At FedCon XIX, Henning Koonert from our German partner TrekZone had a chance to speak with Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (and DS9’s) Mr. Worf, Michael Dorn. The full interview, where Dorn talks about his time on Trek, "Nemesis", the 2009 "Star Trek" and more is cross-posted here.
TrekZone Network: You have played Worf for quite some time and he has come a long way over this period. If you think back to the beginnings, when you took on that role: what made it interesting for you? I imagine you were given a description of the character when you auditioned for it.
Michael Dorn: Not at all. No, it was seriously just a name. They didn’t tell you what to do. They didn’t tell you how they wanted the character to be – nothing. You went in to audition for this character name and that was it. When I started, before I came onto the set, I went to Gene Roddenberry and said: hey, what do you want from this guy? Who is he? And being as smart as he is, he said: don’t listen to what you’ve heard or read or seen in the past, nothing. Just make the character your own. And that’s what I did.
A great opportunity. And this is what I’m saying – how smart he is – because that is how you get an actor to really invest in a role. If you say: do what you want with it. Come on, show me. Actors will go: cool! (laughs) You start thinking about stuff and you get so much from it. I think it was the smartest thing he could have done.
TZN: You hence gained a relatively big influence on shaping and deepening Klingon culture. Which elements of Klingon lore can be traced back to your own input?
Dorn: The Klingons were always, even in the old days, war-like but very intelligent. They weren’t wild or out of control. They just believed in life to the fullest. Life, death, everything to the fullest. The only thing that I really brought to this is the Klingon martial arts and as for the Klingons themselves, a little more of who they are outside of these war-like creatures. Also the idea that there’s different Klingons. [Worf was] a Klingon child that was raised by human parents and he’s able to fit basically into their society very well, although with difficulty at times. I didn’t go to the producers and the writers and made a big deal about it. Once I had created the Worf character and gave him who he is, they took off from that. The stuff they wrote for me was amazing.
TZN: Was there a particular writer or a group of writers that really got the character in your own eyes?
Dorn: Sure. Ron Moore. He was the guy that on our show and Deep Space Nine wrote the best Klingon episodes. He wrote great episodes in general but he wrote the best Klingon episodes. I always could tell when he was going to write a Klingon episode because he was able to grow a beard really quick and I’d see him with the beard, like a Worf-beard, and I go "Ah, Klingon episode coming up!" and he goes "Oh yeah." He wrote the first movie and the second movie too, which were brilliant. He was the guy. Brannon Braga was brilliant also but Ron was the one who wrote the Klingon episodes that were just outstanding.
TZN: At least two of Worf’s actions during TNG were regarded as controversial among fans at the time: one was when Worf refused to donate blood for a dying Romulan and the other one was when he killed Duras out of revenge. What were your own thoughts when you read the scripts?
Dorn: At that point Rick Berman was the producer – and as I read I was a little concerned. I was not afraid or anything, I was just concerned that this would cast Worf in a strange light. I like being the outcast, I like being the guy that goes against the grain. But this was way out there and in both cases – in the one where I don’t give the Romulan the blood, he said: We just want to show that Worf isn’t a human being. He doesn’t have to give the Romulan blood. So he’s not going to. And he said: if you order me to, I will. But if you don’t, I’m not going to. You just have to take that. And I went: okay. It made sense. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I think it was a great episode.
And the Duras one I didn’t really care about. I mean, I didn’t really think that that was going to be a problem. I think that everybody would have – especially the Klingon fans- everybody else would go "Oh my God!" but the Klingon fans would go "Yeah!" (laughs) Once again it shows you that Worf will do this stuff. I mean he’s not going to do anything to bring a shame to anybody or to disobey an order but that’s who he is. And I liked it.
TZN: One thing that Worf wasn’t that good at was raising his son. Avery Brooks was here [at FedCon] a couple of years ago and he was very adamant that his relationship towards his son on the show would be portrayed in a positive, a role-model way because too many black kids grow up without their father. Did you think about your relationship as Worf towards Alexander in those terms at any minute or wasn’t it an issue for you because you were playing an alien?
Dorn: That’s right. No, it was not an issue. Once again, almost everybody on the show had good relationships with their counterparts or with their siblings and things like that. But you’ve got to have some conflict, I mean I think everybody has a conflict somewhere. [On the show] Patrick [Stewart] had a conflict with this brother, Jonathan [Frakes] with his father, I had conflicts with my mate and my son, you know. Marina [Sirtis] had a conflict with her mother, each of us. So it wasn’t anything that was rare. I think everybody had a conflict with somebody. Data had a conflict with his brother. So there was a conflict with everybody. So it wasn’t really anything that was out of the ordinary.
But I think that if I was just playing an African-American character, a black character, and I had a problem with my son I don’t think that I would mind if there was a conflict. I mean I had a conflict with my own father. It’s just kinda life. I think Avery was correct that you don’t see that in general. A lot of it is portrayed that way but I think he’s right saying: hey I don’t think we should do this. I think definitely right. But for me, no, I would have said: fine.
