Introducing the Intendant
by Lou Anders
Star Trek being the unique animal that it is, an actor on the series is often afforded the opportunity to play their character outside the range one would normally expect on a more ordinary drama. Three times now, Nana Visitor has been able to play an entirely different version of Major Kira Nerys, as the Intendant, her alternate universe counterpart. The Intendant of the mirror universe both is and isn’t the Kira we know.
“It’s the same person, I think is the point,” says Visitor of finding the subtle differences in character when she slips into the role of her darker half. “But she has what I guess would be called an ego disorder. Whereas our Kira has first and foremost in her mind Bajor, what she came from and what she stands for – the bigger issues – and she will fight tooth and nail for those things, Kira in the alternate universe has all that passion and all that ferocious intensity, but for herself. So it’s one and the same person, but the Intendant is completely selfish about it. She’s self-centered.”
Of the three mirror universe tales of the space station-based series, at least one of them, Through the Looking Glass, seems pitched at a more swashbucking level. Does this melodramatic tone make the alternate Kira seem any less ‘real’ than our Kira in performance? “Not to me,” says Visitor, “sometimes the effect looks funny, because it’s funny to see someone so childish and so uncaring. It almost seems like a joke, how someone could actually be that way, but the fact is, she has people killed. She kills. She doesn’t care. But the fact that she is so self-centered makes her funny, and should.”
In the first Star Trek: Deep Space Nine foray into the mirror univers, the two Kiras actually meet, and a rather interesting, almost uncomfortable, dynamic emerges between them. Visitor insists that our Kira wasn’t part of any sexual tensions. “Kira is not attracted to the Intendant at all.” However, the Intendant was certainly drawn to our version. “Only because she’s so self- centered. Here’s a person who looks exactly like her. It is narcissism in it’s easiest to understand form. And that’s all it is. It isn’t because she’s a lesbian. Who better to be in love with? How easy. How great.” Of the trilogy, Visitor says that the latest, Shattered Mirror, was her favourite. “It was the darkest. I think I found a darker place for her, because of the way they wrote it, and I liked it.”
Leaving her dark alter-ego in her parallel dimension, the past two seasons of ST:DS9 have seen our own loveable major put through her paces. The events of Indiscretion and Return to Grace saw her in an unlikely alliance with arch enemy Gul Dukat, as well as giving the character her first taste of maternity as the surrogate role model for Dukat’s illegitimate daughter, Torah Ziyal. “I think it’s less mother,” says Visitor, “although it’s kind of the Old Crone syndrome in the best sense of the word. It’s women mentoring other women, and I guess maternal feelings come into that, but she is a mentor to Ziyal, and that’s something that I don’t see a whole lot of, where I live – women helping, giving a hand, to help pull other young women up, especially in my business. It’s one of the things that we just haven’t got right as women. We need to do that. So that was very important to me, that it was in there, and that it be a good, solid, loving relationship, and that she’s helping this younger woman, who, on the outside of it, she has every reason to hate.”
Playing opposite Ziyal has been somewhat complicated as the actress under the grey make-up keeps changing. “She’s been re-cast three times,” explains Visitor. “Once because they felt that she should be more like me, viscerally more like Kira, and I understood that, in terms of strength, and the third time it was because the actress they cast the second time couldn’t take the make-up. That’s totally understandable. It’s something that doesn’t cross people’s mind so much, but it is very difficult to wear that make-up, especially if you are at all claustrophobic.”
Despite the re-casting, that strong tie gave Visitor her first opportunity to play into the nurturing side of Major Kira. Soon afterwards, events in the real world forced the character to deal with even more pertinent issues of maternity, as actress and character became simultaneously pregnant. “Boy, I wish it could have been explored more,” Visitor says, “but there are so many things that we accomplish in the show, and they can’t get to it all. Still, it’s such an interesting question about women carrying children for other women. I think that the way Kira felt about it is that it’s very clear who’s child it is, and yet her body, her hormones, kind of belie that. When the child was born, I pushed for an ending that was bittersweet, instead of ‘Oh boy, I’m glad they had their child. Bye.’
“I wanted them to show that it is a loss for her,” she continues. “You sleep and wake up and live life with this other soul right next to yours, and it’s a very unique feeling, and it’s very difficult to adjust to the fact that it’s gone. So I think it leaves her with a bittersweet feeling. I think she’s very clear. She’s not about to grab the child and run off to Bajor. She’s clear about why she did it, and what purpose she filled but there are these biological things that happen.”
While Kira had to give up the O’Brien’s child when it was born, Nana Visitor got to take hers – and Alexander Siddig’s – home. “Luckily, Buster, (Nana’s son from her previous relationship), was four and a half when the baby was born,” says Visitor, talking about how the new addition to her family fits in. “In certain ways, it scarier because he can actually do harm if he intends to, but it’s easier because he’s ready to let go of momma in that way. We had an adjustment period with Buster. He was very sweet, he loves the baby, but I had to make clear what every mother does – that he’s just as important, and different, assure Buster of his place in our world here.
“Buster’s had a lot of adjustments to make,” Visitor continues, “the fact that Siddig and I are together, the fact that Buster and I lived by ourselves for as long as he could remember – so it was a huge adjustment. Some of it’s good, most of it’s great for him, and some of it is difficult to understand. It’s funny. Last night we were coming home from an Easter party and Siddig and I looked at each other and it was like, ‘Wow. We’re a family. It finally happened.’ It’s gelled, but it took it’s own sweet time, which we all believe in doing, letting things take the time they take.”
