In conversation with Marina Sirtis, of ST:TNG fame

Anyone born after 1985 should stop reading here and click through to the next article. This won’t interest you. From 1987-1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) was seminal sci-fi TV viewing. Other than Dr. Who and Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, science didn’t have much of a place on the boob-tube back then. TNG was kind of a big deal — giving hope to our planet through their visions of a united humankind — this space soap opera kicked hedonistic competitors like Dallas and Dynasty to the curb, with holodecks, lasers, hyper-spatial voyage and alien race relations.

Twenty-seven years after the show first aired, Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Michael Dorn (Worf), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Brent Spiner (Data), Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and John DeLancie (Q), together comprising the main crew of the USS Enterprise (specifically the *ahem* NCC-1701-D) plus their biggest adversary (Q) will appear on stage together as part of this year’s Montreal ComicCon. I had the opportunity to speak with the charming and outspoken Marina Sirtis about haters, sci-fi and being true to yourself.


For the giant nerds, here is the raw audio interview, where you can hear me being nervous, trying to make lame jokes and getting called “Natasha.” Edited text of the interview is below.

How you feel as a woman in the sci-fi world, specifically cast as one of the essential crew members of the USS Enterprise?

Bear in mind that sci-fi, at the end of the day, is action/adventure, so by its very nature it’s more skewed toward boys than girls. After saying that, however, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of [equality]. Nichelle Nicholls from The Original Series, not only was that groundbreaking because she was a woman, and she was on the bridge as a regular character, but she was a black woman, on the bridge, as a regular character in a sci-fi show. [TNG] started in ‘87 and went through to ‘94, and although we were doing a show about the 24th century, the show was actually written by 20th century men. Gates [McFadden] and I were in the caring professions — she was a doctor and I was a psychologist — so it made me sad when Denise [Crosby] quit the show, because she was security chief, and it would have been really cool to have a female security chief. But as the series went on women got more and more important, and in Voyageur we have a female captain. People sometimes forget that because the show is set in the future, they think they are written by future people, but they’re not written by future people, they’re written by people now, with all their hang-ups and all their bigotries and, you know, all the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.

And written for an audience that has all those characteristics as well…

Our geeks are really forward thinking generally. That’s the good thing about the technological age, is that the people who are at the forefront of it are very modern people, and so that’s wonderful.

Let’s talk about the Internet and the Haters. I saw that you’re on Twitter (@marina_sirtis) and you very readily engage with anyone who has something to say.

I find a lot of people in my profession don’t express their opinions about things because they want to be liked; they don’t want to ruffle any feathers. I have never cared about that, to be honest, I’ve never cared what people thought of me. I know who I am, I know what I stand for. And the people who hate me or the people who disagree with me or the people who write vile things to me on Twitter: it makes me laugh. Because I don’t care: these aren’t my friends, these aren’t my family, these aren’t people that I’m going to hang out with. And at the end of the day, I’m with Voltaire: I may not agree with your opinion but I will defend to the death your right to express it, so, um, knock yourself out, really.

I read a story of you breaking the news to your parents that you wanted to become an actress, and your mother, especially, not being supportive.

When I said “actress,” she heard “prostitute.”

That’s very old school.

Yeah, well, she was an old Greek woman.

That said, how important is determination in a young person’s life?

One of the things I do when I meet young people at conventions — I’m not shy about giving advice to total strangers…ever — but I do say, especially to young teens: What job are you going to do when you grow up? and at least 75% don’t know. I feel so lucky that I knew from the age of 3 what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, because no one in my neighbourhood had ever become an actress; I come from a blue collar neighbourhood in North London, where, if you were successful you were a secretary. And, fortunately, as often happens, there was one teacher — one teacher — who said: OK, how are you going to do this? And she guided me, and believed in me, she was the only one. And it only takes one person.

How do you know when not to give up?

You have Coronation Street in Canada, right? When I was a kid watching Coronation Street — this is way before your time, when the show was in black and white — there were these three old ladies who sat in the Rovers Return, Minnie Caldwell and Ena Sharples [and Martha Longhurst], and they were in their 60s and 70s. I always said: Look at them — they didn’t make it until they were 60 or 70, you know? It takes one [acting] job, and that one job might come when you’re in your 20s or it might come when you’re in your 60s. I mean, I’ve done other jobs, I’ve worked in factories, I’ve served food to people, I’ve worked retail; I think I’m the only actress who’s never been a waitress, mind you, but I’ve done every other job. But you do those jobs to eat, and you just keep following your dream.

Do you think in recent times there’s been a resurgence in interest in science fiction?

