Watch: ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ Actors And Writers Discuss Character Arcs, Gender, Serializing, And More

This week’s Virtual Trek Con—which is still ongoing—has including live panels and recorded videos covering the whole Trek franchise. A number of them are focusing on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which makes sense as the virtual con was put together by the team behind DS9 star Cirroc Lofton’s 7th Rule podcast. These have included some fascinating honest discussions between writers for the show and many of the actors. We have videos and summaries of the various DS9 Virtual Trek Con panels below.

Ira Steven Behr talks to cast about their characters and how the show wasn’t serialized enough

A panel on Saturday featured DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr along with actors Cirroc Lofton (Jake), Nana Visitor (Kira), Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir), and Armin Shimerman (Quark). During the talk, Behr broke down how the writers approached each character. When it came to Nana’s Kira, Behr praised the actress and showed pride in the how the character was developed but offered a bit of a mea culpa when it came to the diversity of the all-male writers’ room:

I know it is a bunch of guys writing women. I understand it would have been great to have women on staff, but it was a different time. But she was a great character and this is going to sound a little bit, but I think we softened her up a little bit. She was so angry at the beginning. We used to talk about how she was the toughest woman in the galaxy. She was our John Wayne. The whole Bajoran thing. As much as it was supposed to be about to get the Bajorans into the Federation, Kira was the living embodiment of why they didn’t need the Federation.

On the character of Bashir, Behr said, “That character means a lot to me,” because his condition on joining the DS9 team was to be given the freedom to develop a strong friendship between the doctor and Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney). The showrunner and Siddig shared a laugh about how the character was “problematic at the beginning, from the studio and the fans.” Behr said that was by design, so they could see growth in the character as the show progressed. “We wanted to have someone who evolved.”

Behr had high praise for actor Armin Shimerman and how easy it was for the writers to develop Quark’s relationship with Odo (Rene Auberjonois), based on their early chemistry. Even though he was a Ferengi—a species Behr was not a fan of when he signed on—the writer felt Quark was the most human character.

As for Jake, Behr said the goal from the beginning was to ensure “he is not going to be Wesley Crusher,” referring to Wil Wheaton’s Star Trek: The Next Generation character who came under a lot of criticism early in the show’s run. Behr revealed that originally the series was going to end with a shot of Quark “just being in the bar and being that thing that never changes,” but they then decided to use a shot of Jake and Kira to end the show with a bit of “poetry,” showing how Jake had grown and was still looking forward to the future, but “not being alone” because he was paired with Kira, who was “powerful and strong.”

The actors also had praise for Behr, saying how much they appreciated the show being serialized, something that was far less common in the early 90s than it is now. Behr explained, “It just felt natural,” and pointed to the 1970s TV miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man as an influence. Behr had left the franchise after getting discouraged while writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation but was convinced DS9 would allow him to make “a novel for television”:

One of the things I was having a hard time with TNG is we would come up with these really cool stories but then just finish in one episode, then in the next episode, it seemed like it would just… I kept calling it “Bonanza television.” That was my insult, which I still used for some things on Deep Space Nine… It just seemed like it had to be serialized.

Behr made it clear he didn’t really care about the business model of syndicated TV shows and he was always prepared to be fired while working on the franchise. He gave an example of fighting one of Rick Berman’s rules from his first day:

The first day I was working on TNG I was walking down to the set and the [unit production manager] said, “Hey where are you going?” And I said I was going to the set and he said, “You can’t. Writers aren’t allowed on the set.” And I said, “Tell Rick he can fire me.” That was day one. And if he could have fired me, he would have fired me. The last thing I gave a shit about was getting fired.

Returning to the different story approach for DS9, Behr said he felt they could have even done more:

It wasn’t that difficult. It was all there. It wasn’t serialized enough! That’s the problem. You want to talk about problems with the show, it should have been serialized a lot quicker than it was.

What We Left Behind Season 8 extended writers room coming, but it’s not canon

During the same panel, Behr also revealed that he and the producers of the documentary What We Left Behind are still planning to release the full 5-hour “season 8” writers’ room session along with more extended interviews. He didn’t have any more specifics but said he was set to talk to producer David Zappone in the next week. Behr also pointed out there are “a lot of technical issues” to work out to edit it together into a cohesive release.

