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]
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?
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.
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.
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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