Auberjonois Calls Shatner 'A Blast', Reflects on CareerBy Michelle
May 11, 2005 - 11:09 PM
Rene Auberjonois (Odo) talked to former Deep Space Nine co-star Chase Masterson (Leeta) for nearly an hour and a half about his lengthy career, including his theatrical roots, his difficulties being cast on Star Trek and his delight at working on Boston Legal with William Shatner (Captain Kirk).
In a long discussion at TheFandom.com, Auberjonois described his initial foray into acting when he was six years old and living in Paris with his parents, who were French and Swiss respectively. "At the end of the school year we did a little concert," he recalled. "Either because I was a showoff or because I was musically inept, I got to conduct it. I remember I had a yellow pencil and I stood with my back to the audience, and I conducted, 'Do You Know the Muffin Man'? And at the end of it, the audience burst into applause and I turned and I bowed...I knew that I wasn't really a conductor, but I thought, 'This must be what acting is.'"
So he told his parents that he wanted to be an actor, a profession of which they approved, as the family was filled with writers and artists already. At ten they moved back to the United States, where Auberjonois was picked on for having a "girl's name" and ordered to say dirty things in French. A neighbor from a community theatre got him a role in an Arthur Miller play, All My Sons, but much of his theatrical interest was developed because he lived in a neighborhood with John Houseman, who was then running the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Connecticut where Auberjonois apprenticed, as well as Burgess Meredith and Alan J. Lerner, for whose children he babysat. While working as a lifegoard at Lerner's swimming pool, the young actor surreptitiously watched Lerner and Lowe write My Fair Lady, and would sneak inside to look at their Oscars and Tony Awards and pretend to make acceptance speeches.
The family then moved to England, where Auberjonois finished his education and worked occasionally as a clown at children's parties. He met director Robert Altman who cast him as Father Mulcahy in the film M*A*S*H, and later auditioned for the musical Coco which was to star Katharine Hepburn. Lerner had written the musical, and cast his former neighbor in the production. He also studied classical theatre and mask work, which would later serve him when he played the role of Odo, which required extensive makeup.
"I had come to realize that when you wear a mask, contrary to what people would expect, masks don't actually hide your emotions; they tend to express your emotions because they force your body into expressing things and they make your voice express things," he said. It took five auditions to convince the producers of Deep Space Nine to cast him. First he learned that he was not what series co-creator Michael Piller had imagined, for the initial casting sheets had called for a young John Wayne to be the alien security officer. Rick Berman helped convince Piller, but "some muckety-muck at Paramount" felt that Auberjonois was not right for Odo, perhaps because he was associated with the character he had played on Benson. "Eventually what happened was that they wanted me to come back another time, and I said to my agent, 'I can't do it anymore. I've done everything I can do.' I was going to move on and do something else," but the executive asked Berman about whether his first choice might not be too old for the role. "Rick Berman said, 'You realize that his whole face will be covered with rubber?' And the guy said 'Oh, that's okay!"
It was impossible for Auberjonois to name a favourite role, as he claimed he tends always to answer with the role he is doing currently, which in this case is Boston Legal. "I didn't really know Bill Shatner," he admitted, saying he had seen the legendary Kirk actor at conventions and before that during a small role in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Over the years they had passed one another while running around Lake Hollywood and Auberjonois had seen Shatner in a theatre piece at the Coronet Theatre in L.A. "I was very impressed by what a good actor he was," he said.
After being cast on Boston Legal, continued Auberjonois, he felt very blessed, not only to be on the show "but to get to be a friend with him. The man is so much fun...he is the most relaxed, he has such confidence." In scenes together, he revealed, Shatner "is always trying to break you up when he's off camera, and when he's on camera if he makes a mistake he just stops and goes on...he has a great sense of humor about himself. He's just a blast." As for his other co-star, James Spader, "I am in awe of this man; I think he is one of the finest actors working."
Auberjonois talked much more about theatrical roles from King Lear to Tartuffe and cartoon voices like The Little Mermaid as well as his television roles. The full interview may be downloaded at TheFandom.com.