Sunday, August 10, 2008

Star Trek Las Vegas: Bright Spots

Moonrise outside my hotel window, on the last night of the Star Trek con.

Sunday it's Leonard Nimoy, and then I go home, which is good timing.
Today, Saturday, I hit saturation point. I've taken in about all that I can of Star Trek.
Not that I'm tired of it! I'm just emotionally full up. I even wore my Bruce Springsteen T-shirt as a psychological buffer when I went to see Walter Koenig (Chekov) at noon.

This is the original Chekov, on the right, with the new Chekov, nineteen-year-old Anton Yelchin, in the upcoming Star Trek XI movie.

Here's an overview of the rest of the before-and-after cast: Comparing the Star Trek Casts

On the way to the auditorium, I passed Walter K. standing chatting with a couple people. For some reason, he glanced up and looked me right in the eye. It was disconcerting to feel such a shock of recognition: Chekov! Yet to know he didn't recognize me, though he did register me as a human.
With no Trek paraphenalia, I wasn't recognizable as a Trekkie.
Which, you know, is OK, because these actors must be overwhelmed sometimes.

Fans know that, the sane ones anyway. At coffee this morning, I shared my table with a husband and wife who were restraining themselves from mobbing the nearby table where two of the Enterprise boys sat with a small group (Dominic Keating and Connor...I forget his last name, but he's very square-jawed cute). My tablemates kept gazing with longing at their table, but they said they didn't want to bother the actors.

Surprisingly to me, of all the actors I've seen this week, Walter Koenig is the only one I would like to sit down and talk with. The other have all had their various charms, but they didn't much interest me as people, or if they did, they had palpably problematic egos. Like Malcolm McDowell--fascinating guy, but his ego pulsed like a forcefield.

So, what was it about Koenig? [photo here with Nichelle Nichols]
I suppose it didn't hurt that when he'd looked at me, he really saw me. This is not necessarily the case.
When I worked at the art college library, I gradually realized that the people who saw me were the minority. Most people look at other people with shielded eyes. If you've worked serving the public, you'll know exactly what I mean.

I was surprised that the sense I got from Koenig was "human being," because if anyone is likely to be shielded, it's actors--for the best of reasons. (Too much incoming energy.) Priests, too, I swear, have a second eyelid, like lizards, or Vulcans. You almost never see their naked eyes.

Then, onstage WK was the same--he didn't have that usual protective patter or sharp edge or slick sweetness. In fact, he seemed the least like an actor. He didn't talk, either, as many of them do, about acting as lying. He talked about finding himself in every role, including drawing on the angry, hostile parts we all have for his villainous role in Babylon 5. (I' ve never seen it. I miss many cultural references here, because they are to television.)

McDowell, in comparison, had said, "I never take my roles home. It's all smoke and mirrors, and I leave it behind when I leave the set."
People who are able to do that, if they truly are, I don't understand.

Koenig seemed human, and he seemed interested in being human. He talked a bit about teaching a class once in acting techniques to graduate students in psychology, to help them train their intuition.
Come to think of it, I took more notes on what WK said than anyone else, because he talked about interesting things, not just his acting career.

His trip to the Thai/Burma border last summer, for instance. The humanitarian group U.S. Campaign for Burma, asked him to do this, to tour refuggee camps and meet with refugees from Burma (Myanmar, but he said Burma, which is a political point, as you know) because, he said,
"Star Trek still has some cache in that part of the world. Not with the Burmese people, of course, but with the international press. So we were able to draw some publicity to the atrocities being committed by the government there."

I edited a book on Myanmar, so I was extra interested.

Koenig was funny and generous too, which many but not all of the actors are. Willing to say their famous lines. One. More. Time.

Sure enough, someone asked him to say Chekov's famous line. He laughed and said, "That's gonna be on my tombstone--what I'm known for."
Then he said, "Can you tell me where the nuclear wessels are?"
and the audience as one emitted a wave of happy noise.

He also answered for what must be the millionth time a question about Chekov's Russian accent, explaining that his parents were from the Soviet Union (Jews from Lithuania), but people are right to criticize Chekov's accent: "It's not even a good one."
To prove it, he spoke the next few sentences in a real Russian accent, showing how the cadences roll...but that this didn't fit the hammed-up TV role.

Maybe the most appealing thing was that he showed a real but not pathetic vulnerability, something I could relate to.
(Some of the actors have come close to playing the pity card or expressed bitterness or envy about not having stellar careers, and he didn't. He did say that working on Babylon 5 was wonderful, evryone worked together well and there were no star egos in the cast, but you'd have to know already that was in contrast to Star Trek's cast, he didn't make a point of it.)

He talked about writing too.
"It's a lesson in persistance," he said.
In 1970, after ST was cancelled, he said,
"My life was aimless. I didn't have any reason to get up in the morning. So I started writing a novel--my first--not to sell, but to give me some structure."

[I'm a tad worried I'm going to feel this way when i get home. Maybe I should write a book. According to WK's website, Buck Alice is a "satiric-fantasy novel about a world where the only survivors are a bunch of losers."]

He continued, "Reactions were mixed. Two friends who were writers liked it, two others hated it. Really hated it. So I put it away. Nineteen years later it was published, and in 2006 it was republished, and is being made into an audiodrama.

"It's not for everyone, though. You might not like it. One guy brought it up a few years ago and asked me to autograph it, saying, 'This is the worst book I ever read.' I said, 'You've gotta be kidding! I'm not going to sign that!'"

Hmmm, maybe that's why I liked him so much. I can relate to the solitary work of being a writer--and sometimes a loser––much more than the social work of being an actor and a star.


bink said...

Oh, yes, I think you should write a "best/worst book in the world" when you get home. Or maybe make a best yet movie...

I love WK saying that he's not going to sign his own
"worst book" ever. He does sound like a real person with a sense of humor. It must be very hard to be so unguarded when you are always under other people's observation. I'm sure I couldn't pull it off. I'd get reptile eyes for sure.

poodletail said...

Will you tell more about what you think about writing a book?
Gol, Fresca. You're getting really good at this courage thing.

Manfred Allseasons said...

Wonderful posts...!

A book, eh?

You could write about your trek epiphany...its quite a story...

fresca said...

As for courage, I get reptile eyes NOW, just dealing with regular life!

I was just kidding about writing a book.
I don't know that I could stand the loneliness of the long-distance writer. My blog serves to get me to write.

I've written more in the last 10 months since I've started blogging than I have in years (besides for work), because it's far less lonely than what my novel-writing friend Lee experiences, day after day writing alone, with no feedback at all.

I don't know...maybe one day.
I have changed a lot at midlife, maybe my ability to withstand that will change too.

That's a different kind of courage.
But if WK can write the worst book, maybe I could try and worst him! : )

fresca said...

P.S. But yeah, as M. suggests, I could write about this Trek stuff--what I'm already writing about--in long form. That would just be the work of gathering all my posts together, then slash-and-burning, and then the dreaded re-writing.
That might be fun...

iloveyoumauralynch said...

Writing and everything else aside, what I wouldn't do to hear WK say 'nuclear wessels'! You know how that tickles me to the core! Can't wait to see you when you come home and hear every last detail!