Interview: Jeffrey Combs On Returning To Star Trek As An Evil Computer In ‘Lower Decks’

This week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks introduced us to AGIMUS the evil computer, voiced by Star Trek veteran Jeffrey Combs. TrekMovie had an exclusive chat with Combs about what it was like returning to Star Trek in a different way, and how he could possibly return again.

How did you prep to play AGIMUS? Did anyone describe the character to you?

Well, they sent me the script. That’s always the best way to put your foot forward. Descriptions sometimes fall short. And so I read the script and I thought it was a tight, little clever thing. Honestly, I hadn’t seen—except for little bits and bobs on Twitter—much of Lower Decks. I just was really intrigued with this manipulative little box that’s just trying to get people to plug him in so he can take over everything. I thought it was quite witty and I love that he keeps trying. It’s all sort of pathetic. He’s a computer, but he keeps trying because all he needs is one fool and he’s good. He’s relentless in his pursuit. I just thought it was really great fun. And I was honored to be asked to be a part of Star Trek anymore. I just saw the final episode and I was really pleasantly surprised with it.

What was the recording process like? Was Mike McMahan there to judge just how evil to go?

It’s a bit of a challenge, because it’s not like usual normal times with voiceover where you have as many people as possible in the room working together. You’re just kind of flying solo with this stuff. So you don’t really know if you fit in quite as well, Quite honestly, I don’t recall who was there. You have to realize that you are in your car and they call you in. You have to have been vaccinated. You have to have a mask. You come in and you are placed in front of a podium. No one else is in the room. They are all behind glass or they’re on Zoom screens.

You are just are focusing on getting this dialogue right. It’s really sort of a blur to me because my focus is just on getting this right, not on who’s that and what do they do. I’m just listening and taking in whatever direction is coming my way and just trying to do the best I can under kind of a synthetic, isolating kind of dynamic. So, my adrenaline was just focused on the work. I don’t remember a whole lot of direction, but more encouragement. Or, “Let’s do it again, just for backup, but that was great.” That kind of feel.

Did you draw on any past characters of yours or in general? Did I sense a little Herbert West [Reanimator] in there, perhaps?

Oh, no, I didn’t try to do that. I consciously tried to not play a tone of any of my other Star Trek characters for sure. But I did feel like maybe the computer spoke well, and Herbert speaks well. You can’t get past who you are to a great deal. I can’t give the computer an accent of any kind, so that’s just my speaking voice. I tried to not be as dark as Herbert could be. I tried to keep AGIMUS more upbeat, positive. A little more happy, so people would fall for his nonsense. I never tried to emulate something else I’ve done before. I always try to do something different.

Jeffrey Combs as AGIMUS with Boimler in Lower Decks

It sounds like you were excited when you got the call to come back to Star Trek, even for voice, that it wasn’t to do one of your previous characters but a new character.

Yes! love that. ‘Oh, good, they’re not asking me to do this, that, or the other.’ This is fresh territory. A new landscape. Totally different tone, I would say Lower Decks does not totally fit in with a lot of Star Trek, which tends to be a little more serious a lot of time. This is pretty rapid-fire, quick-paced storytelling. It was kind of refreshing. A lot of the humor catches you a little later than you expect. It goes by and then you go, ‘Whoa, wait a minute.’ I just really liked it. Good, fresh, fast writing. Crisp.

It’s true that DS9 was more serious but you did play some humor on that show. Of your previous characters, is there one you think might work well on Lower Decks? That you might like to come back as?

I don’t know. Have they done any Ferengis?… That’s sort of up to them. With Star Trek, they’re always in different timelines and so I don’t know if a lot of the characters can actually overlap into the timeline that Lower Decks is on.

They have included Ferengi. Lower Decks is set just a few years after DS9 wrapped up, so any of those characters can probably fit in, like Brunt or the other Ferengi you played.

Oh, sure. That makes the most spot-on sense because they were generally quite humorous. There’s quite a lot of humor in Lower Decks.

They killed off the last Weyoun, didn’t they? But they could always bring one back.

Yes. They said it was the last Weyoun, but if Weyoun is Weyoun, there’s a cave somewhere with Weyoun clones. You know that and I know that. It’s Star Trek. Weyoun became a recurring character after they killed him at the end of the first episode. And then the reason that Vorta are clones is because they wanted to bring me back. So, it’s sci-fi. They can do whatever they want.

Jeffrey Combs as Brunt and Weyoun in Deep Space Nine

The last time we spoke, we discussed how some fans were hoping to see you on Strange New Worlds as Dr. Boyce. You didn’t expect it to happen but said you would embrace the idea. Are you still open to doing live-action Trek, because there are three shows going, including one shot in Los Angeles.

Well, you kind of hit on it there with the LA thing. It’s challenging for American actors when two of the three are shot in Canada, quite frankly. That seems like it shouldn’t be, but it is. Canada wants Star Trek to use Canadian crew and Canadian actors as much as they possibly can. And that’s just the fact.  There are some Americans on those shows but they’re not shot on the Paramount lot like every other show up until them. So, it really is a different talent pool. There are a lot of wonderful Canadian actors for sure. But, it’s more complicated for that to be manifest.

