07:19:06 on December 03 2001
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Special Features
TrekWeb commissioned writer AntonyF to track down one of TREK's most successful and popular guest actors, Jeffrey Combs, to talk about his latest role as one of the classic TREK species, the Andorians. The actor talks about his previous roles on DEEP SPACE NINE and VOYAGER, as well as shooting the ENTERPRISE episodes "The Andorian Incident" and his next appearance, "Shadows of P'jem" (airing early in 2002), which will feature the return of the Andorians in what is becoming a recurring plot arc.
Written for TrekWeb by AntonyF, edited by Steve Krutzler
Well known for his roles in genre television and film, Jeffrey Combs is certainly no stranger to Star Trek fans. It could be for his role as Deep Space Nine’s Tiron in “Meridian,” the recurring Ferengi Liquidator Brunt (FCA) or perhaps Voyager’s Penk, in the WWF-crossover episode “Tsunkatse.” But he’s probably best known for portraying the wonderfully multi-faceted Vorta villain Weyoun.
It was just recently that Jeffrey returned to where we love him best though, as he added a fifth Star Trek credit to his name when he accepted an invitation to play the Andorian ‘Shran’ in Enterprise’s “The Andorian Incident.” “I was reticent about doing it at first,” he admits. “I didn’t particularly flat out turn it down, I just had a few questions before I just jumped in and said ‘Oh yeah, sure, gee whiz’. I was kind of reticent about it because I cherish my Deep Space Nine connection, and the character of Weyoun particularly, so I just wanted to be careful.
“When it first came down, I didn’t know it was an Andorian. I sort of asked the key question, ‘Does he die?’ because I wasn’t particularly interested in doing a one-shot guest star. I wanted the potential of it being more than just a guest star to be there at least. When I found it was an Andorian that really intrigued me as I’m a big fan of the first series and I knew who the Andorians were, and that they were sort of unexplored.”
Jeffrey has previously said that the Weyoun character was particularly rewarding, as the Vorta were a largely unshaped species. One can assume that the role of an Andorian could offer something similar. “Exactly. It was much like the Vorta, it was new territory, undiscovered country (pardon my all too obvious reference there.) It was the challenge of—and compliment of—them coming to me and asking me to take the vanguard on creating sort of who these guys were.”
Having two concurrent roles within DS9 was a rare compliment, and now the Star Trek team were inviting him back for a fifth role. Naturally, this meant a lot to Jeffrey. “It pleased me a great deal, especially with the challenge of creating this character and what with the extra burden, if you will, with the mechanics that were involved. The makeup design didn’t just incorporate hair and makeup, but an added element of mechanics.”
There was also praise from Roxann Dawson, director of the episode. Unknown to Jeffrey, in a recent interview she said, “He brought some wonderful colors and hues to this role, I have to say. I think it established them as a permanent color on this show—he's truly great.” Again, the praise pleases Jeffrey. “I’m really honored that she would say that,” he says. “I thought that she did a tremendous job, although I have to tell you that the first couple of days I wasn’t so sure whether she liked me or not.
“She was so much in to all the things that she had to be in to, that communicating with me was rightly not her top priority at the beginning. She had a lot of pressure on her. Being a vulnerable, insecure actor, you kind of want a few acknowledgements that maybe you’re on the right track. Starting these things is like the first day of school, and everybody’s putting up a brave front, but really we’re all little kids with our lunch pails.”
This was only Dawson’s third episode at the helm, after directing “Riddles” and “Workforce, Part II” for Voyager, the show where she played B’Elanna Torres. Jeffrey has nothing but praise for her. “[She was] very focused and very intense, and worked well with everybody. Actors have slightly more openness to a director who happens to be an actor, as they understand. They can say something with very little because a lot of acting is not verbal. A lot of the time an actor is spending time using his internal translator when [other directors] say something to him, to put it into actors’ language. With her, you didn’t really have to do that. She was really there in terms of creating these characters and giving them nuances that frankly I didn’t quite pick up on. It’s a collaborative effort where everybody puts their little bit in there, and hopefully the soufflé doesn’t drop.”
