For Tucker Smallwood, a health issue did not keep the actor from his first Star Trek role.
Smallwood first appeared on Star Trek: Voyager as Admiral Bullock, and then was called back to play another alien, the Xindi-Primate Councilor on Star Trek: Enterprise.
The actor’s first appearance came after he developed Bell’s Palsy, a condition in which half of one’s face is temporarily paralyzed. “I woke up one morning, looked at myself in the mirror and thought I’d had a stroke,” he said. “I was stricken with Bell’s palsy. I didn’t know what it was at the time and I very quickly learned a lot more about it. Only half of my face worked.
“I told my agents, ‘You can’t send me out now. If they see me like this, I’ll never work again.’ So, for months I didn’t go out. Then I got a call from my agents saying, ‘Voyager called and would like to see you for this character. [Admiral Bullock on In The Flesh].’ I said, ‘Well, he’s an alien. I can do that. I sound OK. I only look like hell.’ The muscles in my face were very, very slowly starting to respond, but I did not have full control over the muscles. Then I discovered that, yes, he is an alien, but he’s an alien who looks like a human being. He’s disguised in a shape-shifting way as a human being. However, I got the role and when people saw the work they said, ‘You were so implacable. You were so stern.’ I said, ‘It was the only expression I had.’ But it was very affirming. People all over were kind to me throughout this experience. You tend to want to withdraw, especially if you make your life visually, so to speak. I didn’t know if I’d ever work again, and that was the start of my working again.”
His next role was that of the Xindi-Primate Councilor on Star Trek: Enterprise, where he appeared in nine episodes. Working with Scott Bakula was a pleasure for Smallwood. “Scott Bakula, I’d worked with him on three different projects,” he said. “He’s just a gem. He set the tone for that show, and it was a very inclusive experience. There was no star system there. Everyone was a peer. And that’s what the concept is in theater, which made sense, since Scott is a theater-trained actor. So it was a wonderful set, a wonderful crew and a wonderful cast.”
Smallwood took part in fleshing out the culture of the Xindi. “Generally in the Star Trek franchise, there is a bible for every species,” he said. “However, there was no bible for the Xindi. So, we wiled away our time on set creating our culture. We had some spirited discussions, in that we had six species in the Xindi, one of which is extinct, two of which are CGI, and it took a lot of imagination. But, as I said, we had a great group of guys, so it was an exciting, challenging experience. They original called us, Randy [Oglesby] and I, the humanoid Xindi. I said, ‘No, that’s a racial term. I’d never refer to myself by using another species to identify myself.” So I said, ‘We are the Primate-Xindi.’ So, as I say, our culture was evolving as we were filming.”
Still working, Smallwood, who is seventy-one, will be part of SCI Fest L.A: The Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival, where he is performing the role of Professor Grock in the play Human History, which runs through this Sunday.