As for letting things develop at their own pace, a recently filmed episode, Children of Time, brings a new development in the long-suffering nature of Odo’s secret love for Kira. Visitor says that historically she has been amazed at her character’s ignorance of the shape-shifting Constable’s feelings. Recently, however, she has had a shift in perspective. “I recently figured this out on stage at a convention with lots of people watching. I used to go to these conventions, and when people talked about the Kira/Odo relationship, I said, ‘What, is she stupid? She doesn’t see? She can’t see that he’s in love with her?’ Everyone can, but the fact is, when you’re in the situation, you’re not quite so astute. I actually had no idea that Siddig felt that way about me until one day when I finally woke. So it’s actually a very true-to-life thing that sometimes you don’t see it. And sometimes it’s a very happy surprise when you do finally see it. So I think that Kira may have one of those days of waking up.”
One thing that will not change is her relationship with Gul Dukat, if indeed, relationship, is the correct word. “It will never change,” affirms Visitor adamantly, “and I will never ever let it. Just as an actor, just as someone responsible for playing something, it will never be a sexual tension. It’s not that. This is someone who – gosh, it’s kind of the way a mother would feel about a child molester. More and more she has to deal with him. She has to, because she is first officer of a station where it’s necessary to negotiate alongside him sometimes, but she will never ever for a moment let herself forget who and what he is.”
With season five drawing to a close, Visitor assesses the work of the past year. “I think it’s our strongest,” she says confidently. “I think we’re just hitting our stride, and we have some very interesting situations happening. We’re established enough now, and the writers can take some chance, and certain things have been figured out, and I’m no longer pregnant, which really helps! I think we’re really getting to an interesting place, especially when we don’t try to compete with the Star Trek ideal as Star Trek: The Next Generation did, and as we become our own weird thing that we are.”
As for her character personally, how has she changed over the five years? How is Visitor playing Kira differently from how she did at the beginning? “With the experience that five years puts on a woman,” she says. “I mean, I’m making her grow up, just like I have, with the experiences. Because it’s a weekly series, exciting, death-defying things happen in every episode. You get to a point where you can either say, ‘Well, this can’t really happen, so I’m not going to add the wrinkles around the eyes that would accompany this,’ or you can say, ‘I will.’ I’ve chosen to add the wrinkles around the eyes that would come with the hugely stressful life that they lead on the station. So that’s the way I’d say she’s changed. It’s softened her, and it’s hardened her.
“You know,” Visitor contemplates, “she has this hard shell when she began, probably because she was protecting so much of this core that was jelly, because really what she wanted to do was cry for the family that got killed, and cry for every child that she saw killed, and for the people that she did in fact kill. So she had this hard exterior. Now the exterior has softened, because the interior has hardened. She can let people further in, because she’s more sure of what she feels. Since she’s got some distance on that life, she’s more sure of what she feels.”
Kira has come a long way since her days as a terrorist in the Shakaar resistance group. Visitor says that for season six, she’d like to bring a little of her own reality to the character. “The way I have to live my life is with three things in each hand, and I want to see her do that. I don’t want to see her give up her warrior status because she’s given birth to a child. I don’t want to see her give up her maternal, loving, passionate, sexual side because she’s a warrior. I want to see a mix. I want to see a mix of everything she was – the fury, the understanding, the woman who has lots of tears inside of her, lots of emotion. I want to see a whole mix, the way it is for me.”
Unfortunately, ST:DS9 faces the very real possibility that it will not continue for much longer. “I assume that it will end soon. I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t,” laments Visitor, who adds that she hopes that it will continue. Assuming the worst, where would she see herself next? “After this? I’d like to do a sitcom, because I love doing comedy, and I’m good at it, and I would just like to exercise that part of myself.”
Whatever the fate of the series, the importance of Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon is unchallenged. Increasingly, our own world is beginning to resemble the stuff of science fiction. Announcements of cloning, experiments of teleportation, NASA opening a division for faster than light research – it certainly seems all the artifices of the 24th Century are leaking into our reality. One unfortunate example is the Star Trek vocabulary espoused by the late members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, who committed mass suicide in March.
Visitor reflects on the pros and cons of being at the centre of such a powerful cultural icon. “I must say I was listening to the radio in the car hearing about Heaven’s Gate. I think it was the day after they discovered the bodies, and the reporter was talking about their beliefs, and I got a tightening in my belly, and I thought, ‘I think they’re going to mention Star Trek. And that was their next word, that Bo or Do or whatever he was calling himself these days, said, ‘You really don’t need to watch Star Trek anymore to understand the philosophy of life.’ It’s amazing to be a part of the phenomenon, both good and bad, personally, philosophically. The minute that something has impact on the world, some of it’s going to be to the good and some of it’s going to be to the bad. It will encourage people’s imaginations. It will encourage people to reach farther than they thought they could, in terms of understanding, in terms of what science is capable of, what technology is capable of. And it will also sometimes effect for the bad, because it will become an excuse.
“So it’s daunting,” Visitor continues, “and it makes me stop all the time. It makes me call the writers up. I always thought that my job as an actor was to make the words sound right, to make the words build the person, so I never asked for any changes. But now I do. Now I’m much more involved because I know how much of an impact Star Trek has. Some of the battles, I win, some I lose, but I’m very careful about my character – that’s all I can have an impact on – what my character is saying and how she behaves, and that she sometimes behaves badly, because you can’t live a politically correct life if you’re a viable being. She’s got to be first and foremost truthful. I’m aware of the impact, and I’m aware of my being a part of it, and sometimes it’s daunting.”
(Heaps of thanks to Helene’ for transcribing this article!)