'Star Trek: Nemesis' sails into the cineplex Star Trek: Nemesis, the 10th film in the sci-fi franchise, opens this Friday. NUVO film editor and critic Ed Johnson-Ott, an unapologetic fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, recently traveled to New York, where he saw the film, chatted with the cast and bickered with the producer.
Producer Rick Berman (right) with (left to right) Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart on the set of "Star Trek: Nemesis."
NOTE TO FANS: The features on Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Rick Berman are spoiler-free, revealing absolutely nothing about the plot. The "Spoiler" feature, needless to say, should not be read until after you have seen the film. "It just gets better and better" A view from the bridge of Capt. Picard Patrick Stewart is thriving. "This is a great time," he states with a broad smile. "It just gets better and better, I"m happy to say. I"m enjoying my work even more now than I ever have done." And why not? As Capt. Picard in Star Trek and Professor X in X-Men, he is the MVP of two movie franchises. A revered Shakespearian actor, he is much lauded for his stage work as well. Last Christmas in New York, he once again performed his award-winning one-man show, A Christmas Carol, and the benefit performances set a record for highest single-week ticket sales for any play in the history of Broadway. Stewart enjoyed seven wildly successful years of the smash hit TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by four Star Trek feature films, with the strong likelihood of more to come. This is a joy for Stewart, as it allows him to continue working with his friends. "As you"re probably aware," he says, "the seven of us who are the core acting group of Next Generation are very close. I see more of some people than others, but we are nevertheless extremely close. Same goes with [executive producer] Rick Berman, and now John Logan [writer of Star Trek: Nemesis], and of course I married one of the producers of the series. In fact, when she came with me to a screening of the movie, she was so overwhelmed by the ending. Not just the ending of the film, but it"s a vivid reminder of the 16 years that this group of people have been colleagues and dear friends and the things that each one of us as individuals has experienced." They have been together since 1986, through the death of series creator Gene Roddenberry, births, marriages, divorces and "children and more children, successes and failures, so it has been - I never wanted to get drawn into this family thing. But, the things that connect us are extremely potent. I will look back on it first of all with pride, because I think the work that we have done overall has been quite good." Surprisingly, a less intense, but otherwise similar camaraderie is felt on the film set of X2, the second X-Men movie, slated for release next summer. "It"s extraordinary," Stewart said. "I"ve said several times that any one of the cast of X-Men would have fit so perfectly into any place on the bridge of the Enterprise; the way that group of actors has so quickly connected in an efficient and effective and committed working relationship, and also in terms of friendship. It"s not quite like a TV series because there you are living in one another"s pockets day in, day out, week in, month, year and year out. It is especially surprising given that X-Men has a large ensemble cast, bigger than Next Generation, and so it was rare that we were all together at the same time. So, the community aspect of it is not quite as strong, but there are many parallels between the two. I adore the X-Men cast and since we"ve had two new additions, a couple of Brits - Alan Cumming and Brian Cox - it"s been especially delightful to me." Like the rest of the cast, not to mention fans everywhere, Stewart was taken aback when he first saw the tagline for Star Trek: Nemesis, "A Generation"s Final Journey Begins." He explained, "This came as something of a surprise to all of us, including Rick, I believe. When I was sent the one sheet [poster] to approve, a mock-up of it, I immediately got on the phone to Rick and said, "What is this? Final journey?" He said, "Heh heh, nothing to do with me." But talking with a senior executive at Paramount the other day, they said to me all the emphasis has to be put on the last word." (Later in the morning, Rick Berman was more blunt. "Of course, there will be another movie.") What if this had been the last hurrah for the troupe? Stewart feels that Nemesis would serve as an ideal and appropriate way to bow out, both personally, professionally, in every possible sense. He believes the cast and crew have made a good movie, one that would allow them to end on a strong note. After so many years, could Stewart finally be tiring of Star Trek? The actor grins, then laughs aloud and says, "One night, I"d been up in Vancouver for months and months