TZN: After TNG you made the transition to DS9. Was it an easy decision to give your okay to take on that role for another four years?
Dorn: Yah. Surprisingly, it was easy. I didn’t think it was going to be easy. And I make a joke about "Yeah, they offered me a bunch of money." but that wasn’t it. I thought I was done with Star Trek, I thought I was done with the character. And when they called, I just went "Oh", I mean it’s just a weird thing that I went "Oh, sure." And luckily I was able to go in and ask them to change some things, structural things about makeup. On Next Generation I had to be in makeup every day and I said: can you guys take it easy on that and they said: sure. And the only other thing I told them was that I’m very protective of Worf, he is who he is and he became very popular being this guy and I’d want him to open up but I didn’t want him being taken out of who he is so you don’t recognize him after a couple of years, like he’s laughing and joking and having a good time. And they didn’t. They did a very good job with that, too.
TZN: Did they give you an idea at the time where they wanted to take the character?
Dorn: No, I think that they really didn’t. I think that they had a number of scripts. They had a number of things that they were thinking about. Also the Jadzia Dax/Worf thing may have been something that they were playing with. But they didn’t really realize that it was going to be a big thing until she and I did our first scenes together. They went: oh my god, we’ve got to put these people together! I think they had it mapped out a little bit but when you get involved in it and see things happening you see the relationships going on. Then they take it from there.
TZN: What did you think of Worf’s role in the Next Generation movies? What did you like about it and what didn’t you like about it?
Dorn: The best movie, I think it was the height of Star Trek for us, Next Generation, was First Contact. I think that that was the movie where they got it right. In Generations the character was an ancillary character, he wasn’t really involved to a great degree. It was basically Brent and Patrick and Shatner. They were all more involved in the storyline.
In First Contact, Worf was a major player and he was part of the attempt to stop the Borg. He was a big part of that. He had a conflict with Picard. And I thought that that was just brilliant. It didn’t overshadow everybody but also it was solid and it was right there. And in the next two movies that started to diminish, less and less and less and less. Until the last movie, I won’t get more into that but in the last movie, there was just nothing in there for me. I was barely in there. And I think that was the way it goes and you have to go: "okay." but that’s something I found a little tough to deal with.
TZN: Did you go into Nemesis with the feeling that this would be the last one? It was promoted a bit strangely with "The beginning of the end of the journey" or something similar.
Dorn: No, I knew two things: if the movie didn’t do very well, then it would be the last movie. If it did very well, then we’d do another movie. And that has nothing to do with anything except money. It didn’t do very well and so they said: no more, we’re not going to do this anymore.
TZN: Have you seen the latest one, the JJ Abrams movie?
Dorn: Yes, I have.
TZN: What, in your opinion, did he do right with that movie that was lacking in the last one of yours?
Dorn: I don’t think it was a matter of did right or wrong. Or that we did it right or wrong or something like that. It would be between the two movies because they were just two separate movies. He was going for a different audience than we were going for. He was going for a young audience because all the major stars were young guys. You saw that kids that were 12, 13, 14, 15 were going to see the movie over and over and over again because Chris Pine is a hot kid and the little girls love him and it was big and a lot of these movies that we see now are huge – in terms of the sound and it’s big and special effects and all this … for me it was a lot. I was like "Oh my God!" because it was huge. But for kids that is where they are right now. And so I think he was reaching those kids. What JJ Abrams does is, he reaches that audience and that’s what he was trying to do. I think in our last movie they were trying to draw in the Star Trek fans.
TZN: As a final question: a few years ago there was a Star Trek card game [the Customizable Card Game] with characters and ships from Star Trek that was very popular. All of the Next Generation characters were rated on abilities like intelligence and such and they were mostly rated 8 or 9, with Data a 10 – and Worf stuck out with only a 6 in intelligence. Do you think that represented the character fairly?
Dorn: No! We had script meetings before the first season. And it became a lore or folklore about Worf because Jonathan was arguing about this one scene that was just so obvious. "It is so obvious," he said, "even big dumb stupid Worf can see that." And it was hilarious! And they just kept saying it, whenever we’d be doing a scene and someone said "Oh my God, even big dumb stupid Worf can see that." Hey, I was big dumb stupid Worf. Because he was, he was like "What do mean, Sir?" But I like to think Worf is just a guy. You know, he’s intelligent but he’s just a guy’s guy. He doesn’t understand nuances, he doesn’t understand relationships, he doesn’t understand women, he doesn’t understand anything. He’s just out there trying to make it, trying to stay alive as much as he can without blowing his brains out. But I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all. I think it’s funny. I really think it’s hilarious.
TZN: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
Dorn: My pleasure.
Henning Koonert, TrekMovie’s German correspondent, is one of the managers for The TrekZone Network, a leading German Star Trek website (and TrekMovie.com partner).