Interview: Alexander Siddig On ‘Skylines’ & Dr. Bashir’s Life 20 Years After ‘Star Trek: DS9’

Since wrapping up seven seasons as Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Alexander Siddig has kept quite busy, appearing on the big screen and the small, including recent recurring roles on high-profile shows like Peaky Blinders and Game of Thrones. His latest project is Skylines, the third film in the sci-fi Skyline franchise. TrekMovie had some time with Siddig to talk about the new movie and his time with the Trek franchise.

Let’s start with your new movie. Skylines is dealing with a pandemic. I guess that is just a coincidence, but do you feel that there’s a resonance there?

It’s a total coincidence. There’s no way we would have foreseen back in March last year that this was going to happen. Oh, Crikey! Yes, I’m sure there’ll be some sort of resonance. Some people will probably think – because most don’t really understand the speed at which movies get made – that we’re reacting to the COVID crisis.

In recent years you’ve done a ton of contemporary dramas, period dramas, but also a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. Is it a function of you being drawn to genre or the genre being drawn to you?

I am drawn to the genre. I’m sort of indebted to Star Trek, and it’s shaped me, although I started by doing historical dramas, but that seven years on Deep Space Nine just turned me into a different person with a taste range that veers towards that stuff. So if I can get projects that really appeal to families – I don’t really like R-rated stuff. I’ll do R-rated art movies, but not R-rated sci-fi. And if it looks good fun, that is the key, isn’t it? If it just looks fun, I’ll do it.

Well, how would you describe Skylines? For those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, would you describe it as a fun sci-fi movie?

It is definitely fun. It’s a romp. It’s like glam rock. For people who know music, the difference between Radiohead and Muse. This is Muse, definitely not the cerebral Radiohead. And it’s really hard to make this kind of film. In a weird way, it’s harder to make this sort of thing work than it is to do a Hollywood blockbuster with Marvel characters and things. Because it depends entirely on how well you execute it and what the performances are like. So it was a risky move, but I’m really glad I did it.

Your General Radford – I hope you don’t mind me saying – is a bit of the elder statesman of this movie, the guy in charge.

Yeah. He’s what you get when you hit 55. That’s what you start to play. [laughs]

Now, the star of the movie – Lindsey Morgan – said working with you was a “master class,” and would ask you for acting insight on set. You have worked with some other younger casts, like Gotham. Are you finding yourself at 55 in this mentoring role on set?

Yeah, I am, and I love it. Because you get to set a tone. And you can either be a grouchy, old, curmudgeon guy in the corner telling people to “go away!” or you can be you have fun with everybody.  My brother’s 16 years younger than me, and my son is 24. So, I have plenty of frames of reference of people who I am close to and hang out a lot with when I can. I love hanging out with young people. It’s just about being nice, isn’t it? Everybody responds to that stuff. And that’s kind of what I do. A master class? I don’t know. [laughs]

Alexander Siddig in Skylines

The situation was a little reverse back in the early 90s. You were in your 20s when you started out on DS9, and you were also working with some more experienced actors like Rene [Auberjonois], Armin [Shimerman], Avery [Brooks], and Andy [Robinson]. Were any of them doing master classes?

Everyone was, yeah. They did exactly the same thing. Apart from anything else, they were like respectful and decent human beings and fun to be around. And that is, it’s the most relaxing thing. And I’ve worked on sets with huge stars that are not the nicest people. But if the mood on set is frigid, it is unpleasant, and people don’t look forward to coming into work.

[On DS9] they been around the block and done a ton of movies. Rene and Armin and Avery had been on all kinds of stuff. And Nana too was in a bunch of different things. And Andy, of course. So I was among really, really safe hands. I was in safe hands on Star Trek. And anytime I started to lose it, there’d be someone there very carefully, just gently going, “Hey, you’re cool, everything’s fine, everything will work out. This is not an important thing you’re losing your mind over. Let’s get back to work.”

And I try and do that now for the youngsters that I come from lucky enough to come into contact with. I mean Lindsey! For people who are interested in watching the minutiae of performance should check her out. She does something really cool, and it’s something that Angelina Jolie couldn’t pull off when she tried to be an action star with Tomb Raider. It’s the steely bitch and the charming gentle, gorgeous person. And she manages to meld those two together. Her character is so believable.