for X-Men 2 and the phone rings and I pick it up in my hotel room. It"s Wendy, my wife, and I said to her, "You know, you"ll never believe what I"m doing right now. I feel so embarrassed about this. I"m actually sitting and watching an episode of Next Generation. Isn"t that the saddest thing you"ve ever heard? Having room service and watching Next Generation?" And she said, "The reason that I called you was I just finished watching an episode, too. I just wanted to tell you I thought you were really good in it." I said, "If people ever got to know that here we are, a working couple, and we"re sitting in our respective rooms watching old re-runs."" That is correct Spiner co-wrote "Nemesis" script So, what about Star Trek: Nemesis pleases Brent Spiner the most? "That we finally got a good story," said the man behind the android Data. When a couple of writers gasped at the remark, he laughed and teased them, going, "Oooooh, he"s gonna get in trouble!" Spiner"s affection for the story makes sense. He co-wrote it. The screenplay, by Gladiator scribe John Logan, is based on a story by Logan, producer Rick Berman and Spiner. "You know, it was a delight to be able to be part of the process, it really was. I mean, I"m always trying to butt in where I"m not wanted and, fortunately, this time I happened to be there when Rick said, "Why don"t we write a story?" I looked around and I thought, you mean me? "The challenge was to do a good movie. It was like - I was not thrilled with Star Trek: Insurrection, you know? I wasn"t thrilled with it on the page and I wasn"t thrilled with the result. When any discussion began about doing another movie, it was always about how we"re happy to do another one if the story is good and once John Logan came on board we all kind of breathed a sigh, because John"s a really great writer. So we thought, "Well, OK, we can get behind this one because I"m pretty sure the script will be good."" And it was. Before moving on to other subjects, Spiner opts to take another shot at Insurrection, the ninth and most recent film in the franchise, along with the recent spate of totally mindless action flicks. "Insurrection just Ö didn"t make any sense to me," he said. "I thought there were huge holes in it of logic and it wasn"t exciting, it wasn"t an exciting tale - we"re an action adventure show and there just wasn"t that much action or adventure. What we wanted to do with this one was primarily to make it a really kick ass action-adventure movie that also has some emotional depth. In a season where it"s been action, action, action, action with nothing underneath, we wanted to do an action picture that actually was about something and had some emotional resonance." In addition to Star Trek, Spiner has done guest shots in everything from Cheers to The Outer Limits. He co-starred with Halle Berry in the celebrated HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, and has appeared in numerous other movies, including Independence Day, Phenomenon, Out to Sea and, most recently, I Am Sam. He has garnered praise for his theatrical work, and established himself as a singer, releasing an album of standards, titled (with a wink to Sinatra and to the contact lens he wears as Data) Ol" Yellow Eyes Is Back. While his words about the Trek franchise are occasionally caustic, Spiner is a spirited defender of oft-mocked Trek fans, and he cherishes the relationships built with his fellow actors. "The biggest deal," he said, "is the family of people who have known each other for 15 years and become very close friends. You know, we haven"t done a movie in four years, but we see each other and talk to each other all the time." As far as the lucrative Star Trek convention circuit, Spiner avoided participating for a considerable time. "I just didn"t know what it was," he explained. "It was something that I just didn"t have any training in - basically my training was in acting and that"s all I was really interested in doing at the time. The only reason I wound up going - I didn"t do them [conventions] until the third or fourth season of the show. Patrick came and said, "I think you"re really missing a bet because it"s fun. You get out of town for the weekend, they pay you and you walk out onstage to an audience of people who adore you." You know, so what"s so bad about that?" Live long and prosper And Ö don"t ask, don"t tell It"s late fall in Manhattan, a crisp, sunny Saturday morning, and I"m at the Regency Hotel waiting for my moment. I am a man on a mission. For 35 years, I"ve watched Star Trek present an optimistic future where bigotry is ancient history, a future where our differences are celebrated. For 35 years, I"ve been waiting to see gay people incorporated into this tapestry of humanity. I"ve seen American Indians, Hindus, Russian Jews along with the usual assortment of skin colors, but not one gay person. Virtually every other TV series has worked us in somewhere. Hell, even Coach did a gay episode, which made our absence on the liberal-leaning Star Trek seem all the more odd. But today is my big chance. Today, I am interviewing producer Rick Berman, the man in charge of the franchise since the death of series creator Gene Roddenberry. Berman joined the team in 1986 as a writer and co-executive producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after overseeing such hits as Cheers, Family Ties and Webster. As the years went by his clout steadily increased, and now he is the undisputed leader, the Grand Poobah, of all things Trek. I will ask the question today. I will calmly, effectively make my case. Berman will recognize the grand oversight, thank me for pointing it out and instruct his writers to correct the mistake. Gay people everywhere will rest a little easier, secure in the knowledge that, in this particular future, we are part of the family of man. I wait in a suite with a handful of other writers. The roundtable format is the norm for press junkets - groups of five or six journalists sit at a large table, our tape recorders at the ready. A cast or crew member is ushered in and we talk with them for roughly 20 minutes, then a publicist retrieves the interviewee and escorts him or her to the next roomful of press. Today we will talk with four actors from Star Trek: Nemesis, along with the writer, director and producer. With two interviews under our collective belts, Rick Berman is brought into the room. He says hello and settles into his chair. In short order, the 50-something producer is asked about the marketing campaign for the film, the future of the franchise, his choice of director and similarities between the end of this movie and the end of another Trek film. Finally, I see an opening and hop in, feeling more on edge than I have ever felt at one of these affairs. "I"ve been waiting to ask this forever," I say in a calm tone. "Where are the gays in the future?" Hoping to keep the exchange nice and relaxed, I make it clear that I"m not suggesting that some big gay storyline needs to be constructed. But why haven"t we seen any indication that gays even exist? Not even a same-sex couple holding hands in the Ten Forward crew lounge? "That"s very funny, because this is a question that has been asked, as you say, forever," Berman says. "It"s a question that was asked at the very beginning. And I remember one of the answers Gene Roddenberry had was, "We don"t see heterosexual couples holding hands on this show."" "What utter bullshit," I think. ST: TNG routinely showed heterosexual couples in Ten Forward displaying affection. Over the seven-year run of the series, storylines incorporated everything from casual sex to full-blown romances between straight couples. Aloud, I say only, "Yes we do." "Not really," Berman says. "I think you"d have a lot of difficulty finding an episode ..." I cut him off, citing various straight couplings. Then I move into my noble pitch about the series being famous for embracing diversity. Berman is swift to answer. He"s been through this before. "I would ask you to take a look at an episode that we have just finished production on, that I think is going to get some degree of publicity, on Enterprise [the current Trek TV series], which deals metaphorically, but very obviously, with HIV and AIDS. Obviously in science fiction we"re allowed to take a subject and kind of turn it on its ear and deal with it metaphorically, uh, in this case, the metaphor for gays has to do with a certain minority group of Vulcans and the metaphor for HIV has to do with a certain disease that this group of Vulcans get ... But it"s a very interesting episode that deals with the stigma, in fact the name of the episode is "Stigma," that deals with the stigma that exists toward HIV and AIDS. And, if you look historically, there have been a number of episodes that have touched on these themes." I am stunned. It"s 2002 and this guy is still equating gays and AIDS. Rather than open that particular can of worms, though, I press on, once again making it clear that I was not suggesting a splashy gay storyline, merely a gesture from the company to show that gays are included. Perhaps a scene where one of the regulars on the new TV series is working with a male ensign, who casually makes a reference to his husband. How hard would that be? "It wouldn"t be hard," Berman says, his voice a bit more agitated. "It would be a lot easier for us than a lot of other television shows. This is something that has been discussed, literally, for 15 years. Uh, Gene had his reasons to deal with it in a way other than having people ... Believe it or not, one of the great questions has been, when you go into the mess hall, when you go into a situation like that, you could see a couple of women, or a couple of men, holding hands. Gene was against that for the reason I just gave you, we don"t see men and women walking around holding hands." At