1000 Years Of Wisdom Behind Her Eyes: A 2003 Conversation With Robin Curtis (Part 2)
Posted on February 2, 2003
This was originally on 2/02/03 on Modamag.com.
Continued From Part 1.
KG: There was a rumor at one time that Saavik might be pregnant with Spock’s child, especially since she went through Pon farr (Ed. Note:the time in a male Vulcan’s life when he is driven to mate) with him. Was that ever toyed with?
RC: It was never discussed with me, not on any formal or informal basis. Certainly I was just as much a…I don’t know if I can say participant, but a receiver of the rumor and the scuttlebutt at the time. People really seemed to think Saavik’s pregnancy was going to be a great idea and I got caught up in it. Not that I expected it to happen, but just that I felt I had so little knowledge of Star Trek and the fans seemed to have so much, I thought they must know what they’re talking about and this is obviously where this is leading. However, that clearly isn’t where it led and it was a bit of an adjustment for me. Nothing serious in the scheme of life, however I was somewhat disappointed about it, yet also relieved to see that Star Trek IV was such a well-balanced piece and such a much more fun movie.
KG: They needed to lighten up at that point.
RC: They did. They did. When people say they love Star Trek III, I look at them like “Are you nuts?” I mean, everything about that film is depressing. Of course, I’ve watched it again since then and I realize that there was definitely humor present in that film, but for the most part a lot of things die in it. It’s about loss and endings.
KG: But it’s also about beginnings. The one thing that I saw in the film, and I was 14-years-old when it came out, was that it was about life. This is about friendship. It’s about what people are willing to do and how far they are willing to go for each other. I kept thinking at that time and with the friends I had in high school, how many of us would be willing to go the distance for each other like that? Am I going to grow up one of these days and have friendships that are that close? True, it’s a film, but the heart of it is what friendship is all about. I kept asking myself “Am I going to have that one day?” That’s what I got out of the film.
RC: You know, no one has ever said that to me. I think that’s lovely.
KG: The unfortunate thing, and this is terrible for me to admit, but Star Trek III is the one film I didn’t see in the theater and the reason for it is when someone told me that they blew up the Enterprise, I couldn’t handle it. (laughing) I mean, now that I’m older and not quite so geeky, I can admit it.
RC: No, that was a big deal at the time. That was a dramatic choice for them to make, a creative choice, and upsetting to a lot of people.
KG: Going back to the theme of loss, you are one of the few people I’ve read comments from about Merritt Buttrick (Ed. Note: Merritt played Kirk’s son, David Marcus), who unfortunately passed away in 1989. There just doesn’t seem to be much out there about him, so I wondered what your impressions were about the man?
RC: Oh, I liked Merritt very much. He was very kind to me and I think of everyone he had the most invested in the fact that another actress had played the character (of Saavik), so it was really him who I was most concerned about. In that regard, he was very forthcoming and generous about what sort of subtle dynamic they might have established between one another, or the characters if you will, and to let me in on that in case there was anything of which I wanted to partake or carry on. You know, he suggested that their characters had a minor flirtation, that kind of thing.
I remember he was very playful, a very creative guy and I didn’t allow myself to really enjoy him until close to the end of filming. I was so anxious about doing a good job that I wanted to be perceived as someone very serious and all that good stuff. But, after several weeks, his tendency to sing and play and joke around finally broke down my reserve. I was blown away when I realized he was a character on Square Pegs, that he had done such diverse work and had been cast in so many different kinds of roles at that time. He seemed like someone who was going to do good things and be successful in the industry. It was very sad to hear that he was ill and died of AIDS, very sad. That was back in a time…not that it’s really changed all that much, but when all of that was kept very secretive and I remember feeling badly that his family didn’t allow there to be a memorial of any kind. I think they probably just wanted to keep it all very quiet.
KG: They didn’t want his reputation tarnished at all?
RC: Yeah and that made me sad at the time because it’s like a double whammy. Not only have you lost a friend, but now you have the family’s attitudes about how he died coloring the loss and acting as if it’s something to be ashamed of when there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just sad.
KG: Speaking of sad, you once described your role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as “icky” because of Rick Berman and Michael Piller reacting to you more as a set piece than as a human being. Has that become the norm of working on a show like that or was that an unusual experience?
RC: I don’t know what that was about, but I do know about just the disconnect. There’s an idea that everybody assumes if you are a part of Star Trek you’re now a member of a club, that you have a certain cache, an entree to the world and offices of those people and nothing could be further from the truth, at least in my experience. I’ve never received any kind of preferential treatment. My auditions for The Next Generation went just as routinely as anyone else’s. No one introduced themselves to me and no one extended themselves to me as having been someone who was a part of Star Trek for many years.
When I did get the job, I believe the only time I met producer Rick Berman and Michael Piller was when we were all escorted over in a van from the set to their offices in another building. We were simply brought up there to have our “look” examined. It occurred to me we were all escorted inside and outside and no one ever said “Well, hello. Welcome. It’s really great to have you guys on board.” I went over with Julie Caitlin Brown, Cameron Thor and maybe even Richard Lynch, the other guest stars and it struck me how impolite the whole process was. It felt like we were made to stand around like set pieces and commented upon and not regarded as human beings who just got a job and “won’t this be fun and blah blah blah”.
KG: And all four of you have had extensive backgrounds, you’re all respectable actors, so you would expect not necessarily preferential treatment, but a “Hey, how are you doing?”
RC: Yeah, just an introduction. “Hi, I’m Rick Berman. They’ve brought you over so I can get a peek at how you look.” You know, whatever.
KG: The human touch.
RC: Yeah, the human touch, exactly. You know, even if you don’t have warmth, the least you can be is respectful.
