Yesterday’s virtual First Contact Day event put on by CBS has come after over a year of virtual “conventions” that haven’t been able to hold a candle to their normally in-person counterparts. But, with a year of learning and planning, CBS showed that this virtual event thing can actually work. During the “Remembering First Contact” panel, host Wil Wheaton asked insightful questions of Star Trek vets Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and Alice Krige, getting them to spill a few stories I for one had never heard before about Star Trek: First Contact, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaway tidbits that were new to me. For those of you walking Star Trek history encyclopedias, please feel free to expound on these stories in the comments!
Renaissance-era setting nixed for budgetary reasons… and the absurdity
During the “Revisiting First Contact” panel celebrating 25 years since the release of the beloved TNG film, Jonathan Frakes spoke about the genesis of the story of First Contact, saying:
“All three of the writers wanted a time travel story. So, the objective was to find a way to marry those big concepts [Borg and time travel]. Originally it was going to take place in Renaissance Italy, perhaps, and we were going to fight the Borg with swords? Thankfully that idea was taken away for financial reasons and logical reasons and absurd reasons, I’m sure. And, we were blessed with this, arguably the best of the Star Trek movie scripts certainly.”
Patrick Stewart had to OK Frakes as director, over Reuben sandwiches
After Jonathan Frakes was asked how he got the job as director, he told the story of the most memorable Reuben sandwich in his life.
“I believe, if the urban myth is true, the movie was offered to Ridley Scott, John McTiernan [who weren’t interested]. As I understand it Sherry Lansing, who was the head of Paramount at the time, told Rick Berman, who was the keeper of the reigns: ‘Why don’t you hire who you like?’ So, there was one caveat. The director that they hired had to be approved by now Sir Patrick Stewart. So, Rick said, ‘I’d really like you to do the movie, but Patrick’s going to have to approve you.’ So, Patrick and I had lunch at Jerry’s Deli in Studio City. And, he said, ‘I’m okay with you directing the movie. I was told that I had to make it official with you. And, that… it kind of changed my life. I believe we both had Reuben sandwiches.”
Alice Krige asked for a second audition because she thought she blew it (she didn’t)
Before her audition for the role of the Borg Queen, Alice Krige had no real knowledge of what Star Trek was all about. It took doing the audition for her to find the character, and in doing so, she was convinced she had totally biffed the audition. Of course, she hadn’t.
“My agent called me one day, and she said, ‘here are some sides for the next Star Trek movie.’ Now, I have a confession to make that I had never seen an episode of Star Trek. I said okay, but where’s the script? I can’t go in without a script. She said, ‘No, you don’t understand. NO ONE sees a script.’
I had a friend who wrote for Star Trek. I ran over to his house, and I watched all of the Borg episodes that he had on tape. I learned my lines, and I went into Paramount. And, there was Jonathan, and I did the three scenes. And, as I was doing them, I actually started to understand [the role] – it was the act of doing it – it was not intellectual. It was like a channel opened up. They thanked me politely, and I left. I ran to my car, and I drove to find the first pay phone I could find. I called my agent, and I said ‘I screwed it up. Please tell them that I can do better. And, I really want to do it again.’ Well, we didn’t hear from them for three weeks, and I thought ‘another one bites the dust’. And, then I got another call! I went in, and I did the same thing again, and I was offered the Borg Queen.”
Alice Krige needed 8 Borg wranglers to work in the Borg Queen costume
Alice Krige – who absolutely slayed in her role as the Borg Queen – spoke about how she got the role and what it was like playing the iconic character. One amusing tidbit was her mention of around eight “Borg wranglers” that were needed during her scenes.
“All the Borg wranglers. Because I must have had eight maybe? Someone who looked after my battery packs, someone who had a big pot of glue and glued the cracks. Someone looked after my feet, my hands, my head. Someone had a huge tube of – what was it? – KY jelly and a sponge. Every one of them helped make [the Borg Queen]. This was the apotheosis of collaboration for me, this role.”
Brent Spiner was terrified of doing the missile silo jump stunt
While Brent Spiner had high praise for the film’s director, script, and co-stars, there was one aspect of making the film that wasn’t to his liking.
“We were standing alongside the missile on a platform that was very high in the air. Patrick [Stewart] knows that I am terrified of heights, so he would be bouncing on the platform to terrify me – which it did. [In the film] Data jumps off the platform and sail to the ground, and nothing happens to him. Initially, it was my stunt double, Brian Williams. He did that jump, and Jonathan [Frakes] shot him coming down from the missile silo, and then Jonathan cut to me. They printed all of that, then Jonathan came to me and said, you can tell that it’s not you. You’re going to have to do it. They took me to a soundstage, put me in a harness. And I was terrified. I hated it. They brought me up 3 feet and dropped me, and I hated it, then they took me all the way to the top, and they were to drop me, and a few feet before I hit the ground, a hydraulic slowed me down. I had to be Data, and I was able to do it, and look confident, and I landed, and the crew applauded, and I was so glad it was over. And then ‘Two-Takes Frakes’ came to me and said, ‘can we do that again?'”
Watch the full 25th-anniversary panel
Paramount+ has uploaded the entire Star Trek: First Contact anniversary panel to Youtube.
Find more articles on Star Trek history at TrekMovie.com.