her rational approach really... bugs me. I say some pretty harsh things in the pilot about Vulcans and to a Vulcan's face. But this is what's great about this character. He has a place to go! He has some preconceived notions that are not all pretty."

Another alien on the crew will be Dr. Phlox, member of an as-yet unknown species. "He is a wonderful character that John Billingsley has created. He's so about his work, and how much fun it is to be doing all of this stuff. He's just a kind of a lighthearted character. He'll say stuff that's just kind of out of left field. We have a very new relationship. He is not a person known to me at all before we take off. We're just kind of finding him. But he's wonderfully gifted and he's a little bit of a mad scientist kind of a character. He's great."

Phlox will just be one of the elements in making Enterprise a bit more fun and a bit less restricted than previous series. "Comedy's a funny thing. We all think that we're achieving a level of humour and you hope that people find that," said Bakula, who in the first clips from Enterprise was even shown wearing jeans and a baseball cap. "That's the whole idea, you know. 150 years from today is not very far. [Yesterday on the set,] we were talking about what companies are going to be around. We were on location, and LeVar Burton's directing this week. He had on this Eddie Bauer get-up from head to toe, and we were talking, 'You know what? Eddie Bauer will be around in 150 years.' You can get your mind around 150 years from today. And there's some things you can say: 'Oh, no! Definitely will not be here in 150 years.'"

"My character is very much a part of the space program, but the feeling of the show is that we're the first guys! We're the first people to go and see what's behind that moon over there. Or, [for instance,] there's a dead ship in front of us, and there are no life forms on it. What should we do? There's there's that kind of excitement and fear, and all the things that come up that I think that we can relate to. There's a very human grounding to the series. We get dirty, and bleed, and there are real things." One of those things that the crew will find lacking 150 years from now is space technology, as the Enterprise will be far from the perfect ships of the future. "The ship doesn't work well, so we have problems. We weren't really supposed to go out yet. It's like, 'Let's try target practice and see what that's like!' 'That doesn't work! We can't hit anything!' And there's a squeak in the floor of my cabin, and it's bugging the hell out of me," he laughed. "It will be fun for Star Trek fans, because you'll see the genesis of the things that we all come to expect, but we don't have them yet. We're working on them - we don't have phasers, we don't have photon torpedoes, but we have [what's] before that."

The Enterprise crew won't even have a regular Starfleet uniform, but that at least will be an advantage for the crew. "We're not in any Spandex!," Bakula said. "These aren't really forgiving suits, but they're like jumpsuits. They're made out of cotton, and they've been through the wash a few times. And we have pockets! Jonathan Frakes showed up, and he was like, 'We would have killed for a suit like that! You've got a zipper and a pocket! And we had to be strapped in and everything!'"

Copyright Paramount Pictures Besides some impromptu advice from previous Trek actors, Bakula talked a lot with the show's producers. "Rick and Brannon are incredibily available! It's really nice [to be able] to pick up the phone and say, 'It's a great script, but I've got two issues that I don't understand. It doesn't seem that this is where we want the captain's character to go... yet.' And they're fantastic that way."

"You're being watched very carefully," Bakula admitted. "And I know from doing Quantum that your process is often pored over. You want to make sure that you don't get yourself into any corners you can't get out of, but at the same time, I love [this] creative give-and-take with the fan. I like giving little pieces, that [they'll say] 'What's that all about?' It's fun! [Something] as mundane as what are we going to put on the walls in my room. What did this guy do? And what things did he do in his past that we can bring on the trip? The trip isn't planned, so [I didn't have] a designer come in and do my quarters. It's a hodgepodge, and we're gone! Of course, things can be sent to us, so we can add as we go along."

If fans get a sense from this that the various segments of the series will be more interconnected, they are right. "There is an overall arc. From the pilot you'll see that there is a definite kind of thread. There's a future that you wonder about very early on. I don't know when we're getting back to that, but there is a bigger plan out there than our guys on our little ship know about. [It] is nice that I don't know much about it so I can play it as real as I can and go with it. But right now, the theme is figuring out what works - how to approach, how to make first contact. 'Whoops, they're shooting at us!'"

Like Kirk, Captain Jonathan Archer will both be very physical and very romantic. "Oh yeah! I just heard that I'm going to get my ass kicked a lot in the next episode, actually. They're enjoying writing to that. The pilot's very physical. There's [also] romance in the pilot. Twisted romance, but it's good. I think it's going to be a pretty sexy show, which is really great!"

