To coincide with the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I had the delight of interviewing actor John de Lancie, famous for his role as the ever mischievous Q in TNG as well as Deep Space Nine and Voyager. John will be attending the Destination: Star Trek London convention next week (October 19-21) along with a host of other guests. TrekCore will be reporting live from the convention, so be sure to check back with our Destination London coverage for more news very soon! In the meantime, enjoy our interview with John!
John de Lancie Interview
Interviewed by Adam Walker for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: We’ve all been celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation this week, in fact it’s 25 years to the day tomorrow when “Encounter at Farpoint” aired [this interview was recorded Sep 27], so it’s great to talk to you at this time!
John de Lancie: Laughs Really? Oh my God, it’s 25 years!
TrekCore: You’ve had the privilege of playing roles in so many iconic genre series, including Star Trek, Stargate, Torchwood, Breaking Bad – do you have any shows that are still on your bucket list to appear in?
John de Lancie: You know, I don’t really operate that way, for a couple of different reasons. I tend not to watch much of anything, which isn’t to say that I just sit around staring at the wall, but I read a lot, I work on creative things – you know, that type of stuff. So I don’t tend to watch a lot of stuff, which is difficult because I have actor friends who say to me “Well I’ve just gotta be on this show” or “I’ve got to do this play” or what have you, I just have never done that. So the answer is no.
TrekCore: In that case, is it more a case of these shows head-hunting you for appearances?
John de Lancie: No, it’s a matter of trying to find things that are interesting. You know, tasty little morsels – just tasty bites which are interesting, which make my life interesting, which other people enjoy watching. You know, those are the things that are the criteria – you know, well written – all that type of stuff is the criteria for what I do.
TrekCore: John, I’m obliged to ask you some Star Trek questions, especially in the anniversary week! How much of the Q character was your own inspiration? Did you push your vision of Q on to the screen, or was it more direction from the producers and the director which informed your portrayal?
John de Lancie: Well, it comes first and foremost from the writing. Then what you do is that you – this is just how the process works – somebody writes it and they audition a lot of people, and then somebody comes in and – from the producer’s point of view and the writer’s point of view – they nail it. In this case, when I walked out, the person who walked out behind me and stopped me and put his hand on my shoulder, he said “You make my writing sound better than it is”, something of that nature, and it was Gene Roddenberry. So, technically – actually answering your question seriously and technically – what does that mean – ‘I’ve made what he’s written sound better than it is’? Well what you’re looking for in that audition process when you’re going through 15-20 people who are reading the same lines, you are really looking for somebody who brings themselves to the role, because still what is on the page is two-dimensional. You are waiting for somebody to breathe life into that idea. And in this case, I guess I was the one who understood the character best, and then had the opportunity to play it.
At least they [said] “Well, geez this guy… worked on a couple of different levels, one is – he’s shown us not only the character, which is what we want but he has brought something to the role which now we appreciate as being something that we need.” And then what happens is that the director and the producer [say] “Wow, we don’t have to worry about him. We just need to give him certain directions along the way to stay sort of in the path that we have for the entire show. But he is a completely self-contained element, and he can go on and he’ll do it.” And everybody then says “Oh, well we’ve got that character handled.”
TrekCore: In that respect then, when you filmed the pilot, did the director Corey Allen just take a back seat and let you roll with it?
John de Lancie: Uh, yes. To the extent… the only place that Corey and I had a difference of opinion – not that, I mean we were all very friendly so it was just a difference of opinion – is that Corey wanted Q to be straighter than I thought he should be. I always felt that Q was more of a god, an omnipotent being with clay feet… No, sorry – an omnipotent being who was too stupid to know it! Or, a god with clay feet. Or, a supremely confident person who privately was really insecure. Those were the things that I thought were… and because I got a second chance, you began to see it later on.
TrekCore: Why do you feel that Q didn’t return to Deep Space Nine after your one appearance there? I understand that it was a very different cast to work with than The Next Generation.
John de Lancie: Uh-huh. First of all, they were only bringing me back once a year, so that was that. I don’t think that that episode [‘Q-Less‘] was a particularly successful episode because from the point of fact that… the episode was low on philosophy. Q works best when there’s a big philosophical issue… and whether Q loves Vash or not just isn’t. I think that once the writers saw that there was sort of a comedic flair, they began writing to it, to which I would say “Please don’t do that. I can undercut, I can spoof, I can give a wink and a nod. But if you start writing me comedic, I don’t have anywhere to go.”
TrekCore: In that sense, do you prefer to play Q with a threatening menace, with an element of cruelty to him like we saw in Farpoint, or do you prefer the comic-relief type element?
John de Lancie: Well I prefer them both. I don’t think that there is one element that defines him. What I tried to do was fracture all of that so that you were never quite sure. You know the lines might say “I love you”, but you can say it in a way where the other person gets an unpleasant chill down their spine. So it’s just to make sure that all of the colors – you know, all of the colors of the rainbow were open to… and it just made him unpredictable. You’re just never quite sure – he seemed to be nice, but wait a minute – you know what, I don’t know! You just can never settle with the character. You’re never quite sure. So if you were sure that he were always mean-spirited or evil as some people would say: “You know he was always evil! He was evil wasn’t he?” The answer is no! Then you just get a cardboard character of him.
TrekCore: I know your son Keegan did an acting turn in Star Trek: Voyager amongst others, but he’s since said in an interview that you were relieved he went into a career route other than showbusiness. Why was that do you think?