Recently when I spoke to Andy he revealed something a bit surprising. He said playing those attraction undertones between Garak and Bashir was a choice he made entirely on his own on his first day on set.  And no writer or producer over the years ever talked to him about it. Did you notice it off the bat, and is that something you guys ever discussed or worked with him to develop?

I completely noticed it! [laughs] I was sitting there in the Replimat in the scene and he came hovering around me all predatorial. It was a bit like Kim Cattrall from Sex in the City. I was like, ‘My gaydar isn’t very good, but this is pretty on it.’ [laughs] And that kind of set the tone for relationships, which was fantastic. Oh my goodness. That really had never been explored, it certainly had never been explored by me. We had to careful not to take it too far. Because the moment it was really noticeable, I think they would have stopped it. It was just so subtle, and Andy’s such a master of the subtle.

And no one said a word?

Not a single director, not a producer. No one. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago, [DS9 showrunner] Ira [Steven Behr] came on my little social Zoom thing [Sid City Social Club] and said, “Yeah, implicitly there’s a homoerotic relationship.”

Didn’t he once say he regrets not making it more overt? Is that something you would have liked?

No. I wouldn’t have liked it at all. I like the implicit thing. I wouldn’t have had the stamina to keep a kind of explicit homoerotic relationship alive for seven years. I couldn’t even keep a heterosexual one going, you know?

Garak introduces himself to Dr. Bashir in “Past Prologue”

Well, they did throw so much stuff at your character over the years. What were some of your favorite parts of Bashir’s arc, and maybe least favorite?

My favorite one was definitely the one with Andy, with Garak. And I wished there was more of the Ezri Dax one, that really didn’t get time to get going but I thought it had a lot of interesting potential. Because we never really got a chance to actually fall in love. And we never really sort of enunciated that, said that. And I kind of have a great memory in the sense that I forget everything that I don’t really like.

What about the genetic enhancement thing?

The genetic enhancement thing I hated at the time. I really hated it at the time. I thought – and I was wrong I am sure – but I thought it was a cynical ploy to gin us up in the ratings. Because if they could make Bashir more like Data, then people would like to show more. Even though I loved Worf’s introduction, I felt at the time that was introduced it was a blatant attempt at commerciality, which it was. But we were all a bit offended by that because we didn’t feel we needed it. We felt pretty comfortable with whatever it was, nine or twelve million people watching every week, which now is an astronomical number. But back then was considered low rent.

And because it came on on the heels of that, I thought it was another move in that direction. I thought they were Data-fying Bashir, and I really didn’t like that. I couldn’t be farther from right, because in retrospect that didn’t happen at all. But maybe it would have happened if I hadn’t thrown my toys out of the pram. That’s the only time I ever objected to anything.

One of the more controversial storylines – at least among fans – was the whole Section 31 thing. But it allowed you to play in a grayer area which should be fun for an actor, right?

I loved that. Yeah, that was wonderful. Again, we didn’t have really have time to get up to full steam with that idea. But I understand Enterprise took it and ran with it. At least it had a future that’s now being sort of made real. But at the time, I really, I really enjoyed that. Because I thought Deep Space Nine dealt with some things really well. They dealt with the fragility of the Federation, which now seems ordinary and commonplace. Of course, a big institution, it’s got to be fragile. It’s got to have kinks.

But up until then, the Federation had been inviolable. The Federation could do no wrong. Which was not how the world worked, and not how America was looking at the time because, of course, America was making mistakes internationally on the state on the big stage and terrorism was rearing its ugly head.  And the Federation, which is always America, has problems. It has faulty intelligence, and the CIA doesn’t always work the way it should. And the politicians aren’t always as crisp and clean as they need to be. So Section 31 introduced that in a really bright, iridescent way. And I quite like that.

Have you been keeping up with the franchise? Do you know one of the new shows they are developing is a Michelle Yeoh-led Section 31 show?

That’s a great idea. No, I have no idea what’s going on. I found out Enterprise was going on a bit late. And then I heard – to my staggering disbelief – that Picard was out. Oh my goodness, there’s another one! It’s great.