last, another writer chimes in, brusquely countering Berman. "You"ve had a resident horndog on every series," he snaps, "starting with Kirk, then Riker, now the latest one." I leap in quickly, my tone now more confrontational. "You mentioned Gene"s reason, what"s YOUR reason for not ..." Berman interrupts. "I don"t know. I mean, we have, uh, we have discussed it forever and we discussed it ... Brannon Braga and I, who were doing a lot of the writing on Enterprise are always ... we"re looking for the ability to do it. There was a symposium and panel about three months ago that had to do with HIV and AIDS awareness and ..." Jesus! I"ve had it with this idiotic equation of gays and AIDS, and I say so. Berman cuts me off, stating, "But this was all gays, I mean, all of the people we were involved with in this symposium were gay. That just happened to be the makeup of the people that were speaking with us, and, uh, they were asking a variety of producers from Paramount to try to take various themes and put them in their shows. And Brannon and I decided to go with that one." That"s all well and good, but it"s not what I was talking about. I"ve got to get this focused before the other writers get fed up with my monopolizing the time and cut me off. "Look, tomorrow you could call and say, "Hey, they were bugging me about the gay thing at this junket. Have one of the ensigns mention his husband." You could do that and then it would have been addressed, after 35 years, it would finally have been addressed." My statement is direct and clear and Berman is having none of it. "Well, I can give a specific episode," he says. "There was an episode of Deep Space Nine that, again, used metaphors with a group of people that had no gender." Metaphors? What a candy-ass cop-out. They didn"t need metaphors when they incorporated other minority groups into their utopian future. As I start to voice this, another writer breaks in to inform Berman that he was citing the wrong series. "Right," Berman continues, "it was Next Generation, I remember the actress that played the part. I get my series mixed up, we"ve done 600 episodes. Uh, it dealt with somebody who insisted on having a relationship that was unacceptable to the people on their world. You know, this again was an attempt to deal, in another way, with questions of homosexuality. So it"s not like we totally ignored it. But what you"re saying is a very viable question and ..." Exasperated, I exclaim, "But you won"t answer it! Will you include a simple sentence that ..." He cuts me off. "No, I"m answering it. I think your saying this to me is certainly something that will influence us." "Influence us?" Great, now he"s jerking me off. This man is the boss - if he thinks what I said was valid, he can simply tell his people to do it. I start to challenge him again, only to have several writers talk over me, stating it is time to address another subject. I sit back in my chair, mentally exhausted. "I have a question about the special effects in the movie," says another writer, effectively ending Ed"s Great Gay Crusade of 2002. Will we be hearing from a gay ensign anytime soon? Don"t put money on it. Did I hammer at the subject too long? Maybe, but ask yourself this: Had the minority group been Muslims, the Dutch or the disabled instead of gays, would this conversation have even been necessary? WARNING:This is the spoiler section! NOTE: Some odds and ends you may find of interest, but only AFTER YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE. Although producer Rick Berman has now stated that there indeed will be another Trek movie, the cast filmed Star Trek: Nemesis believing they were working as a group for the last time. Asked what his biggest challenge or surprise was while making the film, Patrick Stewart said, "There was really only one challenge that really was difficult and it was utterly unexpected and overwhelming. Very late on in the film, in the last couple of weeks, I arrive one morning to film the scene in the captain"s ready room when Riker comes to say good-bye to him. And it was just another morning on the set at Paramount, we were in jeans and T-shirts and everybody hanging around and drinking coffee, just gently starting to work through the scene and find out how it would be. Nothing intense at all about it, and Jonathan [Frakes] said to me, "Serving with you has been an honor, Captain." "And literally in that moment, out of the clear blue sky, my emotions completely overwhelmed me and I was unable to speak. I fell into Jonathan"s arms and Rick was there, too. It was a moment of such confused and mixed feelings for me, and I don"t know whether I was especially vulnerable that morning or what. But the reality that what had been a 15-, 16-year working relationship was actually ending hit me that morning so strongly. And, when I recovered and we came then to shoot the scene many times again and again and again, every