Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The San Francisco Star Trek Convention

Creation Entertainment has been gone from San Francisco for a good number of years, but they promised to return in 2010. I was surprised that they managed to book the San Francisco icon, the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The Westin St. Francis in the old days would never have greeted Trekkies at the front door! As Creation’s Adam Malin commented, the down economy made it possible.

The convention boasted the appearances of William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart on Sunday. I was delighted that Saturday seemed to be Deep Space Nine day.

It took so long to register at Creation’s table that we found Armin Shimerman and Max Grodenchik already on stage. Someone asked just then if they were really friends. Armin replied, “Yes, we’re very good friends even though Max doesn’t think so.” Max just smiled.

Another fan asked Max how he got the girl (Leeta). He explained that Dr. Bashir is a good-looking guy, “and his female fans wanted him to be single. So they came to me,” he reported to a big laugh.

The question of make-up invariably came up, as it always does. I’m always surprised by the answers because Armin and Max are such great storytellers. “We started at 4am and were done by Wednesday afternoon,” said Armin as the crowd roared. Armin added, “My make-up took longer than Max’s, but my make-up looked better than Max’s.” They both agreed it took two hours to complete the make-up by the seventh year of the show. What’s it like wearing that head? “Like a head cold,” explained Armin. “You’re congested and you can’t hear, which is ironic. The make-up got to be oppressive by the ninth hour, and you wanted to rip it off. But, of course, you couldn’t.”

Max added to the debate. “There was a scar (on his face) from the day before, and they’d apply the glue directly into the scar. It hurt like hell.” Armin added, “We used to be 6’ tall leading men…”

One fan asked why Quark seemed to show a lot of emotion in the episode where Quark went back to the Ferengi home planet to stop Moogie from making a profit and destroying their reputation. Armin: “I was dealing with my own problems with my mother (at the time). They (the scenes) were much more emotional and heartfelt from the others.”

A small boy came up and explained that he really liked the Ferengi episodes. He added that he and his mother were going to the costume party at the convention dressed as Quark and Ishka, respectively. “No offense,” he said to Max. Max stuttered in reply, “But I’m the Grand Nagus!”

Favorite Rules of Acquisition:
Max: #48 – The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.
Armin: #1 – Once you have their money, never give it back.

Casey Biggs ran on stage with a lot of enthusiasm. He opened by saying that he loves San Francisco, and he and his wife had the most wonderful dinner the night before. “My wife writes cookbooks, and I’m surprised I don’t look like John Schuck,” referring to the rather rotund actor who played a part-time Cardassian on Deep Space Nine.

Casey related how he got the part of Damar, the Cardassian lieutenant to Gul Dukat. The audition consisted entirely of five lines, “They’re enraged, Sir. Fire!” and producers were very impressed with how he said the lines, which Casey thought was very funny. “An extra could say these lines. I was trained at Julliard! But swallow your pride and go in and say the lines.” When he gets the part, “I think it’s a one-day gig. Three hours for make-up. One hour to take it off. Two pounds of rubber on my face.” The director whispered to him during Casey’s scenes, “They have big plans for this character.” As Casey related, “We were the Nazis of outer space. When I was looping my character – adding dialogue, I got a note that read, ‘We want you to sound more Cardassian.’ So I made it more militaristic. Marc Alaimo epitomized that to a T. He was scary.”

When it came time for Damar to die, Casey was delighted that it was in the last episode, and almost the last scene. Except that he read that Damar was to be killed by a ‘ND alien,” where ND meant ‘non-descript.’ “I told the director I wanted a John Woo death (i.e., guns blazing, blood flying, dying in a beautiful woman’s arms). And that’s what happened. Only I die in Andy Robinson’s arms.”

Vaughn Armstrong came out when Casey was finished and the two of them sang a couple of space ditties that Vaughn had composed. Vaughn has played 12 Star Trek characters. Or, as Casey explained, he’s spent more time in the make-up chair than anyone. On one episode, he spent six-and-a-half hours in the make-up chair only to be told they didn’t need him that day. He had to come back the next day and do it all over again, starting at 3:30am. They were done shooting in about 20 minutes.

Vaughn told us that the pay was very good at the time. And Star Trek just keeps on giving. “Every episode I’m in I get residuals. And every day one of them plays somewhere.”

Patrick Stewart came on stage, looking dapper as always. He told us that he had seen the new Star Trek movie and immediately called J.J. Abrams to tell him what a marvelous movie he had made. The night before, Patrick attended the performance of the San Francisco Symphony, led by Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas and featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo, apparently, was “devastated” that he couldn’t come to the convention on Sunday. “And I mean ‘devastated.’” MTT and Ma’s daughter, Emily, however, made it to the convention. Patrick told us that he will be performing with the San Francisco Symphony and Tilson Thomas in Chicago next month.

We haven’t seen Patrick much, as he’s been working for the last six years in the theatre. Although he really enjoyed his years on Star Trek, “the last six years have been the best and happiest (years) of my life.” He announced that his Hamlet will air on PBS in April. “It’s three hours long, so clear the evening. It’s terrific.” And his MacBeth, which promises to be truly a different take, will air on PBS in the fall. “It’s as exciting a production of Shakespeare as I have ever seen.”

In an answer to an aspiring actor, he answered, “First thing: expose yourself to as much Shakespeare as possible, and one is by reading. Don’t be afraid of it. Actors do not have a better friend than Shakespeare. Rent the DVDs. See it live whenever you can. Find a company and stick with it.”

Someone asked him about being knighted, and we heard: “It hasn’t happened yet.” He received a letter in the mail, which he finally opened when he got to his stack of mail. “Quite an emotional letter.” Then he had to pick a date this summer when he would be knighted. And he had to remain silent about that fact until it was announced just before New Year’s. “I’m looking forward to it immensely.”

Upon this declaration, William Shatner came on stage and knelt before the almost-Sir Patrick. He had to be helped up by Stewart, who proclaimed, “Arise, Sir!” Shatner said: “I was wondering if you’d put in a good word for me.” As it turns out, they’re both resident aliens in the U.S., since Patrick is from England and Bill is from Canada.

When Patrick had left the stage, Bill said to the audience, “I admire him so much. This incredible theatrical reputation. But then," he added with a smirk, "I’m Captain Kirk.”

Bill’s new interview show, Raw Nerve, has been received very well. He announced that he will have three shows on the air this year, as projects he’s produced (one is “Aftermath” on A&E) will be launched. “To hell with Shakespeare.”

He related that he has yet to see the new movie, but J.J. Abrams promised to give Bill, his family and friends a private screening of Star Trek on the Paramount lot very soon.

A fan asked Shatner about his death scene on Generations. He told us that, as he lay in the rubble, on one take his last words, ad-libbed, were, “bridge on the Captain…”

The room was packed for the two captains, and they seemed to get along famously, each of them quite secure in what are hallmark careers. It was a pleasure to see them.