Tucker SmallwoodBy Caillan Davenport
Posted at August 18, 2003 - 11:00 AM GMT
Tucker Smallwood will be a familiar name to fans of science fiction and fantasy. The veteran actor starred as Commodore Ross on FOX's short-lived series, Space: Above and Beyond, and has also appeared on genre series such as Babylon 5, The X-Files and The Chronicle, to name but a few.
Having played a Species 8472 infiltrator masquerading as Admiral Bullock in Star Trek: Voyager's "In the Flesh", Smallwood returns to the Trek fold in Enterprise's third season in another villainous role: a humanoid member of the Xindi, the alien group which attacked Earth in last season's cliffhanger finale, "The Expanse".
Tucker Smallwood recently took the time to answer questions from the Trek Nation about the challenges of portraying one of Enterprise's new bad guys.
Trek Nation: How did you approach the role of a Xindi, a member of a race that has attacked Earth and is planning an even more destructive attack in the future?
Tucker Smallwood: My work process is fairly consistent, but science fiction does present unique demands. It begins with gathering as much information as possible, first about the realities, the 'rules' of this particular possible future; physical, cultural, historical. There is usually (but not always) an established 'bible' from the creators, refined and defined in earlier episodes. To this background, I factor in my characters attitudes, relationships, intentions,etc.
Trek Nation: Were you given much idea by the producers about the cultural background of the Xindi, or was this something you developed for yourself?
Tucker Smallwood: At this stage, it's a fluid situation. Thus far, we've filmed two episodes, and our relationships and agendas are continuing to evolve.
Trek Nation: Since you play a Xindi-Humanoid as opposed to the more outlandish Xindi-Sloth and Xindi-Reptilians, did you have to wear much make-up? Or is the character being partially created using CGI?
Tucker Smallwood: Do I wear much make-up? Well, I'm not sitting in the sloth or reptile make-up chair, so I can't really speak to that; I can tell you it's considerably more make-up than I've ever before experienced. It's about 1 ½ hours of hair and make-up going in; an additional 45 minutes getting out...and that's not something you want to rush, no matter how late or tired you are. Not if you value your skin! It's a prosthetic that ranges from mid skull to my cheekbones, and so tight around my eyes, it actually changes my prescription. I have to type up my sides in 14pt bold, apparently I can no longer squint to focus in make-up. There's no CGI in my character.
Trek Nation: Is acting under make-up a restraint, or is it "liberating" in terms of discovering the character?
Tucker Smallwood: That depends upon the make-up and the character. Sometimes my perception of the character informs his look; sometimes the pre-established look of the character informs my perceptions. The job remains the same; to find more dimensions than the obvious ones suggested by the look.
Trek Nation: Was it difficult to interact with the other Xindi that were entirely CGI characters? Was it a case of acting opposite a "tennis ball on a stick"?
Tucker Smallwood: The insects are represented by two actors in black suits with white stripes; the fish are completely imaginary to us. Ultimately, it's not that different from naturalistic scenes, more often than not; on close shots, we're looking at a mark, rather than into the characters eyes. It's important to have an image in your mind's eye of the being to whom you're speaking.
Trek Nation: The "Xindi Council", as StarTrek.com calls them, have appeared in two episodes so far: "The Xindi" and "Rajiin". Will we be seeing you and the other Xindi actors continue your roles throughout season three?
Tucker Smallwood: We are rather grateful mercenaries, awaiting our next mission. From your lips to God's ear...
Trek Nation: You guest-starred on Scott Bakula's series Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Did you get to work with him or any other regular Enterprise cast members during your Xindi appearances?
Tucker Smallwood: I do remember that short-lived series; actually first met Scott on an episode of Murphy Brown. Filming the Xindi council is an all day sucker! So we've yet to encounter any of the human cast members.
Trek Nation: What was the atmosphere like on the Enterprise set? There has been a lot of press about the show's ratings and its "new direction" this season. Was there a sense of cast and crew being creatively recharged by the Xindi arc and its storytelling possibilities?
Tucker Smallwood: Again, I have nothing to which I might compare my impressions of crew and cast. I can tell you I've been very impressed with the ambition and scope of the two episodes I've read.
Trek Nation: In addition to your roles on Voyager and Enterprise, you've appeared in Babylon 5, The X-Files, Millennium, Seven Days, and of course, Space: Above and Beyond. Are you a fan of Star Trek and science fiction in general?
Tucker Smallwood: Because I've never been a particularly 'contemporary looking' actor (at least in the eyes of the casting community) science fiction has been a boon for me. I learned to read when I was three and grew up on Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov and Bradbury. I grew up watching Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond. (And don't forget Contact, Deep Impact, and about 10 other tv sci-fi series. "Sci-fi been berry berry good to me.")
Trek Nation: Many regular genre actors have testified to the close-knit nature of the sci-fi/fantasy television community and have said it's always a pleasure to work on such shows. Is this something you've found in your experience?
Tucker Smallwood: What I've particularly appreciated is the thoughtful and passionate relationship that sci-fi fans have with their shows. The possibility of interaction, online and at conventions makes it more like a theatrical experience for me, like meeting in the green room after a performance.
Trek Nation: Did you experience in the army help you in landing roles as military and authority figures, such as Commodore Ross in Space: Above and Beyond?
Tucker Smallwood: I think there's hardly any question that my prior service informs my work as an authority figure and military leader. Having commanded in combat, served as a Tac officer in OCS, instructed future infantry leaders in special warfare tactics all contribute, allowing me to recreate a persona very familiar to me.
Trek Nation: What qualities attract you to a role?
Tucker Smallwood: I'm compelled by opportunities to explore and reveal the human condition, that's what drew me to acting. The most satisfying roles, the most successful characterizations I've known were roles not initially intended to be portrayed by a man of color. They became mine because I embodied the values, the qualities of the character. I think we all aspire to be cast, based upon our talent and sensibilities, rather than gender, sexual preferences or race.
Tucker Smallwood: According to your web site, you started off as a television director and then took up acting in order to become a better director. Have you ever considered returning to directing?
Trek Nation: Nope. I don't ever want to work that hard, again! I've watched talented young directors grow old before my eyes; episodic tv is a real grind, and I'm waaaay too obsessive to take that on. I'm fulfilled by my work and the occasional opportunity to serve another artist as a coach. I'm not a good teacher, (way too impatient), but I do know and respect and still enjoy the work process.
Many thanks to Tucker Smallwood for taking part in this Q&A. For further information on the actor, check out his official web site.
Caillan Davenport is one of the TrekToday editors.