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.”

Mr. Spock


Mr. Spockie, by Neptune.

Although I find the fact that he is smiling highly irregular.

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.

Memories of the Futurecast

I’m writing this on an aeroplane. We finally got out of Montreal, after two rounds of de-icing amid the city’s first insane snowstorm of the year. I also just discovered that I can use this WordPress app on my Blackberry, offline. This will seriously change travel blogging for me. Game changer for sure.

Murray is in the seat next to me, totally passed out, in a deep catch-up (and neck-breaking) slumber. He stayed up all night working on music. We’re en route to Los Angeles, for meetings, and to see Morrissey.

As I prepared for this trip, I anticipated delays, missed connections, weather problems, mechanical failure and, bottom line, lots of waiting. I loaded my iPod Nano (courtesy of Apple Canada) with suitably brain numbing material, including the latest Hype Machine podcast, the movie “Step Brothers” and a few episodes of Wil Wheaton’s “Memories of the Futurecast.”

I know, you’re like: “Who the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is Wil Wheaton?” He’s Wesley Crusher, from TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ll admit this here and now (if I haven’t already): I was a huge TNG fan. I actually went to a Star Trek convention in Toronto with my dad when I was like 16. We had to drive to some once glorious hotel out by the airport; the whole experience was a little overwhelming, with full-makeup klingons and every second person in a Starfleet Academy uniform of some sort. An engineer by trade, my dad is big into sci-fi. As a kid, if I wanted to watch TV on our single TV in the evenings, I would have to submit to his choices which I remember as: Dr. Who, Star Trek (original series), Star Trek: TNG, X-Files, and that new Twilight Zone show.

I haven’t seen an episode of TNG in a while and when I do, it breaks with my romantic recollections of the show: there’s something a little cheap about TNG (maybe that was just the 90’s aesthetic), and definitely cheesy. Dare I say, schmultzy. Wil Wheaton’s character was probably my least favourite. Even though we were (and still are) around the same age, and he was set up to be a tween sci-fi heart throb, I thought of him as, well, sort of the Jar Jar Binks (sorry, Wil) of the show.

In Memories of the Futurecast, Wil basically talks about this: he speaks endearingly about his character, his experiences as a teenaged geek-turned-actor, and the total dramz of the show. It’s very casual and candid; the way I would talk like to about TNG among friends….if I had any friends that took the show that seriously. Murray’s an original series guy, and I don’t have any friends who I talk to on this kind of precise, nerdy-fan level (and its probably better that way). Anyhow, now I have Wil in my online life: my new, nerdy, arm’s length, digital friend. Friend may be too strong a word: maybe just a follower. Or fan? This all sounds creepy and a little sad. Thus is my life.

At any rate, while I’m enjoying it, be warned: Memories of the Futurecast is very, very geeky and for hardcores only. Find it on Wil Wheaton’s blog.