Promotes Worf To Starship Captain
by Brad Balfour
Actor Michael Dorn is making sure the world doesn’t forget the original Star Trek universe and the character he lived in for nearly 20 years — the Klingon Lieutenant Commander Worf. And he is doing it not only through appearing at Comic-Cons and in the film Ted 2.
With the original 1960s Star Trek series there was a Vulcan member, but no Klingons on the crew. Then, with the 1987-’94 reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf became a Klingon crew member who was as critical to his ST series as Mr. Spock was to his generation. Then Worf moved on to a successor series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and several Star Trek film features.
As separate from the real world the Star Trek universe is, Worf and his Klingons were so important that they spawned a particular fan base determined to flesh out his culture and world. As Star Trek‘s canon became fleshed out, that was an amazing thing. Though geeks appreciate how significant it was that Worf one of the 10 most important Trek characters, there was debate that justice still wasn’t done.
For the last few years, Trek alumnus Dorn has been pursuing various avenues to get a new TV series into production which centered on his beloved character Worf. The character had more hours on screen than any other in the franchise’s history.
Even now, after more than 13 years since his last appearance, he remains a fan favorite and sci-fi icon. Yet, despite Dorn’s Trek pedigree, and the worldwide love for his surly Klingon, CBS hasn’t budged on green-lighting “Captain Worf.”
Back in the ’60s, a historic letter-writing campaign saved the original Star Trek series from an untimely cancellation after the first season.
With reboots of classic series at an all-time high, from the return of The X-Files to network television to The Flash‘s resurrection, the Trek brand continues in the form of fan-made films, hugely attended events, and continual appearances of its many actors in other productions. It seems time for another official ST series to have its own development opportunity.
In order to do so, a core team surrounding the 63-year-old veteran actor came up with a campaign to press the network to produce the series. This campaign has encouraged fans to send the message that Star Trek is ready to return to its TV roots.
To have this bid kicked off, a campaign has been launched that asks fans to send mini-muffins to the powers that be at CBS this summer. To prove that the fan-fervor exists, the goal is for one million muffins to be sent to the CBS offices with a note saying, “We Want Worf.”
In order to increase a-worf-ness, Dorn has been conducting a series of exclusive interviews with journalist-trekkers — including this one held over the airways — to bring the cause to the pop culture forefront.
Your character is one of the most fascinating in Star Trek’s history. That’s because Klingon culture turns on several classic human cultures, whether it’s Roman or Japanese or others. What did you think it was? What did you draw on and what did others think you drew from?
Well, it started out as the Russians and that was who they were. When the show was going on, the [Berlin] Wall had come down before then, so we got an eye into the Russian culture. We got a good look at them and knew they weren’t all evil and bad. I then brought into it, in terms of deeper things, the Samurai warrior code. [The writers] basically had nothing until the character Worf [was created]. We went into these different areas of the Klingon culture. I told them, “Look, they’re like wild people. Whenever they fight they’re screaming and yelling and all this other stuff, I think it gets a little crazy. Why don’t we do something a little more controlled, yet still aggressive; [why not] make it more like the Japanese samurai?” So we added some of the Japanese samurai [thinking], some of Chinese martial arts, and other things, and put it all into [Klingon] culture.
Once it was debated as to whether Klingons were like the Romulans or not. Romulans were more Roman and Klingons, like you said, were more like Japanese. while Romulans were more the opposite of Vulcans, Klingons were the fighting side of cultures. Was there a discussion about how Klingons and Romulan culture distinguished the one from the other?
They never discussed that with me. If there were discussions [by the series creators], I never heard them. Because the character of Worf was on the show, they had to make a distinction with a lot of things. I don’t think they really had much discussion on how to keep things separate. They always had an idea of who the Romulans were, who the Klingons were, and “neither shall the twain meet” as they say, and that was evident. The cultures did not overlap at all.