single time I had to struggle with my emotions to get through the scene." Gates McFadden also had a good-bye scene with Stewart, as Dr. Beverly Crusher prepared to leave the Enterprise to serve as the new head of Star Fleet Medical. The scene was cut for time, which should make it easier for McFadden to hop into the next film. Roughly 50 minutes was edited from the film, including a great deal from a ceremony early in the story. Director Stuart Baird, a newcomer to the Star Trek franchise, said he wishes he could have cut even more from that scene. Sadly for Wil Wheaton fans, all of his lines were cut. After lobbying for years to be included in the films, the young actor who played Wesley Crusher is seen onscreen only for a second. Oddly, after acknowledging that the Wheaton footage was nice, Baird stated that it will not be included on the DVD. Patrick Stewart on Shinzon, the villainous younger clone of Capt. Picard: "Originally, in the very first storyline, he was an unknown son, a child of Picard"s. But I was particularly not happy with that idea because I thought it would lead to emotion and sentiment that I thought might become cloying and just not appropriate for the film." He liked the idea of Shinzon being a clone instead, because "to literally come face to face with yourself was much more appealing." Teased about being one of the writers of a story that gave him two parts to play, Brent Spiner said, "I tried to write three but they absolutely refused to let me play Shinzon." So, is Brent Spiner interested in appearing in the next Trek film? "I would do another movie if they want to do another one and I"m not certain how we would solve that. I am certain, however, that we wouldn"t do it in a really cheap way, saying, "Oh, Data didn"t really die," you know?" Asked what percentage he would put on the possibility of the entire Next Generation cast returning for the next film, producer Rick Berman laughed and said, "73/27. It"s hard to come up with probabilities. I mean, obviously we have taken Data and given him somewhat of a resurrection with the B-4, and as far as Riker and Troi go, just one subspace phone call could get them back. So we"ll see. There"s a possibility that the next film could have to do with these characters combined with characters from the other series, or possibly these characters combined with brand new characters played by brand new actors. We literally have not - we meaning myself and the people at Paramount - we have not even begun to discuss it. They will probably come knocking at my door around the middle of January and, as usual, I"ll tell them to go away until February so we can have a little breather." When it was learned that Bryan Singer, director of both X-Men films, was a devoted fan of The Next Generation, a treat was arranged for him. Patrick Stewart explained, "He visited the set, was extremely polite and proper about it, so I thought that I should let Rick know and let Stuart Baird know. It was Rick who said, "Do you think he"d like to do some background work?" When I mentioned it to Bryan, his eyes lit up that he would. It still seems really quite unreal, given that I"ve just spent five months with this extraordinary filmmaker with him in charge of this multimillion dollar epic which is X-Men 2, to cast my mind back a year or so to this man in a Starfleet uniform on the set, just having the time of his life. And he was nervous, too. He had to be reassured that what he was doing was OK. Through the months in Vancouver he would say, "Am I still in it?" I said, "Focus on X-Men 2."" Check this out. When Rick Berman was asked about the similarities between the climax of Nemesis and the climax of the second Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, he bristled. "You"re the second person - only the second person, I should say - to ask that question. It was never a thought. In The Wrath of Khan we have a character dying and then have him brought back to life, a flesh-and-blood character. In our case we have an android blown to bits and, basically, another existing android who is given a download of memories who perhaps could Ö You know, I think killing a character is certainly not something that is isolated to Star Trek 2. And you have to remember Star Trek 2 was a long time ago, a long time ago." About 40 minutes later, the same question was asked of John Logan, the man who co-wrote the story with Berman and Spiner and wrote the screenplay. "The echoes of The Wrath of Khan were intentional," Logan said enthusiastically. "My God, I would never deny that. It was not so much an homage as a realization that the most realistic manifestation you can get of the theme of change is someone choosing to die, to sacrifice their life. That"s exactly what Spock did and that"s exactly what Data does in this movie. Those parallels were purely intentional." Sounds like the boys need to sit down over some decaf and sort this out. ñEJO