Naturally, the base of such collaboration is the script’s quality. “I loved the script because it does what a good script should,” he says. “It leads the audience one way, and they wind up at the end thinking of things in a different way. They have been, and still are, laying in little things about the Vulcans not being particularly trustworthy. This episode showed, in the clearest light, that the Vulcans can’t be trusted which is so against the Star Trek bible that it’s intriguing. So that’s really a cool thing, that we’re justified. We’re tough, I get to beat the captain up, I show him no mercy, we’re ruthless, and everyone thinks we’re just the bad guys. At the end, you realize that we’re right.”
Although there may be some slight similarities between Weyoun and Shran, they are naturally very different characters. Jeffrey has his views on what the characters are like, and what drives their choices. “I liken [Weyoun] to middle management. He’s the guy that comes in from the head office and says listen, I have to do this, you have nothing to worry about, you’re running this place just wonderfully, let’s just try to make this as easy as we possibly can, and let’s be friends. Then they leave and you have a false sense of security and two days later you get a perfunctory letter saying your ass is canned. Then you go ‘that bastard!’ That’s Weyoun.
“Shran is deeply frustrated, and quite angry at the centuries of injustice that his people have endured as a people, and individually. I think the Andorians are justifiably suspicious and very sensitive to any sort of deception around them because they are very idealistic in some ways. They know what’s right and they know they’ve been done wrong, and they’re angry about it.
“[They’re] ruthless, but I don’t think they are as conniving as Weyoun was. They don’t say one thing and do another; they don’t lie to your face. What you see is what you get. [They’re] a much more tenacious and volatile people, and for me that was great, they weren’t asking me to do Weyoun again. I wouldn’t have been interested in doing that, and it’s really a high compliment from them [because] this business is filled with people who see you one way and that’s all they see you as. So for me it was really wonderful that they would let me go 180º from where I was. That’s what interests me.”
Another major difference is the armory. Weyoun never fired a phaser, Brunt shot one about once. Shran is just slightly different. “Here I am with one strapped to my leg, and one around my shoulder and probably some grenades,” says Jeffrey. “I’m a freedom fighter.
“The whole show has a completely different tone. I probably did 35 episodes of Deep Space Nine and I could probably count on one hand the number of times that an explosion was called for, or even a spark or a stunt. The two shows that I’ve done on Enterprise have been rife with those. So it’s a much more action-packed show which is great, great fun.”
So to coin a phrase used by Roxann Dawson, it’s ‘swashbuckling.’ “Absolutely, it’s back to the tone of the original series which had a heck of a lot of that in it. It’s like [how] Roddenberry (I remember in an early interview I read) saw the original series as a kind of Western in space. That’s really what they’ve gotten back to.”
Jeffrey found working with the cast of the latest Star Trek show a positive experience. “[They’re a] tremendous, really great group of people. [There’s] great morale and a large part of that is due to Scott Bakula. He really sets a wonderful tone, has a great worth ethic, and really cares about everything on every level. He’s very aware of all the elements, curious about them, asks the right questions in the right way. So morale is just really high. I don’t know if the reference would work, but he’s like a captain of a team. Everyone rallies and follows his lead—and it’s a strong lead. It was great working with him, although I was scared to death I’d break his nose. I had to constantly be really, really on the mark. I don’t want to do what Avery did to Marc Alaimo—ever!” he says, referring to when Avery Brooks broke Marc’s nose in the filming of DS9’s “What You Leave Behind.”
So was it strange working with a third Star Trek cast? “It’s a surreal experience having done so many DS9s, and getting to know and become a part of that family,” he admits. “It’s strange to go through the same moves. I still go to Paramount, the sound stage is right next door to where DS9 was shot and in fact right now on the DS9 sound stages are all the sets for the new Star Trek movie. So I’m going through the same process, most of them are different, but there are clear holdovers.
“What adds an extra weird level to that, is right next door is [where] Roswell is shot, and a lot of people that were on the Deep Space Nine crew are on Roswell. They come over and visit, and Jonathan Frakes stopped by, and I saw LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn the last time I was there, so everybody is still in orbit around Star Trek although they’re not onboard that particular show.”
It would be remiss to discuss the prosthetics that Jeffrey once again has to wear. However, an element that he must deal with this time is moving antennae on his head, which could have proved a distraction. “The curious thing is that I’m aware of them up until I shoot, I have little motors on the back of my head underneath my wig. [They’re] operated by a remote control little transmitter on my belt, and when they move I can hear little whirrs and clicks. But once the camera is rolling, I get a kind of tunnel vision and I’m not aware of them. It’s a curious phenomenon and later I realize that I didn’t hear them. It’s a curious thing.”