Maybe 20 or so people in broadcast media have had an opportunity to play a character that has had so much growth and been seen by so many generations of people — and even be a Shakespearean sort of character. That cultural depth must be mind boggling at times, so I can see why you don’t want to squander that.
The way television is going right now, with all the formats between Netflix and Amazon, and the cable shows and all these things, there’s so much of an opportunity. If you’re going to do a show, it has to be an intense, dark show like Game of Thrones or Spartacus, all these shows that are out there. They’re dark and some are even soft porn. The Klingon Empire is a dark empire itself. It’s about assassinations and coups to take over the government and all the things that are the mainstay of television these days.
Speaking of soft porn, there have always been fans who have fantasized about that side of Trek. You hit on an important sub-plot element — envisioning the Klingon sex life.
There have been discussions, but we haven’t gone into it with any depth because I think we’re living in the moment. When it gets done we’ll see what works. The thing I don’t care about, and I don’t think it’s necessary, is that television feels it has to go way out there. I disagree. I don’t think you have to. It’s a little for shock value. But if you got a great story, we don’t really care about that. It’s just that a lot of these shows are just going for shock value. “Oh my god, did you see that?” It doesn’t really add anything to the overall story or feeling of the show.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, you were never thought of as being a “black actor” because you were a Klingon. You suffered less of the sensationalist attention that Nichelle Nichols endured in the first season of the original series. But now is the time now that we need more black actors to be the lead in sci-fi or action shows. It seems like that people will accept and gravitate to such characters like never before. Do you hope that, at this time, this show might be possible?
I think you’re right, hopefully. Like you said, they don’t look at Worf as being black. They’re not going to say “Oh wow, let’s have some more Klingons on television,” or something like that. But I do think that any time you can show that there’s money to be made with you, they’re willing to do anything. I don’t think that it’s a matter of racism or anything. It’s purely financial. If they think they can make money and there’s a market for it… you see it more today. If you look at commercials, I did commercials when I first started, so I know this first hand: there would be one, maybe two commercials a year where you might see a black face. If you watch commercials now, they are inundated with them. I don’t think that was an altruistic decision. They realized there was an audience and money to be made with these products in the black community. So they started doing more. I think that’s what it’s going to be. If this show becomes successful and it’s a highly rated show, critically acclaimed and they’re making money hand over fist, my being a black actor can’t do anything but help other black actors coming up, or at least have them say, “Hey, this guy did it, let’s try it with this guy.” There won’t be a hesitance to it.
Do you have a wish list of actors you’d like to show up, like James Earl Jones or old actors or new actors that could make a cameo, like you made in Ted recently?
What I do wish for is that I want every part to be a great part. I don’t want it to be a cameo or stunt casting. I want it to be a great part even if it’s 10 or 15 minutes onscreen. I can go down the list of people we would have on the show. Of course, all the Star Trek alumni can do the show. There are certain characters that can’t show up because they’re dead or whatever is the case, but those actors can still do parts on the show. The wish list is too long to imagine. I hadn’t even thought about James Earl Jones, but he’s definitely… I think Laurence Fishburne is wonderful. The list goes on and on and on.
There are great Star Trek actors who are typically known as “character actors”, but they play their parts — like the guy that played The Doctor on Voyager, Robert Picardo. Before that, he was a great character actor, but after that it makes you appreciate him even more. There same can be said for Armin Shimerman, the guy that plays the Ferengi. There’s something about being in Star Trek that gives great actors quite a stage to create unique performances. The same goes for the great theater actor Rene Auberjonois who played Odo.
The whole point is that there’s a dearth of actors that fit that bill. Armin Shimerman, who played Quark, is a wonderful actor. He’s so identified as Quark that it would be hard to bring him back as Armin, but I don’t think he would mind coming back and doing a great role as Quark. It’s a job. What you’re saying is something we’ve discussed and thought about. It just got overwhelming for us because there were so many actors and so many facets to bringing these characters back and how we do it? Do we bring back the character or just the actor as themselves? It goes on and on.
