Transcript of the interview with
who plays Worf on
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE
He was in Montreal to shoot a CBS made-for-TV movie called
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
which will air on the network in the fall.
The interview was aired on Monday, June 16, 1997
conducted by Peter Anthony Holder, the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal.
CJAD: Well most people are familiar with your work on STAR TREK, both on television and in the movies. Here you are in Montreal filming a movie and people get to see Michael Dorn as opposed to Worf. Is that a change of pace for people to actually get to see you for a change.
MICHAEL: Oh yeah. It's worked out nicely. It's just funny. After doing STAR TREK for so many years, to do just regular makeup is such a treat. Just put some makeup on and "thank you very much", you're on your way.
CJAD: What's that process like to become Worf?
MICHAEL: It's really not all that weird now, because it used to pretty tough, because they used a large amount of glue and makeup. It just was a real process. But now they have it down to a real science where it's about an hour. They don't use a lot a glue, they don't use a lot of makeup and it's worked out nicely, thank God. Because I just couldn't have done it for seven years or ten years the way it started out.
CJAD: Originally you were in the NEXT GENERATION series and then you ended up in DEEP SPACE NINE. There was a period, of course, where you were not doing that. What did it take to get you back into Worf full time?
MICHAEL: It wasn't much to get me back. I mean, the only thing that I was concerned about was the makeup time and having to be in makeup for a lot of shots that I didn't need to be. Just things like that. Little considerations that I needed. But I love the character and I love doing him, so it didn't take much to get me back.
CJAD: How would you say your character of Worf has evolved over the years from the two series and of course the movie?
MICHAEL: In NEXT GENERATION he started out to be very egotistical, very nationalist sort of person who believed that only Klingons....they're the only good aliens in the galaxy. And he has learned that even Klingons can be idiots at times. So he has made a real developmental leap from the original from the first year until the end of NEXT GENERATION. Also he's gotten a lot of compassion and we've seen a lot of stuff that shows Worf in a very sensitive light, which he really isn't known for. Marina, who plays Troi is fond of saying, "for an orphan Worf has more relatives then anyone else in the galaxy. But on DEEP SPACE, he's made another sort of transition, which is the transition of going from this very organized, clean, very militaristic society, which is The Enterprise and Starfleet, onto this space station. Which has all these bloody aliens and things and people in charge of things that he considers enemies. It was a rough transition for him.
CJAD: How much of the characterization of Worf is brought to the role by yourself. In other words, your input as opposed to what has simply been written initially for the character?
MICHAEL: Initially, I was the one who created the character in terms of who he was. Gene Roddenberry told me to make the character my own when I asked him what does he want this character to be. He said, "just make it your own." And so I did, and since then, which has been great for me...I've only been like the caretaker. I haven't had to think up ideas and things like that. The writers of NEXT GENERATION have done a fabulous job of writing stuff for me to do, and for the character to grow. Occasionally I would say, "oh, Worf wouldn't do this" and "Worf wouldn't do that," and they've been very receptive to that. On DEEP SPACE the same thing. The character has established character, so it's not like we have to discover who he is. I've been doing a caretaker's job making sure that his character really stays close to who Worf is.
CJAD: In doing the role all these years....again we've seen the maturation of Worf....is it different doing the role in the movies? Is there any different style, or anything you have to do differently for a major motion picture as opposed to the small screen.
MICHAEL: Just you've got to learn that you have a lot of space. You have a lot of room to move and act, because in television you have to fit into the spot. The movie is 70 millimetre so it's a pretty big space. But actually, no. I did not have to do anything differently for the movies at all.
CJAD: Most people are familiar with Michael Dorn as Worf. What about Michael Dorn before Worf?
MICHAEL: Before Worf....ah. I did CHIPS many years ago for three years. I've done soap operas. DAYS OF OUR LIVES and CAPITOL were two soap operas I did. Then I've done KNOTS LANDING and a number of sitcoms. I was like a journeyman actor. I did whatever came along. And that was all before STAR TREK.
CJAD: You say you've done a number of comedies. Do you like comedies as opposed to drama? I say that for a reason, because there are some comedic elements to Worf in a very serious way that really shine through. I'm just wondering if you have a preference for comedy or drama.
MICHAEL: I love good comedy. I don't like bad comedy. Of course, nobody loves bad comedy, but there's a lot of bad comedy out there. But I like good comedy. My favorite shows are FRASIER and SEINFELD. But the secret to Worf being funny is him not believing he is funny. Once he thinks he is funny, he loses the humour, the charm. Worf has always been from the very beginning....has caught all the producers and everybody off guard. Because they will write a line, and it is a very funny line. And it may not be a line that they thought was all that funny. And so the secret is just not to believe that you are funny. And that's why Worf is as charming as he is.
