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Classic Data

When Brent Spiner walked into the room, he gave Patrick Stewart a big hug and then warned that everything his beloved captain said about him was a lie. Stewart had a huge laugh over the line and then excused himself from the room for his next interview session. From there, Spiner was more than ready to get to the business at hand:

Q: Is there oneQuestion that always comes up and you wish never does?

Brent Spiner: There's always one auestion that comes during junkets and it's 'what do you attribute the success of Star Trek?' How am I supposed to know? I'm just the actor who hits his marks and says his lines. I think that's a question for fans and sociologists. Not me. I love the work of Brent Spiner. I'm a fan of his. But I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi. Not that I don't watch it, but it isn't my favorite genre. In general, I prefer the past to the future. I prefer the History Channel.

Q: I noticed in the film they had Data keep the emotion chip out. You are more or less playing classic Data. Was this like going back to old times?

Brent Spiner: Yeah, it was. Indeed. I'm sort of ambivalent about using the chip. It's sort of a device that allows me to do some stuff I hadn't been able to do on the series. It was interesting to have a character I had known for seven years completely change. But again, I think part of the old film was to recapture some of the things we did in the original series. So, that notion sort of necessitated we not use the emotion chip.

Q: Still, for you as an actor, that's denying certain dimensions you just had.

Brent Spiner: Right. Well, Data with the emotion chip is still Data. Whether you plug in the emotion chip it's still the character. So it wasn't particularly difficult to play the character. There was no problem playing him.

Q: Which is harder for you, playing Data in high altitudes or underwater?

Brent Spiner: I prefer the water to the heights. I'm a complete wuss where heights are concerned...and I always wind up high up where this job is concerned. In the last movie, there was a scene where I jump off of a platform. Well, if you slow up your VCR you can see that was me. What they did was hang me from a wire behind a sound stage. What you didn't see was there was a guy above me on the catwalk with a pole straightening me out because I was doing this (waves his body right and left) in the wind. I hated it because I hate heights. Another scene was in Generations where Patrick and I were on a platform. Now Patrick has no fear of heights. He loves heights, and he knows my fear of heights. So, he started bouncing on the platform. It was like being on a diving board. He was killing me and knew it. For this film, we had to take helicopters to the High Sierras. In one sense I hated it, but in another it was an excuse for me to hold Donna Murphy's hand. So that was both bad and good. Now I love swimming, so I love being underwater.

Q: Do you feel that more of the cast got into the action?

Brent Spiner: I was once asked on the set if Data had an arc. Well, Data doesn't have an arc. I wasn't being negative. I was being honest. Data is just part of the action. He's part of the group. That is what he is and that is fine with me. I don't need my own arc. For me, whenever I first get a new Star Trek script I hate it. That's just the way it is. Then again, I could have been handed Schindler's List and probably said it was just silly. I don't have the skill of reading a script and seeing the value of it. I really don't start to appreciate a script until I start working on it. When I start working on a scene with the other actors and they are shooting, then I suddenly go 'Oh! There's more here than meets the eye.' I also think it's part of my job to not like the script. I think it's my job to find things that disturb me and voice that. In Star Trek, there is a real interest in what the actor's take is. There's a policy with Rick (Berman) and the powers-that-be to come in and argue your points. I usually get eight to twelve hours worth of meetings. I don't win them all. I probably win about ten percent of them. But once the movie starts to shoot, any problems we might have is thrown on the window and try to make it a joyful experience. There's no time left for problems. Maybe some of that fun will come out in the movie.

Q: Can you tell us of a scene that you pushed for?

Brent Spiner: There was one moment that I was able to change on the set. It was the scene after Riker had shaved and told me his cheeks were now as soft as an 'android's bottom.' I wasn't able to effect it in the meetings. So I did it on the set. We ended up doing three different versions of it. One to satisfy the script. One was a sort of compromise and one was my way. The deal was a few minutes later I was supposed to say, 'No, sir. It is not' to which he says 'What?' and then I say 'Smooth as an android's bottom.' That was in the script. So Jonathan agreed with my take and we did it. Then the word came back to do it according to the script. Then we did an abbreviated version of that. When it got into editing, the studio looked at all three they went with the original version. Fortunately, Jonathan stuck to his guns on that one. And it worked?

Q: What about the "boobs" segment? Was that improvised between you, Michael, Gates and Marina?