Bashir introduced to Section 31 in “Inquisition”

With these news shows, including an animated one you might not know about, they have been bringing back some of the actors from your era. Do you feel that you are done with Bashir, or could you see reprising the role?

I absolutely could see reprising the role, if asked. It’s very precious to me in a weird way. It means a lot of unusual things to a lot of different people so I’ve kind of become very protective of the role. Particularly for vulnerable people who really found something in Bashir they really, really liked and could identify with. So I’ve got to be kind of careful about how that works out. But otherwise, yeah. I think I’m just young enough to go back to do something Star Trek again and be credible.

I don’t know how it would be. What is he? Is he a retired professor? Or is he the Section 31 nebulous leader? Who knows what Bashir ends up as. His need to abide by his Hippocratic Oath is a really interesting paradox for him going forward if he is indeed still in Section 31. And also, if he becomes command material and the fact that he’s a doctor at heart. Or maybe he’s just teaching kids at an Academy.

Here’s a complicated question. I know that during the show, you changed your name. Can you talk about the background of that? And did you ever want to explore Bashir’s cultural background more and make it closer to your own?

I quite like the fact that we didn’t talk about it. Because I love the fact that we talk about Avery and we talk about and that stuff historically, and the African-American history because clearly, it’s something you have to explore if your ship’s captain is now African-American for the first time in history. But Bashir was kind of the other side of the same race coin. And that was that society has evolved and indeed it can be shown to have evolved if they don’t need to talk about it anymore.

And so I think Deep Space Nine and the writing crew did a really good job of kind of straddling both sides of that fence by saying how evolved the Federation have become because they don’t need to mention it. And also going back historically and discussing some of the problems that happened back in the day, which Sisko did with his son, etc. So, I like that Bashir didn’t really talk about it. But if in the future if something happened that did discuss it, then I’d probably be open to that too. But I kind of like that Bashir was just a human being and that was good enough. That was pretty much all we needed to know about him.

Well human, and British.

He’s definitely British, I can’t get away from that.

He even sang British drinking songs.

Yeah. Exactly. I mean he really packed it on. And with Miles O’Brien! Hello?… He happened to choose the most colonial British song ever written. For an Irishman to do that was hilarious.

O’Brien and Bashir sing “Jerusalem” in “Explorers”

See Siddig in Skylines this weekend

Vertical Entertainment will release Skylines in select theaters, drive-ins, and on-demand on December 18th.

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Great interview, thanks! The discussion about Bashir’s life after the series makes me long to see one or some of the DS9 characters appear in Picard or somewhere. We’ve seen references to Quark, Nog, Bajor, the Prophets, O’Brien, but not an actual person. Not mindless fan service but something plot worthy would be amazing.

I’m planning to watch DS9 on Netflix or Hulu soon. Do you have any advice for me? Give me a heads up.

Start at episode one, then keep going until you get to the end! It’s pretty easy. :)

By the way, DS9 is the best of the shows, hands down. The first season is a little weak, but that’s often the case. Stick with it–you’ll be blown away.

TNG first, then DS9.

I have to agree with Rios on this. It’s a bit of a slow burner but once it finds gets going, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy!

(Nice agreeing with Rios for once :-D)

I’m very agreeable once you get to know me. I’m like DS9–a slow burner until I get going.

While DS9 definitely has excellent characterization, I disagree that its the Best Trek Evah. It’s too much of a war story, and all the battles blend together in a blur — here a Chintoka, there a Chintoka, with a smattering of AR-447s and Betazeds thrown in for good measure. Add weak plot points like the lounge lizard Vic Fontaine, going to the well in the mirror universe too many times, and the endless parade of Wacky Ferengi Episodes (TM), and I think you have a strong case that TNG/Picard and ENT are better.

Nah. At 26 episodes a season, its batting average is excellent. Vic might not be everyone’s glass of champagne, but he is a conduit for some charming performances by Darren and important character growth for Odo and Nog, plus much needed levity during the harrows of the Dominion War (only two seasons, and I never had trouble following the story), which some of the Ferengi stories provide as well. Sometimes the latter get out of hand, but they do develop Ferengi society and culture very well. Quark, Nog and Rom make great strides from Emissary to What You Leave Behind.

