We’ve already shared the news that Star Trek‘s Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) will be joining The 7th Rule podcast to recap seasons 2 and 3 of The Original Series. We talked to him about joining the podcast, his time on the show, the scene he wanted to see (and filmed) in Star Trek Generations, and more.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Remembers warm welcome when he joined in season 2 (and that wig)
When asked when the last time he saw the show was, Koenig admitted he wasn’t sure.
“I have absolutely no idea when that was. I think I’ve seen a couple of episodes of different iterations of Star Trek, but not the original, in a long time.”
While he may not remember watching the episodes, Koenig keenly remembers what getting the job meant to him when he joined the cast for the second season in 1967:
“My very first thought about being on Star Trek was I’m getting a weekly salary. You know, humanitarianism, social conscience, all people should be respected, all of those good things which I thoroughly believe in were not foremost on my mind. At that juncture I was thinking about, I was going to have a baby at home, and I did have a wife, and the income was very—as small as it was. I mean, it was a joke—but that was the time.That’s the way things were then. But so I was very pleased to have an income.”
He described what it was like meeting his new castmates:
“I was very pleased to have a place to go every week, and everybody was friendly—almost everybody was friendly. Nichelle was great, she was the first one to come up to me, and was friends. And I wore a wig for six weeks because my hair was very short—I had made my own film, and I had cut my hair short. And so I went to Max Factor and I tried a bunch of wigs, and they settled on one. So she made a joke about a bird’s nest, and that was fun. And then DeForest was great. George wasn’t there, as you know. Jimmy was fine. Bill sort of gave me one of those (a slight nod). But it wasn’t insulting. It was an acknowledgment: I’m here. So yeah, it was fine. And as time progressed, and I got to see what we were doing and what we were saying, and how we were dealing with the audience, how we were treating them, it felt good. I felt that I was part of something reasonably important.”
Working with William Shatner and the Star Trek “caste” system
While talking about life on set during the making of the series itself, Koenig had an interesting view on co-star William Shatner’s manner of dealing with his castmates:
“You know, Shatner’s attitude was reminiscent of the attitude of the times. When we did Star Trek, it wasn’t a c-a-s-t, it was a c-a-s-t-e. We were distinguished by our position. If you were one of the three stars—and this was not Star Trek alone, this was most television series—you got billing at the top of the show, which may seem inconsequential, what does that really matter? But it reflects an attitude. And the attitude is: These are the people you have to pay attention to, these are the people you have to defer to. These are the people who you have to acquiesce to, the people who have the top billing. Our billing was at the end of the show, and not only at the end of the show, but in between the guest stars. Now that was really subordinate.
Did that bother me a lot? No. It was the way things were, that was the sign of the times. That’s the way the castes were set up. Nobody was was insulted. You had the two or three stars, and then you have the secondary players. And that’s the way it was set up, that was the structure of television. And so Bill was really only reflecting what was going on all around him.”
But he admitted he was occasionally bothered by it:
“I’m sure there were situations that were not that way, and you had somebody who was a little bit more aware, cognizant, a little bit more sensitive to his fellow actors. BUT… it wasn’t as if he was being evil. It wasn’t anything other than what most people were doing. And, of course, I was the new kid on the block, so I wasn’t really expecting a great deal more than that. And I didn’t receive it, but it didn’t bother me. It bothered—well, it bothered me a little bit; once in a while, we’d have a scene with six of us, seven of us were together, and then Bill would step to the right five feet, and the camera would change, and it would be on him. And it was if we weren’t out there. But that was the game.
George had a different beef. His was more personal, and I respected him for it. But I don’t feel the same malice that he does.”
Koenig also recalled a difficult moment from the TOS movie era:
“I had one bad moment. And it wasn’t the TV show, it was one of the movies with Bill, in the second movie [The Wrath of Khan]. That was the only really bad moment that I’ve had in the whole history of watching Star Trek or being involved in Star Trek.