The makeup itself takes a little bit longer than to apply than that of Weyoun. “It takes about 2-and-a-half hours,” explains Jeff. “It takes a little bit longer because before they start the whole makeup and hair process we have to lay down on my head this little very thin ‘bike helmet’. Very, very, thin with padding, and it’s form fitted to my head, and that has to be secured first. Then it’s just basically the makeup is put on, and when the makeup and hair is done and fine tuned, at some point the guy with the antennae plugs me in and makes sure everything works okay.”
Fan reception to the “Andorian Incident” has been very positive, something that pleases Jeff. However, it’s not just the fans that noticed that this was going to be a memorable Star Trek episode. “Even when we were filming it, I think the producers had a sense that something cool was going on. I remember that Brannon [Braga] came down and visited me in my trailer, and said ‘I’ve just seen dailies, and you know… wow… this is going to be like the best episode of the year.’ And I’m thinking, geeze this is only number seven, how can you say that? So they were quite enthused.”
In keeping with that theory, Jeffrey was soon asked to reprise the role. “I was real pleased that before even the first episode had aired, they asked me to do another one. Always a good sign!”
The episode, “Shadows of P’Jem”, will air in January 2002 in the U.S., but Jeffrey has already filmed the role and can offer the first details on the return of the Andorians to Enterprise.
The episode is written by Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong, based upon a story by executive producers/creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga and is directed by veteran Mike Vejar. “Mike is the rock of Gibraltar. He’s mellow, easy going, yet really accessible. It’s always a pleasure to work with him. So, again it’s another comfort zone. Someone else that I don’t have to worry about getting to know, and figuring out how they work or them figuring out how I work.”
The story of the episode will seem slightly familiar. “Basically, it’s another hostage situation where the captain gets himself on another planet and gets himself caught in the crossfire of a civil war,” reveals Jeffrey. “It’s not a good situation, and basically we are the cavalry coming over the hill. We show up at the opportune moment and help them, and extradite the captain out of the situation.
“I point out to them ‘we said to you we were in your debt, now that debt’s repaid.’ Basically saying, we’re even now, we don’t like owing anybody anything, so that’s where it’s left.”
The warring planet in question will introduce another new race to the Star Trek universe. “There are fighting factions, and a corrupt government on this planet that has very close ties with the Vulcans. So we have very close ties to the rebels, because that’s what we are as well.”
So there are shades of Weyoun, interfering with another planet’s internal politics? “Yes, right. Well the captain was too, what’s he doing down there? That’s what’s interesting about Star Trek now, they don’t have the prime directive, so they get themselves in messes all the time.”
We won’t, however, get many scenes between Shran and Archer this time around. “I had just one scene with him,” Jeffrey says. “He’s in the hostage situation, so I team up with Trip and Malcolm to rescue the captain. They’re trying to rescue him, and we turn up and say ‘the way you’re going about it is going to get yourselves killed. So we’re here to save you, basically.’”
So, will we see Shran again, and does Jeffrey want to continue portraying this character? “Absolutely, yes. I’m thinking that as the fans love the Andorians so much, they could do a lot of things. They could continue to explore my character, or they could expand out and bring in other Andorians. I have no control; they have a lot of balls in the air. It intrigues me greatly and I’m itching to explore other aspects of the history of this character.”
This year has also seen a number of new projects where fans can look for the talented and versatile actor. “I did a movie earlier this year in Luxembourg called for FearDotCom,” he says. “Whether that’s just the working title, and they’re going to change it to something else, I don’t know. It was with Steven Dorff, Steven Rea and Natascha McElhone. It’s an interesting sort of Seven meets What Lies Beneath kind of movie. I got to play a very different kind of character, a slovenly, apathetic detective.
“I [was also in] an independent movie that was just picked up as a Blockbuster movie, called The Attic Expedition. It’s an interesting sort of mind bender movie, very surreal with a snake eating its own tail kind of feel.”
Copyright © 2001 TrekWeb.com and AntonyF. All rights reserved.
(Thanks to The Official Jeffrey Combs Fan Club for providing the photos).