I don’t think it’s a resurgence, I think it’s just been growing exponentially since [TNG] was on the air. When we started, sci-fi was alternative entertainment. Now, it’s number one at the box office every week: it’s sci-fi, sci-fi, sci-fi. I’m going to pat ourselves on the back and say that TNG was partly responsible for the surge in interest in sci-fi, because we had people watching our show who never liked sci-fi, they just liked our show. The total atmosphere, the business has changed. Gone are the days of Forrest Gump…Forrest Gump probably wouldn’t even get made if it was taken to a studio today..

It’s true, it would have to be A.I. or something.

It would be Forrest Gump in space.

About the Re-Engaged event, is this something that is on tour or is it exclusive to this edition of the ComicCon?

We did it for the first time, what we call our reunion tour, in Calgary [in 2012] and it was so successful, we said: Well, this is something we should do everywhere, because obviously this is something that the fans want to see. It’s wonderful, [and] the fans love it, they love to see us all together, because they’ve heard for nearly thirty years that we all loved each other and that we all got along, but then we hear that from every actor from every talk show, but when they come to see us on stage all together, and they see it with their own eyes, they believe it. I think we’re pretty much the only show ever in the history of Hollywood that after 27 years are all still best friends. The whole cast. Not a group of two or three there or two or three here. All seven of us love each other to death, look out for each other, and enjoy each other’s company. In fact, generally, we don’t bring our significant others because we don’t want them around. We want to hang out with each other and misbehave.

Note: This is a longer version of an article that originally appeared in CultMTL

Adventure Time Easter Egg: Marina voices “Samantha” in Season 5 episode “The Pit.”

Thing to Read: #DeathToWisdom

As printed in issue Matrix #91: Mixtape.

The fall of modern culture: #DeathToWisdom © 2011-2012 all rights reserved

Backyard Projects: Outdoor Sink (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

This morning I said to myself: “Natalia, you should blog.” And since the weather is rapidly descending into Autumn — and before we Montrealers know it, Winter — I figured I’d better get this summer-themed post happening. Anyhow, back to finishing my potting nook:

First I laid out the wood:

Then flipped it over to create the frame/rigidity:

Murray and I notched out the wood to fit the sink and accommodate the HydroQuebec tubing that leads to the meter. At this point, my daughter thought this construction was the window to some mythical clubhouse I’d built her:

The next big step was the plumbing. It was blazing hot outside and wearing shorts while soldering in a tight space, I later discovered, was a bad idea. I must have burned myself around six times with dripping molten solder. Still determined to “freecycle” all my materials, I limited myself to the valves and pieces around the house. At times during the plumbing step, I felt like I was a contestant on Canada’s Worst Handyman. It was laughable. The final product, however, boasts no leaky connections! TA-BLAOW!

Add legs and here she be! Drainage, at the moment, is into a “grey water” bucket that I use to water the garden. We wash vegetables out here when we’re cooking outside. In addition to planting and potting, and this area has been super useful to keep the kid’s hands clean when mucking about before dinner!

The end.

Nobody is Safe: I WILL Go There.

If you haven’t already I strongly recommend you check out my interview with Midnight Poutine. It is an eye-opening take on the modern-day music industry, “indie” culture and other forms of depravity. Let’s talk about it when you’re interviewing me! I accept the challenge. It’s really long so you can put it on your personal MP3 listening device and listen to it on the way home from work.

Midnight Poutine vs. Natalia Yanchak (The Dears) (direct link to MP3)

Also you can watch us on the Late Show with David Letterman this Friday Feb 11th on CBS. We do a rousing rendition of BLOOD with Paul Shaffer + the Late Night Band horn section. Badass.

Arrested Development

A recent Arrested Development marathon around these parts has left a surprising impression on me. Murray wrapped watching the whole series last week, yet I am still thinking about it. Pure comedy, unbridled idiocy, total genius.

I know Michael Cera has had a major resurgence for his recent role in Scott Pilgrim (Side note: Check out this photoshop competition – scroll down to the comments for maximum laffs. I love that shit. And, also, he was born and raised in Canada, so all Canadians everywhere will forever claim him as one of “Ours.” *sigh*

But I will mainly remember Mr. Cera for this:

As it was intended, I’m sure. Anyway, the whole point of this post was because my new love for Arrested Development reminded me of this time backstage at the Siren Festival in Coney Island. I don’t think it was the year we were playing, but we were hanging out with soms palz, including Stacey M. when we also saw David Cross, who very graciously joined us for this:

At the time we were in love with him for his brilliant comedy tape, Shut Up You Fucking Baby, which we listened to dozens of times on tour. Thanks to Rob Benvie for sharing that joint with us, for we still, to this day refer to “The Gator and The Lunatic” in most of our music industry-related conversations.