Bakula emphasised how the size of the Enterprise's sets helped to set the tone for the show. "It's very small," he said. "The idea is, again, that it has much more of a submarine kind of feel to it. I don't know whether we can expand on that, but the ship is smaller than Kirk's and you're bumping your head on stuff. But again, it's a great feel to it! It doesn't feel cramped, but you're definitely in a small ship."

Although the bridge set may be compact, Bakula intends to use the close quarters to generate a more hands-on feel for the character. "I spend probably less time sitting in the [captain's] chair than I do moving around the bridge. That's this character. [He wants] to be over and see what the communications officer's doing, he's just real hands on, and [he gets] right behind the navigator. Which I think is going to work for the character."

Despite Archer's command approach, Bakula said the character still hasn't got a tagline. "I don't have a handle!" he cried. "The best handle I have so far is 'Let's go!' Which again informs you of the character. But I've only said it once!"

Bakula described the chain of events that occurred after he secured the role of Archer. "[I] sat with Rick [Berman] and Brannon [Braga] on Thursday morning, and came into this room, and we had lunch with the cast, and a read-through with the director Jim Conway. So we had a reading in here, and then went away and rehearsed two or three scenes that day that we knew we were going to shoot on Monday. [I] did fittings with Bob [Blackman - Costume Designer]. And [then I] came back Friday, and rehearsed, probably three or four hours. There was no weekend work at all, and then I hit it running on Monday morning."

During those first few days the actor was struck not only by the cast's variety, but by their enthusiasm. "Everybody's different in the cast, which is great!" he said. "You look around to get a sense of who's going to be what kind of person. Because ultimately, when you're doing a series for a long time, that comes into the show so much. You've got a Vulcan, who's not half-human, she's Vulcan. So she's limited, in terms of a lot of things except the episode where she becomes captain for a day. You've got this doctor guy, [but] we don't know what he is yet. So, you just try and get a sense of what kind of people they are. I know what the hours are. You live with them for a good portion of your life. And the vibe, from the very beginning, it's just been very, very good. There's a great energy. Everybody's extremely enthusiastic about being here. I think they did a really good job in casting. I think it's an excellent cast!"

Creating chemistry amongst the cast is something that's very important to Bakula. "It's nice to see if you can create that group dynamic that's very special," he said. "And I'm drawn to that if the opportunity presents itself. The approach isn't any different whether you're one guy time travelling, or the captain of a ship, in terms of trying to get to the reality of the work. You're with a crew, of forty, fifty people, and you have a common goal every day, and that's the joy of doing this kind of work - can we create this, can we make this magic here, everybody together?"

Many Star Trek actors have said that their classical acting backgrounds have helped them on the series, and Bakula acknowledged the difficulties in getting everything just right. "They are very concerned that what they've written on the page gets played back. And that's always an adjustment to make. I've done a lot of different work where it's not as precise as that. I've done a lot of special effects work, so I know what that's like. But you're in that bridge and you're looking at that empty black screen, and you're hoping that the special effects guys are really good. But you're there, doing seven pages of four different scenes on the bridge, and usually I'm driving those scenes, so there's a lot of around-the-horn kind of stuff going on, and it's difficult. Of course, the trick is to make it not look difficult."

The cast has received some help in that area from the experienced production team. "All the directors so far have directed prior [to Enterprise], no one is new to the franchise," he said. "So they're all very versed in speaking to the actors about what they're going to see. It's a very talented group. I'm learning as much from them as they are from me. So it's easy going, 'Where are you looking?' 'I'm looking at that limb of that tree.' And that's where the ship, or the alien is. But beyond that, [the cast] has got to find their own way too, and that's part of their creative opportunity."

Bakula was full of praise for LeVar Burton, who has already directed an episode of the series. "He's great! He's a great director, and a great guy, and it's nice having him there. He certainly is familiar with what it's like to start up, and what that energy's like, and creating the relationships. More than anything in terms of guidance when you're starting a show, it's how do you find those little places, and let everybody have their own voice, so he's wonderful that way. Roxann's [Dawson] directing the next episode, [I] haven't worked with her yet. I'm excited about that."

Before finishing, Bakula reemphasised the fact that Enterprise is, in many ways, a rebirth of the franchise. "Everybody is extremely enthusiastic," he said. "You know, some of them have been there since early TNG, and I figured they'd be like 'Yeah, whatever.' But they're all treating this like it's brand new, and they're telling me that what we're doing is special. Which is really good to hear. I'm having a lot of fun, and I'm just trying to do my job and give you the best show and the best captain I can."

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Michael J. Fijolek works in Los Angeles in advertising as a media director when he isn't playing reporter or photographer and documenting the Star Trek universe.