[Short Version] [Long Version]
Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Denise Crosby, Wil Wheaton, Robin Curtis, Claudia Christian, Bob Krimmer (Babylon 5's Emperor Cartagia), Steven Furst, Claire Stansfield (Alti from Xena), and others.
My husband David and I knew we were in the right place as we were waiting to check in to our hotel room. Who should stride up to the check-in desk but our favorite young Star Fleet ensign, Wesley Crusher (aka Wil Wheaton.) Apparently, the desk had given him the keys to the wrong room—our first sign that the Waterbury Sheraton didn’t quite have its act together for this event. (Other celebs had room problems, and they closed the restaurant on Saturday during the one afternoon break in the festivities at 2:30. We were in a remote area of the Connecticut woods and the only alternative was the hotel bar where a lone frazzled bartender rushed to get drinks and food for an entire room.)
In spite of the number of TNG stars, (Will Wheaton, Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner) the convention seemed to have a subdued turnout. Compared to Toronto Trek in years past, there was no snarling Klingon contingent of leather-clad fans, but several in Star Fleet uniforms. There were a number of families—it was cool to see a dad in an original series uniform shirt with his young son who wore a Voyager uniform. The most uniquely costumed fan was one portly chap decked out in Centauri (Babylon5) regalia who bestowed handmade gifts on the TNG guests. “How did you get your hair to stand up?” he asked Stephen Furst (Vir on B5.) It turns out that the Centauri coiffure was the result of a hairpiece.
On Friday night we watched the end of a screening of Trekkies (have to get a copy of that movie) and attended the discussion afterwards with Denise Crosby. The audience comments were almost universally positive about the film and we learned about Crosby’s recent Drew Carey appearance and her new role as Dana Scully’s doctor on X-Files. A comedy hour with Claudia Christian and Bob Krimmer followed. According to their highly amusing testimony, the two had had a horrendous time getting to the convention and even got on the wrong train at one point. Their off-the cuff jokes were great although it seemed as if Claudia and Bob had put together their actual comedy routine at the last minute and it didn’t get many laughs from the audience. In spite of the weak material, however, boisterous applause at the end indicated that folks were clearly just happy to see them and enjoy their spontaneous wit and personality.
Rather than a play by play outline of who we saw when and what all was said, I’ll just share my general impressions of things that stand out in my memory. The B5 gang (Claudia Christian, Bob Krimmer, and Stephen Furst) all came across as usual as genuine, good-humored people and shared some of their acting nightmare stories. Both Claudia and Bob had been through situations where they were promised certain roles and underwent long days of “read through” auditions with prospective co-stars only to be dismissed and told that someone else (a bigger-name star) actually had the part. They were pretty much just “used” for the audition process—it’s a cruel, cruel world out there in Hollywood! Stephen Furst told us about his early career when he delivered pizzas and glued his head shots to the inside of the boxes. Too often the sauce got on the photo (talk about “pizza face!”) but the ploy won him the role of Flounder in Animal House.
Other guests included Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavak) and Claire Stansfield (Xena’s arch enemy Alti). Robin left Hollywood and is now a passionate activist for feminist causes. Claire surprised us with her story about playing a naked beast-woman, the Jersey Devil, in the first season of X-Files. It was her first big break and she ended up running around the set like a wild animal clad only in a thong, fake hair and dirt. Going to these conventions makes you appreciate what these people go through for our entertainment (or what they’ll do for their art—and a paycheck!) This was especially true for the stunt team who have played a variety of Trek characters over the years. The team included the stunt doubles for Data and Torres. They put on a great demonstration.
Throughout the convention, I noticed that most of the questions from the audience were not about Trek or B5 at all but about the actors themselves and their past or current projects. Someone though, really stumped Brent Spiner when they asked about Data’s power source. “Isn’t he positronic??” he asked.
The subject of Data’s pet, Spot the cat, came up twice during the session with Brent and Gates which didn’t strike me as too unusual. It seems to me that being a cat person and a sci-fi fan just seem to go together somehow and there is almost always “cat stuff” in the dealers room amidst the T-shirts and buttons. The scoop on Spot is that he was played by three different kitties. Sadly, the first Spot went to the big litterbox in the sky and the role was later played by two felines, a friendly female and a mean-spirited male. (Similarly, Salem on Sabrina is played by three cats—one that enjoys being held for close-up shots, one who runs well, and another who is comfortable doing “stunts.”) Apparently Brent was driven crazy by the cats who played Spot and never cooperated on cue. Spot is the villain in the next TNG movie, he joked.
