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'Star Trek Bridge Party' Report - Part 1

By Dr. Joseph D. Di Lella
Posted at September 15, 2002 - 11:09 AM GMT

From September 6-8 in Las Vegas, more than 450 fans had the chance to party with over thirty Trek and Sci-Fi celebrities at Slanted Fedora Entertainment's 'Star Trek Bridge Party.' Trek Nation reporter Dr. Joseph D. Di Lella was there to join in the fun.

What can a small-town Star Trek promoter do when: 1) another big-time convention scoops the marketplace three weeks earlier?; 2) many of the scheduled major actors are afraid to board airlines due to the approaching September 11th date? and 3) the projected large fan base all but disappears due to the first two factors? Hold the best - and free - Trek convention this reporter has ever participated in over the past four years. Take that big brother, Creation Entertainment.

The original Star Trek/Slanted Fedora show is now called 'Triple with Men on Base' and has been changed to a mid-February date. It will feature top names like Avery Brooks (Benjamin Sisko), William Shatner (James T. Kirk), Ricardo Montalban (Khan), Ron Perlman (Reman Viceroy in 'Star Trek Nemesis'), and Jolene Blalock (T'Pol). Still, this hastily but smoothly run version called 'Bridge Party for the Fans' held at the small but beautiful Alexis Hotel just off the Strip in Las Vegas delivered a relaxed approach for the fans and stars. Over three days, Dave Scott provided fans with afternoon 'Q and A' sessions with the actors, karaoke sing-a-longs with Klingons in the evenings plus handshake and photo opportunities for everyone in attendance. Except for Marina Sirtis's (Deanna Troi) short stay on Friday night (due to a 5 a.m. casting call on Saturday), thirty actors of Sci-Fi film and television fame were more than generous with their time and energies.

Early on Friday night, Stephen Furst (Babylon 5's Vir Cotto) and Ethan Phillips (Neelix) provided short comedy routines. Though the audience was not wildly receptive to the tired jokes Furst and Phillips offered up, Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) received a big ovation. Dressed in an apron and bonnet, Mr. Koenig charmed the crowd with his humorous rendition of a country western song parody of an aging women's lost love. Afterwards, J.G. Hertzler (General Martok) and Robert O'Reilly (Chancellor Gowron) introduced Klingon Karaoke with the song 'New York, New York' to honour the fallen victims of last year's September 11th tragedy. After their off-key performance, many of the other stars joined the two for one huge, terribly sounding but amusing performance. Afterwards, for approximately two and half hours Hertzler and O'Reilly sang along with fans to titles that ranged from the hip-hop 'Men in Black' to American standards like 'It's Only a Paper Moon.'

Saturday proved to be the best day for the fans. Besides the standard autograph signings in an adjacent room, the ballroom provided the small but enthusiastic crowd with half-hour question and answer sessions with the actors. In a non-related Trek question, Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) reluctantly admitted to a Playboy magazine shoot decades earlier. Crosby said that as the twenty-year-old grand-daughter of 1940's crooner legend Bing Crosby she was a hot commodity for the publication. The initial shoot had her dressed in innocent looking apparel that didn't please her. What did she do the next day? She cut her long blonde hair to a quarter inch in length, nearly losing her opportunity to pose in the men's magazine. Regardless, Hugh Hefner loved her new look and re-shot her in a saucier and sexier layout.

Turning back to basic Star Trek questions, Denise said that leaving TNG opened up the recurring role of Guinan for Whoopi Goldberg. Regarding her recurring role in later years, Denise told the audience of the birth of the idea of Sela. The Romulan character of Commander Sela was initially conceived by Denise as the love child of Tasha Yar and Bridge Officer Ramirez in TNG's famed 'Yesterday's Enterprise' episode. Her earlier lunch with Rick Berman seemed uneventful, but four months later, the now executive producer changed Crosby's idea slightly and made the character Tasha's child with a Romulan commander - with Denise playing the offspring.

In the future, Crosby hopes to take edgier roles, like the one she had in NYPD Blue opposite Dennis Franz several years ago. Perhaps something in the Elmore Leonard (author) ilk, a battered but a tough woman, Crosby said.

John de Lancie (Q), perhaps the best speaker of the weekend, gave a full portrait of himself as a creative talent inside and outside the world of Star Trek. The first response to a fan's question ("Do you have a trained voice?") was perhaps the most telling of an actor's determination in the midst of tough competition in America. Liz Smith, former voice teacher at Juilliard School of the Performing Arts in New York, said that his voice was "so bad, he had no hope" to succeed in the acting profession. Depressed, but not disheartened, de Lancie never took lessons from Smith or anyone else. According to John, neither Smith nor anyone's negative opinions have ever bothered him.

