TrekMovie joined a group press interview with John de Lancie to talk about returning to his iconic role of Q in the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard. The actor offered insights into how the character has changed, what’s motivating him, and more.
Note: The interview contains some minor spoilers and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You have said this is not the same kind of Q appearance, so can you talk about how the role on Picard was pitched to you?
When I went into Paramount to have a talk with [co-showrunner] Terry [Matalas]… In a sort of humorous way, I said, “You’re not putting me in back in those tights again, are you?” And he said, “No, no, no, no, no.” And I said, “Okay, I’m willing to listen a little bit more now.” [laughs] He really wanted me to understand that they did not want to go over old ground. And that was particularly good for me, because I am loth… there are real dangers in trying to recreate. I’ve been on a couple of shows which were recreations of very successful shows in the past, and that’s what sometimes they try to do and it was always disastrous.
So, knowing that we were going to start where we start with today and move forward was refreshing as far as I was concerned… There’s a part of me that is a little concerned that the audience will go, ‘It’s going to be the Q of old.’ And it would be kind of unseemly for me to be jumping around like mariachi band-time. So this is a new Q… not new Q, it’s just the situation is different. The stakes are higher. What I need to have Picard go through now actually affects me. So my stakes are higher as well. So it is a different look. Yet, if you consider this, dare I say a diamond, and you’re cutting different facets, it’s just yet another facet. And, and I think, an interesting one.
This is the same Q, but it’s a darker Q. How is it to lean into the angrier sides and build those layers into your character and your performance? How delicious is it approaching it with that in mind?
Well, you said it. There’s a deliciousness about it. And there is a desire from an actor who’s working with somebody else, is that you are trying to fulfill that and also kind of trying to bring some of it. You’re not letting it go, you’re just trying to bring some of it. So hopefully there’s a little bit of that stuff kind of sparkle still there. So yes, I am mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But this time I don’t even have the time to screw around too much. [snaps fingers rhythmically] Time is of the essence. That’s what you’re getting in this show right now, at least for me. Like, ‘We got to do this, and we got to do this now, and you, in particular, have to do this now, because you don’t have much time, old man. You don’t have much time.’
In this season, Q tells Picard he’s going to have to look at the roads not taken, and sort of reflect on choices he could have made differently. Is this because Q is also going to have to look back on some of his choices and also reflect on decisions that he’s made?
Yes, yes… That’s why I’m saying is that it’s just not me doing this [as] the puppet master affecting the puppet. I’m affected by this as well. The character is affected by this as well. And that’s why there’s an urgency in all of this.
Regarding the relationship between Q and Picard, what do you think draws Q to Picard out of all of humanity out of all time?
I think that there’s a genuine love for him. And in a way, I think he has that for me. Remember, I am a being that is in need of a lot, and looking for a lot. And this is a relationship that while I might be somewhat difficult to be with, I feel that I am very caring. And in this particular time, it’s really important. I need for him to do something because in fact, on top of everything else, it’s connected very much to what I need personally. So we are connected.
What is it about humanity that Q is so obsessed with that he feels like he needs to keep testing them and manipulating them and just getting involved in their lives?
Perhaps it’s a desire on my part for you all to be better; to just to be more human, more better than what you’ve been in the past. In The Next Generation, in “Encounter at Farpoint” I say, “Why do deserve to be out here?” It is that teacher who you have a sort of hate and love relationship with but they make you better, they challenge you more. I think that that’s a component in this in this character and that and the relationship and dynamic I have with Picard, and also the rest of the cast, frankly.
You’ve had the good fortune to appear on multiple Trek series, not just The Next Generation, but Deep Space Nine and Voyager and now Picard. Would you say that this show has a similar spirit as the previous Trek series that you’ve been a part of?
Well, it has a Star Trek spirit, which is to say that it’s about something. It is a darker show. And certainly, the way I am playing the character now is a lot less whimsical. It would be kind of unseemly at this age to be trying to recreate what was done twenty-some years ago, and the writers didn’t want that–very, very specifically did not want that. So, as actors, what we mostly are looking for is: What does the scene mean? Does this mean something? What are we driving towards? And, and in that respect, the best of the Star Trek shows that I did in the past were always about big philosophical questions, which is also the case here in Picard.
Did you find it easy to step back into the Q role after 20 years?
It was perhaps a little too easy. [laughs] Somebody asked about the clicking of the fingers and I said it’s just what I used to do with the kids, like, ‘pick up your clothes, let’s go!’ And so it was not difficult to get back into the role. And mostly because it’s just fun. It’s a fun role to play.
If this is the last time you ever play Q, how satisfied are you with the way Picard closes out the circle for you as the actor and Q as the character?
Well, it’s always the last time. Every time I finished the show, it was the last time. When I finished “[Encounter at] Farpoint,” it was the last time. I am happy that I got another whack at it. I finished a scene not too long ago that was very satisfying. There’s a sense of continuation. There’s a sense of, dare I say, a continuum to all of this that I’m now becoming more comfortable with and realizing that I get to put out a certain amount of energy and that the audience gets to pick up on that and continue it, and still grow it more and more.
I know, this is all beginning to sound a little airy-fairy, but playing this role, I guess in a way, it becomes a little bigger than you. It just becomes bigger than you. I do my little part and then I have so many people who seem to be interested who add their parts to it. And I don’t mean from the point of view of the crew in the cast, I mean, from the point of view of those who watch and listen. They add a little bit of themselves to this character. So it’s wonderful.
More to come
See our interview with co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman for more about Picard season two. TrekMovie will have interviews with Patrick Stewart and other members of the cast in the coming days, so stay tuned.
The second season of Star Trek: Picard will arrive on March 3.
Find more stories on the Star Trek Universe.