CJAD: Worf is excellent at what he does. He's also a very good pilot. So are you, aren't you?
MICHAEL: Yes I am. I'm an excellent pilot!
CJAD: Tell us about your flying.
MICHAEL: I've been flying for about eight years now. Nine years. I progressed from just regular Cessna-172s and twin engine airplanes to Lear Jets and ex-military airplanes. In fact I have a real fondness for Canadian ex-military airplanes. I owned a Canadair T-33 and also I own right now an F-86 Mark 6, which is most of the pilots in Canada, to a certain age, have flown this plane and have very fond memories of it.
CJAD: You've been flying for over eight years. This must keep people at Paramount very concerned?
MICHAEL: Well, I gotta tell you. When I do the film, I can't fly. They won't allow me to fly. But the TV show is different. I can fly during the TV show. It made a few people nervous, but not really. There's a lot of actors and a lot of people that fly in and out of the business. But they just want to make sure they guard their investment during the movie.
CJAD: Tell us about living in the STAR TREK universe. By that I mean the fandom. Were you prepared for the adulation and the fan response that the show over the years and the movie has received?
MICHAEL: Not at all. Not at all. I think that it was something we are all caught off guard with. We had no idea. I knew that there was a fan base. I knew that there were conventions and things like that for the original actors, but when it happened to us, two things happened. We realized that there was an established fan base. But also as the years went on we realized that the popularity was growing. And that's because in doing all these conventions, you see how they've started out when we first started in 87-88, to where they are now and it's huge. I mean, the venues have gotten bigger, and more people. Even people that were never interested in science fiction are interested in STAR TREK. So that's the other thing that kind of took us off guard. But, in terms of all the adulation it's pretty amazing. It's a great perk to be able to travel to different countries. To see different countries and to see the fans in different areas. You just don't get that much in television. It's the United States and that's about it.
CJAD: You're here in Montreal shooting a movie which is obviously not involving STAR TREK and I'm just curious to know. Are you concerned about being locked in the world of Worf and being typecast that way, as so many actors before you in STAR TREK and the series have had happen to them?
MICHAEL: Luckily, we have not been locked into the STAR TREK genre. Everybody on the show has gone on to do other things. I mean, major things. So it has not been a problem. Levar and Gates immediately were in another series. Of course Jonathan pursued his directing. Brent did INDEPENDENCE DAY and PHENOMENON with John Travolta. Marina just finished her starring role in an independent feature down in Puerto Rico. And I, after the show was over I did TIME MASTER and AMANDA AND THE ALIEN which were two independent features for SHOWTIME. Although they were science fiction I was not in costume and I wasn't involved in makeup, so it has not been a problem for us. The only problem is, and I was talking to Sharon Gless about this, is when you're on a series, it's really tough to go on and do something else afterwards. It's just real tough. If you're smart, save your money and you can wait out the bad times. You know, a couple of years, or three years, or whatever, until something else comes along. But it is very tough.
CJAD: Is it a little easier for you because as Michael Dorn you don't look like Worf. You can probably walk down the street a lot easier and in the mind of casting directors you are a different person when you're not in makeup?
MICHAEL: It has helped a little bit. It has been a little easier for me then all the other characters because like you said, I have not been recognized. But there still is the stigma of getting off of a series and it takes a couple of years. So I don't know what's going to happen now. I've been doing all that I can not to be....sort of get interest up for me to do other projects while I'm on DEEP SPACE NINE. But it still might be an interesting dilemma. I just don't know.
CJAD: A lot of actors from STAR TREK have gone on to become very good directors. Have you ever thought of going that route?
MICHAEL: I just directed my first episode of DEEP SPACE and I like directing. I like directing very much. I prefer directing independent features. I mean, that's going to be my gist. Television is very tough. Television is a producer's medium and not a director's medium. I mean that because a director in television, in episodic, he basically shoots what he wants to shoot. Does the script. Gives it to the producers and they do whatever they want with it. What he shoots does not usually get on the air. Some of it does, but most of it is what the producers want because they have the vision of whatever the show is.
CJAD: Well there seems to be a little bit of leeway there when it comes to cable movies. That seems to be more of a director's medium. Would you like to do some more stuff perhaps in that direction? Either HBO or SHOWTIME.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I'd love it. I think that's another area that could work out very well. You're right, because since it's not episodic, it is a director's medium. The producers will have some say over it, but basically it is the director's medium, so I would enjoy that also. I just love it and I didn't think I would either. I was really sort of ambivalent about the whole thing for a long time and when I did I said, "oh, I like this....maybe a little too much." But we'll see how it goes next year.