Thank you, everybody, for the jokes. That is all.

Waiting

Waiting: the lull after the album making frenzy is finished, and the moments before the marketing machine starts up. I imagine this is how a fireman must feel: trained and ready for action but having to just sit there and wait for the call. Wait for the moment when the little light on that red telephone flashes. It’s maddening and the moments of self-doubt are the worst. So then I’m sent into the distractions, I, Robot, Scanners, Red Dead Redemption, Big Bang Theory and dreams of Wil Wheaton and that guy that plays Chief in BSG. Too much time on the internet. The feeling of staring up towards an unseen goal at the top of a mountain I’m about to climb.

It’s a feeling of endless possibility, and total impossibility. The waiting game. Waiting to conquer.

I saved a draft of an earlier version of this sentiment about a month ago: I was coming down from being in the studio and jumped headfirst into mixing: “This band is like a team of mercenaries, a bunch of guys that just come in for the kill, unforgiving, with destructive force.” Something to look forward to? Or something like this:

GeekMom: Focus on Maths

This morning I came up with the ultimate parenting strategy: instill the force (of nerdiness) within your child. I’ve always wanted to get my daughter into science and math, engaging the everychild’s wonderment of the world. Literally everything that surrounds us contains science content. Everything. I defy you to come up with something (action, item, emotion, thought, colour, food, etc.) that cannot be informed by even a simple nugget of scientific or mathematical knowledge.

Lately around here, our daughter has been obsessed with colours and mixing them to create new colours. I get asked about four times a day: “What does….red and…purple make?” It’s been a serious Pantone challenge, let me tell you. Especially when she gets nuanced, asking for the result of three or four colours combined. Constellations and galaxies are a new one, and bath time has become an exercise in bouyancy vs. surface tension.

As my child enters the public school system this fall, I can’t help think maniacally about all the variables she will encounter, all the things totally beyond my control that will shape her into an inevitably pain-filled teenager: friends, bullies, frenemies, teachers, and the stuffs of learning itself.

I found the catch-all: mathematics. People who are capable at math are like the Vulcans of the Earth. Wikipedia describes Vuclans as a “humanoid species” who “live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion.” And I think: YES. What better interpersonal coping skills than pure logic? Math and even basic principles of physics both lay this groundwork down, with the idea that there are fundamentals that cannot be questioned. You just don’t mess with logic.

CHILD: “Should I start smoking?”
VULCAN REASONING : “No, that would be harmful to my physical well-being, and thus survival.”

CHILD: “Should I skip class?”
VULCAN REASONING: “That would be against protocol.”

CHILD: “Should I partake in spitballing the bathroom ceiling? All the other kids are doing it and it looks like lots of fun.”
VULCAN REASONING: “This activity poses a scheduling conflict with computer science class.”

Etc, etc. In my schooling years, I had no interest in being cool. I was not cool, though kept a handful of close friends. We would be not cool together. I was in Gifted class in grade school, a place where we went to play Below the Root and solve Logic Problems. In high school I wrote national math competitions (I didn’t stand a change against Ko-Hua Chu, a peer who, rumour has it, stormed out of class for only scoring 99% on a math test). My parents had a Commodore 64 at home, and me and my sister would get with those books that had the pages of BASIC programs you could type in to make your computer do stupid shit. Like repeat a word on the screen until you hit a button, or do math, or load a game on casette tape. That was such a discovery, beyond just spending hours trying to finish that Bruce Lee game.

I’m trying not to make this about me, but about how my childhood could relate to my daughter’s. The other day Murray, Neptune and I were watching our first David Tennant episode of Dr. Who. And even though Neptune said she didn’t like it, she could not take her eyes off the TV for the duration of the episode. I recall my dad watching Dr. Who, and have kept in my memory the quirkiness of the Tom Baker (the best, IMHO), Peter Davison and Colin Baker-era doctors. I must have been around 10 when this was going on. Why did I love it so much? Because it was simply around? What was going on in other people’s houses that made me so predisposed to geekery, and other kids so into, well, clothing?

Therein lay the mysteries of western parenting. Now ask yourself: do you want to raise a Mischa Barton or Bill Gates? There is no wrong answer.

Were Our Lives More Science-y in the 80’s?

I was thinking today about science, and how curious I was about things when I was a kid. I always wanted to mix the baking soda and vinegar together when no one was watching (just little bits at a time). I would invent things, take things apart, and my sister and I would burn stuff in our “play hibachi,” just to see what would happen. My dad is in science, and we could rely on Nova, The Nature of Things or Dr. Who being on TV at some point during the evening.

