I was too short to be a Klingon (Klingons start at 6 feet) and too tall to be a Ferengi (Ferengis don’t grow over 5’6”). But eventually the producers found an unnamed alien species whose height was juuust right — and I ended up making my Star Trek debut looking like a 5’9” asparagus spear.
Not that I’m complaining. I’d have let them turn me into a fuzzy little Tribble for the chance to appear as an extra on Deep Space Nine, the new Star Trek TV spin-off now in production on three of Paramount Studio’s Hollywood soundstages. Starring Avery Brooks (Spenser: For Hire) and Rene Auberjonois (Benson) as Starfleet’s newest officers, the syndicated series isn’t slated to begin until January, but already fans are awaiting the arrival of this grittier, sexier Trek as if it were the second coming of Surak (see episode No. 77 of the original series). So when Deep Space offered to send me where no reporter had gone before for a behind-the-scenes view of the show’s two-hour premiere episode, I beamed right over. It was my ticket to Trekkie nirvana.
Deep Space Nine, for the benefit of the Trek-impaired, is the latest addition to the ever-expanding Star Trek entertainment empire. Since the original series first appeared on NBC 26 years ago, it has spawned a vast Trekking industry, including the hit sequel, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which this week enters its sixth season as the single most popular syndicated drama on the air, with 17 million viewers every week. There have been six feature films (grossing a total of more than $400 million), hundreds of books (including 41 consecutive best-selling Trek novels), a Saturday-morning cartoon series (in reruns on the new Sci-Fi Channel this fall), posters, lunch boxes, action figures, dozens of annual Trek conventions, and a Smithsonian retrospective this summer. Judging from the sneak peek I got while roaming the sets last month, Deep Space Nine seems destined to become yet another Trek sensation.
The show takes place at the same time as Next Generation, around a.d. 2360, but the setting has moved to a seedy space station, Deep Space Nine, which serves as an orbiting port of call for a stripped mining planet named Bajor. Built and abandoned by those interstellar bad guys the Cardassians, the place is a shambles when a new crew of Federation officers beams aboard to take over. It does have a few interesting amenities, however — including a Ferengi-run casino and a holographic brothel. It’s also located near a newly discovered cosmic ”wormhole,” a tear in space that provides a shortcut to the uncharted far side of the galaxy. Deep Space’s main mission: to boldly explore that wormhole, seeking out new life and new civilizations.
”In Deep Space, we set out to do all the things we couldn’t in Next Generation,” says Rick Berman, an executive producer of both series. ”We wanted the space station to be the antithesis of the Enterprise. We wanted it to be strange and uncomfortable and confusing. We wanted it to seem alien, with a small a.”
They got what they wanted: The sets of Deep Space Nine look like the Batcave as designed by Dr. Caligari. The bridge — or ”Operations Control Center,” as it’s called — is a huge structure filled with cantilevered catwalks and bizarre control panels even Spock might have trouble understanding. Things are only a bit more user-friendly at another of the show’s busiest sets, a bar run by a Ferengi named Quark, where the Deep Space denizens meet to sip Romulan brandy, spin warp-powered roulette wheels, and pop upstairs for close encounters with the holographic hookers.
Quark’s bar, as it happens, is also where I make my Trek debut — along with a few dozen other alien extras of various sizes, species, and genders. We are filming a homage to the famous barroom scene in the first Star Wars movie, a panoramic shot showing visitors from many worlds drinking strange brews, playing weird musical instruments, gambling, flirting, fighting, and in general partying down. As I survey my more elaborate competition, I feel a tinge of alien envy. One fellow bellying up to the bar might be the Grinch’s grandfather. Another at the roulette wheel looks like Jabba the Cow Pile. As for me, the dork from Ork, my job during the scene couldn’t be simpler: An assistant director plants me in the background next to a scantily clad reptile woman and tells me to nod my head a lot and pretend to make toasts. ”Whadya expect?” my neighbor the lizard lady asks me between takes, adjusting the bit of costume she almost has on. ”That we’d do scenes from The Glass Menagerie?” About 20 takes and three hours later, we break for lunch.
One of the nice things about being an alien for a day is that you get tons of attention. During lunch, strangers on the Paramount lot approach me constantly to admire my creamy green complexion and tweak my foam-rubber nose. Later in the day, while I’m sipping a soda outside soundstage No. 4, a studio tour bus filled with preteens rolls by. ”Coooooool!” a few of them gush, pointing my way. I wave back. ”Hey, kids!” I want to say, ”Don’t let this happen to you!”
Resting in his trailer, still wearing his jumbo-eared Ferengi outfit, actor Armin Shimerman seems to have gotten used to the stares. He plays Quark, the wily saloonkeeper who isn’t thrilled about the arrival of the station’s new Federation overlords (one of the first things the Feds do is chuck Quark’s teenage nephew in the brig for looting).
”I’ve done aliens before,” Shimerman says. ”On my first appearance on Next Generation I played a prop, a talking box. It took nine hours of makeup. I also played the very first Ferengi they ever did on Next Generation. That took about 3 1/2 hours. Plus I’ve done episodes of Alien Nation and some movie aliens. I’m the Lon Chaney of my generation.”
”My makeup takes only about two hours,” says Rene Auberjonois, who plays Security Officer Odo, a ”shape shifter” who can turn himself into any form he wants, á la Terminator 2 (Odo apparently has some trouble turning convincingly human; his face is always flat and featureless). ”I’ve done Charlie’s Angels, and it took a lot longer to put those women’s faces together than it does ours. A lot longer.”