We were getting ready. You know, they discovered me and Paul [Winfield] and then we got on the transporter. And I was standing behind Bill on the transporter, we were all going to beam out. And Bill looked at me and said, ‘Move a little bit this way.’ He didn’t want me so much in the shot. So I said, ‘I’m just doing what you would do, Bill.’ (laughs) He said, ‘That’s neurotic! That’s neurotic!’ And then he did a double take to look at me twice, as if looking at me twice is going to somehow cow me. So I went home and I had a severe gut pain for the rest of the evening. But I got over it.”
Praises Shatner’s acting… considers death of Kirk “travesty”
When it comes to William Shatner as an actor, Koenig has nothing but praise. He also has some strong feelings about the character of Kirk being killed off in Star Trek: Generations:
“I think it was a travesty! And you’ll forgive me for this harangue, I thought it was a travesty the way they killed Captain Kirk. It was so incidental: ‘Oh, by the way, you’re dead.; He should have died heroically, I mean really heroically. He deserves it! And Mr. Shatner brought a great deal to that part. He was incredibly good-looking, he was a damn good actor,. totally committed to what he was doing. Don’t talk to me about overreacting, that’s crap. What are you looking for? You’re looking for a ventriloquist, somebody whose lips don’t move? You’re looking for somebody who imbues the character, who embraces the situation, who gives us all, who exposes who he is. And Bill Shatner brought that to the part every time.
I’m tired of hearing—I go off and I apologize, I’m tired of hearing about bad acting, overacting, I think that’s bull.”
He even brought up the oft-imitated line that’s generated a million memes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:
“And when people say “Khaaaaan,” who has the guts to do that? Who has the guts to thoroughly throw themselves into the part and expose themselves like that? So although we’re not buddies, nor shall we ever be, I certainly do appreciate his work and I’m grateful that he was there. Because I’m not sure we would have come back for the movies, if it wasn’t for—I know, Leonard had an extraordinary appeal to the audience. And certainly he was to be commended as well for the work that he did. But you gotta have that leading man of some kind. Sometimes he’s a bad guy, sometimes he’s a good guy. But you’ve got the personification of the good guy that you want to root for in Mr. Shatner and Captain Kirk, and I’m grateful that he was there.”
“Spectre of the Gun” remains a highlight
When talking about the third season of the series, the actor brought up “Spectre of the Gun.” Roddenberry and NBC execs wanted the third season to feature more Chekov, which is why he had a more substantial role in the episode. He explained how the original plan was to shoot on location, but budget restrictions kept them in the studio:
“‘Spectre of the Gun,’ which was shot in the third season, was written in the second season and the intention was to shoot it in the second season. Now that is a better reflection of Chekov’s participation in Star Trek than what we saw most of the time in the third season, because at that juncture, we still thought we had a show and that was going to go on and on, ad infinitum. But we didn’t shoot it. We were short on cash… and that’s also one of the reasons why there’s that old adage ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ We ended up making a very interesting show, because we had to put it off and restructured the budget so that we can make it work. And in restructuring the budget, we played a little bit with the story. And to make the story more interesting, the whole thing being an illusion, we didn’t have to build real sets, we could get by with far less.”
Wasn’t surprised by TOS cancellation in season 3
When asked if he had any idea people the Star Trek franchise would still be going strong over 50 years later, Koenig laughed, sarcastically adding: “Of course! Didn’t everybody?” Koenig actually foresaw the end of the series before the third (and final) season even aired. He talked about knowing the writing was on the wall when the show’s time slot was changed:
“In the third season, Jimmy George and I did a shoot. We went on a magazine shoot for Kids magazine, it was either Teen or 16 or Fave or something … But while we were there, while we were astraddle the horse, we got news that guess what, we were being changed: Our showtime in the third season was not going to be eight o’clock Monday night. It was going to be 10 o’clock Friday night. As soon as I heard that—I mean, I was still astride my horse—and I knew that that was it, that we were done. I’m cynical by nature. And I knew that I would not have the same audience that I would at eight o’clock on Monday. They had brought me aboard for the very obvious reason of appealing to very young people, literally eight to about fourteen years old. And at Friday night at 10, they’re either in bed, the eight-year-olds, or they’re out at a party or at a date or something, the fourteen-year-olds. So at that moment, I knew that our fate was sealed, and that the third season of Star Trek would be the end.”
Chekov’s emotional moment cut from Generations
Between 1979 and 1991 Koenig and The Original Series cast made six movies together and then it came time to hand the torch to the Star Trek: The Next Generation. He recalled the shifting plans for the TOS cast for 1994’s Star Trek: Generations:
“The initial plan was to use all seven of us: George, Jimmy, Nichelle, DeForest, Bill, Leonard. And then they said, no, no, we’re just going to use Bill, Leonard, and DeForest. And they said no. Well, Leonard and DeForest said no. They didn’t see any point of going on and doing Generations when it wouldn’t add to their characters. And, frankly, although I didn’t have that much character to add to to begin with so I probably could have used the exposure, I felt that this was not the way to sign out in a in a role that is obviously designed for the purpose of bringing in Next Generation fans who would might not otherwise be Next Generation fans but for their allegiance to the original cast. So it was really very calculated.
I felt cynical about it, and I saw nothing there that I thought would contribute to an understanding of my character. So I said, thank you, but no thanks. And frankly, the money was quite significant. But I have some pride in myself and I have some pride in what I do, and I just didn’t feel that we were bringing anything that had a great deal of merit. So I said no. And they called me and said, ‘What would change your mind?’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell you what’ll change my mind. You let me come up with a scene that will not undermine the story, that will not in any way subvert what you have going with Generations. And it’ll still be, you know, 97%, about Next Generation, but it’ll be a moment for Chekov, a moment where you get some insight into who he is.
We were there in an expository fashion—George, Nichelle and I most specifically—and most of the time, Jimmy, occasionally not so. But in an expository fashion means we were there to advance the story, to tell you what’s going in the plot. [In Chekov’s voice:] “Captain, there is a crazy-looking ship out there—no, no, Captain, there is a THING out there. We don’t know what it is, what do you think it is?” And then he goes on and he tells him how he feels, and you get a sense of the character, and you get a sense of what that thing means in our lives personally. And that’s why you have a captain, so you can identify with him… but we’re just the tool to help expedite that. So I wanted the moment. When Kirk gets blown out of the ship in the beginning of the film, there is a moment when you go back and look at it, where Jimmy and I stand together, and we say something on the order of… I don’t know what we say when we say something. And the reason I don’t know what we say is that we didn’t say what I had written.
So there was a moment between Jimmy and I, when we talk about the loss of our captain… there’s no more Captain Kirk. And that was painful. And if the truth be known, and I’m not sure I’m proud of this, but I had suffered a devastating loss in my life at this point, and I was able to bring that to that moment when Kirk gets blown out of the ship. And the only time in my life that I’ve ever brought forth tears was during the exchange between Scotty and Chekov. So they shot it. The writer took down what I had to say… and we memorized it. And we got on the set, and we shot it. And then they cut it out.
I should have known that! I mean—[sings] “Hello, Hollywood, da-da-da-da-da-da-da.” Everybody talks about Hollywood, and there’s a reason. So I wasn’t crushed. I think even at that tender age—50 [laughs], or whatever I was, 40—I knew that such things happened. But that was the only reason why I did the film, was because I thought at last I got to say something about how the character should be played. And it’s just one moment, it’s not going to turn the plot upside down, twist anything, you’re not going to have to bring in other actors, you’re not going to have to have dialogue that explains why I’m saying this. I mean, it’s generated from human compassion.”
Joining The 7th Rule
Koenig will start joining The 7th Rule with co-hosts Cirroc Lofton and Ryan T. Husk to review seasons 2 and 3 of The Original Series in December, and episodes will start coming out in early 2024. He says he’s looking forward to recording and talking about the episodes, and expects to be “learning something every day” because of it, and adds that he thinks it will be a fun experience.
Keep up with news about the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.