Yeo. Vic leads to one of the show’s very best episodes–and Nog’s most affecting storyline.

Just about every character on the show has real and deliberate growth and development over 7 seasons. I adore TNG, but the same cannot be said for every character. Crusher and Geordi? The latter got a promotion, that’s it. Voyager took the edge off Chakotay and Paris pretty quickly and never found an arc for Tuvok outside of a begrudging friendship with Neelix. Enterprise came up short for Mayweather and Hoshi. And while I may not like many of the actors or characters or how limited the scope of character focus is, Discovery has developed all its major characters pretty doggedly.

But DS9 did it with the main cast and a huge cast of recurring characters. So impressive to me.

DS9 benefited from the continuing story format, which was not allowed in TNG. I was not as big a fan of DS9 as TNG or TOS, but for character growth and development it won, hands down.
And it was absolutely, whole-heartedly better than ENT and Picard.

Enterprise is not good at all. They wanted to explore new things and all they did was retread the same ol’ stuff with a new name. Discovery is what Enterprise wanted to be, but didn’t have the guts at the time. While TNG is my favorite, DS9 is by far the best.

Hey, Ninja!

First, good luck on your exams. Reward yourself afterward by entering the Bajoran system, but watch out for the Denorios Belt!

I saw the premiere episode of DS9 when it first aired, when TNG was at its height. It didn’t immediately grab me. I realized it was because the characters were still largely unformed and they needed to work out their interrelationships, etc. By the end of the first season it started coming together and by the end of the second season the show really began to take off and establish its distinctive character.

Like other Trek series, it has certain “types” of shows: Bajoran politics, Bajoran religion (Sisko as the Emissary of the Prophets – which really explodes), Ferengi shows (often comic relief), “let’s torture O’Brien,” the Dominion arc, the mirror universe episodes, relationship stories, etc. etc. On the last, some of the relationships are often deeply moving: Ben and Jake, Jadzia and Worf, Jake and Nog, Bashir and O’Brien, Quark and Odo, Kira and Zeyal, and others. Some of these will appeal to you more than others, but give them all a chance because series-spanning character development can occur in unexpected places.

The writing on the series is seldom not of a high quality, especially when the writing team settled into place. The casting and acting of the series regulars and recurring characters is outstanding.

Rather than spoil things, I’ll just end by saying that being set on a strategically situated space station instead of a starship unavoidably led not only to serialization but also to the development of an enormous cast of supporting characters, some of whom became almost regulars. This also enabled certain scenes where Federation values are insightfully or pointedly commented upon by alien characters (watch out for the “root beer scene” between Quark and Garrack).

There’s lots more that could be said. So I’ll just say “enjoy”!

I need to watch DS9 on Netflix or Hulu at some point. I am missing out.

At least I got Netflix and Hulu. I only use CBS All Access because of Discovery to watch new episodes of that.

I have seen TOS, TNG, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Lower Decks, and Picard.

DS9 is the only Star Trek show I haven’t seen yet.

I will watch DS9 over winter break after I’m done with college exams.

Doing my finals tomorrow and Thursday for the fall semester. I failed my fourth road test today too. Having bad luck right now.

Wish me luck.

You really are missing out. DS9 is brilliant, even the earlier seasons, which are always weak for Trek, have some great episodes.

I remember reading an interview, I believe shortly after DS9 finished it run, from one of the writers or creators of actors (I seriously can’t remember who!) about how they were probably one of the best shows on the air at the time, but nobody realized it! And it’s completely true. Looking back to that period, DS9 was arguably the best show on the air, and it would still be one of the best shows on the air were it to be released today.

In some ways, I think the DS9 earlier seasons — before they turned it into a war story and amped up the martial aspect of the theme song — were stronger. The first season, perhaps less so, but even that featured “Duet” and “In the Hands of the Prophets,” as well as Kai Opaka.

Good luck!
And when you get to DS9, you are in for a treat. It’s like nothing else!