So yeah, Picard is shot here, but it seems to me Picard is very Next Generation-centric. And so it’s maybe not in harmony with the shows that I have done, Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, primarily.

Maybe not to bring back an established character, but you can play anything, including a computer.

Well, yeah, Now I can play a computer! I’m a computer now. So yet another Star Trek Christmas ornament I can hang on the tree. So, yeah, anything is possible. But, we’ll just see. I was really honored that there was a lot of enthusiasm for me about [Strange New Worlds], but I didn’t hold out much belief or hope in that.

So your Lower Decks episode wrapped up with AGIMUS being filed away at the Daystrom Institute, arguing with all the other evil computers. How do you think he’s gonna fare there? And would you like to see him return? 

Well, I would say that AGIMUS is probably a cut above from some of those other evil computers. And where there is a will, there’s a way. So who knows. Maybe AGIMUS will find a way to get plugged in or convince someone to get him out of there. You just never know. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one. But it’d be cool, would it? It certainly set up the—you know, when they first asked me to do Shran in Enterprise, one of my first questions was, “At the end of the episode, does he die?” And they said, “No,” and I said I’ll do it.

Jeffrey Combs as Shran in Enterprise

Are you saying you wouldn’t have played Shran if it was a one-and-done?

Probably not. I felt at that point I had proven myself and I wasn’t particularly interested in a oner, if you know what I mean. I wasn’t asking them to assure me that it would be recurring. I was just merely wanting to keep the door unlocked in case. So, AGIMUS is not dead!

Is this a new rider for your contract, don’t kill the character?

Well, listen, there are no rules. But, there are tendencies. And, I lucked out when they did kill me at the end of the first Weyoun episode. But, you can only use that clone card once.

But it’s easy to clone a computer

Yeah, you can reboot, download, rebuild, upgrade. Yeah. Okay.

And now he has a true nemesis with Boimler.

Yeah, All I can say is AGIMUS is goal-oriented to the nth degree. So, we’ll have to see.

Thank you, it was a pleasure talking to you and and as always, it was an honor, congratulations on your return to Star Trek.

Thank you. I’m thrilled. I’m honored. Live long and prosper. And it’s so fabulous to be part of the Star Trek family.

AGIMUS in Lower Decks

For more on “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie” check out the TrekMovie review and our discussion on the All Access Star Trek podcast.


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His comment about the Canada actor challenge is well, kind of crap, really.
Plenty of Canadians work in the US as actors. The reverse is true as well.
Mr. Coombs is an established, talented actor.
If he’s the right person for the part? He can get the gig and work in Canada on an artists visa.
I suspect that he just doesn’t want to endure Canadian winters while shooting a season.
He also may not want to be away from his family for an extended period of time. (Understandable)

I think he was also taking the whole COVID situation into account. Right now, border crossing is hard. It took until the public freakout of the French about the submarine thing until the US started to allow Europeans back into the country. So that is that.

Burke is right. I personally know a number of actors who were just basically trapped on one side of the border or the other, essentially in holding — quarantined, unable to really socialize, often in an unfamiliar place for days or weeks between set calls. It wears on you.

His comments aren’t crap. It’s a fact that as part of shooting in a particular place that one of the stipulations of the funding is that you hire local.

Ireland, where I am, has a bustling Film and TV industry which I am lucky enough to work in. The reason so many international products come here, like Ridley Scotts “The Last Dual”, the new “Disenchanted” movie from Disney or Apple TV’S “Foundation” is that it’s cheaper to shoot here as the government offer tax incentives that make it a really attractive place to shoot. But one of the stipulations of shooting here is that there has to be a majority Irish crew involved. I’m sure it’s the same in Canada, and rightly so tbh. It’s a great way to build a pool of experience and talent outside of the usual spots, and get new people in the industry.

So he’s probably talking more about the red tape of casting than saying Canadian actors are hogging the roles.

I’ve lived my whole life in Toronto, and Combs attitude about Canadian actors is WAY off in one key regard. He makes it sound like Canadian actors are hogging most of the parts on any show made in Toronto. Wrong. All the big leading recurring roles are invariably played by American actors, with all the actors from Canada being relegated to all the “bit” parts. Nothing glamorous or lucrative about it.
If TPTB wanted Combs for a part, he would have been slotted in no problem.
TOS was the exception to this rule, with Shatner and Doohan (both Canadian) playing (HUGE) key roles. That never happened again with any other iteration of Trek (as far as I know).

Here’s one point on which we agree down the line.

If anything, Discovery and SNW have fewer Canadians in significant acting roles as compared to other American branch-plant series taking advantage of the tax credits.

Bruce Horak as Hemmer is the first Canadian as main cast in the two Trek shows produced in Canada.

Yes, we’ve had two out of three Big Bads in Discovery played by Canadians, but that’s not exactly what Coombs was looking for one would think.

