Mother with a Mission
by Marc Shapiro
Six weeks before receiving the call to audition for the role of First Officer Major Kira Nerys in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Nana Visitor gave birth to a baby boy named Buster. Motherhood immediately went at loggerheads with the aesthetics of Visitor, an actress with more than 20 years experience under her belt. As Visitor remembers it, motherhood won.
“Going through the experience of this birth gave perspective on my life and what I wanted and did not want,” says Visitor in an unexpected bit of personal insight. “And what I did not want was to do any more bad television. I decided I was going to pack up to New York. I thought whatever my child’s life turns out to be, he’s going to see me do things that have meaning to me.”
Visitor, during an early morning conversation, is, true to from, spending some quality time with her son. On hiatus following the conclusion of ST:DS9′s third season, the actress says, “I’ve been going on some auditions for films, but everything I’ve been offered was so offensive and awful. I wouldn’t want my son to see me in them when he’s 18. Besides, I’m really not interested in anything at this point. As faR as I’m concerned, this is my time to be with my son.” And to look to her future on ST:DS9.
Visitor claims that her ‘falling in love with the character of Kira’ during the audition process ultimately kept her from leaving for the other coast. She remembers being ‘completely engaged on every level by the part’. What also excited her about the role was that the show’s co-creator Rick Berman assured her that the make-up required to play a reformed Bajoran terrorist would be minor. “I thought, ‘Great’, she jokingly remembers. Then he told me it would be like an elephant’s trunk and I thought ‘Oh my God! How am I going to be this strong woman when all anybody is going to see is this elephant’s trunk?’” but Visitor recovered from the make-up shocker and quickly realised that all the prosthetics in the world would not blunt the character’s potential. “I saw Kira was a strong woman with a definite history. She had made some slips of judgement in the past, but she had straightened out her life and had dedicated herself to things that were ultimately more important than herself. I felt that issues and people would be very important in her life, especially during the first season.”
She relates that a big challenge early in the life of ST:DS9 was straddling the line between masculinity and femininity. “Kira, from the beginning, was very aggressive, as are all Bajoran women, and that’s where the challenge was during the first season. I did not want her coming across as a man. Her strength is a woman’s strength and it’s important that she comes across that way.” Visitor, however, recalls that the first season was tempered by her actor’s instinct that said no matter how good things appeared she was subject to burn out. “I knew going in that with every job you usually end up getting bored at a certain point. Either you lose interest or it becomes a factory. You reach a point where you either lose interest or just have to endure. Something happens and it’s no longer what it was at first. I figured it would either happen sometime in the first season or sometime in the third. I was concerned that I would end up getting bitter. But happily that hasn’t happened. the character of Kira has constantly grown and changed.”
But what the actress claims has stayed constant throughout the run of ST:DS9 is the notion that Kira is not Wonder Woman with a crinkly nose. “Kira is not a hero. She’s not this perfect female with a big ‘W’ on her chest. She’s a real person. If she’s in love, she acts one way. If she has to kill somebody she’s another way.” And Visitor claims that it was her recent motherhood that helped her find the warrior side of Kira during the first season shakedown cruise. “Being a new mother definitely helped me to find the fierceness in Kira. I looked at my child one day and thought I would do whatever it took to keep this child safe. That kind of fierceness, that motherhood, brings you exactly what Kira feels for the cause of her people and why she is able to be brave in the face of danger. People are not brave unless they are truly afraid of something.”
