More on the Beltran SFX interviewBy Amy
December 14, 2000 - 5:22 PM
When all's said and done, it's both safe and sad to say that Robert Beltran, Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager, will most likely be remembered, not for his role as the ship's XO, but for his criticisms of it and Voyager in general. It's no wonder really when Beltran's outbursts have been, in recent times, so vocal that Voyager's executive producer Ken Biller has told him to "stop whining and do his job", a statement that has garnered both widespread approval and outrage throughout the fan community.
It's certainly understandable that Beltran feels the way he does – Chakotay is probably one of Star Trek's most under-used characters, and it's certainly had to find fault with his argument that "there's nothing to really do when you're not written into an episode." Pressing the point further, he adds that "I can call them and protest at a line like "Captain, shields are down 40%! And they're going to say, 'what do you want? 50%? Or 30%?". But on the other side of the coin, however, it's well known that Beltran hasn't exactly been forthcoming with ideas of his own for his character – he's simply not paid for it. "No, they don't pay me for that. They pay me to act. They write, so that's what they should do." This is a marked comparison to fellow actors such as Roxann Dawson, Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo, all of whom take an active interest in their characters and offer suggestions, even plot-lines or, in the case of Picardo, successfully pitch an episode.
It's not all doom and gloom for Beltran on the set, however, even if the show has simply become a "paycheque" for him, to use his favourite word in the interview. "We're having a lot of fun" he remarks on the Voyager cast, and adds that this season is "much more relaxed [than the previous ones]. It's relaxed because we've done six and a half years and I think most of us are looking forward to moving on to the next thing in our careers, even though it will be sad leaving all the people we're working with." He himself doesn't even really hate his work, telling the interviewers that "no, I don't hate it. I dislike it because the way it's done is just not palatable to my tastes either in literature or acting styles, that's all."
Back to Voyager itself, Beltran sees it as light entertainment, "trying to masquerade as having these great philosophical ideas being tossed around, and they are not." He goes onto add that "maybe once in a great while - maybe in an episode where they're discussing life after death, or sociological problems - but they usually throw them out of the window." He takes a similarly dark view of Trek in general – "My analysis of Star Trek is that is gives the appearance of being very complex, and it's all done with smoke and mirrors. The story lines are about as thin as the thinnest wafer you can possibly eat." Also, unlike several other members of the cast, he doesn't even want to direct to break up the 'tedium'. "Like I've said - and I know a number of Star Trek fans hate me when I say this - the material doesn't inspire me enough to want to direct," he remarks, adding that if he did find himself in the director's chair, he'd "probably shoot everything in half a day and tell everybody to go home and get a life".
He does, however, realise that, dull though it may be for him, his time on Voyager does not come without reward – the loyalty of the fans, which "extends beyond the character of Chakotay", he remarks, citing the success of the Galaxy Ball as a direct result of being on the show. He even says he'd reprise the role of Chakotay in a movie to 'keep the fans happy'. "Sure I'm all for keeping the fans happy," he told the interviewers on the subject. "If that's what the producers think will keep the fans happy, then I'm happy to do it. I've always said that this has been a good gig, and the fans have been very loyal to me. I appreciate them very much. I've done plays where I've played the same character regularly, and that's a different kind of fulfilment that you get. I appreciate the fact that the fans of the shows enjoy it. I don't put them down for it."
Despite this, in the end one can't help but wonder if perhaps Beltran should have followed his own advice to "stay away from science fiction" some six and a half years ago, and passed on the role to someone who appreciates the genre.
We'd like to thank Michael "BORG" Kukielka for sending us in a transcript of the interview, which appeared in the January 2001 edition of SFX magazine.