KG: Speaking of Next Gen, you went to the premier of Star Trek: Nemesis. How was it?
RC: Oh, I really enjoyed it. I was actually in a theater in Baltimore at the Muvieco. Theaters there, wonderfully huge theaters with babysitting services and… I mean, it’s just a really super movie theater and they’re attempting to generate publicity for themselves, enough to interest movie makers to premier their films there on the site. It’s the most attended movie theater location in the country. More people walk through their portals than anywhere else and I think that’s pretty astonishing. They invited myself and Spice Williams and an actor by the name of Jack Donner (Ed. Note: Spice Williams played the character of Vixis in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Jack Donner played Subcommander Tal in the original series episode The Enterprise Incident) to go and just be there over the course of the weekend.
KG: I’ve been looking forward to this one! When I was looking up information about you on the Internet, I came across a pattern of films that I have to ask you about because I was cracking up when I started putting it together.
RC: Oh, God!
KG: You’ve been in Scorpio One, Unborn II, Star Trek III, Star Trek IV, Babylon 5, Bloodfist VI, and 7th Heaven.
RC: You’re kidding? (laughing)
KG: At this rate, you’re going to have to star in the next Halloween or Friday the 13th films to continue on with the numbers!
RC: Oh, I had no idea! Oh, God, you had me going there for a second. I thought “Oh, my Lord, Kage is going to make my whole life make sense to me now” and it turns out it was numbers, huh?
KG: I kept thinking “Look at all these numbers…I wonder if they fit together. They do! That’s so bizarre.”
RC: That is bizarre. I never paid any attention to it. Thank you for that!
KG: You’re welcome.
KG: I know you’ve answered some of this already, but what’s important to you in your life right now?
RC: I think my immediate focus is on this transition and just getting through dissolving something and building something else and doing it as gracefully and having taken as a high a road as I possibly can through this disillusion and then beginning again. I guess that’s my priority, to do better than to just survive it, but to walk through it with grace and a generous heart and smartly. Beyond that, I’m choosing to have faith that all of this is happening for a damn fine reason and that I’m going to be living a more authentic life, and that’s not to get trendy with my word usage, but I do think I allowed the trappings of life to kind of get a hold of me in a way that I hadn’t before recently. In other words, I allowed myself to sort of bond to how the rest of society measures what looks like a good life and I think now that I really want to get back to how it is I measure what is good and what is successful and what makes me feel like I’ve brought something to the table at the end of the day, that I made a contribution somehow.
So as I go through this change, I’m trying to do it as well as I can, but with the idea that once I’ve physically achieved this transition that then I will really be in a position to maybe begin again and to do it more truthfully to my own spirit somehow. Whether or not that’s creatively, whether or not that’s in the arena of love or romance, whether or not that’s in the arena of perhaps even being a parent at some point, maybe an unorthodox situation where I have the opportunity to adopt an older child, I really don’t know what life will hold for me, but I’m willing to look outside the box. I really let myself get caught up in a Midwestern lifestyle and I look forward to kind of breaking away from that and, most importantly, being self-sufficient. I’m looking to kind of regain my independence so that I don’t make decisions out of fear, but to make them coming from a position of strength.
KG: You know, I just want to say that your attitude sounds so positive and so healthy coming out of this. I just hope you hold on to that because I think you’ll succeed.
RC: Thanks. You know, I didn’t used to be able to reach out to other people. If I was in a bad state, either depressed or blue or experiencing failure of some kind, then I had a tendency to kind of isolate myself a bit and not let on, but this time I’m telling everybody. I want to be able to lean on others. I have felt moments of intense grief and panic and I’ve been stricken with thoughts of “what will become of me?”. If I share that and I let that out, it doesn’t stay for very long and I’m back in the swing of things in no time. This time that is the big difference, that I’m letting everyone know I could use a hand, I could use the help, I could use a kind word, a supportive gesture, whatever that might look like to you, I’ll take it. (laughing) Cuz I’m scared! I’m scared and I don’t want to be. That’s why I say I’m looking forward to making decisions that don’t come from fear, but from a whole place.
KG: And the future?
RC: We’re going off to London this weekend, to Bournemouth, to a convention in the South of England. That’s one of the things that’s been so incredible about Star Trek and my life anyway, is this enduring association and the ongoing fun and adventure that I get to have. It’s been such a blessing.
KG: While we’re on the subject of meeting fans, they tend to see their favorite actors as larger than life and don’t always get a chance to see below the surface at the person underneath. What you would like your fans to know about you as a person and as an artist when they think of you?
RC: I think if anybody has met me, then I would hope that I dispelled any sense of separateness and made it very clear to them that this experience is for me as insightful and enriching as it is for them and it’s very much a 2-way street. I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met who just so happen to like Star Trek and that’s the reason we meet, but I find with most people if I have more than 5 minutes with them, we can take it beyond that level to something very genuine and very real between us. My point is just that there isn’t anything I don’t think that people don’t already know. If they don’t, please ask, but I would also declare that I’m learning as well and I’m getting to know them and I’ll continue to ask about them and I see this as an ongoing relationship that continues to delight me and teach me.
Star Trek has been a friend and the fans have been a friend that have always been there and now here I get to go off to England and have a good time and kind of forget my troubles for a few days. There will be other marvelous visits this year if all goes well that are Star Trek related, so it’s given me a lot of hope and a lot of solace over the years and I just hope I can continue to give back a little something for all that it’s brought me.
My thanx to Robin for allowing me the opportunity to speak with her so candidly as well as share that side of her with readers. While we wait for her return to the world of show business in whatever form it may take, be on the lookout for her at your local Sci-Fi conventions and be sure to check her out on Paramount’s Star Trek III: The Search For Spock Special Edition DVD.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.