07:28:58 on February 07 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features
Written by Steve Krutzler
An upcoming episode of the newest STAR TREK series will see the return of one of the franchise’s most talented actors, Rene Auberjonois, who played the shape-shifting ‘Odo’ on DEEP SPACE NINE for seven years. In “Oasis,” which he completed shooting last week, the Enterprise crew discovers a marooned group of aliens while searching for some duratanium on a nearby planet. Chief engineer Charlie Tucker (Connor Trinneer) becomes romantically involved with the daughter of Auberjonois’s character, ‘Elcazar’.
”It’s an interesting, very nice character; I don’t wear any heavy makeup,” Auberjonois told TrekWeb. “I’m an alien but I have, sort of, spots on my forehead so it took a lot less time than Odo,” explains the veteran actor from his home in Southern California.
In addition to some brief interaction with both Trinneer and Jolene Blalock (‘T’Pol’) in the episode, Rene’s chief scenes to watch for will be with ENTERPRISE’s leading man. “My two big scenes were with Scott [Bakula], which were great because he’s one of the warmest, most welcoming [actors]. He has really influenced the whole feeling the show.”
”Compared to Avery [Brooks] (‘Captain Sisko’), who was so intense and [played] such a complex and dark character… from the beginning -- he didn’t want to be there [on DS9] -- and who went through such difficult emotional relationships, Scott is a more laid back, kind of humorous… more relaxed. I like that a lot. I think it’s a nice twist on the captain,” he offers sincerely.
Auberjonois likens “Oasis,” his first return to TREK since the bow of DS9 in 1999, to “’The Tempest’, by William Shakespeare; it sort of follows along those lines.” But he’s not about to reveal how this story ends: “It has an interesting twist in it that I don’t want to give away,” he offers coolly.
The 61 year old actor says he jumped at the opportunity to take part in STAR TREK’s latest saga at the request of executive producer Rick Berman. “I really didn’t even have to read the script, I was happy to be asked to be a part of that. I admire the show and I had a great time. It’s the same crew (behind the scenes –ed.) that started out on the road to DS9 so it was like déjà vu.”
Admitting that he’s no authority on the new show Auberjonois says his experience working on ENTERPRISE and the few finished installments he’s seen reveal “a return to the original STAR TREK, which VOYAGER started to do but couldn’t fully because of the story of being lost in space. This seems to be a return to the original STAR TREK concept [and] if you’re going to carry on the franchise I think that was a clever way to do it..”
Indeed, the third STAR TREK series eventually committed itself to a more serialized style of storytelling than any of its predecessors attempted or progenitors have yet to try, but Auberjonois is diplomatic, saying “I’m glad that we did what we did – I think sometimes it might’ve suffered for that – but sometimes it’s difficult if you want to syndicate if you serialize. I don’t think anything’s lost [in staying away from heavy serialization]. I think they’re doing the right thing; if I were producing, this is the way I would direct it.”
DEEP SPACE NINE is famous among fans and critics alike for becoming one of the best shows on television without the studio ever noticing, and Auberjonois sympathizes. “I would say it’s true that DS9 really was the sort of middle child of the family and it never really had enough of a chance to be on it’s own; we overlapped with TNG and VOY and we really hardly had any chance to sort of be the only game in town and I think that didn’t always work in its best interest,” he says.
But in the odd chance that the series were revitalized for a new project – perhaps a TV movie or feature film – the actor says returning to Odo would be appealing, if not a complete certainty. “I never say never but I would be very surprised (chuckle) if we ever saw Odo again; I loved the character, if some way the opportunity presented itself I would have to consider. Why I choose to do things is a mystery to me sometimes; I’ve done things that on the face of it you think, ‘why would anybody do POLICE ACADEMY 5?’ I did it because it was an opportunity to play a character that nobody else was every going to let me play -- I had a great time doing it, don’t regret it for a moment and [would] do it again in a minute. I had to look at the role and see if there’s a reason to do it... and the same thing would apply to Odo.”
The Odo character presented interesting challenges to this accomplished character actor, who says as a youth “my dream… was to be able to do it all. I was very influenced by character actors like Alec Guinness who did comedy and did serious roles; you consider Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) -- that’s a very serious character compare[d] to some of his earlier comedic roles. That’s the kind of actor I wanted to be and that’s one of the things STAR TREK gave me the opportunity to do.”
”It’s certainly, as an actor, incredibly challenging to work with the mask and it taught me a great deal. I had come from the theater where you had to fill a very large space; I worked in classical theater where one could really work with large brushstrokes. What I feel I got out of STAR TREK was a real sense of how to work very subtly: even though it was an unrealistic character you had to find a truth in the situation. It was very important for me as an actor and I think helped me grow a great deal,” he says of the shape-shifting character that kept him under latex for seven seasons.
One reason Rene says he may have been willing to embrace Odo so completely was a reduced worry about typecasting – one potential downside for an actor who becomes involved in the mythic TREK franchise: “I came to Star Trek relatively late in my work as an actor… [and] having spent seven years under rubber alleviates some of those concerns. To this day, half the time I’m recognized it’s likely to be for BENSON and not for STAR TREK.”
But his extensive history with the franchise hasn’t lulled him into any particular formula for bringing life into yet another TREK character. “I don’t think ‘oh I’m going to do anything I can to be different!’ [but] when I come to a character it really doesn’t matter to me that it’s STAR TREK, it’s just a human being or an alien being that I try to embrace and to become part of.”
Auberjonois is comfortable with life these days; he’s currently building a house in Northern California and says he is happy to wait for work to come to him. Just this season he’s appeared on THE PRACTICE and several JUDGING AMY installments in addition to his upcoming ENTERPRISE guest spot. Last season he traded humorous psychiatric barbs with ‘Doctor Frasier Crane’ on the popular NBC sitcom, and continues to enjoy touring the ANCESTRAL VOICES show around California and performing “theatrical jazz” with former DS9 cast mate Armin Shimmerman at STAR TREK conventions nationwide.
Just as Captain Sisko suggested in the series finale that distance or time won’t dull his crew’s connection to Deep Space Nine, Rene Auberjonois thinks time will be the ultimate vindicator of the sometimes forgotten TREK spin-off. “I believe that as the years go on and we get further and further away from DS9… it will stand as one of the most original and challenging -- for the people who liked it and understood what it was trying to do -- it will stand as the most original of the takes on STAR TREK. Not that we’re better, just very different. I’m proud of that.”
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