John de Lancie: Well, I think that he’s eminently qualified to do what he’s doing. He’s in the state department – he’s an Arab expert, a Middle East expert. You know, there’s all of that. I think it’s an important job, I think it actually helps people in a very concrete sort of way, as opposed to helping people in an escapist sort of way. And I think his talents are much better used in that area. You know, the acting world is not a particularly happy experience for the vast majority of actors. The irony is that most actors knew at the age of 14 that they wanted to be actors, and they get to do it not nearly as much as they’d like to – while people who don’t have any clue as to what they want to do at the age of 25 are doing whatever they’re doing every day. I’m delighted that both of my sons are in other fields, I think that they will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their lives.
John’s son Keegan joined him for the Voyager episode ‘Q2‘ but since decided to leave showbusiness to pursue a career a career in the State Department.
TrekCore: Do you think that if you were a young actor starting out today that you’d still want to go into the business knowing how it is?
John de Lancie: Well I think that I am inherently theatrical. I sort of think that way. I like the puzzles that are presented to me in terms of plays and writing and figuring things out, and in terms of what you see and what have you, but I don’t kid myself that it’s brain surgery!
TrekCore: I know you had some of your [theatrical] training at Julliard, and I understand your father was a professional oboist. Do you play any instruments?
John de Lancie: Well I don’t anymore. I used to play the oboe and the piano, I don’t anymore. You know Julliard has a very famous drama school. I was in the drama department where we just did plays all the time. In my class, there were two really super-successful people, Bill Hurt and Mandy Patinkin. Most of everybody else – let’s say out of a class of 35 people – there are only about 8 or 9 who are still actors, or something similar. The rest fell off, you know the business is not a kind business – frankly no matter how talented you are. The attrition rate is very, very high.
TrekCore: You’ve done films, hugely popular TV shows, writing, narration, production, directing, lecturing… what do you want to achieve next? Are there any ambitions you have that are yet to be fulfilled?
John de Lancie: Well I enjoy just continuing doing all those things. Right now I’m doing something which is particularly strange… I’m doing a documentary on “Bronies”. Do you know what I’m talking about?
TrekCore: I think so – I read that you were a staunch defender of older male fans of “My Little Pony”
John de Lancie: Right! So that’s something that’s tremendously time consuming, and is really interesting. We were very fortunate to get highly funded – a lot of support from the community. So we’re putting together a documentary, it’s a very different process than what I’m used to in terms of directing, you know operas or plays or what have you. It’s a much more collaborative venture than I’m used to. The work itself, or the show itself, is something I’m … you know, it’ll all be finished by December, but it’s really all-consuming. We were shooting last night and the minute I leave – I’m in my office right now, but – people are here to edit some of the stuff we were shooting last night. I’m really excited about that, I think it’s going to be really terrific.
TrekCore: I’m really curious John. How on Earth did you get involved with the “Brony” community, it seems so random!
John de Lancie: It does seem random. I just got called to do… I get calls to do Assassins Creed, or a new thing called… uh, anyway, I don’t know what that was called! Laughs But in any case, so I just got called to do, you know, “John, My Little Pony?” I didn’t even know what they were talking about! But I said “Well send the script over”, and I read the script, and I thought “Oh this is very sweet, and well written and I like it. Sure why not! It’s not a big deal, you work on it the night before and you go in and you knock it off.” And three months later I came down to my computer and there were hundreds of emails about this. I read a bunch of them – extremely well written – and I talked to my wife and said “I got all these emails. What do you know about My Little Pony?” And she said “Well you voiced it about three months ago! It’s a program for little girls.” And I said “Well let me tell you something, these aren’t little girls who are writing in.” So that started the process.
So obviously right off the bat, I went through the same thing that everybody goes through… “Well, come on – 20 year old guys watching a program for little girls. They’re all gay, they’re all paedophiles, they’re all whack.” And then that weekend I had to do an event, and I had a bunch of guys come up to me and they said “We’re Bronies.” And I said “Really?!” And that happened a couple of times, and I recognized – I have two sons – and I recognized them as being not unlike my sons. So a friend of mine came over for dinner who does documentaries and said “We should do a documentary.” And I said “No no no no no. It’s not my world, I don’t want to be jumping into it.” But then a week or so later he sent me a Fox News things which – as far as I’m concerned Fox has done more to destroy the news in our country than anything else – and I was very upset by what they had to say, and I just went “Those fucks! Let’s do this documentary.”
We’re not going to take… Our position on it is not an exposé, it’s more along the lines of a mirror – a mirror up to nature, not unlike how the… for my generation, you probably don’t know it, but it was called the Drama of the Gifted Child. The premise is that the baby looks into the mother’s face, and the mother needs to be mirroring what the baby is doing as opposed to pouring all of the mother’s neuroses and self-doubts on to the baby. What happens is that a gifted child which is what you are and I am, frankly most people are, is going to start reading the mother and trying to fulfil the fantasies that the mother is providing. What happens is that by the age of 25 or 30, they are people who are so good at reading what other people expect of them, but they don’t really know who they are.
TrekCore: So they’re almost preconditioned to do it from a young age?
John de Lancie: That’s right! So, I’ve said that this is a documentary, and it’s for them. It’s not my opinion, it’s them. I’m going to give them some space, enough so that they can go “Hey, bug off if you don’t like who we are.” So I’m quite excited about how the documentary is developing.
TrekCore: I must thank you for your time John, I know you have a very busy schedule. I hope that I have the chance to catch up with you in London and perhaps continue the chat!
John de Lancie: Alright – so come by and introduce yourself, remind me of what we did and we’ll continue the chat! See you in London, Adam!
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Destination: Star Trek London kicks off October 19 at the ExCeL Centre, London and will feature a huge array of famous Star Trek guests, including the five captains William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula.
Meet John deLancie (and TrekCore!) there – get your tickets at www.startreklondon.com