In a different panel later (on the Dominion), Behr also wanted to clarify something about the writers’ room segment:

It was never meant to be canon that is what season eight of Deep Space Nine was. We had one day to talk about it. We never came back to talk about it more. It was just a chance for the audience to see how the process went down, and that’s all that was meant. So the idea that this exactly what we would have done is false. No comic book, no novel would make it any less false. It was just a wonderful day to be with everyone back in the room. It was an exercise.

Behr also revealed that for the last nine months he has been at work on a new television show but due to an NDA, he can’t discuss it.

You can see the entire discussion with Behr and the actors below:

Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Armin Shimerman on the “root beer scene” and working through the actor/writer disconnect

A panel of Friday featured writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe with Armin Shimerman. Even though Ira seemed to fight through Rick Berman’s rule of no writers on the set, the discussion revealed that Wolfe and Shimerman had little interaction during the show. This lack of connection between the writers and actors did cause some issues, as Hewitt explains with the example of one particular episode:

As written, “Profit and Loss” was a farce. It was a riff on Casablanca with tons of in-jokes and lots of riffs on scenes and dialog from Casablanca. It was written as a complete farce and then we started getting dailies, not being on stage, and Armin, god bless him, was playing it straight. He played the romance, he went for it. He played the drama and the romance in every scene with Natima… I remember us tearing our hair out saying, “He’s not playing the jokes in these scenes!” It was just one of those moments where we were just going to have to cut all the jokes from these scenes, because the actor has committed to the drama and romance, and not the comedy. That’s one of the moments I remember of the writers’ office being apoplectic about what Armin was doing on stage. I just watched the episode yesterday. It’s really great! [laughs] It turned out terrific. Your performance is terrific. The way you committed to the drama and romance makes it work, but it wasn’t what we thought it would be.

For his part, this was all news to Shimerman. He said he had no idea what the original intent of the writers was, saying, “I saw it was like Humphrey Bogart, so I am going to play it like Humphrey Bogart. No one told me it was a farce. Without any direction, without any tone meeting to go to, I just played it the way I thought to play it. No one said it was wrong.”

Another example of this comedy/drama disconnect came up with the episode “The Way of the Warrior,” with the famous root beer scene. with Quark and Garak (Andy Robinson). Armin recalls how this was one of the few times he actually had writer feedback on set:

Andy [Robinson] had looked at that scene and when we came in on Monday to shoot it the director James Conroy said, “That’s not funny.” And we said we didn’t think it was a funny scene and he said, “The writers told me it is a funny scene, go back and play it funny.” And that was great. It was pretty much the first time anyone had ever told me what the writers thought! But at that point Andy and I were rather committed to playing it rather seriously, in our own comic way. So [the director] said to me, “We are going to have to bring Ira and Robert down and take a look at this.” You guys came down and were very generous about asking us to play it both ways. We showed you both to the best of our ability. You and I conferred for like 40 seconds and then it was probably Ira who turned to James and said, “Shoot it Armin’s way.”

The frank discussion between the two covered much more, watch it below.

Nana Visitor on being enraged by having to wear heels, and passing the Bechdel Test

Nana Visitor participated in a panel on the strong women in Star Trek, along with Discovery’s Mary Chieffo. Visitor revealed a “struggle” she had early on with how her character was seen:

I had to get comfortable with the idea of being unlikable. That means I wasn’t accepted because I was doing something different than what other people intended for me to do. Not that I was wrong, although she often was, but I had to get comfortable with an audience that didn’t want to see that, with people at Paramount who didn’t want to see that. And that is when you make a difference. You go, ‘No, this is my integrity.’ This is what I believe the truth of this is and how someone responds to post-traumatic stress, to being surrounded in the way she was with people with very different points of view. Just accept you are not going to be liked.

She also talked about how she was initially upset over changes made to her character:

I remember when I was asked to soften myself… It’s when the high heels come in. I remember we were on break and I fought it with everything. My body was enraged and hot with the idea that I would have to wear heels. That I would have to conform with some kind of sexualized version of myself. The way I talked myself through it was to go, “If I can do it in flat boots, I can do the same thing in heels.” It’s not about the clothes.

