At last week’s Wizard World Comic Convention at the Cleveland Convention Center, I had the chance to talk with Brent Spiner. Best known for his role as Data, in Star Trek: The Next Generation, he will also star in Robert Kirkman’s newest show, Outcast. I had the chance to talk with him and accomplished film and television wardrobe designer, Shawna-Nova Foley, who also worked with Spiner on Outcast.

 

Pressure Life: “Most of the people here are going to know you from your work on Star Trek: The Next Generation and your role as Data. But you’re currently working on Robert Kirkman’s Outcast series for Cinemax. Can you tell us anything about that?”

(Spiner and Foley exchange an uncomfortable glance, debating what is possible to divulge.)

Brett Spiner: “Well, I have a nondisclosure agreement so if I say anything I go to jail. Can you imagine, they actually come here and put me in prison? I think it’s a minimum security prison probably, but still. Don’t you think when you break your nondisclosure, what really happens? I don’t know.”

Shawna Nova-Foley: “They take you to ‘the camp’.”

BS: “I will tell you that it’s a really cool, scary series. It’s based on Robert Kirkman from The Walking Dead, another comic he does, Outcast. It’s not zombies and it’s really complex and interesting. I’m in it, what could be better? Also I’ve got Independence Day: Resurgence coming out in June.”

PL: “Are you playing the same character as in the first one?”

BS: “I am. I am not dead.”

PL: “That was my second question.”

BS: “I’m not dead. I was just badly shaken up. But I’m back and I have a much better role in this one than I did in the first one.”

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PL: “I know you’ve done some writing behind the camera.”

BS: “Well, I co-wrote the story (Star Trek: Nemesis) with Rick Berman who produced the movie and John Logan who wrote the movie for Nemesis. John Logan being maybe the number one screenwriter in the world and people still hated our movie.”

PL: “Eh, I liked it.”

BS: “Did you?” (he asks with a note of incredulity) “Just writing with John was a really fun thing.”

PL: “Was that story a one-time foray into writing or do you dabble from time to time.”

BS: “I dabble now and then, and whatever I work on I try to undermine the writers and write something in myself but actually on Independence Day they were very liberal. We had some wonderful writers, a couple of young guys who wrote that movie and they were really collaborative once we got there. They felt like ‘some of the scenes work, some don’t, if you can help them along’ and they were wide open to suggestion and it was really fun. And working with Roland Emmerich who directed is always fun.”

(Spiner turns to Nova Foley)
“Have you worked with Roland?”

SNF: “Yeah, I did the…”

BS: “The Dennis Quaid one?”

SNF: “No, it was the Patriot with Mel Gibson. I did the camera tests for that.”

BS: “You must have been a child for that one!”

NSF: “I was.”

BS: “That movie introduced Heath Ledger to America basically.”

NSF: “Yeah…”

BS: “He was wonderful in it. And my buddy, Rene Auberjonois, was in it. He played a preacher. But Roland is a blast to work with because he is so loose and he still enjoys what he’s doing.”

NSF: “He really got into it. You can just tell he’s ‘in it’.”

BS: “He really is a master. Of that genre, he probably would hate if I said that, in a way, he’s the Hitchcock of his genre. Nobody does disaster better than Roland. The Patriot wasn’t really a disaster film, but it was good. When he does disaster, nobody’s better. In Independence Day, he’s just great and I’m hoping it’s a really good movie. I think it will be.”

PL: “You’ll be staring in Outcast as well as the ID4 sequel, but still, is your success in Star Trek ever a burden to be known as such an iconic character as far acting roles go?”

BS: “Yes and no. It’s kind of a double edged sword. At the same time, you get this wall of love and it’s hard to negative about that. It’s afforded me some incredible opportunities. I’ve met some amazing people because of Star Trek. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Obviously, here I am doing this. I go all over the world. It isn’t anything I planned on. I trained to be an actor and do as many different things as I could and I think it’s a large swatch of the viewing audience that’s open to that and then there are some people who would rather lock you in to whatever it is they loved you in. So it’s not a burden.

“The only thing I don’t like, is when I’m in an airport and someone comes up to me and shouts the character’s name in my face. I don’t love that, because Data is a fictional character and I am a real natural person. I had this thing that when people shouted Data at me I rolled my eyes.”

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PL: “Is there any type of role that you haven’t played yet but would relish the opportunity to try out?”

BS: “I’ve gotten the chance to play so many different roles I should have never played. I’ve been so lucky to be cast in things that I really don’t even know how I got cast in. I mean Outcast?! You sit and talk to me and you ask ‘how am I playing this evil, cold guy…’ but I’m delighted to have the opportunity to put on different personas. I’ve felt really good about the opportunities I’ve had and I’m grateful to still be having opportunities.”

PL: “I’ll wrap it up with this last question.”
(…As the line to meet Brent grows longer and more agitated behind me…)

BS: “Wasn’t this better than over the phone?(Spiner initially bristled at the suggestion of conducting the interview over a phone before we decided to sit for the informal chat)

PL: “Oh yeah, without a doubt.”

BS: “Of course it was. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me.”

PL: “What does your character Data represent on an archetypal level to the Star Trek cannon?”

BS: “Data was, in a way, the perfect being, except that he had no emotion. But that’s just what he said. It was a symbiotic relationship I had with the audience. They painted the emotion on me. I didn’t have to do anything and I just learned my lines, showed up, and said my words and people would write and tell me, ‘I could tell you were really feeling something there. Data really has feelings he just doesn’t know it yet.’ He’s utterly accessible and nonjudgmental for just about everyone. Obviously, he didn’t like bad people or threatening people. I think that’s why people were drawn to him. A lot of people, disenfranchised people, were drawn to him because he was nonjudgmental and that’s sort of the best thing about him.”

PL: “Who took longer in makeup, you or Worf?”

BS: “Me. It took about an hour and a half. It also took me an hour and a half to get out of it and it only took Worf like seconds because he just had to two pieces of rubber on his face.”

SNF: “Why did it take so long?”

BS: “Because first they covered me in a regular base, well, first thing was the contacts. I had to put those horrible contacts in, then the face. Michael Westmoore was my makeup guy. He’s a genius. He took gold powder that sparkled and he would pack it into my face. An hour into filming there would be makeup in my eyes and I couldn’t see anything for the rest of the day. They made up my hands so I couldn’t even touch my face. It sort of solidified and in order to get it off I had to use this product made up primarily of kerosene. It took kerosene to actually cut through it!”

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    Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd