Interview: Brent Spiner On Playing A New (And Old) Android In ‘Star Trek: Picard’

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.

Brent Spiner as Data in “Dominion”

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.

Brent Spiner as Data, LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, and Mica Burton as Ensign Alandra La Forge in “Dominion”

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.

Brent Spiner as Data and LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge in “Surrender”

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.

Brent Spiner as Data in “Dominion”   

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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Nice! How did you get him to be so serious during the inteview?? LOL

I have to really hand it to Matalas. Data was hidden in plain sight this whole time and I never even considered we would actually see Data this season lol. I always just thought it was going to be Lore and he was going to kind of learn what it meant to be human and to be more like Data in the end. But nope, ultimately we just got Data back.

And I have to say I’m pretty happy about it. And I was always adamant Data shouldn’t come back just like Prime Kirk shouldn’t. Not because I had anything against those characters, not even close. But that even in Star Trek it’s OK to have some finality of death once in awhile. But oh well lol.

Spiner did an amazing job this episode. It takes some use to seeing Data so much older but it’s great to see him at a different stage of his existence and how they will play with that the last few episodes.

Honestly I’m okay with a finality of death as long as the death was satisfying.

Tashas death in Skin of Evil was shocking and unexpected, yet it worked as it showed danger, so it was satisfying

Kirks death was heroic and satisfying

Datas death was…it wasn’t. It felt like a rushed TWOK copypasta and thats because it is just that. I understand that it was needed for Data to go because not only did Brent want to move on but we were running into a story boundary.

However in this case it gives a satisfying conclusion to the character (if this is the end) where Data gets his happy ending, and by extension of being combined into his brother, Lore does too.

I definitely wasn’t happy with how Data’s death was handled either, but it has been 20 years at this point, so I accepted it when it happened just like I wasn’t happy how they killed off Kirk, but accepted the outcome just the same.

And I did think one of the best things they did in season one of Picard was how Picard got to say goodbye to Data. It was so moving and the highlight of the finale. But I don’t think reviving him took away from that moment because this is technically not the same Data I guess you can argue it wasn’t the same in season one either. but whatever lol.

But yeah end of the day many fans never wanted Data to die and I’m guessing Matalas was one of them. He found a very creative way to bring him back but more importantly convinced Spiner to do it. So even if we never see Data again after this season, this alone will be considered a win by many with this direction.

There are echoes of David Mack’s novelverse trilogy Cold Equations in the way they have brought back Data.

I could see how they could pick up on more if that in a limited series, a one shot, or even as a recurring character in a spin-off series.

I was thinking the same

Wow interesting. Thanks for the info. In fact I wasn’t even aware until now Data was brought back in the novels. I knew he was in the Countdown comics tied to the first Kelvin movie but that’s all I was aware of.

I didn’t know they brought Data back in the novels either. I have said this before but I thought that they should have put Data in the gollum body back in Season 1 but make him more or less human, like Picard ended up being as a synth.

I also firmly disagree that bringing him back undermines his previous death scene. Just as I laugh at people who think Star Wars TFA ruined the happy ending of ROTJ.

Kirks death was heroic and satisfying

That might be the first time I’ve heard that expressed. I mean, obviously if it worked for you that’s perfectly fine. Not going to suggest it’s wrong.

But as far as I knew, Kirk’s death — ripping him from a virtual paradise to assist a stranger from the future in a fist-fight — was almost universally panned. Not because Kirk can’t be killed, but because of the ham-fisted lazy way manner in which it was done.

Dude fell from a rickety bridge. ;D

EDIT: Whoops, looks like I replied to the wrong person. Oh well. :(

They obviously reversed the frase “captain on the bridge” in the script. 😉

That Data scene…man, the waterworks here. That whole last scene of them in the conference room was so magic.

I’ve teared up so many times this season.

Me, too. Very good Work of all

I think that conference room scene hit a lot of the right emotional levels, but it was structured wrong. Throw in a hug or two, but then get right down to business. Introduce a pause while they wait for info to be looked up, and bleed in the personal asides while that happens. I was literally strumming the seat of the sofa, wondering why this urgent Federation crisis wasn’t even being brought up while they went all gooshy-TNG like this was a typical 10-F day in the E-D. Found most of the ep okay, but think that the whole season has had a weird hurry-up/slow-down thing going with the storytelling.

More than ever before (except maybe Abrams), this is ‘ship traveling at the speed of plot.’ They can zip off from Daystrom to Fleet museum and back again in less than an hour (with plenty of time in-between for gab plus stealing and installing a cloak!) and yet there are refs that the first half of the season was at the fringe of FedSpace, with little transit time to justify statement.

I’ve only rewatched one ep this season, the sixth one, and that was mainly because I missed the Kirk thing first time through (couldn’t even see the name on my set the second time till I paused it and got up close.) I’m beginning to think this may be the TVH of modern trek for me, something that is pretty fun first time through, but will utterly fall apart or bore on followup. Still, that’s a distinct improvement on everything else in the Kurtzverse thus far (with maybe 3 SNW eps excepted from that criticism.)

Honestly I find the initial description of “Lore”, as was explained, a “New-old character”to be so apt right now.

The idea of Lore having contributed to Datas “dark side” and something to be grapled with is compelling and really opens some opportunities.

If nothing else, I will remember this season for, what looks like so far, a satisfying conclusion to the Data and Lore saga. “Descent” never sat right with me. Data shoots him, deactivates him, and that’s it? Meh. Much better to see them talk it out and merge or whatever happened this time. Very Trek stuff.

So thank you, Mr. Spiner, Mr. Matalas and company, for that.

Yeah, this is a better end for Lore.

That being said…..

Why couldn’t they just wipe Lore’s neural net and install Data from B4..

Nevermind, lets not ask questions.

B4 would be “the Clone of Data” in our Minds. that a little but important difference. Also B4 is “To Old Body” that our current Data never ever want to go back. Because our Data has evolved

What i mean. If they really want to Show us B4, then it should be an CGI Avatar because of the Android Age.. So. i do not see any useful usage for for that

(I do not want to sound like a meaning, just discussion in normal tune)

Data experienced humanity through sacrifice in Nemesis and humanity through death in Picard S1. Data gets to LIVE as a human now, or damn close to it. It’s a near-perfect conclusion to his journey, IMO.

Every human has a dark side, some more than others. How we balance the dark and the light is part of what defines humanity. Without the dark side of Lore, Data could never experience the fullness of humanity.

Since Data and his wish to become human was inspired by Pinocchio, making him almost fully human now was the next logical step and a satisfying conclusion.

> How we balance the dark and the light is part of what defines humanity.

That i absolute agree with you, too

Great insight. Agreed.

Spiner is right in that nearly the whole cast has upped their game (Sirtis hasn’t had enough to do to this point). Frakes has given new depth to Riker. Dorn has been a hoot as the Klingon Kwai Chang Caine. I always felt Burton got shorted on TNG and here he’s knocked it out of the park. What can I say about Spiner that hasn’t been said before? How this man has not been a bigger presence as a character actor in TV and film is beyond me.

I have a new name for him, found on reddit: MASSDATA! 😉

Brent Spiner is an awesome actor, one of the great aspects of TNG is his acting.
The interview touched on something larger though, that Star Trek has a dehumanization of life problem. We’ve gone from life being special, impossible to duplicate by the Borg and V’ger, to AI=life. But…

Consider Measure of a Man (2022):

Riker: I’d like to call Brent Spiner to the stand.
Spiner: “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.”

#1 – I agree with Brent Spiner, though I feel that the immature would go in reverse and apply that to organic life which in my mind is dangerous but is happening (and also why some never talk the Fermi paradox).

I think it was Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens’s novel Federation (the one where Kirk and Picard meet) where Zephram Cochrane gets beamed up and his thoughts are how horrid the transport is because he is just a copy who thinks he is Zephram Cochrane and how the future devalues life so much, but is reassured that it is his actual molecules that were moved to his relief. What a contrast.

Data 2.0 to be a full time character? Sounds like Brent is up for it!

Considering “full time” now means 10 episodes a year, and the new Data doesn’t require full face paint, I’d imagine it’s not a tough call.

Honestly, these scenes in Episode 8 were Brent Spiner’s best acting since… First Contact? I didn’t care one bit for all the different Soongs (except for Aarik, perhaps), and I honestly I don’t think Spiner did particularly – but he did, this time, care about Data and Lore and what these characters mean to him, and one could feel it.
Brilliant performance, brilliant episode. Very very happy to have Data back, a new Data. And yes, I am surprised by this as well, as I loved the bittersweet goodbye in S1.

Ruined a little of the best moment of season 1 for me, the finale was gut wrenchingly sad but satisfying.

To bring him back…I dunno, it’s good to have him but also….just pisses over a lot of the earlier season (which I know they have tried to smooth over with some dialogue explaining it).

What next….Kirk??

It ruins nothing. Those scenes happened, the emotions of those characters are real in those moments. Let me put it this way: if you said goodbye to a loved one who was expected to die from a terminal disease, but they somehow wound up making a recovery, does it “ruin” the emotions you felt when you said goodbye?

Or, if after that emotional goodbye, a doctor said told you he’d just discovered a new treatment, would you tell them not to administer it because your loved one’s potential recovery would “ruin” your goodbye?

The cat was definitely all about the hugs in this episode. :-)

If we never saw Data after this season of Picard, I would be disappointed, but I would feel a heck of a lot better than I did after Nemesis.