DOING IT HER WAY
By David Richardson
TV ZONE visits the set of Deep Space Nine, and finds Nana Visitor preparing to say her farewells…
The view is stunning. We’re standing on the upper level of the Deep Space Nine promenade, looking through the vast window to the stars of the Bajoran system. Below us, crowds of people are going about their daily business. It could all be real, but, of course, it’s not: the set on the soundstage at Paramount studios is a solid, beautifully crafted piece of architecture. Totally enclosed, it gives one the impression that you’ve arrived in a tangible alien culture.
Sad to think that, in just a few months time, the whole structure will be torn down and the studio left empty. After seven seasons – during which time the show has developed from inferior Star Trek spin-off to a magnificent science fiction epic in its own right – DS9 will be over.
It’s not only the fans who will miss this popular series and its eclectic band of characters. Its passing will be a time of adjustment for the cast and crew, who have devoted the best part of a decade to the show. That’s certainly the feeling of Nana Visitor, the actress who has brought Kira Nerys to such vivid life on our screens.
“You know, when something [ends that] has been so much a part of your life for such a percentage of your life, it’s a passage,” she tells TV Zone. “With every passage – like leaving school – you could have had a great time, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I think we’ve definitely done a lot of interesting things here, and it’s time to go somewhere else and see what that’s like. But I’m gonna miss the people, that’s for sure. I’m gonna miss this set strangely enough – I’ve spent so many hours on it, and seeing my eldest son grow up here. Life is going to change in a huge way for me. This show has woven itself into the fabric of me.”
Likewise, Visitor has brought so much of herself to the show. Arguably DS9′s most magnetic character, Nerys is a complex individual who is loyal to the Bajoran people, who have lived through years of oppression under the Cardassians. If there’s a fight, you’d want her on your side – she’s tough, determined, and physically strong for her stature, yet this is balanced by a gentle side, a caring nature, a warm sense of humour, and a radiant smile. The show has explores her history with the resistance, her upbringing after her mother became a Cardassian collaborator, her conflict with the Bajoran religious leaders, and her determination that Starfleet will win the war against the Dominion.
“There’s nothing like a character that has huge commitment,” Visitor says, “and that’s built into her. You get a sense that she’s willing to do whatever it takes for what she believes in. That’s always exciting to watch because you don’t know quite what’s going to happen.”
Nerys is certainly one of the strongest women you’ll see on television, and that’s something the actress is rightly proud of.
“I remember doing interviews at the beginning of these seven years, when people said, ‘My God, this is a rarity – a strong female character on television’,” says Visitor. “I felt… not a danger, but an edginess to the whole subject. I was proud that we were trying something. Now when I watch tv it’s not a rarity anymore. That’s a great thing. Of course, it puts my character into a kind of history; something else needs to come, there does need to be another chapter, and who and what that’s going to be I don’t know. It makes me feel senior and it makes me feel glad that it’s not such a special thing anymore.”
While recent episodes have continued to explore Nerys’s resolve (her stand-off against the Romulans in ‘Shadows and Symbols’ is an absolute treat), we’ve also seen the more romantic side, as her relationship with Odo has finally been consummated. After a number of stories which focused on Odo’s unrequited love, and his unwitting betrayal during the Dominion occupation of the station which threatened to split them for good, the two officers finally became an item at the conclusion of Season Six’s ‘His Way’. Was this a development that Visitor had anticipated?
“No,” she responds, “and frankly I didn’t want it to happen. I think the show that it happened in, when I watched it, I found it very satisfying. I was nervous about it, and when I saw it, I thought, that’s really good,. But frankly I don’t like that particular road that my character has taken. Our writers are so great I’m sure they won’t fall into the one pitfall that I perceive, in that making Odo a weak character because he’s involved with a strong woman, in terms of what their dynamic is.”
While Nerys and Odo explore their relationship through the course of the seventh season, so Visitor and Rene Auberjonois must come to terms with playing out some very tender and passionate scenes in front of the cameras.
“It’s weird,” she shrugs. “It’s bizarre to do, also because there’s an awkwardness when good friends become lovers. I know that for myself, because my husband and I were such good friends. So it was awkward not just for Rene and Nana, but also for our characters, which I think is good. I’m sure that works. It’s probably more bizarre for him than me, because Judith, his wife, isn’t on the set, and mine is!”
The husband Visitor refers to is, of course, Alexander Siddig, the handsome British actor who portrays Dr Julian Bashir in the series. The pair worked side by side as good friends for years, aware of the “sexual tension” that existed between them, before they threw caution to the wind and entered into a romance. Some months later Visitor became pregnant with Siddig’s child, and the producers of DS9 found an innovative way of including this into the storyline – by have ther carry the offspring of Keiko O’Brien.
“I was glad they did that,” offers Visitor. “It gave me freedom to not be just behind desks and hiding and doing lots of close ups. Also it takes a certain amount of daring to have this active hero be pregnant and have it not be a big deal.”
In terms of her working relationship with Siddig, the actress insists that little had changed over the years.
“We were great friends, he was someone I enjoyed talking to on the set, but we didn’t have too many storyline crossovers. We weren’t together all that much in the seven years, and he’s still someone who I gravitate to on the set and want to talk to and laugh with, but we still don’t see that much of each other. Usually when I’m working he’s not, and when he’s working I’m not, which works out in terms of childcare!”
The seventh season began airing in October. The opening episode, ‘Image in the Sand’, propelled the series towards some new directions, with the station’s crew recovering from the death of Jadzia Dax, who had been murdered by Gul Dukat in the previous season’s finale ‘Tears of the Prophets’. How did Visitor feel about Terry Farrell’s decision to quit the show?
