We talk with STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION legend MARINA SIRTIS as she prepares for her role in the upcoming West End production, DARK SUBLIME...
STARBURST: What made you decide that this would be the role that would finally take you on to the West End?
Marina Sirtis: Well, it started a couple of years ago. I was at Destination: Star Trek in Birmingham and Dominic Keating was one of the other guests. Our director Andrew Keates is a really good friend of his, so he came with Dominic to the convention and we hit it off immediately. Then we started thinking maybe we’d like to do a play together, so we started looking for some projects and he sent me some stuff. Some of the stuff that he sent me is actually happening in other places, but then he sent me Dark Sublime, and I read it and I immediately called him back and I said, ‘This is my life’, and he said ‘what’? I said, ‘Did he know me when he wrote this?’ meaning Michael Dennis the author, and he said no. It’s as if he has been spying on me and wrote this play because not only is it kind of eerie that the character’s called Marianne, which is so close to Marina, but there are lines in the play that I have actually spoken in life.
What makes you different from Marianne?
To be honest there are only two things that are really different. One is that the character is gay, and I’m not, and two is that Dark Sublime was not a huge worldwide hit like Star Trek. I was in a huge hit and she wasn’t, but as far as personality and character and opening your mouth and putting your size tens in, it really is so much like me. When I read it, I said I know it wasn’t really written for me, but I have to play this part because I don’t know who else could play it.
Given that you were in a massive hit that’s endured for all these years, and Marianne wasn’t, is that the attraction, to see the mirror side of it? What if you’d been in a show that hadn’t been a monster hit? Are you looking forward to exploring that?
No, because although Dark Sublime is the name of the sci-fi show she was on, the play is actually about relationships. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been interested in doing a sci-fi play, because I’ve done sci-fi now. When you’ve done the best sci-fi ever – and I know I’m biased – that wouldn’t appeal to me so much, but what I love to watch are projects about how people relate to each other and the dynamics of relationships, so to me, that’s what the play’s about. She has these very complicated relationships with people and that’s what I found interesting.
The other thing was I regard myself as a character actress. I like to disappear into a role like Green Street Hooligans 2 or Crash where I’m unrecognisable, that’s what I really like to do. This is going to be the first time that I’ve ever played a character that’s so close to me, and it’s a bit of a test for me because I’m a bit frightened of that.
Because she’s so similar to you?
Yeah, basically I have to be me. I have to be very close to who I am as a person. American actors do it all the time, they play versions of themselves, but I like to disappear into a character. When people meet me, and they’re big TNG fans, they’re like ‘Oh my god, you’re nothing like her.’ The biggest challenge to playing Deanna Troi was keeping Marina out of her because we’re very dissimilar. I’m not as sweet or as nice as her by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m far more judgemental. When people say ‘what do you have in common’, I’m like, well, we’re the same height [laughs]. That’s about it really. Even our eye colour was different because I was wearing black contact lenses.
The attraction to Dark Sublime for me was my West End debut. I’ve only ever been an understudy in the West End before and I never went on, so it’s been my dream since I was a toddler to be in the West End and it’s finally happened at the age of 64, so I’m thrilled.
Was it the case that the opportunity had never arisen, or you’d been offered stuff and you thought ‘Nah, I don’t fancy that’, or life was too busy?
I went to America, and to be honest I won’t do theatre in Los Angeles because it’s not a theatre city. They think generally that you’re doing a play because you can’t get a movie or a TV show, and I love the theatre too much to have it disrespected like that. Also, I’ve been in the business 42 years and I don’t work for free anymore. I’m not saying I want a lot of money, but I’m not going to work for $9.00 a night, which is basically your petrol money. I’ve done plays on the East Coast in places like Philadelphia and Connecticut where they do respect the theatre, they’re theatre towns, but I won’t do theatre in Los Angeles.
How are rehearsals going?
We start rehearsals on the day of the Champions League Final - Saturday, June 1st - so I can’t go to Madrid to support Spurs, which I would have done.
Has this experience so far whet your appetite for more theatre work, opening up another chapter of your career?
Well, I have to be honest, I have been thinking about moving back home for a few years now, and then I definitely made up my mind up to come home when Donald Trump was elected. That did my head in and I don’t think I can live in Trump’s America. I don’t think that the evil and the vitriol and the vileness that he has brought out in some of the American people… I don’t think the genie’s going back in the bottle. All the evils have come out. My metaphor is a little bit more gruesome; I say pick the scab off and the pus is pouring out.