Being the warrior Bajoran is only part of Kira’s overall make-up. During the three year run of the show, Visitor, who isn’t big on specific episode anecdotes, did find a joking aside to her more feminine side. “I’ve kissed just about everybody on the show at one time or another,” she chuckles. “I’ve had romantic interludes with Sisko. Riker came on the show just long enough to give me a very last pirate-like kiss. Yeah, I’ve had interludes with a lot of different characters, on the show and Kira has had more than her share of romantic fascinations.” And that, offers the actress as she warms to the subject, is part and parcel of Kira’s very un-Starfleet make-up. “Kira has different appetites and sometimes people, especially in America, have trouble with people, with women, having appetites. I don’t just mean sexual desires. Most scenes in which a man and woman are eating together the woman barely touches her food. but we did an episode that featured a flashback to Kira in a prison camp and she’s eating this awful gruel. And I mean she’s eating. Why? Because she’s hungry. It’s very important that Kira is capable of holding a child, killing a foe, holding her own in hand-to-hand combat and yes, wanting a man once in a while.”
Visitor is quite happy that, over the course of three seasons, Kira has emotionally been all over the map. Given her background, she considers the character a perfect fit. “Because I’ve been all over the place as an actress. I may not have been real well known, but I worked fairly constantly and that’s because I’m able to do a lot of different things. When you work in Hollywood as the guest star you have to be versatile. One week I would be this mad killer and the next I would be this meek librarian. I can do a wide range of characters and I’ve found the Star Trek writers have picked up on that and have given me quite a lot to do.”
The actress harkens back to her theatre roots for her comparison of ST:DS9 to “Regional theatre. We have no stars and everybody gets their turn to play Ophelia.” She also agrees with the idea that, during the first season, she was definitely in the spotlight. “We were working so hard and such long hours that I never really looked up and thought about it. I knew I was getting a lot of episode. But I also knew that while it appeared that I was being groomed as the break- out character on the show, it was only going to be for that season and that the other characters would be developed later on and I could be relegated to a spear carrier!
“Actually, I thought the way the producers developed my character during the first season was rather clever,” she continues. “Initially, people saw Kira as simply this grumpy warrior. I thought it was very hip for the producers to get to know her slowly; have a perception of her, watch as the situation changes and she stumbles and falls and gets up, and then have a different perception of her.”
Visitor claims that working on ST:DS9 is “the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.” And what made it particularly hard was having to be away from her newborn infant. “I wanted him to be with me all the time,” she confesses of those first season blues. “And with my schedule that was hard. But I finally got a housekeeper who would bring him down to the set and so I was able to be with him between scenes and at lunch. I was this working mother and I was torn and continue to be torn. I want to be with my child and I want to do the work. That was the real hard thing. But doing the show was always a joy and it still is. I’ve grown to love the people I work with. In the beginning they were all strangers to me; I didn’t know them. Now I can’t wait to see them. I can’t think of a more satisfying work environment.”
As ST:DS9 enters season four, Visitor speculates on what the future may bring as it pertains to her character. “I’d like to se the series focus on her normal maturation as a woman. I’d like to see her with a child. I think it would be wonderful if she had to deal with all that on top of everything else! I’d like to see Kira become older and wiser. Right now, she’s thinking with her guts as all good warriors do. But I’d like to see her heart grow a bit more as well.”
Given the long run of ST:TNG, one would have to speculate that there would be more than enough time for Nana Visitor’s wish list to come through. but the actress remains cautious about the future of ST:DS9.”There’s a part of me that’s afraid to fall in love and trust that this role will be here forever. And that’s kind of good, because it keeps the edge of knowing that this is something very special in my life and that it will pass.” And pass, she says, without her ever stepping behind the camera to direct. “Cirroc Lofton will direct before I will,” she laughs. “I’ll probably be the only one in this cast not to direct an episode. I figure I have enough on my plate just trying to figure my character out and what I’m going to do with her. Trying to figure out what the rest of the cast and crew should be doing would be too much.”
Finally, what Nana Visitor see as the future of Kira in the ST:DS9 universe are a galaxy of opportunities. “I’m not Starfleet. I’m not bound by the Prime Directive. I can be a loose cannon. I can shoot my mouth off. I can be wrong. I can do inappropriate things. I can get yelled at. That sure as hell sounds like I’ll have a lot to do…”
(Heaps of thanks to Helene’ for transcribing this article!)