CJAD: Do you think it's easier for you because you are an actor to be a director?
MICHAEL: When you start out, if you have some sort of acting experience, it does help. But I've known quite a few fabulous directors who weren't actors or didn't start out as actors, but it does help.
CJAD: Tell us about the movie you're working on here in the Montreal area and about the character you play.
MICHAEL: The character I play is Lt. Driscoll, who is a cop who is investigating the murder of another police officer's wife. It happened a couple of years ago and it's sort of like in the files buried somewhere. But the young lady who killed the policeman's wife, she has bad dreams and nightmares and a lot of guilt. And so she goes to a priest and the priest comes to me and says, "this lady wants to tell you something." And she tells me this fantastic story and I really don't believe her. Although we know that there was a murder committed, I really don't believe her...my partner and I. Then Sharon Gless gets involved and she says, "hey, you better listen to this. There's a lot more to this then what you think." I'm real sceptical about it, but then we find out that she was manipulated into killing this lady by her husband...by the policeman. He wanted to have a nanny for his kids and a new girlfriend and wanted his wife out of the way. So he had her do it and plus he's a dirty cop. He's selling stolen items and things like that.
CJAD: You mentioned earlier that with the opportunities afforded you by STAR TREK, that you can wait and pick and choose your roles. What do you look for when you pick roles, for instance, like this one?
MICHAEL: This role was something that kind of came to me and it was exciting because it was a couple of really nice scenes and Sharon Gless and the director are people that I really wanted to work with. David Green is directing it. And so you look at things like that. Nice roles. You can't always get starring roles, but now that I've done this, that's what I'd like to see at least. Something that is interesting. It doesn't have to be huge, just interesting.
CJAD: Has the direction you career has taken been the direction you wanted it to go in when you first started.
MICHAEL: I don't know. It's very funny. It's like I had an idea of what I wanted to do and every year something different comes along, like when NEXT GENERATION was over in 94, I said, "okay, I'm just going to do independent features. Not doing anymore television." When this situation came along I saw it as an opportunity to further my career in a different way. Of course, you know, you're getting to the where-with-all, where you can pick and choose. You have the freedom. And if you are smart about money and you've saved your little pennies then you can pick and choose and not take a job based on, "oh, I have to pay for my house." So it gave me the opportunities, but you know, after this year.....this is supposed to be the last year of DEEP SPACE...and we have one more movie that's going to shoot next year. After that I have no idea. I don't even think about it anymore. I just sort of go, "well, whatever comes along, comes along." I mean, I know what I'd like to do, which is direct and star in my own things. My own projects. Be really involved with the production and the creative part of movie making.
CJAD: If you had your choice would you prefer feature films or would you like to star in a television series on your own?
MICHAEL: I'd love to star in a television series of my own. I love feature films, but I also love television. I love the idea of living with a character for a number of years. I like that. Watching him grow. Watching how the changes are made in the character. And I love the variety of doing motion pictures. Every movie is a different challenge. Something totally different. So I like all. I was just telling Sharon, I said, "I like plays, movies, everything." It doesn't matter. But if I had to say okay, if they gave me a choice, I would probably love to have a feature career. And it doesn't have to be starring or the number one guy. I just like to be in movies and play interesting roles. So that when somebody says, "hey, we've got this really interesting role. Who can we get? Hey, how about Michael Dorn?" And that's what I'd like to be thought of. As being able to do great work and interesting work.
CJAD: Do you find that the doors have opened up quite a bit in the last few years for African-American actors to do their own thing as opposed to having to choose or to pick up roles that are somewhat subservient or less then meaty.
MICHAEL: I would say that it's happened a little bit. It's one of those things where you can count on one hand who the guys are who can pick and choose the different roles. Producers, especially in features, have gone a little color blind, which is nice. Some roles that didn't call for an African-American they'll say, "hey what about this guy?" Or "what about that guy?" And they'll allow those things to happen. But just a little bit. It hasn't been this explosion, because I can still count the number of guys who can green-light a movie. There's Denzel and there's Wesley. They are the two guys if they say, "hey look, I want to do this movie," great! Or if they call and say, "I want to do a television show," they'll give them whatever they want. And that's about it though.
CJAD: Well I thank you for talking with us. It's great to see you in town. It's great to see you as opposed to seeing Worf, not that I don't like Worf, but it's nice to see Michael Dorn for a change and I hope we get to see more of Michael Dorn in the future.
MICHAEL: It's good to be seen as Michael Dorn too. I've missed him over the last ten years.