A number of Star Trek and sci-fi vets from in front and behind the camera have come together to make a new sci-fi anthology series called The Circuit, from executive producer Manu Intiraymi (Icheb on Star Trek: Voyager). The project is currently seeking crowdfunding for a pilot via Kickstarter with a plan to eventually make a season of ten episodes telling different stories with different sub-genres along the lines of Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories. Star Trek luminaries who are attached include Walter Koenig (TOS), Terry Farrell (DS9), Armin Shimerman (DS9), Ethan Phillips (VOY), Robert Picardo (VOY) and others.
One of those others is Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Beltran. TrekMovie talked to the actor about The Circuit and his seven years playing First Officer Chakotay on the USS Voyager.
Besides your connection to Manu, what is it that attracted you to The Circuit? Do you have an interest in sci-fi anthology types of shows?
No. The only the thing that attracted to me to it is that Manu and I are friends and he asked me to be involved. He told me what it would be about and so I like working with friends. I like working with people I know and trust. That is why I did Renegades. That is why The Circuit is something I am willing to work on, because I like the people involved.
As far as any kind of genre I am attracted to, I am attracted to a good script. Even if it is about gorillas in space, I don’t really care. As long as it has a good story, it’s compelling, it’s got something for me that is interesting, that’s the only criteria.
I know they are still working on stories and scripts and each episode is going to be different. Do you know and can you talk much about which one you will be doing?
I have no idea. Manu has thrown a couple of things at me which he says are not written in stone just to get my reaction on what my thoughts might be. He has even asked me to bring some story possibilities so maybe I will do that.
I know you recently directed a play with the Angel City Theater Ensemble; with The Circuit do you think you might be doing writing as you mention or directing in addition to acting?
Manu mentioned something about possibly directing one of the episodes. But everything is merely conjecture and possibility into the future because they have to raise the money. It is not easy to raise the money. If they can only do one episode, it probably won’t be me who is going to direct it, and it may not be me on the next four or five because I think he has commitments to other directors. Mine would be way down the line. It would be something that I would be interested in, but it is not something that is keeping me up at night awaiting jubilation, because it may never come.
Fighting and pitching on Voyager
Speaking of directing, was that something you ever pursued on Voyager? I know a lot of the other cast members spent time behind the camera.
At one point I was kind of interested until I realized what it would entail. I liked going to the meetings and working with the editors, you learn a lot from seeing how the editors worked. Then I realized I wasn’t that interested in directing an episode because it is very time-consuming for at least a couple of months where you are going to work doing your acting job and then also doing the editing on the episode you directed. I decided I wanted to take full advantage of the time that I had free.
But, you weren’t shy about pitching ideas to writers and producers, like with “The Fight.” I understand that one started with you?
Actually the boxing episode, there was Ken [Biller], Brannon [Braga] and Joe [Menosky], we were having dinner and they were asking me what I would like to do and with holodeck with Chakotay. And I gave them some ideas and they said, “Nah, nah, we already did this or that on Next Generation.” And then they said, “What about a boxing episode?” And I said, “I like boxing, OK, let’s do that. Just give me about two months heads up so I can get in really good shape, so I can look like a real boxer.” And they said “Okay, we will do that.” But then one day I get a call saying they were doing the boxing episode the next week. [laughs] It was an episode I really liked, but I didn’t feel the bare-chested thing would be a smart thing to do because I was in good shape, but not boxing shape. Those guys are in incredible shape. I was working with former World Champ Carlos Palomino who I had seen box and was a great fan of, a Mexican fighter. His body and mine were a little different. [laughs]
Working in the Star Trek ‘Factory’
You mentioned that there were other ideas you had. Are there some in particular you still wish they had taken up for Chakotay?
What I told them at the meeting was when it comes to sci-fi, everything seems possible, so nothing seems that interesting to me. I said, “If I chose this thing, I miss out on a myriad of other possibilities, so I would rather it come from you guys.” The several episode suggestions I had, and they weren’t really heartfelt, they were just things off the top of my head, so I didn’t have any strong feelings about a Chakotay episode.
But it is fair to say you were outspoken about the show while it was on the air and after. You have expressed a lot of opinions and critiques about Voyager.
That’s true. That same night when we had that meeting, here is what I told them: “Look you guys, all I ask for is one good scene. You don’t have to put me in anything else in any of the episodes, just give me one really good scene.” And I am not talking about “Captain, shields down to 30%” on the bridge. I am talking about a good scene between me and Tim [Russ], between me and Garrett [Wang], between me and whoever. Where there are some human feelings explored, where some human ideas are being explored. “If you could just do that for me, I would be happy,” I told them.
My criticism of the show, which a lot of people agreed with, and most of the cast agreed with, was it seems to me they were taking the easiest choices for the characters. So much of it was about these characters that were kind of omniscient and infallible. Look, Seven of Nine was a Borg and they know everything about everyone they assimilated. She has got all that knowledge. The Doctor was this all-seeing and all-knowing guy. And eventually Captain Janeway became that. And I thought, “How in the hell can you get drama from characters that know everything and see everything?”
When you know that at the end of the episode everyone is going to get out of the catastrophe that we are in, it just seemed to me the antithesis of drama to have these characters that know everything and can do anything. What is the big crisis? That was what my criticism was about. It was never about more time onscreen for Chakotay. Believe me, I loved my days off. That is why I said to those guys, just give me one good scene per episode and I will be very happy.
If they could concentrate on one good scene for Chakotay I would have been so happy, instead three or four scenes of walking down the hall and saying some kind of inane stuff. And those endless scenes on the bridge when we are being attacked and everyone knows we are going to make it out of there. We always used the same way “reroute this to that” and we are saved! “Shields are down to 18%”–well so what? We are going to make it anyway. My criticism of the writing was they were taking the easy way out.
They were probably very busy. It is very difficult doing a series and we used to do 26 episodes a year, nobody does that now, nobody. You are lucky if you get 13. So a lot of pressure on the writers and they managed to write some really good scripts and some really good episodes. But other times I and others thought, “Come on, we have seen this, we have done this before.” And that comes working seven years in a factory. You go to work, you say your lines, you try to do the best you can, you clock out , you go to work the next day and get your weekends and holidays off, otherwise you go back to the grind.
You are saying by the time Voyager started, it was already a factory with two shows in production?
When we came on Deep Space Nine was still running, The Next Generation just finished and they were also doing movies. So I guess you could say there was a glut, a Star Trek glut. And I think Voyager suffered for that. Besides the fact that we had to hold up this asinine network, UPN. We were the flagship show on that network that didn’t even reach the entire United States. At the most we were in 80% of the country.
Love, sex and Janeway
One thing they did do with Chakotay was pair you up with romantic partners quite a bit. There was romance with Seksa, implied with Janeway, fantasy sequence with B’Elanna, and with Seven. Do you feel that was good for your character? Did you feel the chemistry and drama with those?
There really was never any romance. Janeway never took Chakotay seriously. They had Chakotay doing some things that indicated he was interested in her. Like that one episode where we were stuck on that planet, but it was just her and I, so it was either Janeway or a monkey. I thought it would be better with Janeway and she had the same option, but she almost did chose the monkey the way it was it was written. [laughs] And the thing with Seska, that was before so we weren’t having a relationship, that was a back-story. And B’Elanna and I were never seriously romantic at all, we were more tight buddies from Maquis days.
The few romances I had well I once kissed Species 90210 [jokingly referring to Species 8472] when she was morphed into a beautiful woman. The other one was with Virginia Madsen and that was all about her forgetting about being caught and sent back to her planet and me trying to remember it because they had some kind of pheromone. And then there was another Borg girl, or was once Borg, and he had a thing with her. There was precious little romance for Chakotay.
So you would have liked to have seen a more genuine relationship, is that what you’re saying?
Well, yes. The thing is that I would have liked to have seen genuine relationships across the board, not just with me. I think they did a good job with Paris/B’Elanna, but where were the other relationships? Certainly not with me and Janeway. That was never being seriously considered. I know the fans wanted it, but the writers weren’t that crazy about it.
Did you want it?
When we just started the show, I thought it would box them in too soon. And so I thought flirtation here and there would be a titillating thing and that is what happened for most of it. But then I think they had Chaktoay show his hand to her and then she rebuffed him every time and after a while I had to call them and say “come on, you are making this guy out to be a complete asshole, let’s let him get over Janeway and move one.”
So I was indifferent to any kind of relationship as far as a romantic relationship and Kate [Mulgrew] was too. We didn’t see what the advantage would be and we didn’t know what the disadvantages would be. It was very early, right at the beginning of the show, when people were talking about Chakotay and Janeway and counting how many times she touched me and how many times I smiled and what kind of smile it was. Oh my god!
What I was interested was good scenes and good episodes and they did write some good episodes with her and Chakotay. They really did. The Chakotay-centered episodes I was mostly happy with, a few of them I wasn’t, but that is the way it goes in a 26-episode season.
More Beltran to come
This is just part one of a two-part interview with Beltran, and he was just getting started. In part two (coming soon) we talk more about Voyager including what it was like switching from Genevieve Bujold to Kate Mulgrew, from Jennifer Lien to Jeri Ryan, and more, including Star Trek: Discovery.
Beltran is one of a number of Star Trek vets and others who are involved in the sci-fi anthology series The Circuit, which is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter to get off the ground. 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.