Written by Jacqueline Bundy
, edited by Steve Krutzler
At the recent Shore Leave convention, one of the many guests was STAR TREK’s Vaughn Armstrong. Currently playing the recurring role of 'Admiral Forrest' on ENTERPRISE, Armstrong has at this time played eleven different roles on Star Trek over fifteen years. During his stage appearance at Shore Leave, Vaughn Armstrong talked with the gathered audience about his background, his roles, and ENTERPRISE.
Armstrong began by telling the fans a little bit about his background and how he got into acting. Saying that the area he grew up, in Redlands, California, was otherwise known as, “misdemeanor meadow." To keep him out of trouble his Mother offered him $10 to audition for a play when he was sixteen. Upon getting the roll, he discovered that he it entailed to kissing a very attractive girl. “So the reason I got into theater was money and women,” Armstrong deadpanned.
He credits acting with saving his life. An obsessive compulsive as a child, he firmly believes that the acting teacher who taught him that “dedication, responsibility and love for whatever it is you are doing” was the way to focus his life. “I transferred that focus to the theater and it steadied me well,” he added. “I go back to my hometown now and my former neighbors are either dead or in jail now. I thank god for the teacher who showed me that there is a better way to do things. Put your mind into something that is going to be positive for you and other people.”
After a stint at a performing arts school in San Diego, Armstrong was drafted into the army and served in Vietnam. Starting out in the infantry, he was transferred into the entertainment branch thanks to his theater experience. After ten months in Vietnam and attaining the rank of sergent, he was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, where he worked with the Fort Carson Little Theater. When his tour of duty was up, Armstrong moved to Kansas to work in theater where he meet his wife, the two have been married 25 years.
Coming to Los Angeles in 1973, he entered the theater department at LA City College, did as much local theater as possible, and began auditioning for everything he could. Earning his first television roll in the children’s special My Dear Uncle Sherlock was the break he needed and he has been working steadily ever since, appearing in his first STAR TREK roll fifteen years ago.
That first roll was of course Korris, the vocal Klingon in the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episode “Heart of Glory." Telling the audience that after that role “they just kept calling me back to audition for more work, until eventually I had done eight,” he joked, “I think I had done the first six before they knew it was the same guy.”
Originally auditioning for Rick Berman for the role of Vulcan Ambassador 'Soval', Armstrong instead won the recurring roll of Admiral Forrest on the prequel series. At that point Armstrong assumed that his days of playing alien characters was over but then he was given the role of the 'Kreetassan captain' in the episode “Vox Sola." Later he played another Klingon in “Sleeping Dogs." Originally, another actor had played the role, but after his part was filmed, they asked Armstrong to assume it. “They gave me the script, which was paragraphs of Klingon,” Armstrong said. When it comes to the Klingon language Armstrong says, “Every syllable had to be exactly correct. They don’t take just kinda getting it right in STAR TREK; you have got to have every syllable correct. I was supposed to do this in two days. I had to memorize all of it…there’s nothing like the pressure of getting something right in a hurry!”
Opening it up to questions from the audience fielded a variety of queries. Asked about the relationship between the makeup and the characters he has played, the actor says that he believes that the makeup “gives you a feeling for the character. As they are applying it, I try to figure out the relationship between the makeup and the character. I try to figure out who the being underneath the makeup is.” The longest makeup job he has yet had to endure was for the Kreetassan captain, which took over 6 hours to apply. The most problematic was the Hirogen, as it covers your whole head and face. The only place not covered was the eyes and the mouth. It is very hot inside all that makeup and as Armstrong puts it, “there is no place for the sweat to go.”
Another fan asked about working with Scott Bakula to which Armstrong replied, “Scott Bakula is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever meet. Scott Bakula is the best of the best. He is one of the brightest men I’ve ever known. He’s one of the most enthusiastic about his work. He is one of the kindest men on the set.” Giving an example of how Bakula goes out of his way to make everyone, even the extras on the set feel at home Armstrong continued by saying, “I have never worked with a finer actor or better human being than Scott Bakula.”
Asked about his thoughts on the changes in ENTERPRISE (referring to the vessel going into the Expanse), Armstrong joked, “I’m worried we wont see Admiral Forrest a whole lot.” But he says he is not concerned, as he has been told that he would likely be brought in as lots of different characters. “Which is fine with me, one of my goals is to do a hundred of these characters before I die and I had better hurry because it took me fifteen years to do eleven of them.”
“I think they [the writers and producers] have a great opportunity here. They’re between a rock and a hard place. Some hardcore older fans don’t like to see real changes in what they love. And yet, at the same time, interest in that is waning for for the STAR TREK community as a whole and they want to invite a new audience in and to do that they’ve got to do something new. Some of the fans find it difficult to accept those new things that they are doing. Now that they’ve been thrown into the Expanse maybe they’ll accept it better.”
Armstrong continued by saying, “I hope what they’ll do is kind of what they did in the original STAR TREK, which was of course kind of a first for sci-fi, and take topical issues, back then it was civil rights and women’s rights and that kind of thing. I think they have a real opportunity to do that now. They can get to the general public in an entertaining way and still touch base with subjects that we all deal with every day.”