Michael Dorn played the Klingon Worf in all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, four seasons of Deep Space Nine, and all four TNG feature films. He even appeared in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as an ancestor of Worf, which all adds up to more appearances in Star Trek than any other actor. Since his time with the franchise, he has kept busy with a lot of voice work for animation and video games as well as acting in television and film. His latest role is in the science fiction film Agent Revelation, which will be released on demand this weekend. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to Dorn about the new film and his time with Star Trek, and to ask him about the possibility of his return to the franchise.
In Agent Revelation, you play a billionaire fighting an alien conspiracy. Did you draw any inspiration from anyone we know?
[Laughs] Not at the time, actually. This was almost two years ago now, so we hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole as far as we’ve gone. So no, it wasn’t. The character was just a guy that I imbued with the idea that he had done something really, really wrong. And he was making amends. He was atoning and learning: ‘Hey, look, this is what I did. This is why I did it. And there were terrible reasons and, and now I have to kind of pay for it.’
The film deals with some trippy concepts, meditation, Tai Chi… are those things part of your real life? Is that kind of a little bit of what drew you to the role?
What drew me to the role is that the part was really, really good. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Because when he talked, he wasn’t just pontificating or giving us useless information. He was really trying to explain something that meant something, and I liked that part. The Tai Chi part was something I had learned when I was on Next Generation. And interestingly enough, when we started doing it, I was teaching [director/star] Derek [Ting] in rehearsal and I was going, “Okay, this what you do… do you know martial arts?” He goes, “Yeah, I actually have studied it all my life. But he wanted it to look like I was teaching him. So all he did was follow my instructions or follow my actions. Interestingly enough, the whole arc of the character kind of fit really closely into Tai Chi and coming from within. Everything that you need in your life comes from within. You don’t need any external information if you just take a moment to be quiet and breathe, the answers are within you. So, that’s my spiritual message for today.
In the last couple of decades, you’ve focused on a lot of voice work, but you’ve also done a few other roles as well, like a recurring role on Castle. Are you preferring voice work these days, and are there certain types of acting roles you are you’re more attracted to?
Do you want the long answer or the short answer?
We have time… I would say I would prefer the honest answer.
That’s the perfect answer. All my career, I didn’t really care about stardom or fame or anything like that. I just wanted to have the freedom to do the roles that I wanted to do. And because of Star Trek, and because of a great accountant that I have, at this point in my life I’m able just to pick and choose the things that I really, really want to do. It drives my agents and managers crazy, but there’s a lot of things that they send to me and I go, “No.” It’s just a bunch of words and there’s nothing really there for me. And with voice-over, I like voice-over because it’s kind of an easy gig. You don’t have to get dressed up, there’s no makeup. And a lot of times it’s very interesting, most of the time.
The job in Castle was one of those times where I went in and I read for another role and the guy says, “Michael, that was really good. We like what you did, but we’d like this other guy to have this doctor role, but we’d like you to do this role.” And it was her psychiatrist and I read it, and I went, ‘Oh my god, this is so cool.’ It wasn’t a huge role, but I think five or six episodes. And it’s at the end of every episode where she goes in and she has a deep conversation about something and I’m helping her. It was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. And luckily, I’ve been able to indulge that part of my life where if I read the script, it doesn’t really matter about the money that much anymore. It really is just about the role.
Your last time with Star Trek – not counting the video game – was in Nemesis. As you were making it, did it all feel to you like the last one, or just another in the series?
Our contracts are different, but my contract was the first three movies. The fourth movie was sort of like a bonus kind of thing. So it was like if we do a fourth movie, great, but it just looked like they were going to do three. For me at least, it did feel like the last one. Because I think that the business was changing. People’s tastes were changing. We had been on the screen for 15 years or something. I thought, “I think this is going to be it,” for no other reason than I think things are changing. We had already had three or four spin-offs. And there was a kind of a thought that maybe one of the spin-offs was going to start the next movie, but we didn’t know. I think what happened is the movie didn’t perform as well as, as they had hoped, and that was sort of, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ I did feel in a way that Paramount was just kind of going, ‘Oh, thank God these guys are done.’ They couldn’t wait to sell off everything and get out of the Star Trek: The Next Generation business.
Jumping back to the other end of your time with Trek, during season one when Denise [Crosby] decided to leave the show, that was kind of a major moment in your life.
Did Gene [Roddenberry] or Rick [Berman] or anyone sit down with you and talk about how your life is about to change in a big way, and ask you if you were ready for what they had planned for your character? Or did it just slowly happen?
No, it wasn’t it wasn’t slow. In fact, it was quite quick. But nobody talked to me about it at all. There wasn’t a mention of anything, only when I got the script when she got killed. They said, “Okay, you’re going to be acting security chief.” That’s the first time I knew. But, in my little mind, I think because Denise really wanted to leave, and they didn’t want her to leave – they did not want to lose that character. She was an extremely popular character, I think the Tasha Yar character was kind of rivaling Data. So they did not want to lose her. But I think that they had a meeting and they said, “God, what are we going to do? She’s chief of security. It’s a big role. We need somebody that’s kind of a big macho, take-charge kind of guy. Who do you think?” And I think they kind of went, “Wait a minute, what about Worf? Oh my God.” And once they decided to do that, I think everybody was pleasantly surprised what a good fit it was. But if it was planned, I didn’t know about it until I got the script.
And the next scripts, where they really started using you a lot more.
