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.
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.
Keep up with all the convention news and reports at TrekMovie.com.