In terms of his life history, de Lancie went on to tell us of his love of acting from an early age. From the ages of 14-28, John did nothing but stage plays. For one and half years, he did one show in Los Angeles then spent the same amount of time in Seattle again performing live. After a bit of time in Europe, he came back to the states to play for two and one-half years in the daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. This, according to de Lancie, gave himself and his family a 'grubstake' so he could engage in other creative outlets. Over the years, John has been involved in the New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles Orchestras in which he adds dramatization to classic symphony pieces. Currently, he also lends a hand with the L.A. Youth Orchestra.

What are the newest projects for Mr. de Lancie these days? With Michael Piller (TNG, DS9 & Voyager executive producer) and Bill Dial at the helm, the quirky science fantasy and western UPN show Legend with Richard Dean Anderson (Stargate: SG-1) is likely to return to television via the Sci-Fi channel sometime soon. De Lancie also learned on September 5th from his agent that Microsoft has agreed to an audio series deal. John will take on the character of the older brother of Sherlock Homes, a darker, sinister antithesis of the beloved detective. Though the American T.V. audience loved his and Leonard Nimoy's former radio-type show on the Sci-Fi Channel, the new producers have no interest in reviving it.

The last, perhaps most interesting question focused on his role of Q on the various Star Trek series. "I didn't go to the [reading] interview," said John. "I wasn't that interested in it. I had a co-starRing role in a local play (in Los Angeles) that was scheduled for another six week run. I didn't feel it was in my best interest to leave the play." Well, his agent called John back and asked him to go to Paramount the following day. De Lancie reluctantly agreed. He asked the name of the character he was to read for the next day and the agent said, "I don't know, they have it down as 'Q' but it must be a typo the script department didn't catch." After the reading, John was walking to his car in the studio's parking lot when an older gentleman walked up to him and said, "You make my words sound better than they're written." That man was Gene Roddenberry. John negotiated hardball with Gene who allowed him to finish his play before taking on his villainous role in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Though de Lancie had to take a red-eye flight from Tokyo the night before, he made it back to Los Angeles with hours to spare before filming his first scene for TNG.

Next up, Nicole deBoer (Ezri Dax) and Armin Shimerman (Quark) graced the stage. Nicole was pleased to say The Dead Zone, another Michael Piller production for the USA Network, has been renewed for a second season. Filming begins the third week of September in Canada. When asked if he would do a guest role, Armin bristled at the notion, saying that: "When SAG (Screen Actors Guild) actors are allowed to work in the country, I'll be there." Nicole is French Canadian and automatically qualifies to work in the country north of Hollywood. In America, Armin is doing a lot of television these days, primarily in law shows like the The Practice and the new Girls Club for David E. Kelley. Mr. Shimerman has hopes of reprising his role as the Principal at Sunnydale High in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "The school's rebuilt and there's talk of ghosts haunting the place...I wouldn't mind playing one of those."

Referring to a question about Deep Space Nine, Nicole said she had no problem filling Terry Farrell's (Jadzia Dax) shoes. "I had no time to think about it," she said. "The cast made me feel great. Armin was a great teacher and is still a good friend," deBoer said. When asked how she got along with Avery Brooks, Nicole indicated she had no problem whatsoever because, "I'm a little nuts, and Avery accepted that." Armin added, "In my situation, it was just 'Good morning, Mr. Brooks, Good morning, Mr. Shimmerman,'" intimating to the audience that his professional and personal relationship with Avery was more like the antagonistic Quark-Sisko battle scenes portrayed on camera.

Two more DS9 alumni entered the question and answer session next: Casey Biggs (Damar) and Andrew Robinson (Garak). Both graciously promoted their respected charities first. Biggs spoke about Penny Lane, a southern California foster care home. He encouraged fans to contribute to the Casey Biggs Scholarship. Himself a foster child for nine years, Casey believes Penny Lane is one organization that truly lifts children and teenagers out of the emotional baggage felt by most parentless kids. Andy promoted Save the Children, an organization helping emotional and physically abused children and families.

When asked about ending of DS9, Casey laughed and prided himself on "getting the last line" between him and Andy. "I wanted that last line, so when I fell in Garak's arms and muttered, 'Don't...'" The ad lib stuck in the final cut. When asked how he got the part of Damar, Mr. Biggs stated that he had to fly in from New York to Los Angeles to read just one line: "They're in range sir, fire." Not knowing how to play the line, he was told, "Say it in a militaristic fashion." He was called back the next day and told he did "an intelligent reading" the day before. The audience howled, as did Casey. "I got the part, but I still don't know why."

Mr. Robinson was then asked asked how much of the Cardassian tailor is in him. "99.7% of Garak rest in subtext," was his reply. Subtext, in this instance, is what the actor brings to the role from his life experiences. Due to the claustrophobic nature of his outfit, Andy wanted to crawl out of costume the first time he saw himself in the mirror. "But then I looked at that creature looking back at me and something clicked." Because Star Trek aliens, at least Cardassians, have proper eye and mouth slits, an actor can play out real emotions, Andy said. "And yes, my family had to live with Garak many days," said the bemused actor.