Yeah. This is the other thing that was kind of behind-the-scenes. The character had already started to be popular. There’s seven actors, so every show is not going to be about you. But they discovered Worf was a fun character because he was so clueless. And he wasn’t trying to be funny, but that made him funny. And he was the kind of macho guy on the set, because he was always in battles. He was always beaming down as security. He was on the bridge, he was down in engineering, he was all over the place. And I thought that was very cool. So it changed the focus, but he was already becoming a part an integral part of the crew when she left. And then when she left, he REALLY became part of that crew.
Looking back at Worf’s whole arc, they really did throw so much stuff at you. There was all the physical stuff, obviously. But there’s technical stuff, then there was family stuff, emotional stuff, relationship stuff, a marriage, becoming a widower. For you personally, what was the biggest acting challenge you most relished?
All the physical and running and jumping and killing stuff, that was easy. I love doing that stuff, so that was no big deal. The acting challenge that I adored was the idea that he was really a terrible father. [laughs] He was really bad. Not because he was mean, but he just didn’t get it. He just didn’t know how to how to make it work. That to me was a great challenge. And luckily, they picked up on all of that and wrote some really fantastic stuff for the character, and on into Deep Space Nine.
Can you talk about bringing you on to DS9? Were there a lot of conversations or did it happen quickly?
It was very funny. We had finished Next Generation and also [Star Trek: Generations], and I’ll never forget. I was in Baltimore doing a video game. I’m in my hotel room and I get a call from Rick Berman. He says, “Hey Mike, how you doing?” We jawed a little bit, and he says, “What do you think about going back to Deep Space Nine as Worf?” And I kind of went, “Oh, sounds interesting.” And that was the conversation.
And you knew this would be as a regular, not a guest spot?
Yeah, pretty much. Everybody knew that Deep Space Nine was kind of lagging in the ratings a bit. They definitely wanted to go seven years, so they were bringing me on to help with the ratings. And they had a storyline all ready to go. After that, there was a lot of negotiating. I mean, it was a pretty intense negotiation for about two months or so. But you got to realize that if they negotiate hard, they really want you. They don’t want to bring a character from another show into another show. It is just is one of those things wrought with problematic things. But they really wanted to do it. So I figured that they were going to make the character part of Deep Space Nine. There were two challenges for me, because, number one, if the challenge is to get there to do it and to do what they hoped you would do, which to help with the ratings. Which it did, which was great. And the other challenge was, I know from a lot of experience, a character from another show coming into an already established show can be problematic for everybody involved.
It’s funny you mentioned that. I just talked to [Alexander Siddig], and he mentioned that he loved the introduction of your character, but he knew it was to juice the ratings, as you say. And he said they all felt “offended” because they felt they didn’t need it. They understood why it was done, but they liked what they had going on. Did you sense that from the rest of the cast? Was there tension when you showed up?
No, not at all. One great thing about all of those actors is that their focus is the roles and the show. If they do have a thing that they’re offended by, they didn’t let it show. They didn’t let it affect the work. And I understood. We had [Diana Muldaur] come on to play the doctor for the second season of TNG. And there was a little bit of tension on our show, and I and I definitely wanted the actors not to let that get in the way because it’s not Diana’s fault, it’s not like she lobbied to take over. So I understood how they felt. And I understood that my job was to go there and do the best job I can. And if people had those feelings and if it was going to be difficult, then I would fight through it. I would do the best I can and go home. [laughs] I hate to say it, but I’m a Black man in America, so I could do this standing on my head. But I’d say six months into the job, they realized that I wasn’t there to take over or for it to become The Worf Show. I was there to help. If it meant that they would get seven years instead of three, then I think that they went, ‘Well, what are we complaining about?’ But I definitely understand their feelings.
The sense I got was it was nothing to do with Michael Dorn, it was more a thing with Paramount for them, and feeling they had a good thing going.
Sure. I consider them all very, very dear friends. They weren’t yelling and screaming at me at all. They still are dear friends.
But it’s true that the DS9 set was different than the TNG set, right? You must know this better than anyone, having clocked more hours on both sets than anyone. TNG was more jokey and DS9 was more serious.
Did you try to liven it up when you got there?
I didn’t try to do anything. I’m a certain kind of actor and I relate a certain way to my job and all of these things. So, I didn’t try to liven it up. But, they did get it that I wasn’t really that serious. The one interesting thing was Deep Space was a serious show, but the actors and the people were fun and humorous. When worked together we would laugh and stuff like that. But I think on each one of the Star Trek shows, the tone of the actual workspace comes from the top down, so the producers have a certain way they want things done. And then whoever is the number one on the call sheet, everybody kind of takes their lead from him. So Avery [Brooks] is an incredibly gifted actor, but very serious. And I think that’s where they got it from. I had met Avery before and I respected him and all that, but I just didn’t take it as seriously as a lot of people did.
More to come from Michael Dorn
This is just the first half of our exclusive interview with Michael Dorn. Check back later this week when we talk about his “Captain Worf” series idea, and what he thinks about reprising the role of Worf on one of the current CBS All Access series.
See Michael Dorn in Agent Revelation – opening January 22nd
Agent Revelation tells the story of Jim Yung, a rejected CIA analyst who has been exposed to an ancient ‘dust’ that transforms him into a super soldier that can communicate with aliens. When a secret organization works with him to discover why aliens have returned to Earth, the truth comes at a price. Dorn plays Alistair, a mysterious tech billionaire who works with Yung to unravel the alien mystery. Agent Revelation will be released on video on demand on Friday, January 22nd.
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