The session with Brent and Gates wasn’t long enough with all the photo-taking going on and the impending storm forcing people to leave early. Gates has a gentle presence and is lovely in person. These days she is focusing on stage work and teaching. Seeing and hearing Brent, who is basically a big ham (although very funny and personable) makes you realize the depth of his acting talent playing the emotionless Data. He is one of the co-writers for the next TNG movie. The biggest surprise of the convention was the hilarious session with Will Wheaton. Will was very candid about the pain he experienced as a young actor bearing the brunt of “fan” hostility against Wesley Crusher. Fortunately, he survived and, as a self-confessed geek, has been working in computers along with doing stand-up comedy in LA. His stories about TNG and his post-Trek life demonstrate his great comic talent. The one about Patrick Stewart crashing through the wall of the set was priceless—“Hull breach!”
Another highlight of the convention
was Rick Searfoss’ presentation. Rick is a real astronaut who has
flown missions on the space shuttle including one in which a co-worker
was dropped off on Mir. His slide photographs of earth taken from
space were humbling and awe-inspiring.
You are a (proudly) self-professed geek. You have action figures, love Star Wars and waited in line for hours for Episode 1 (and later regretted it like everyone else! :) while playing Magic The Gathering . Who are you? You are Wil Wheaton. This was Wil’s first convention in 8 years. As far as I’m concerned he was the sleeper hit of the convention. Who would’ve ever thought that this once young kid from ST:TNG was so funny and entertaining?! We were told beforehand that he stopped doing conventions because back then fans had a hard time separating Wil from his role as Wesley and booed him off stage or asked really rude and insulting questions. Funnily enough it was seeing the film “Trekkies” that got the idea into his head about doing a convention again. But more on that later.
When we were checking into the hotel Friday night, some guy went to desk clerk next to me and said that someone was in his room so he needed a new one. (This hotel was not the greatest...) Kathy got my attention and discreetly motioned for me to look next to me. I did and looked at the guy and then the clerk and the guy and then the clerk and couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. Then I looked again and it hit me. It was Wil Wheaton. But he looked quite different being unshaven and hair disheveled.
However, on stage Saturday he looked like just a slightly older version of his old TV self. That was when he came on and proclaimed himself to be a geek just like us and how he loved star wars and waited in line etc etc. He said after he left TNG at 19 he went to work for a few years at the Video Toaster company in Kansas. That was quite an adjustment going from LA to Kansas. Then he went to drama school for 3 years. Somewhere along the way at 23 he met a woman with two kids whom he ended up marrying. Now he loves the kids like his own. Anyway before he took questions he said he thought he would go through some “Frequently Asked Questions”. Too funny, shows he is a computer and internet type. So now he is back in Hollywood looking for gigs and auditioning. He also works at doing sketch comedy which helps to explain his performance on stage. He said he has told the Trek people he would be interested in coming back if they wanted him but it doesn’t sound like anything is going to happen with that. He said that he got the ST:TNG version of Monopoly and then joked about how he ruined it by opening it and then playing with it.
He talked about working on the TNG set and how he was so psyched and awed to be working on the show at the time. He said regardless of how any of the actors may seem blase about being on the show, that they all think its the absolute coolest thing to have been a part of it. At the end of his talk he got a standing ovation.
The last time I saw Denise Crosby was at the 1996 Las Vegas Sfedora show with William Shatner. Denise was working on Trekkies at the time. Now a running joke between herself and Dave, the con promoter, is how his interview got left on the cutting room floor. Anyway at this point we saw Trekkies when it came out and really enjoyed it. They showed it at the con Friday night and Denise came out afterwards to talk about. She talked about how the idea came into being and how it got off the ground and what’s happened since it came out. This film has turned out to be quite a feather in her cap because it has become very popular with Hollywood insiders like actors and producers. Denise recently did a guest spot on Drew Carey and he told her he loved the movie so much that he gave copies to all his friends. Now Drew Carey invited the kid in the film, Gabriel, to do a guest appearance on the show which will air on March 28th. And Wil Wheaton was inspired to return to conventions after seeing it.
So why would Denise Crosby make a movie like this? She has her reasons which I will get into in a second. After this weekend I have a theory that it is because she herself has become a Trekkie. Just as Wil Wheaton was a Trekkie (and a geek) before he did the show, I don’t see why it’s not possible for someone who was on the show or involved with its production to become a Trekkie themselves. And just because someone is very good looking or famous, doesn’t mean that they can’t share the same interests that you do to some degree. Denise said that she is a big fan of documentaries and loves watching them. So she got the idea to do Trekkies partly because she felt that the 30 second snippet on the 11 O’clock news when a con was in town didn’t really tell the whole story about Star Trek fans. She met with the producer and director to talk about the project and their own ideas which were somewhat different but in the end hers won out because the implementation was the most practical. They bought enough film for one weekend and went to the large convention that occurs every year in Pasadena not knowing what they were doing or how it would turn out. Turns out they got most of their footage of the old series stars at that convention. They told people what they were doing and had them sign up on a list if they wanted to be interviewed for the film. That’s how they found out about a lot of the people that were in the film such as the Orlando Federation dentist.