When discussing an analysis of how different Star Trek series passed the Bechdel Test, Visitor said she wished there were more relationships between some of the female characters:

It was interesting to hear Ira talk [in the DS9 doc What We Left Behind] because he said we missed the boat with having more of a relationship between the women. [Kira and Dax] had a friendship, but it wasn’t as developed as it could be, really. We could have had more of a relationship, I think. He doesn’t know why that happened. It’s just a missed opportunity. In hindsight, and I agree, it feels like that could be an interesting story now, Kira and Dax.

Visitor said she “loved” the relationship developed for Kira and Tora Ziyal, but said the show struggled to find an actress to play the part in a recurring role due to the difficulty of Cardassian makeup. The actress also felt there was a missed opportunity to have Kira develop more of a relationship with Keiko O’Brien, after acting as a surrogate for the O’Briens’ baby. The all-female panel agreed that if there had been women in the writers’ room, the Kira/Keiko relationship would probably have been explored more. However, Visitor was still happy with how the writers found a creative way to write her pregnancy into the show.

Watch the full panel below:

Wolfe and Behr on the birth of the Dominion

Writer/executive producer Ira Steven Behr and writer/executive story editor Robert Hewitt Wolfe returned on Sunday for an in-depth discussion all about developing the Dominion. Ira wanted to talk about the issue to set the record straight on how they really developed the Dominion in between seasons one and two.

The two writers talked about how it was important to make the Gamma Quadrant something different and scary and not “just more space.” Behr also talked about the motivation behind the decision of the composition of the Dominion, saying, “We are going to come up with three villains at once because we could not afford to come up with one villain and have it fail because we wouldn’t know if we would get another chance.” Although he didn’t mention it, Behr and the other writers who came from Star Trek: The Next Generation must have been thinking of how the Ferengi were considered a failure as the primary villain for that series. Wolfe said it was important to the team to make the Dominion diverse and not a “mono-culture” like the Klingons, Cardassians or Romulans, but more diverse, like the Federation, but “the mirror of the Federation.”

Influences for the Dominion were drawn from the complex sci-fi world-building of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and the real-world “carrot and stick” approach of the Roman Empire—the “carrot” being the Vorta and the “stick” being the Jem’Hadar, with the Founders above them both. Even though Jeffrey Combs’ Weyoun came to embody the Vorta, when developing the race the actor they used as the model was the late Brian Dennehy, as “big, kind of friendly, salt-of-the-Earth kind of folk.” The Jem’Hadar were envisioned to have their own built-in armor and be “spikey” and “tanky” like a rhinoceros or triceratops.

One issue with making the Founders be changelings like Odo was that Rene Auberjonois was promised at the beginning of his series that his origins would remain a mystery. However, co-creator Michael Piller was so taken by the Founders being related to Odo that he decided to introduce the idea almost immediately, even though the writers had initially planned to draw it with a “who are the Founders?” big mystery for a couple of seasons. Even though they were concerned Auberjonois would object, in the end, he was fine with it.

Behr also revealed that part of the motivation behind the creation of the Dominion was that after the first season, Paramount was not happy with the focus of Bajoran politics on the show. He summed up:

I think from the very beginning of coming up with the idea of the Dominion, we hoped it would come to help define Deep Space Nine as its own series. Again, remember the powers that be were not thrilled with Bajoran show, after Bajoran show, after Bajoran show. We thought this would be the thing that made Deep Space Nine its own creation. Were we thinking of every episodes? No. Were we thinking there would eventually be a Dominion War? Who knows. All that stuff was possibilities. But we wanted those possibilities. We wanted to have a playing field that gave us possibilties, and that is what the Dominion did… And when they said we could do it, that was a huge victory.

Watch the full panel:

Supporting cast talk where they see their characters now

On Sunday, in yet another DS9 panel on the show’s “second generation,” actors Andy Robinson (Garak), Max Grodénchik (Rom), Hana Hatae, (Molly O’Brien), and Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko) talked about their character’s arcs over the show and where they saw them headed after the finale. There was also a nice discussion about the late Aron Eisenberg (Nog), with his wife Malissa Longo as a special guest giving her unique perspective.

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People say Star Trek: Discovery is too serialized for a Star Trek show but Deep Space Nine was serialized back then too. Serializing is the new normal now especially since we live in a world of Netflix and streaming. That conversation is an really interesting debate on how to do proper storytelling on television.

Sorry Faze, but that’s just not true. DS9 NEVER did just one story for a whole season, or a “10 hour movie”, as Sir Patsie likes to put it, as if that is something to be proud of (who in their right mind watches a 10 hour movie? Especially one as boring and inept as Picard Season 1? ;) No DS9 season was fully serialized; even DS9 season 7 had standalone episodes and stories to counterbalance the war programming, and that was just smart storytelling. And not just that – the character arcs, the continuity, the plot serialization, the ideas were light years ahead of anything the Colonel and his gang have come up with so far – even a quarter of a century ago! And I’m saying that as someone who likes DS9 LEAST among the Classic Treks…

The final nine episodes of DS9 were as much of a ten hour movie as Picard was.

DS9’s wrapup was much more of a 10hr movie, actually, and one I am happy to rewatch, which won’t ever be the case with PICARD season 1 or any of DSC.

“DS9’s wrapup was much more of a 10hr movie,”

Of course, that season still had 16 “hours” (episodes) that weren’t, or the majority of the season, so there’s still no comparison to Discovery or Picard which have given us 2, or 1 story respectively in the same number of seasons, while the Classic shows including DS9 would have given us DOZENS in the same time. I hate to say it, but the diversity is really lacking ;)

i do lady bing… picard’s 10 hour movie was outstanding. so excited for season 2. and it wasn’t really a 10 hour movie it was formatted like ds9 serialized and completing a story. both shows are probably the best 2 trek shows thanks to the stellar writing and acting. i like them all (voyager is ok i guess) but it’s good times to be a trek fan

Um, The Lord of the Rings?

That’s revisionistic. DS9 had some arcs, but in no way was it serialized. Not even a little.

yes… so many have gotten into ds9 because of the serialized story telling and it’s so much better than the standalones that was the norm back then. love tng but sometimes it was painful watching then squeeze a really great scifi idea into 45 minutes… and it’s often very complex but they wrap things up quickly in the last 5 minutes. picard was so great. and i love discovery’s style as well. serialized but each episode can have it’s own identity… more so with picard though. stardust city rag is one of my all time favorite trek eps. .

Writers weren’t allowed on set? Wow, wonderful rule. O_o

That was common on TV.

Doesn’t make it right. Being able to go on set was a huge aid for TOS writers like Sturgeon, who could really build on what they heard and learned. I’ve pretty much disliked Berman ever since reading the first CFQ articles about TNG, and my opinion that he was absolutely the wrong man for the job has never waivered. He and Lauritson made the trains run on time (yeah, I use that one a lot), but creatively, outside of Piller, I don’t know that I liked any of their creative calls, and I despised a ton of them — especially about music scoring and ship maneuvering.

We may have gotten less eps with somebody else running things, but they’d have been more rewatchable and/or good. I’d happily exchange all of VOYAGER and ENT and most of TNG for just a full season of FIREFLY.

Can’t get through a season of Firefly, seriously.

Meanwhile, in our family room our kids are, once again proving the seemingly infinite reach-watchability of earlier Trek series.

There WASN’T a season to get through, it was canned in December.
I go through it in about a week, but limit my rewatches to every couple years now.

That’s not true. TV is a writers medium. The writer reigns. I’m surprised to read that there was such a rule for TNG. I don’t even know if it was really followed beyond that point. Writers hold the title of producer and if their episode is in production they have more control than the director. Film is where is the writer is the weakest in terms of the above the line people in charge.

Why in the world would they compare Kira to John Wayne? He was a racist, abusive, angry, misogynistic jerk whom people hated. Kira wasn’t like that at all.

He’s referring to the tough, unflappable pop culture image of Wayne, the image people saw in movies, not in real life. That fits Kira pretty well, though I probably would’ve said Clint Eastwood.

And no, that doesn’t mean Kira talked to a chair.

John Wayne was a BAMF who spoke the truth. You don’t like the facts so you disparage the man. Typical Leftist logic.

They have a major drive to rewrite history now (along with culture and language). And they have all their people in the right positions (education, media, arts) to just do it! Basically, what Orwell warned about the far left has ALWAYS been doing that entire last century, which is much more insidious than the easier exposed violent attempts at take over of the far right. (American) history is written by the winners, and I’m afraid your side ain’t winning!
(Of course on a global level, we all know who’s REALLY winning while you guys divide and fight among each other, and that won’t be pretty for lovers of freedom anywhere!)

Regarding John Wayne, I don’t think there’s any rewriting of history going on. It’s just the old Playboy interview that resurfaces every so often. Someone posts it as evidence of, I don’t know, movie stars aren’t exactly the people they are on the big screen?

Yes, he had some racist views. But what are we supposed to do about it? Guy’s been dead for forty years. Am I supposed to be shocked a man born in 1907 had some backward views? I’m not.

I watched the Documentary, “What We Left Behind” and loved the Writer’s Room, but I was saddened to see Aron Eisenberg, knowing he had passed not long after the documentary and not long before I watched it. I would love to see the 8th season in some form, maybe in comics like Star Trek Year 5. I think it would be great to see where these characters end up and how they are today.

Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek series because of how different it was, and how it seemed to push the notion of the perfect Federation. There were times I wondered why the Federation vaunted itself on high as we saw other cultures at play.

Also Alexander Siddig is still Siddig El Fadil in my mind. It is a shame he had to change his name so others could pronounce it, and not have others learn to say his name correctly.

So sad René Auberjonois and Aron Eisenberg are no longer with us. Aron was still young and so positive and cheerful. He was outstanding playing Nog. René as well, playing Odo.

It surprises me how I was grieving these two. Not knowing them personally, felt it very close, like someone you know.

I know, I rewatched DS9 and cringed when they came on screen. They were so amazing. The character growth seen was fantastic, and I would have loved to see them in a movie or something like TNG crew. Rene and Aron are missed.

Never thought of this until hearing Cirroc speak about Jake’s loss, but wouldn’t it be an interesting change/twist if he went to the academy afterall and became a counselor?

For more than a decade, I have been begging for Avery Books to consider an offer for more DS9. In the interviews for the documentary, you can see everyone would like very much to return to the franchise. Except Brooks. Hope he is OK. He is already out of conventions, interviews, etc.

Ira is the only one I believe that can pull it off successfully. That will give a big boost for Kurtzman, an olive branch for the old fans.

Ira is brilliant, what they did with DS9. What a glorious moment for Sisko, the return from the Prophets.

During these crazy times, his return, DS9 Season 8 will be Epic!

I really don’t think Ira Behr would be able to work with Kurtzman. That attitude and ego clash would be humongous. Behr would want to take over and Kurtzman wouldn’t allow that. If Kurtzman can keep his ego in check a bit, then it might work. This is why I liked Michael Piller, he was a solid producer and writer but he was also really accommodating and didn’t seem to have that much of an ego.

I don’t think Kurtzman has been as overbearing of a presence as one would think. He didn’t take over as showrunner of Discovery until S2 and didn’t write the teleplay for a single episode until the S2 finale. And before he became showrunner, while Kurtzman would give the occasional interview, Berg and Harberts were the main face of the show from the production standpoint.

And it sounds like he was completely hands-off for Picard, letting Chabon do what he wanted to do. It also doesn’t seem like he was heavily involved in Lower Decks since I don’t know if he has a real strong knack for comedy or animated comedy.

So it seems like when he wants to, Kurtzman can let a showrunner run their show, which I think has contributed to the three main shows he’s overseen being very different. In contrast, you can see how Berman-era Trek kinda all felt the same, except for DS9 and the last two seasons of ENT when Manny Coto had a stronger influence.

I didn’t realize Kurtzman wrote the s2 finale. Geezus, he’s even worse than the rest of them. The way the last act or so plays out is so uncinematic and talky!

I don’t think he fully let Chabon do his thing with Picard though. From the way that show was edited and especially how quickly they wanted to wrap up all the things in the finale I think either he or Goldsman had a hand in Picard. If Chabon had been left alone the whole season would have been like the beginning of the show with a more sensible pace and more breathing room.

Piller had a healthy ego; that’s why he withdrew from consideration on writing GENERATIONS, because he didn’t want to be writing in competition with other writer(s) on different scripts.

Brooks is still teaching theater at Rutgers, isn’t he?

i love watching these peeps talk ds9… they clearly loved the work and the show and are so proud of it