“I was there every step of the way,” she claims, “so I certainly understood her position. It was sad; it was like the beginning to saying goodbye to the family, the community, as we knew it for the first six years. But my God she got on a great show [Becker], with a guy [Ted Danson] that I know is great to work with, so I’m not worried about her career.”
In the storyline, the Dax symbiont is saved by Bashir, and later transplanted into a new host – Ezri, played by newcomer Nicole deBoer.
“Nicole is a treat,” enthuses the actress. “She’s very sweet and funny and nice. The atmosphere is very good with her. So far, in what I’ve seen, Kira has an almost maternal attitude towards her. That’s always interesting – I love to see the different female dynamics at work. I don’t think Kira gets to interact with enough women.”
The final season has also seen a change in Nerys’s position; formerly a Major, she now holds the position of Colonel.
“That’s a big deal to me!” laughs Visitor. “I’m ashamed to say what a big deal that is to me! It shouldn’t matter to me what my standing is, but it does, so that’s very cool. I feel there’s an ‘old crone’ dignity happening to her. I don’t mean she’s an old witch. I mean she’s carrying the wisdom of a woman who’s been through a lot, as undeniably she has. There’s a dignity that that imparts to her, and I like that.”
There’s certainly a whole host of ongoing story arcs the series must conclude before it goes off air early in 1999.The war with the Dominion must reach some resolution, as should Sisko’s relationship with the Prophets, and there’s also the likelihood of one more return to the Mirror Universe.
“There’s so much to tie up,” nods Visitor. “Maybe we won’t get to it all, and we’re not shy about leaving loose ends and grey eyes, and going, ‘You know, life doesn’t [tie up loose ends]‘. [I think we'll return to the Mirror Universe] probably one more time. I would expect the Intendant to get her come-uppance.”
HIGH NOISE LEATHER
Since this interview, the title of the final Mirror Universe story has been revealed – ‘The Emperor’s New Cloak’, in which Quark ventures into the parallel dimension to open a trading agreement. Fans will no doubt be delighted by this news, but for Visitor playing the Intendant can be something of a trial – thanks to the hugely uncomfortable costume she wears.
“I hate wearing it because it makes a noise!” she exclaims. “It’s rubber and if I take one step it’s like, ‘Well, Dukat…[makes loud creaking noise]‘. Everything has to be looped – we had to add voices later to everything we do, so that’s really annoying. The part that I do like about it is every costume changes how I feel and certainly affects what I do. That one is very helpful in helping me into getting into the Intendant’s character. I’ve said to people before, she’s not really evil, she just dresses that way. People have more reaction to the costume than I think anything else.”
As TV Zone visits the DS9 set, the episode in production is ‘Covenant’, in which Vedek Fala, a former teacher of Nerys, gives her a crystal that transports her to Empok Nor, where Gul Dukat is the leader of a Bajoran religious faction that worships the Pah’wraiths.
“It’s another Kira/Dukat episode,” comments Visitor. “We’re archetypes the two of us. This episode is particularly interesting because there are moments when you can’t be sure who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s all about faith. I find it interesting when Kira may be pushed into bad behaviour because of his horrible behaviour. All the grey areas between Dukat and Kira are very interesting to me.”
Given that Dukat is responsible for the death of many of Nerys’s people, as well as her close friend Jadzia, it seems likely that before the end of the season, she will have her revenge on her old nemesis.
“I definitely want to kill him,” beams Visitor. “If he goes out Hitler’s way by committing suicide I’ll be so pissed off!”
Charming, warm and articulate, Visitor makes a fascinating subject to interview. Her memories and opinions on the Star Trek universe make great copy, and one wonders if she has ever considered following members of the classic cast by writing her own biography.
“No,” she muses, before adding more forcibly, “No! It’s been a rich and interesting experience, and certainly the behind the scenes stuff would make a great play or television show in itself. A lot has happened. But it never occurs to me to cash in on that. I couldn’t do it.”
For the moment, the actress is concentrating just on finishing the job in hand. Beyond that, there will be new opportunities, new roles to play, and she looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
“I’m a journeyman actor and the work that’s in front of me is always the most interesting work to me. I don’t mind. I would love to do a sitcom. I could raise my boys much easier that way – the hours are great for that, although the advantage of an hour show is that you have days off. I’ll just see what comes along and what’s interesting and what’s a good fit in terms of character for me.”
While the cast of The Next Generation has carried the torch to the movie screen, and continue to appear at conventions, the future for Deep Space Nine seems more finite. For her part, Visitor seems intent to close the door on Star Trek, and is unlikely to continue to appear at conventions.
“Even now I do fewer, because I get an ear infection every time I fly,” she explains. “Also if I don’t have that much to say that’s new, I don’t get why I should do it. I don’t know what else I’d have to say to them in two years. Maybe I’ll have some revelations about the whole experience and than I’d be glad to go and talk. But if they’re just going to say, ‘How high were your heels in the third season?’ I don’t think anyone needs to talk about that.”
With the excellent box office performance of the Enterprise crew at cinemas, there is little likelihood that Paramount would be willing to attempt big-budget theatrical outings for Sisko and his crew. Fans have hoped that, like Babylon 5, the show might endure as a series of tv movies, which could revisit the station on an irregular basis. Visitor, however, doubts that will happen.
“The saddest thing I can imagine is like ‘the DS9 Christmas movie’,” she smiles. “You know what I mean? That would be horrible, and I don’t think anyone would want that to happen. There’s no talk of that at all. “I think when we shut down, that’s that.”
(heaps of thanks to Helene for transcribing this article)