Brent Spiner: Believe or not, it was not. That was in from the very beginning. It was even in the first draft. I laughed out loud when I read it. Oddly enough, when I first read it, the first thing I thought was Gates and Marina will not do this. I know Gates and she would say no. She never had a problem with it. I'm really happy with it.

Q: Can you tell us your relationship with Patrick?

Brent Spiner: Patrick and I are very good friends, but Patrick is the leader...and there's good reason for it. Patrick's a really strong person. He's a very honest person. What you see is what you get. He's not that different from Captain Picard. He's funnier than Captain Picard, certainly looser and more fun to be around. Still, he's as right for this role as anybody because he's a really solid human being. He will stand up for what is right. He has a power as a human being. There's a reason why he plays the roles he plays. He is a very powerful human being. You can just see it. It just exudes from him. He's very good at playing kings and Captain Picard is a king. He sits on a throne and governs the universe. He's really good at finding that power.

Q: If he's the king, what are you?

Brent Spiner: Well, there's a really western kind of feeling to this movie. I mean that goes back to Gene Roddenberry, but there's also a Tarzan thing to the movies. Captain Picard is Tarzan and I'm Cheetah.

Q: Is there a down side to this role?

Brent Spiner: There are only two down sides to this role. The first is I get asked if there is a down side. I don't think about it until I get asked. Things like whether I think I'm being typecast don't occur to me until I get asked. There's precious little down side. I mean eleven years of gainful employment in the acting field is not to be sneezed at. Also, I got to do other things, so that kind of lent balance to me. It makes me feel really happy to come back. If there wasn't something else, I'm not sure I'd be happy to come back to it. The only thing that gives me pause is it's become part of my name in print. I don't see why people have to put "Data" between "Brent" and "Spiner." To me that's just lazy writing.

Q: You've run the full range in your career, from musicals to drama to comedy. What do you see yourself as?

Brent Spiner: I see myself as basically a comedian. Now mind you that Olivier considered himself a comedian, and I'm not Olivier, but I do see the world in comic terms. I see every role I do in comic terms. I'm not comfortable with a role unless I see some humor.

Q: So you enjoyed your role in Out To Sea?

Brent Spiner: I had a blast doing it! Then again, I think I was the comic relief in Independence Day and Phenomena.

Q: There's an interesting side note about this film and the fountain of youth. What about the fact that Data doesn't grow old...

Brent Spiner: How am I going to do it?

Q: Yeah.

Brent Spiner: I don't think I have many Star Trek films left in me. I think I may have one left. I'm already skating on thin ice right now of getting away with it. I know they can adjust the script to explain why Data is as baggy as he is, but I think I'd rather get out while the getting's good. My first teacher, who taught me everything I know, broke a role down into ability and suitability. First of all, there was suitability. Are you right for it? Then comes ability. Can you pull it off? I think there are certain requirements with Data, such as a youthful presence and a childlike naivete that's not quite so attractive for a guy in his mid-50's. So I think the time will come when I better bail. Also, I've done 186 hours of Data. I don't have a real need to do him. If there's another film, then...One of the things I'd love to do and I don't know how to get this to Paramount. I don't know if Patrick mentioned this was we really weren't prepared to do another Star Trek movie after two years. Once it started we were all happy to do it and jumped in. But we all felt like we had just finished promoting First Contact when we were back on the stage doing Insurrection. It just seemed to close. They were just coming to quickly now. So what I thought would be what if we do another film--with this cast --but not a Star Trek film. Let it be something else entirely. Maybe a 20's detective story or a western or whatever. I think it's incredibly promotable. We would be used as a repertory company. Obviously we can do other things. We do other things all the time. Why not do it for Paramount? So, it would be a film starring this cast, but also something totally different. Then, after another year, we would do another Star Trek film.

Q: It sounds like filling supply and demand. Fans of Star Trek would have to see that film.

Brent Spiner: That's my feeling. I think it would also be a viable business opportunity AND you don't have to have a $50 million budget to do it. Maybe it would be like a remake of Big Country. Patrick could do the Burl Ives role. Jonathan can take over Charleton Heston's role. I would be the city slicker while Michael would take over Chuck Conners' role. Just make it something that we can use all of us in a completely different context.

Q: They did that in Deep Space 9. It was very well received.

Brent Spiner: There you go.

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