I first saw Gates and Brent at the 1995 London “Generations” con. Like all the other Trek stars (and it seems many actors in general) they were very charismatic and funny. They still are. A couple of times I have seen Marina and Michael Dorn on stage together. They are good friends in real life and make a great team onstage. The same is true of Brent and Gates. There was so much said and so much that was interesting and funny but I dont think I can remember it all or have the time to tell it correctly. However a few highlights. At the start they hammed it up posing for photos. People asked Brent about working with Walter Mathau. He said it was not such a great movie but it was a great experience working with Walter. Brent loves old movies and is a trivia buff as far as movies and actors are concerned; he knows a lot about them. The other thing I think Brent loves is food. He said that he just had to go to “Blackie’s” which was a local hot dog joint up the street from the hotel. We had not noticed it on the way in but did on the way out. It looked like one of those neat kitchy Americana types of places that you see everywhere in the country but are unique to their location. And he’s one of those people that loves to go to those places I think. I’ll bet however whoever served him in there didn’t even know who he was. :) Gates seems to enjoy theatre work a lot and perhaps that is her preference over working for TV. She said that when she was going to work on “Marker” that she hoped it didn’t last long as it was all the way in Hawaii but once she saw she was working only 3 days a week and was put up in a 3 million dollar home on a gorgeous island that she never wanted it to end! It only lasted a year though. Apparently Gates teaches acting but you have to audition to get into her classes. Brent talked about working on Independence Day and that initially the only reason he was auditioned was because Dean Devlin was a big fan and just wanted to meet him. However he told and acted for Dean his particular bent on the character and they went with it. He also reads for parts which he doesn’t get but enjoys doing because he gets to do them with other well known actors like Goldie Hawn or Susan Sarandon.
Mostly they talked or were asked about things other than Star Trek although it did come up. It came out that Brent does have a girlfriend and when he is not out working prefers to stay home and watch TV. (He stayed at a different hotel than the con hotel.) Gates confirmed that yes it was tough to get him to go out even for lunch. Someone asked him if he had seen Trekkies (neither had) and what he thought about the whole Spiner Femmme thing. He joked about it saying well why not. Everything was fine until some doofus asked Brent what fuel did Data use to run. Gates jokingly remarked something like “Uh oh. Here we go.” Brent half joked half grasped for an answer saying well wasn’t Data positronic or something and then went on about how you saw almost every part of Data taken apart. And then someone made the obligatory remark about Data being fully functional. Etc etc. You get the idea. A good time was had by all.
And of course the Babylon 5 people. I had no idea who Bob Krimmer was. Friday night he and Claudia did a theatre type gig doing various readings. I looked at him and tried to imagine what he would look like in makeup and with that voice. And then it came to me, Emperor Kartagia. He is a very good actor and performer. The next day the 3 B5 guests too the stage. Bob, Claudia, and Steven Furst. Claudia is always outgoing and fun and Steven is very funny and quick witted. An interesting thing about Claudia is Im told she used to hang out in the Rennaisance Fair crowd and get dressed up. Maybe she was an SCA person too. On her table she had photos and drawings of herslef in fantasy type outfits, one with swords, and was the model for the cover of a fantasy roleplaying game. She also said she has swords at home which came up when she was talking about Highlander.
Claire Stansfield was nice, fun and down to earth. She told some stories about how she got on Xena, what it was like to work on Xena and that Alti had a major role in the final episode. She and Claudia got really drunk Saturday night at the bar. Unfortunately we missed this! She said they got a little wacky and ended up throwing a bun from the bread basket up into some guys room. (The hotel had one of those open atriums which rooms looked out on.) The next day the guy brought the bun to the autograph line to be signed. Claire said her boyfriend convinced her to go and do Xena. Sometime later they were all playing golf with Lucy Lawless and the boyfriend who is a big fan couldn’t get over it. She said on the first date with her boyfriend that they went back to his place and he put on some special edition laser disc of one of her movies. She thought maybe some people would’ve just left right there but she instead thought it was really sweet and you know the rest.
While waiting for autographs the promoter told us a few things. One was that it cost a small fortune to get Jeri Ryan to two conventions this year. And that they probably will not have her again unless she lowers her price. To me this is totally outrageous. Who does she think she is? She's no Kirk or Picard or Janeway! I think maybe she knows who she is and that’s why she’s trying to get as much as she can now. Once Vger ends she’ll go back to being the obscure B-movie actress that she was and is. Great performance in Dracula 2000, I’ll tell you!!
Here’s another web site with a more detailed account from another convention which Claire and Alexandra Tydings attended: