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.
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.
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.
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 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.