Both men praised Deep Space Nine in particular, and Star Trek in general, as a Shakespearean stylized drama. Echoing de Lancie's words that science fiction on television these days is "the canvas for universal stories," both actors praised Trek writers. Biggs also applauded Robinson as a 'storyteller.'

The final Trek star on stage Saturday afternoon was Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), who was met with the biggest hand of the day. Making one of his rare stateside appearances, 'Sid,' as he likes to be called, was asked: "Why the name change?" He laughed it off, saying: "There were a hundred explanations before the change, and hundred afterwards." But of the most important, he cited three reasons. The first and most important reason was to "stick it to the Paramount Studios Marketing Department." Siddig mentioned he, like other actors, were a bit miffed due to their paltry share of the Star Trek product cash cow. "I felt that if I changed my name every year, [they'd have to repackage my action figure, photos, etc.]. My friends convinced me not to do it every year so I stopped after the first name change." The second reason was a tribute to his Sudanese heritage. When his mother rested in a hospital bed for six months after a tear gas attack in her village, his cousins chanted "Siddig" outside the window for hours every day to bring her and the child strength and a quick recovery. The name 'Siddig' is his given first name and the one that appears on his passport. The third reason? He promised his friends he would do so in a bar one night. "And when one makes a bar bet, one can't back out," he said.

To play Dr. Bashir on DS9, Mr. Siddig says that he wanted his character to start as a normal, naive guy and end up as a great character. "I didn't want to be like Jason Priestly (Beverly Hills 90210) who kept the same character for the entire run," Sid said. But it was hard enough just keeping the part. "Rick Berman stuck up for me for the first three years. Studio executives and syndicate network people wanted me out because I was seen as the least popular character." In earlier interview with this reporter, Sid said "The riveting episode 'Dr. Bashir, I Presume' told of the doctor's family and genetic background and that opened up the character for bigger and better things for me."

Several other standard questions were asked, like "What was his favorite DS9 episode?" "'Our Man Bashir'," because, "for once, I not only got the girl but I got all of them." Will there be a DS9 movie? "If DVD sales triple TNG sales, perhaps," Siddig said. "More likely, it will be a 'Star Trek Does the Greatest Hits' where a selected handful of actors from Voyager, DS9 and TNG combine for a movie." But that's only if and when Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) decides to stop making films, according to Sid.

The best of Sid's Trek anecdotes involved the DS9 episode, 'Trials and Tribble-ations.' Sid went on to say: "Here we are, playing in old-time costumes from the Original Series. Even Avery Brooks, who is not really an animated fellow on the set, is excited about playing in the costumes with the old gadgets. But some of the props aren't easy to manipulate - especially the hand-held communicator. One day, Avery is in a turbo-lift, which is really just a couple of pieces of cardboard with a curtain attached, and he's fumbling around with the communicator. And he can't get the blasted thing open. He's getting real frustrated and starts to mutter and swear to himself. From behind the curtain, a deep voice says, 'Let me show you.' A hand reaches around the curtain and easily opens the device still resting in Averyís hand. The stranger even makes the beep, beep, beep sound. Who was it? None other than Walter Koenig, Chekov, who was on set that day giving advice to the actors on the 'The Trouble with Tribbles' episode of the Original Series."

Are Sid and Colm Meany (Miles O'Brien) friends in real life? "Oh yeah, sure. We call each other quite often. We go drinking during our visits to England and Ireland," said Sid. "But the truth of it, and don't tell Colm I said this, but he treats me like a monkey on a string when we go drinking in his home country. One time, I went up to order a beer in his hometown bar and the bartender said, 'we don't serve your kind here.' I walked back to Colm who was sitting in a booth and said, 'I think you,d better order, he won't serve me because of my appearance [Siddig has a dark, Arabic complexion].' Colm looked at me and said, 'No, that's because you're British.'"

Saturday evening was more like 'Karoake with the Stars' rather than with the fans the night before. Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) started with a Dean Martin favorite, 'Everybody Needs Someone to Love,' dedicated to his wife and two children seated in the audience. Casey Biggs then sang several songs with Hertzler and O'Reilly, his best being, 'Fly Me to the Moon.' Not to be outdone, Robert Picardo (the Holodoc) sang several song parodies from his CD titled, 'Basic Bob' and several 1950s' classic songs like 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.' Afterwards, a talented singer (appropriately a shapely but tough looking Klingon female that O'Reilly promised he'd welcome to his "house anytime") gave a great performance. Hertlzer later beckoned a fan dressed as Data to sing a Devo classic song titled, 'Whip it.' The night shut down around 10:45 p.m. with the fans wanting more.

Part two of the report, which features Sunday's activities, will be published soon.

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Dr. Joseph D. Di Lella is a new contributor to the Trek Nation.

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