Have you had much interaction with JJ Abrams and how his Star Trek universe connects with yours? It’s interesting how there’s a relationship between them yet they’re not the same.
That’s why the Klingon thing is perfect because it has nothing to do with what he’s doing. I’ve never met JJ, but they’re very clear about keeping the TV and movie things separate. Not getting in the way or having them cross over, or getting someone mad at us for doing something. They’re keeping it very separate.
What did you think of their version of Klingon culture?
There wasn’t much to it. I couldn’t say anything about it. It was just a cameo for Klingons.
Are you going to produce and direct as well as act?
On the pilot I’m going to be producing and directing, but that’s it. When it goes to series I’m not going to be producing. I’m trying to do as much directing and acting as I can.
With regard to Klingon cultural development, I want to see more of that. Re-elaborate about the idea behind your show and how showing the cultural development of the Klingons relates to the Federation.
The A story is that the Klingon culture is on the verge of dying because it’s so homogenous. They don’t allow anything except for Klingons. There’s no allowance for any other culture or any other way of thinking to go in there. It’s almost like having a culture that only has one type of individual in it. At some point it’s going to die out. They realize this, so they start allowing other cultures and species into their culture, painfully at times. It’s the growing pains of this culture that I’m interested in showing. Worf is at the forefront of that because he’s the guy that’s supposed to bond other races and [he is] one of the unique individuals in Klingon culture that can talk about that. He says we have to look at this as learning, take the best from other cultures to make our own culture better. The B story is that Worf is on a spiritual journey himself. He is trying to find out who he is, which he has been doing for the past 30 years.
Even though Worf, and you, were in more episodes than any other character, it always felt like he was reacting to other characters; we didn’t get enough episodes from his perspective, expanding his mythos. Not that he didn’t have moments. I can’t say I’ve seen all your episodes. Is it 167 episodes you were in?
With Next Generation it’s 170, then I did 100 with Deep Space 9.
Though I’ve seen a lot of episodes, I can’t claim to be that thorough. It seemed Worf was more often reacting than leading, so this new series seems like a great idea and that you should have this opportunity to expand on him and Klingon culture. Though Worf wasn’t treated as secondary, but he didn’t get as many pivotal moments as Data or Troi.
I definitely have to agree with you. I was always cognizant of the fact that on Deep Space, even if it was supposed to be a Worf episode, everyone was doing more talking than I was. I don’t know why that it was. It could do with something about the edict behind the show and how they want to portray Worf. But I think you’re right, and this is an opportunity where people will finally get those episodes.
When you were starting out as an actor, did you think you’d get so immersed in this character and universe? There’s no question that this role changed the course of your life. If you hadn’t played it, you might have been a great actor in a lot of different ways, but this is something that will live way beyond you.
Unless they have the biggest ego in the world, I don’t think anybody thinks they’re going to be a character like what Worf is to a culture. I don’t think anybody expects that. I just wanted to have the freedom to do a bunch of different jobs, whether it’s movies or television, just do something really interesting. I always wanted to be an interesting actor and I didn’t really think much further than that. I never denied myself the fact that I love science fiction, have always loved science fiction, and that I would love to do science fiction. You can’t dream about something like this. The thing that you have to realize is that even if you’re on a show like Star Trek, that doesn’t mean your character is going to be as popular as Worf is. It’s a real special thing and it’s an amazing time for me.
Your cameo in Ted 2 — attending New York Comic-Con in a really bad Worf costume — was a sort of commentary on the comic and geek culture. Did you have any input on that or did you just throw yourself into the role?
The only thing I told them was that I really wanted the makeup to be not even close to Worf. I wanted it to be so bad that it wouldn’t be an imitation of Worf. There was no beard, the uniform looked nothing like mine. I thought that would be very funny and Seth agreed.
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Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 25, 2015.
Photos #1 & 2 ©2015 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.