Interview: Robert Beltran on Geneviève Bujold, ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ and Silly Space Nazis

TrekMovie now continues our exclusive interview with Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Beltran. In the first part of our interview we talked about The Circuit and working in the ‘Star Trek factory’ of the 90s. In the second part we talk about what the new Discovery could learn from Voyager, which Voyager episodes  dealt well with topical issues and which ones were “silly,” and catch up with Beltran’s latest theater work.

How familiar are you with Star Trek: Discovery, the new Star Trek show currently in production?

I heard something about that, I know about it.

As we discussed, you’ve put some thought into what worked and didn’t on Star Trek: Voyager. Are there any lessons learned from your time on Voyager that you would like to impart to the new cast and producers of Discovery?

I don’t know. If someone came to me when I starting Voyager and said [adopts serious tone], “You listen to my advice about this. I did seven years on The Next Generation and let me give you my advice.” I would go, “It’s OK man, I don’t need it. I’ve worked before. I’m an actor.” It would be a little presumptuous of me to tell this new group what to do or what pitfalls to avoid. They know already. They know to write good scripts and they need to be compelling and dramatic and they have to hold the attention of the audience. Me saying that would be redundant.

Discovery has been in development for a while and has gone through some changes behind the scenes. Your show also had some growing pains, most notably Geneviève Bujold leaving the show while you were shooting of the pilot. What was that like for the actors to start and stop and start again when Kate Mulgrew came in as the new lead?

One of the reasons I wanted to be on Star Trek: Voyager was Geneviève Bujold. I always admired her as an actor. She is a wonderful actress. And I thought being first officer to her captain would be a lot of fun and challenging to do scenes together. So when she left I was disappointed and I didn’t know too much of Kate’s work, but once we started working together I realized she was a great choice and very very capable – very able to do a role like this. So as far as I was concerned, I was just kind of sorry it didn’t work out with Geneviève. But I quickly forgot about that when Kate came on because she could do it.

But I can’t speak for the other actors. The actors are the very last people’s whose feelings they consider when things like this go on. I think it was more of a traumatic event when Jennifer [Lien] left, than the whole Geneviève thing because we had had the opportunity to get close to Jennifer and we all liked her and she was a really good actress. Then you bring in Seven of Nine, you bring in Jeri Ryan, who is beautiful and wonderful person to work with and you forget. You just have to move on. It really doesn’t make a huge impact in the long run. It is just a small glitch as far as the actors are concerned. I think it is more of a headache for the front office because they are dealing with the firing and putting in a new character and who they are going to cast.

While initially excited to work with Bujold, Beltran says Mulgrew was the right choice for Janeway

Politics and Space Nazis

It’s been suggested is that the new show might take on topical and even controversial issues. Of course  the original Star Trek did that back in the 1960s. Do you feel that Voyager could have been more topical in dealing with the issues of the 90s?

Probably. I think maybe another holodeck episode in Ireland could have been taken up with a more compelling story. But there were some interesting ideas that were explored. In the episode “The Fight,” I was dealing a possible mental degradation from possible family gene that would eventually make me suffer from Alzheimer’s or some kind of dementia, which was Chakotay’s fear. They had Ned Romero playing my grandfather, who was suffering from dementia, and Joe Menosky did a really good job with that episode without beating people over the head with “this is about dementia!”

There were some other things like with sexuality. There was an episode where B’Elanna caught the Pon Farr and she was all horny and it raised issues. I thought those things were interesting to bandy about and explore. There was an episode about life after death and another one about the Holocaust. So it wasn’t like we shied away from certain topics. But I think instead of some silly World War II thing – just didn’t like those episodes – I think some other storylines could have been done that were a little bit more topical.

Not a fan of Space Nazis?

Space Nazis? No! If I were German, I would never watch Star Trek again. It was such a kick in the face to the German fans, some of the most loyal fans. They are great fans, wonderful people. To bring this up, I just felt they were not a well-written couple of episodes. It was very shallow and not very dramatic and more of a concept so you get people dressed in World War II outfits and have a French chanteuse played by Seven of Nine. There were elements that some writers find interesting, but have precious little drama.

Star Trek: Voyager - The Killing Game

“The Killing Game,” the Star Trek: Voyager episode where the Hirogens became holodeck Nazis

Focus on theater

We talked earlier about the Angel City Theater Ensemble and your recent directing. Can you talk about your next steps with them and in the theater in general?

That was a project that was brought to me by some actors and we decided to found an acting company and so that was really our first project. Now we have to raise money for the next project and not sure when that will be.

I will be directing another play this summer and going into rehearsals very soon with the Los Angeles Theater Center, a company called Culture Clash. They are a terrific company that has been around. Three writers and actors who do their own material and they are terrific. They have worked in just about every major theater in the country and they came to me to direct and I was very very happy to do it.

And I have been a visiting professor at UCLA off and on for about three years now teaching Shakespeare and advanced acting and film acting. I just finished my winter quarter.

What about acting on stage?

One thing I am possibly doing is Macbeth at the York Theater Royal in England. They asked me to come and do it next year, but it is something outside of their regular season and I would probably go on tour. So it is something they have to raise money for. It would probably be fall of 2018.

You performed with your brother’s band earlier this year, will you be doing more music with him any time soon?

Quite possibly. He might be doing a talk show with bringing on various people to talk to and perform and more than likely I will be showing up. It will be a talk show on some cable channel.

I know you had a run on HBO’s Big Love a few years back – is going after guest spots on TV something you have your agent out there pushing for?

It’s not a high priority for me to do guest spots on TV shows honestly. I would much rather do a good play than to do a spot on a TV.  But my agents want me to do it and some of the auditions I go on have some good material. But nothing has hit yet and I’m okay with that because it gives me time to do some theater which is what I love to do anyway.

Robert Beltran on HBO’s Big Love

Social media and fandom

You are on Twitter but you don’t have a big social media presence. You’re known for being outspoken, but have you become more private? Is there a reason why you don’t engage more in social media like other celebrities, including Star Trek ones?

I am very private. It has nothing to do with me being outspoken. I tweet when I want to tell people about something I am doing which I want people to come and support. I tweeted when I directed. I tweeted to try to help out Manu with The Circuit, but the sort of daily stuff I see … I just don’t see anything interesting. What would be interesting to anybody about what my favorite color is or what my dog’s name is or that sort of thing. I don’t how that is relevant, or entertaining, or anything. Some people feel it is necessary when you are an actor and in the public eye and it helps with name recognition and maybe that’s true, but it is not one of my priorities to be tweeting.

So, zooming out. Looking back to when you started, did you know what you were getting into when you started with Star Trek? What are some of the biggest upsides – or even downsides – to the fandom and conventions?

I had no idea what I was getting into. I had friends in college that liked the original show. I never did, but mainly because I never watched one all the way through. I wasn’t that interested. There are a lot of genres I was not that interested in, so I had no idea. As far as the fans, the fans are great. They care and that is what you want. When you are doing something in the theater I want the audience to really want to be there and really look forward to being there and taking an active interest.

So when you have something like that for a franchise like Star Trek, it is a wonderful thing. The fans are everything when it comes down to it. There is a lot of upside and actually very little downside. They have supported charities. They supported my charity and all the charities for guys on the show that had charities. They were able to make a difference. I was able to raise $250,000 in the four charity events I had for the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

The downside? I can’t think of any except for the occasional fan that gets a little too emotionally involved and makes something personal. That is more amusing than anything.

Beltran having fun at STLV 2015 with his Voyager costars

The Circuit

Beltran is one of a number of Star Trek vets who are involved in the sci-fi anthology series The Circuit, which is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter. They have already passed their initial goal of $50,000 but there are more stretch goals for more resources to make a pilot. The Kickstarter campaign closes on May 23rd. The video below featuring Star Trek’s Walter Koenig gives an introduction.

 

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31 Comments on "Interview: Robert Beltran on Geneviève Bujold, ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ and Silly Space Nazis"

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I’m sure Bujold is a great actress but I thank the prophets they went with a female Kirk instead of a female Picard or else Voyager would have had a shorter run than Enterprise

Janeway is a female Kirk?

Not even close.

Janeway was absolutely the female Kirk, in terms of command style– the ‘man of action’ instead of ‘the diplomat.’ She was also a far better character, though that may have come from the 4 additional years she had to have her character explored.

She was a horribly written character portrayed by a lousy actor.

@Dingo Your Wrong.

@Dingo So was Kirk, all the more to Spectre’s point!

My wrong what?

Gary didn’t pay his apostro fee.

I’ve read that BuJold saw the character in terms of internal emotions… which would have been TV death. Nimoy found a way tonexternalize his inner conflict, not Marlon Brando the whole thing. Glad we got Kate.

It’s kind of weird how Beltran always brings up “The Fight” whenever he’s interviewed, given that for many fans, it’s one of the show’s worst episodes.

Well it’s one of the very few Chakotay episodes that actually explores his character and gave him as an actor something challenging, so I can understand it.

A competent actor inspires writers to give him or her more challenging things to do. Beltran is incredibly stiff and non-charismatic.

What does that have to do with your question and my response?

I never asked a question, so… nothing.

Certainly one of the most boring!

It’s kind of funny that Beltran has spent so many years complaining about Voyager. His was the show’s most boring character, by far, and he showed no acting range whatsoever in portraying him. He was basically a statue.

Please don’t hold back. Give us more of your positive feedback! Such an inspiration you are!

Non sequitur. No one here is an inspiration, and I’m certainly not the first or last person to point out that Beltran is a wooden actor playing a dull character.

To be fair, they gave him very little to work with. It’s true he was kind of wooden, but when you’re asked to play the kind of character he was, what do you expect? Trek shows aren’t known for having Emmy winning performances. A few highlights here and there, but generally most of the actors on Trek are pretty run-of-the-mill.

I think if you read all of the comments he’s made on the show, he’s been pretty fair actually, and I don’t think I’ve read anything from him that speaks to any ill will or animosity towards anyone– he’s just being honest when answering some questions.

Maybe he was wrong for star trek, he’s very stiff and awkward on Voyager, a bit like Bakula was on Enterprise. Uncomfortable.

I thought Beltran was very good in the pilot episode of Voyager, and I was really interested in seeing what it would be like for Chakotay and Janeway to work together. And then the writers made the decision to have Chakotay be totally loyal to Janeway, and his character became completely bland.

Not that I wanted Chakotay to be Seska, but there could have been a little more friction, a little more spark, something less than Seska’s total betrayal but also not Chakotay’s total loyalty. Some conflict, some nuance, some fire.

I know a lot of people say that Beltran can’t act, but he DID act in “Caretaker,” and I wish we’d had that firey Chakotay for the rest of the show.

looking back, I would have put all the Maquis in the brigg, then over the first season, when some of the officers were killed, and the Maquis had proven themselves on intel and some away mission, release them and made them office, then the conflict, that they wanted, would have been there

Disappointed. With Beltran ,skipped a convention appearance. In the 90s with no apology. And screwed by Creation. Never got a refund.

Creation is and always will be a screwer of the fans. Never refunds ANYTHING. And they are WRONG for that when the actors don’t deliver on their promises.

The comment sections on this site are just atrocious. Can we import from somewhere some Trek fans who actually enjoy things? I’ve enjoyed every incarnation of Trek, it’s the universe of the show that I love, when we get a great episode that’s just the cherry on top. Why is there a need in so many to denigrate a thing others like? It usually comes across as self-aggrandizing and often comes across as simply mean-spirited. I’m not saying you have to like something, but repeatedly stating all of the ways you dislike it goes beyond simply stating your opinion and seems more like the enjoyment of tearing things down that others do like.

i feel the same way about the universe of star trek…and im very forgiving of any bad episodes or bad acting…i just love trek.

I have to agree with Mark . I’ve enjoyed every Series of Trek , and although I don’t follow the Nu-Movies , I like to hear what others have to say on All of Star Trek . Some of the commentors are filled with venomous comments and vile attitudes to different Series , Movies and especially Actors ! Which I’m sure serves no good cause for Star Trek !

You should have asked him about his involvement in the fan series “Renegades”, formerly Star Trek: Renegades… Missed opportunity there. But it does seem that the production of Renegades has now evolved into this new show “The Circuit”,which does look promising I will say.

My opinion is that Robert Beltran was a perfectly capable actor given too little to work with and too little time. Fellow First Officer Riker didn’t have that much more character development or material to chew on than Chakotay. The reason I believe is that in terms of a bridge crew ensemble, the First Officer is anomalously overshadowed by both the Captain and the Science Officer(or in TNG’s instance – by Data@OPS). The First Officer’s de facto function as portrayed on Federation starships really seems only to be middle management, the expression of which when the Captain is present and effective too often translated into boring dialogue concerning issues of Logistics or Human Resources. The Original Series skirted this problem by combining two roles into one with Mr. Spock, who in spite of his primary function as ship’s Science Officer, benefitted from the extra lines and duties as sounding board to Kirk. Voyager further marginalized Chakotay by having Janeway herself come from Sciences, thereby giving much of the tech-y knowledges of the expounding Science Officer to the Captain herself. None of this was Beltran’s fault. If they wanted to fix this problem, they could have had Chakotay be a Sciences Specialist-turned Command Track, and then contributing much of the expositive dialogue rather than the Captain or the Tactical Officer or eventually mostly from Seven of Nine down in Astrometrics. As a JOB, after being on-set for a few months, they all realize both the benefits and the ‘trap’ that is… Read more »

Hey Anthony, is the 10th anniversary of TrekMovie coming soon? Or perhaps already passed?

I think Beltran’s character got the short end of the stick. The character was poorly written. It wasn’t his doing. Voyager should’ve been Battlestar Galactica. I mean…with the situation they were in….they just played it safe and over used the Borg to death.

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