The latest episodes of Star Trek: Picard have featured the return of Brent Spiner playing a brand new android that is a combination of Lore, Data and more. TrekMovie had a chance to speak to the actor about why he brought the character back, the challenges he faced in the latest episode, and where he sees this new Data going next, including hopes for more beyond the series finale.
[NOTE: Interview contains spoilers for episode 8]
You previously said you wouldn’t play Data again so what did it take, what did Terry Matalas say to convince you?
They just threw hundreds of thousands of dollars at me. I kept saying, “No, no, no.” And then it just got absurd and I said, “Well, okay, maybe one episode,” and then it just got even crazier. And I thought, “Okay, I’ll do the whole season.” [laughs] In fact, Terry had some interesting ideas and had a way to address–my first response to him was, “How are we going to do this?” And they came up with this stuff and we tweaked it a bit and then I thought, “Yeah, I want to be there to play with my friends.” I wouldn’t want to be home knowing they’re all having that fun and I’m not there.
Was the tweak on the makeup a big factor?
You know, it wasn’t a big factor in convincing me to do it, although I was happy beyond belief not to wear the makeup. I mean, I still have the eyes. Yeah, certainly, it was more appealing to me knowing that I wasn’t going to be spending hours and hours and hours in makeup, and even worse, hours getting it off.
This season so far has offered you an opportunity to get into deeper and more emotional moments than the show and even the movies, so that must have been part of the draw?
Yeah, absolutely. For one thing, it’s taking the character to a completely different place, really, than he’s been before. [Gene] Roddenberry when I first met him, he was describing the character of Data and what he wanted from Data was that Data would get closer and closer and closer to being human. And at the end of the day, he’s as close as he can be and still not. And I think this kind of addressed that even more. It continues that journey of Data getting so very close to being human still he’s not. He is still an android. He still has an artificial body. And he still has confusion about the human condition and what it means to be human. And that makes him, I think, even more human, because we all struggle with that.
This may be a metaphysical question, but after episode 8, do you consider this to be a new character, Daystrom Android M-510? Or do you see this as just Data, a continuation of the same character?
I do, because he’s still equipped with his original memories. If your computer blows up—I mean Data is a machine. He didn’t die like a human being dies. He’s a machine. And if your computer blows up and you can retrieve the hard drive and all the information in it, that computer is just a shell. The body was just a shell. And so he’s taken with him on this journey everything that came before.
Returning to playing more emotion in Picard… in episode 7, the scene with LeVar was on a whole new level for you both. Did you guys do a lot of prep for that or just show up on set and do it on the fly?
We did it several times, obviously, as you do when you do shoot something and it did alter a little bit… I was blown away by LeVar. I thought, “This is the best work I’ve ever seen him do.” And it wasn’t really stressful for him. He was very eager to do it. I remember him looking at the scene and going, “Oh, good, it’s emotional.” He was ready to go and I’ve never seen him better. And I’ll say that’s true in a lot of ways for several of the other cast members in previous episodes. I don’t think Jonathan [Frakes] has ever been better than he’s been this season. He’s fantastic this season. And [Michael] Dorn has found so many colors for Worf that were never there. And on and on and on. Everybody is really working at top of their game. So yeah, we were really having a good time and a rewarding time doing those scenes.
In episode 8, we saw all of you together for the first time since Nemesis. I know you guys get together at Rick Berman’s house and such, but what was that like for you as a group to be on set together in costume?
Beyond Rick’s house, we see each other all the time. We talk all the time. We have lunch and dinner and Christmas together. We’re very good friends, but it’s the first time those characters have met in a scene together since Nemesis. And yeah, it was really kind of amazing. I loved it. I love looking around and seeing everybody and thinking, “Wow!” Here we are 36 years later, or whatever it’s been, still playing these characters and playing them more fully than we ever have.
Did you annoy the director for old time’s sake by joking around too much?
I would say, yes. I would say every director we had was probably annoyed at some point, with the exception of Jonathan. [laughs]
There is one of your old co-stars you haven’t had kind words for in the past. So when you saw a scene with Spot in the script, did you regret your decision to return?
Well, no, it went really well because this cat loved me. I’ll tell you what, Ron Moore and Brannon Braga used to write the scenes with Spot and they always wrote things just to irritate me. They would write things for this cat to do that it couldn’t possibly do. So we would be there all day long working because the cat was not a very good actor. And this cat was a brilliant actor. I would say this cat is considered the Daniel Day-Lewis of cats. It wasn’t really required to do anything other than snuggle with me, which it did brilliantly. So I was fine doing that scene.
You were praising your co-stars but you had some particular challenges given to you, including in episode 8, of acting against yourself in that void. Can you talk a bit about how that worked? I assume it was a stand-in scene partner…
Yeah, there was somebody in costume and makeup for me to look at. But there were times in that scene, and this I have never done before, where I would leave the frame as one character and literally come in the other side of the frame as the other character. And there were no cuts. The camera was moving and I was moving and I would just be the other person. It was a challenge! It took an entire day to do that scene and it was a challenge. It really was because there was nothing other than the occasional prop to identify which was which other than the playing of the same. To me, I had intentions for one character that were not the same intentions for the other character, so it was easy for me to separate the two. It was a question in our minds whether it would be that easy for the audience. I thought it would, but I haven’t seen it, so you tell me.
In the previous episodes, you were all the different characters but in the same body. Was that a bigger challenge?
I don’t even know how I did that, I really don’t. [laughs] I’m not sure. I don’t remember how I did it. But I know it was certainly a challenge. Is this going to work? Is it going to be believable? That was just a particularly challenging thing to do, to be all of them at the same time. But I felt confident that I could. I actually had a phone call from Patrick [Stewart] at the end of that day, saying, “I think that was memorable.” And I was much more confident playing Data versus Lore, because I knew those two characters, and I was only doing one at a time, really.
It is fun to play the bad guy, so is there something sad about finally saying goodbye to Lore?
Well, he’s not gone. He’s just been absorbed by Data. So he lives inside of Data. A lot of his qualities live inside of Data now and make Data who he is, is, and will become.
So, there is a dark side to Data now?
Obviously, there is and will be. I’m not saying we’ll see it this season. I’m not saying anything like that. But I would think if it went on, it would be inconceivable for it not to come out and come to the surface occasionally and have to be dealt with and grappled with.
At New York Comic Con you said you would like to continue on with this character. What do you see as his potential journey? Has he achieved the Roddenberry goal of becoming almost human? Where does he go from here?
Well, right now I think he’s still not comfortable being human. I think that’s where he could go. I think ultimately, in time, he can sort of maybe never fully understand because again, who of us does, but be much more comfortable in his human-ness than he is in this season.
There has been some buzz about this idea of a Star Trek: Legacy show, but also some talk about more standalone character miniseries maybe. Have you put any thought into how you would like to see a return of Data?
You know what, it’s so up for grabs that I don’t want to waste my time thinking about it. If they put it on the table and all the pieces are there… and by that I mean the rest of my friends are there. Or, conversely, if they want to just do a series with me, that’d be fine too. [laughs] I think it remains to be seen. And there’s also something really great about going out with goodwill. And I think we’re getting a lot of real goodwill on this season.
The third and final season of Picard premiered on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., and Latin America, and on February 17 Paramount+ in Europe and elsewhere, with new episodes of the 10-episode-long season available to stream weekly. It also debuted on Friday, Feb. 17 internationally on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.
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