Anyway, whilst on the internet today I saw an interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy. I then remembered the whole Bill Nye vs. Beakman’s World debacle, with Bill Nye firmly out-geeking Beakman’s screwball laboratory hijinks (Disney always wins such battles). Next was a flurry of memories of how important science was in the 80’s. Like back then we really thought the future was going to be the bomb. People were building robots and we had computers (Commodore 64, bitches) in our homes. But was I unusually into science or was science just more mainstream?

There were definitely more science shows for kids. What do we have now that makes learning fun? Zoboomafoo? Mythbusters? There’s all the programming on DiscoveryKids and Bill Nye is still slugging it out. But shows about trashy tweens seem to be more in the mainstream. Science just isn’t as cool as it used to be. All these memories of stuff I was really into in the 80’s came to mind:

TV
David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, Nova (both still on the air), Owl/TV (theme song), Mr. Wizard’s World, Beakman’s World, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Edison Twins (couldn’t resist), 321 Contact (also, rad theme), Wonderstruck, Dr. Who…and my fave show that we watched as a family: Star Trek: The Next Generation, of course.

MOVIES
Weird Science, War Games, Short Circuit, The Fly, *Batteries Not Included, Cocoon, never mind crazy sci-fi blockbusters like Star Wars, E.T. and Close Encounters.

These days we take science for granted: we are tethered to the internet via tiny computing devices, and the digital word has replaced most analogue forms of communication. As a kid in Toronto, the best school field trip of all time was to the Science Centre. I mean, I was into learning about binary code and tectonic plates when I got there. I would also try and get my parents to take me downtown just so I could hit up Science City, the nerdiest store at Bay/Bloor Village (and which, to my total surprise, STILL EXISTS). They always had experiments or fun gadgets that I inadvertently learned stuff from. Like that little plastic threaded tube that connects two 2L soda bottles and acts as a giant tornado maker! Or light-sensitive paper that you put shit on top of and leave out in the sun and create cool silhouettes!

Did I have friends? As I recall, I did have some serious BFFs, but my memories are continually making me out to be a serious nerd. Quality, not quantity, I guess.

SCIENCE!

2010 might more approproately be described as the year for Science. Presently, we are all waiting with bated breath for the Apple tablet announcement, right? We can only hope that that shit will be useful. At least that’s what I hope. Or maybe because I am embroiled in the writing of the greatest sci-fi story of all time, or because my peers send me shit like this:

Or because Murray is re-watching episodes of LOST. Or because my Twitter idols are 1) a former TNG actor (@wilw), 2) fake TV scientists (@grantimahara (probably a real scientist), @donttrythis (definitely fake)), and 3) the first dude to tweet from space (@Astro_TJ).

Or all of the above. Science – factual and fictional – is on my mind.

Next week, I have to enroll my kid in public school. I recently noted to Murray: “You know, if Neptune doesn’t learn basic HTML code at school by the age of 16 then there is something seriously wrong with the world.” And I am totally serious. I think every literate person in North America below the age of 30 should know, at least, how to code a link in HTML. That’s probably why I let (and encourage) my 4-year-old watch BSG, Star Trek, and Star Wars with us. Better that than the news. SRSLY.

There’s hope in fantasy, in a better society, in a place where money has been eliminated and people seek power for power’s sake (or usually because they didn’t get enough hugs when they were growing up…AND they really, really, really have it out for Captain Kirk). Hugs can go a long way. Hugs lead to love. Love leads to loving yourself. Loving yourself leads to self-confidence, which leads to self-empowerment, which leads to hope.

Under the expert counsel of @sebby_g via an impromptu Facebook chat, I was instructed to watch Zeitgeist. Albeit about five years after that shit was hot. I watched Zeitgeist: The Movie which, once you get past the first 20 minutes, was neat. But not – in my mind – revolutionary: I am already skeptical of organizations, institutions, corporations, major labels, religion, government, etc. I know money is evil. I know most people don’t question the things they do each day. I grew up on Street Cents feat. Jonathan Torrens. My step-dziadzia used to feed us host wafers (aka ‘ostie) and ginger ale as a snack. My grandmother used to read the newspaper, decrying and denouncing…basically, um…everything she read. She hated politicians, especially. Mine was a totally secular, speculative upbringing.

Also, I moved out of my bubble that was the town (Toronto) in which I grew up. I think it’s really important to shake your life at its foundation at some point: either by choice or by consequence. Move away from the comforts of home, take a leap of faith, knowing it is only yourself that is waiting at the bottom to catch you.

Get it? Anyway. There’s so much more to say. I should continue this thought later. In the meanwhile, check out The Venus Project.