Beltran Spending Lots of Time in Sci-FiBy Michelle
December 14, 2005 - 9:15 PM
Though he was so apathetic towards Star Trek that he blew an audition with Leonard Nimoy by asking what a Klingon was, Star Trek: Voyager's Robert Beltran has been busy with science fiction lately, including the Sci Fi Channel original film Manticore and the upcoming Alien Fire, based on a story by William Shatner.
Beltran spoke to his Manticore co-star Chase Masterson at TheFandom.com, recalling of that film, "We had fun," though Masterson agreed with him that "it was grueling a few days" filming in the desert to recreate modern-day Iraq. "Wind machines kicking up dust that hadn't been unsettled till Alexander the Great marched through there," Beltran cited, lamenting with Masterson that neither of them knew what the Manticore would actually look like, since they had not yet seen the film with the CGI added.
As Beltran explained, he plays the head of a platoon guarding a museum in ancient Iraq. During a robbery, "a very precious object of ancient mystery gets looted", and Beltran's character must take his men into the desert to save a world-renowned reporter played by Masterson. "During the process of saving you, we are attacked by this ancient mythological creature called the Manticore," Beltran teased her. "I thought, it's got a nice little contemporary sort of present-day political-cultural stuff going on. That's one of the things I really liked about it." Masterson noted that she thought he played a father figure to the kids in his platoon, to which Beltran agreed, "I thought that this guy must really love his men and be deeply pained if any of them don't make them back."
Before he played Chakotay on Voyager, Beltran attended East Bakersfield High School, Bakersfield College and Fresno State, where he said his teachers stressed the classics: "Shakespeare was right up there." He was impressed by Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, particularly the swordfights, and it was studying Shakespeare that made him decide he wanted to be an actor. Beltran co-founded the East L.A. Classic Theatre group, which takes one-hour Shakespeare plays to schools; during the run of Voyager, he played Hamlet in Los Angeles.
But his first big role and one for which he remains well-known was Eating Raoul, which Beltran described thus: "A very straight-laced couple beleaguered by the horrible way that they have to live, to be swingers...they decide to fight back." He played Raoul, a professional thief who "doesn't know how weird they are" and goes into business with them. Despite the high body count, the film is a comedy, and Beltran praised the comedic actors who appeared alongside him. Director Paul Bartel became interested in casting him after a casting director saw Beltran read at the Mark Taper Forum, but when Bartel told Beltran the film's title, he said, "'I don't want to do pornos.'" Bartel had to explain that he was a legitimate filmmaker who had made Death Race 2000. Masterson joked that she had a similar reaction when asked to play Leeta the Dabo Girl: "What kind of actress do you think I am?"
After appearing in the Miami Vice finale and the first 10 episodes of Models, Inc., Beltran said that it was Michael Piller, "God bless him, who remembered me" and asked that he be brought in to read for Chakotay. "There was always a sense of wonder in his eyes," Beltran recalled of the late executive producer. "He was always curious. You knew when he was talking to that he really wanted to. There was nothing phony about him." Beltran added that it would be impossible to pick a single funny memory from working on the series because there were so many. "I had a lot of fun on the show. We all did," he noted, likening the show offscreen to a three-ring circus and saying he, Tim Russ (Tuvok) and Garrett Wang (Kim) spent so much time on the bridge that "it really did brain damage to us." The seventh of ten children, Beltran had no trouble being in a cast of nine regulars.
Ironically, Beltran had auditioned one of the two Star Trek movies directed by Nimoy - he could not recall which one - and explained that, after driving to Bel Air to Nimoy's house to read, he blew it when Nimoy asked whether Beltran had any questions and Beltran, who was reading for the role of a Klingon captain, asked, "'What is a Klingon?'"
"I was very sincere," he explained. Nimoy, scowling, asked him to go ahead and read, and when Beltran left, he saw a friend who was also auditioning and explained the situation. "My buddy's now laughing his ass off because he's a Star Trek fan…'You are auditioning for Leonard Nimoy and don't know what a Klingon is?'" So Beltran left, cursing Star Trek. "That's probably the weirdest audition story that I have," he added.
Now Star Trek is a part of his life, not only because of conventions and appearances but also because his next film is the Sci-Fi Channel's Alien Fire, written by Enterprise writers and longtime Shatner collaborators Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens from a Shatner concept. The film also stars Nicholas Brendan and features Beltran as a fanatically religious FBI agent whom Beltran describes as "dangerous in a Pat Robertson kind of way."
The full audio interview may be downloaded at TheFandom.com.