You’ve had your fill of that, and you want a fresh start?
Yeah, and also as an actress I did a panto in Bridlington at Christmas and I realised that I like to be around English people. Americans are lovely, but they’re not like us, they’re very different people, and I’ve done it for thirty years and I want to be surrounded by people who I don’t have to explain when I’m joking. The other thing is, they don’t write parts for older women in America. They just don’t.
And there’s more work in that vein here in the UK.
There is. I read an interview that Michael Dennis, who wrote Dark Sublime, and he said he had always found older actresses more interesting, so when he wrote the play he wanted to write it for older actresses. There’s only one young part in it and that’s Ollie, the young fan. If he had submitted this play in America they’d say ‘change all the ages and make them younger’. So just as an actor who has to work to keep the lights on, I need to be where the work is, and the work is not in Los Angeles.
Does it excite you to be talking about something other than Star Trek with such passion?
Yes. I will never, ever, ever say anything bad about Star Trek, because every good thing I have in my life, Star Trek gave me. I’m not going to be Leonard Nimoy and write a book saying, ‘I Am Not Deanna’. I loved my time on the show, I loved the people that I worked with, in fact, we’re all still best friends thirty years later, which is an anomaly in Hollywood, let me tell you. I wouldn’t change a minute of it, but it is nice to have something else to talk about.
Right now, Star Trek is having a huge resurgence in terms of profile, with the new shows and everything else that’s coming along. How do you feel about that? Are you enjoying it as a fan, watching this explosion of Star Trek all over again?
I’m loving it, because we all reap the benefits. When there’s new Star Trek, it ignites the franchise and gets people interested again, so it actually behoves all of us at conventions that there’s this resurgence of interest. I love Star Trek: Discovery because it’s very female-driven, which is fantastic, and of course, I can’t wait to see Patricks new show. That’s what I’m really excited about, to be honest. Sir Old Baldy is back on the scene!
Did you ever expect Trek to bounce back again like it has, or did it feel to you like it was lying in wait?
I actually thought it was done and dusted after Enterprise, I really did. The show wasn’t as big the three shows from TNG onwards and I thought ‘they’ve killed off the franchise now’, but obviously they haven’t. I think they realise now, the powers that be, that you can’t have too much Star Trek. People want it, and especially Patrick as Picard. He’s an icon isn’t he. I think it’s brilliant.
Can you believe you’re still talking about TNG after 32 years, and people are still interested and joining the fandom, and you still have stories to tell?
The thing is, I kind of took the original show as a template. They’re still out and about doing conventions. I could see from the original cast that the interest never died, and they were still in demand as far as the fans were concerned. Maybe not as far as Hollywood was concerned, but the fans still want to meet their heroes, so I’m not really surprised. I am kind of intellectually thinking ‘why are people still talking to me about Star Trek, it was so long ago’, but that’s another thing that’s similar about the play. There are scenes in the play where we talk about this – why are people interested in a show that happened 35 years ago; what’s that about? So we delve into that as well.
So when you started with Star Trek I’m assuming that even though there was that legend of the original cast going out and doing conventions, you couldn’t have expected to still be doing it to the level that you are all these years later...
No, I have to be honest, when we got cast, all of us pretty much thought we’ll do a year and then we’ll get cancelled. You tend to forget – and I’m going to blow my own trumpet now - TNG was the most successful Star Trek show ever, and that was the surprise, especially as the fans were not all that welcoming when we started. They were a bit pissed off. They were like ‘How dare you try to take the place of our heroes! We don’t want another Star Trek!’ Before we aired the first episode, I’ve never done so much press in my life, and the first questions out of every reporter’s mouth was ‘who’s the new Spock?’ and we were like’ We haven’t got a Spock.’ The fans were not happy. I remember going to conventions and there’d be thirty people there with their arms crossed scowling at me, like ‘How dare you,’ but Paramount stuck with us, even though I don’t think our numbers were great in the first season, and as people who stuck with us in the first season realised it got better and better. Once the writers had figured out who we were and what the characters were up to, and then of course when Michael Piller came on the show, God rest him, in the third season and then it really took off because the writing was so brilliant. It really kicked it up a notch.
DARK SUBLIME will be playing at London’s Trafalgar Studio from June 25th to August 3rd. For tickets and further information, visit www.trafalgarentertainment.com