I’ll wish you luck. Apart from the new shows not named “Lower Decks,” DS9 is handily my least favorite Trek series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got its strong points; but I find it to be very unengaging at times, and it’s also got a lot in it that doesn’t really work for me as Star Trek. But hey, lots of people adore it, so maybe you’ll be one of them!

You need to be patient with DS9 through the first season or two. It kind of didn’t know what it wanted to be yet — you can see the show struggle between being TNG on a station vs. it’s own thing. But then over time it finds it’s way, finds it’s own place in Star Trek, and it gets really good.

Like someone said, the show has a slow burn. Once it introduces the Dominion, that thread carries through the rest of the series.

They had me by Duet and never let go. Alien characters are allowed to be alien, conflict between characters isn’t tamped down, the recurring guest cast is enormous and colorful, the slow burn stories rewarding, the station’s sets and lighting fantastic. Never tire of rewatching this one.

Also one of the best opening themes for music. No Doubt watching that opening you get the idea these people are Deep in space and you get that lonely feeling.

Great interview! But I take exception to his Muse v Radiohead comparison – Muse can definitely be cerebral music! :p. Their latest album – “Simulation Theory” is very much a fun romp, but previous albums such as “Resistance” and “The 2nd Law” tell fascinating and thought provoking stories. But I digress ;)

I was very happy to see most of the DS9 alums pursue healthy careers after 1999, and seeing Siddig do especially well was gratifying.

He’d have made a magnificent Jaffar in Disney’s execrable Aladdin remake.

was the best version of ra’s al ghul i have seen on screen in ‘gotham’.

After “The Passenger” I wasn’t sure I’d ever want him to play a villain again, but what some extra experience (plus way more time to prepare than he had there) will do!

I saw the first “Skyline.” It was kind of fun in a trashy, Syfy-level way. Didn’t know they’d made a sequel; probably won’t be bothering to check that out, much less the sequel to the sequel. Siddig being in it makes me want to, though.

I enjoyed his work in Game of Thrones, it was good to see him again. Peaky Blinders, too.

He was on Game of Thrones… what character was he?

The ruler of Dorne. It’s a much bigger part in the books, unfortunately it doesn’t go anywhere in the series.

I have been watching DS9 over the last couple of years while following along with the Mission Log podcast. I know I have not seen every episode so it has been fun running into episodes that I never watched and getting to enjoy them for the first time. And I think the Mission Log team have done an excellent job discussing the episodes overall (no offense to the TrekMovie podcasts, which I also enjoy). For those who haven’t watched DS9 yet, your in for a treat. It really does hold up well.

Yes DS9 does hold up well, and Siddig really blossomed as an actor during it’s run. But I would say that Terry Ferrel has the biggest improvement from all the actors, she really came into her own in the last few seasons.

Off topic: one thing that always bugged me with all of the old Star Trek shows since cell phones came around was the act of communication in the show. Why does Kira or O’Brien have to tell Sisko he has a call from the admiral or Kai Winn when he has a communicator on him? It’s weird, but then we are used to cell phones now.

I want to watch DS9 so bad!

I actually thought Angelina Jolie was great in the Tomb Raider movies. She made them at a time when women weren’t considered action stars, and she showed that women COULD do action roles. If somebody 20 years later can do a better job, well duh — it’s because she’s standing on Jolie’s shoulders.

Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton proved women could be action stars.

Agreed, Allen. Trailblazers, they were.

Yes indeed.

If I had to pick the moment the modern female action star was born, it would have to be when Ripley takes over command of the Nostromo and tells Parker to shut up. Great scene.

I saw Alien in first run with a group of friends.

None of us had any idea what was coming. I recall someone’s popcorn went flying.

My lasting impression was “Wow, that’s different.”

Haha, yeah. Not something you easily forget.

TG47, I saw Alien when it first came out, too. Scared the shit out of the whole audience. Good times!

You live in Toronto, right?

Wonder Woman and Black Widow are women action movies we have now.

And Michelle Yeoh! She was headlining action films in Hong Kong and doing her own stunts since 1985.

Tomb Raider is not a movie I would watch as often but you have a excellent point.

So he wont do R rated Sci-Fi but he will do R rated fantasy. Game of Thrones. Very strange.