But the day of a cohort of Paramount studio regulars in LA getting most of the guest star spots seems to be what Coombs is nostalgic for.

It’s less about nostalgia and more about the requirements for a foreign production based in Canada. Had Picard been shot in Canada, a number of Picard’s supporting and re-occurring cast would have featured Canadians in those roles.

For shows shot in the U.S. not much has changed since the days of TNG where actors get steady work as guest performers on various series.

But Picard actually has Alison Pill, a Canadian as a main cast member.

True but she’s an established actress who has been working in U.S. and Canadian based productions for years (The Newsroom, American Horror Story, The Family, Them). That she’s Canadian and on Picard is incidental.

Two points, Alison Pill was cast because she works out of LA and the main casting for all these shows is done in LA.

The Canadian casting directors only are given the minor parts to fill. Which isn’t necessarily the case for other US shows made in Canada. In fact, by not casting any Canadians as main cast, CBS Studios may be sacrificing some tax credits.

The thing is that Coombs seems not to be looking for one and done guest star roles.

But the recurring roles cast for Canadians have been much less significant for the most part, other than perhaps Amanda. But their have been British actors cast in those kinds of roles. And there are Americans who work on several other shows made in Toronto and Vancouver. Perhaps that’s because they are open to the investment in making themselves available in the production markets on the other side of the border.

Again, this seems to be more about Coombs nostalgia for an era of a different format in television as much as regret that there is a lot of production globally outside of SoCal.

He is correct. American productions shot in Canada require that a certain number of Canadians are cast in any original production shot there. So while you will see Americans cast as leads, you will inevitably see Canadians cast in most supporting or guest character roles (look no further than Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Discovery, and most CW series). Had TNG, DS9 or Voyager been shot in Canada the casts for each of these series would have looked much different.

This is no such casting requirement for productions shot in the U.S. so there’s no consideration in regard to an actor’s country of origin. While Discovery’s supporting cast is virtually all Canadian, Picard’s is not, featuring what is essentially an international cast with Allison Pill as the only Canadian (and she’s been working in both the U.S. and Canada for years so her being Canadian is incidental).

So, in a nutshell, Jeffrey Combs is correct. It’s challenging for American actor’s to land a guest or re-occuring supporting role on an American series shot in Canada.

always look out for roger cross….

Steve Bacic and Jill Teed as well.

American productions shot in Canada require that a certain number of Canadians are cast in any original production shot there. So while you will see Americans cast as leads, you will inevitably see Canadians cast in most supporting or guest character roles (look no further than Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Discovery, and most CW series). Had TNG, DS9 or Voyager been shot in Canada the casts for each of these series would have looked much different.

This is no such casting requirement for productions shot in the U.S. so there’s no consideration in regard to an actor’s country of origin. While Discovery’s supporting cast is virtually all Canadian, Picard’s is not, featuring what is essentially an international cast with Allison Pill as the only Canadian (and she’s been working in both the U.S. and Canada for years so her being Canadian is incidental).

So, in a nutshell, Jeffrey Combs is correct. It’s challenging for American actor’s to land a guest or re-occuring supporting role on an American series shot in Canada. Had Discovery been shot in L.A. it’s very likely that Detmer, Rhys, Bryce, Nillson and Owosekun would have been played by different actors.

I had edited my post and the original and post both…posted. Sorry about that.

Denny C, sometimes doublespeak still makes sense. :>)

I still would like to see him as Doctor Boyce in SNW but it seems the old Guard is only good enough for the Comic-Series

I have been hoping for that as well, seeing him as Boyce on SNW; we have yet to hear who’s portraying which one of the doctors on the Big E for Pike, so there’s still a chance.

M’Benga is the physician.

Boyce was on the verge of retirement in The Cage, and Piper may not arrive for another 6 years.

The fact that M’Benga was asked back to act for McCoy in TOS while he was off ship is actually suggestive of his being a previous CMO than not.

M’Benga is a physician but we don’t know who the CMO is in SNW. We don’t even know who the CMO is on Discovery do we or has this been confirmed as Pollard?

I would rather like to see him reprise the role of Shran.

Who knows how long lived Andorians are, and it’s likely Hemmer would know him, or might be related through Shrans’s marriage into the Aenar community.

Agreed. I hope we do see Boyce appear in at least one episode on SNW purely for nostalgia but they should just cast the best person for the role and this particular character doesn’t feel very Jeffrey Combs to me.

“Comic-Series” for animated series? I haven’t come across that term before.

Obviously Picard uses established franchise actors as well, so the old guard aren’t completely shut out of new live-action productions in the franchise. But I have to say that out of the current and upcoming productions, the animated shows are the ones that interest me most anyway. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll hear Combs in an episode or three of Prodigy (and more Lower Decks appearances would be welcome as well!).

Didn’t Agimus successfully copy into that PADD at one point? I actually expect him to show up again later at the Cerritos. Or at least a copy of him.

Maybe he can team up with Badgey.

“They killed off the last Weyoun, didn’t they? But they could always bring one back.”

You might even say that they could — reanimate him…