STLV17: ‘Inner Light’ Panel Reveals How TNG’s Greatest Episode Needed Last-Minute Rescue

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light”, Creation held a special panel on Saturday afternoon of Star Trek Las Vegas. Sir Patrick Stewart, Margot Rose (Eline), and writer Morgan Gendel were on stage.

The Inner Light

Stewart on working with son Daniel

Daniel Stewart, who played Kamin’s son Batai, was originally scheduled to join his father on the panel but had just started a run with the Royal National Theatre in London. His dad spoke about his son’s experiences on the episode:

He was very nervous I remember, this was his very first time on camera.

I just remember how nervous he was about it all. I still think even to this day, he’s not too pleased with the work that he did in that show, but it’s fine, it’s absolutely fine [work].

Daniel Stewart as Batai in “The Inner Light”

An unusual and rewarding script

Stewart tried to sum up the story as simply as possible:

Initially I was simply Picard, I’d been zapped and then I came round, and I was in a strange place that meant nothing to me at all, but I was Captain Picard.

This was the most interesting part of the script to work on, very gradually the memories of his other life disappear, not completely though, there was always an element of him there, and he completely committed himself to living a totally other life.

This, of course, brought on some acting challenges, playing a character within a character:

[The challenge] was how to blend the new experiences and the new person that he was becoming, with Jean-Luc, and how much of Jean-Luc could we hold over, into the scene – after scene, that would still be authentic to the man that he’d been.

There was a very powerful and emotional scene at the end, when he learnt the truth of what he had been experiencing., and what had happened to him. One of the great moments of in the seven years of the series, one that I know I felt very emotional about performing.

It was an unusual episode, stepping outside of the more standard format for a TNG episode.

There were only a handful of episodes in which I was spending most of my time with other characters, other than the [Enterprise] crew, and that made a huge difference, the cast of “Inner Light,” was so immersed in what they did, so truthful in their interpretations of the characters, the acting skills were outstanding, certainly from you [looks to Margot Rose], and it was invigorating to have that experience. “Captain’s Holiday” was another one.

The acting process: Inside Sir Patrick’s Studio

The discussion turned to the craft of acting, making for a kind of Inside the Actors Studio portion of the panel with Patrick Stewart talking in detail about getting outside of the bridge and acting alongside people other than the main cast.

It was quite rare to find an episode which challenged us as actors. We all had them at different times, don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an isolated incident; on the contrary we had a great writers’ room who were continually coming up with original things, but rarely for Picard. So, I was absolutely caught up in this world, because it was giving me acting challenges that were not customary on Next Generation.

When asked about how he prepared for the final act, and the reveal that Kamin’s life was simulated and Picard was indeed the “real” person, Stewart explained that “Moments like that simply have to be lived, and not technically prepared for.”

He went on to explain how he finds motivation for situations that he’s never personally been in:

We have something in our professional called ‘sense memory,’ for actors … no experience is ever wasted.

[Sense memory] gives you an impulse of a feeling, of what it felt like when you were having an experience, and you use the feeling in the dramatic reconstruction, so you can blend all kinds of experiences to make a new one in an acting situation, and that’s very much what I remember doing in those moments.

I have certain triggers that I can pull for certain emotions, and they act and work instantly, if I am emotional and moved and tearful, I have one trigger I pull and I’m right there with the emotions filling my body and my mind, and it’s valuable to actors to have these assets that you can draw on from time to time. It’s one of the most interesting aspects of what we do.

“We have a problem”

One piece of behind-the-scenes information that came to light during the panel is that the episode’s director Peter Lauritson (who was the post-production producer for TNG) was trying his hand at directing, and it apparently didn’t go so well.  Patrick Stewart recounted:

One of things that isn’t too well known about this episode, is that the director of this episode hadn’t directed anything before, and he was very insecure, terrific man great at what he actually did, his other job. At lunchtime on our first day the director of photography [Marvin Rush] took me aside and said, “We have a problem. Here’s what I propose, I think we’re going to have run this episode pretty much ourselves, so here’s what I suggest: I will direct the cameras, you direct the actors.” A difficult situation to be in, but I found myself in the company of actors whom I could express myself freely to and talk about the work that we were doing… it was one of the most authentic and rewarding experiences that I had.

Margot Rose chimed in:

The original director was grateful for the help, you and Marvin [Rush], you were so gracious, there was no pushing aside or hostility or resentment, it was just “we need to help.”

Margot Rose had auditioned for TNG six times

Margot Rose and Patrick Stewart on a panel for "The Inner Light" at Star Trek Las Vegas 2017

Margot Rose and Patrick Stewart on a panel for “The Inner Light” at Star Trek Las Vegas 2017

Margot Rose had auditioned for Next Generation six times starting back in 1990 (including trying out for the season 4 episode “First Contact”), when she finally got “The Inner Light.” She found “it was the best TV role that I ever got to do.”

Rose and Stewart has an immediate connection and chemistry as actors:

…a stroke of luck or fate or whatever to get it and and to get it in spades they way I felt it with this lovely gentleman, and from that everything could blossom.

Rose was asked if she was given (or created for herself) a backstory to Eline and her life with Kamin.

We didn’t have a backstory… I never approached it from any other place than this is my present, this is my husband, this is the only reality I had as an actor.

Rose touched on her acting process as well:

I strive to simply be present, and not have too many preconceived things about what I want to do, and just take it from the moment, and that’s so much of what I got to do, and that I think we were lucky enough to do that in the episode.

Inspired by the Fujifilm blimp

Morgan Gendel talking about writing "The Inner Light" at Star Trek Las Vegas 2017

Morgan Gendel talking about writing “The Inner Light” at Star Trek Las Vegas 2017

Morgan Gendel was a freelance writer who pitched ideas to the producers a number of times until they liked one of them. Gendel recounted how he had pitched to Michael Piller without really having a proper story yet, so he went back and started to form the ideas afterwards.

I looked out and saw the Fuji blimp go by. This thing looked very futuristic to me and I thought, what would that be in a couple hundred years? And I thought it would be some kind of advertising or communications satellite that beamed whole memories into people’s minds.

While brainstorming how to show the change Picard goes through, Gendel came up with the flute as way to show the viewers that Picard/Kamin was a changed person:

He had to become a village everyman, transition from being this very commanding presence as a captain to being a guy who actually has time to just sit around and work on playing the flute, and his greatest successes end up being as a husband and father.

Gendel also said that jumping forward in time between acts (commercial breaks): “is what gives you the feeling that he’s changing and yet retaining Picard… every time you came back his children are older, it keeps growing with each act.”

 


For more on “The Inner Light” read our recent interview with Morgan Gendel

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