Yesterday I had the delight of catching up with the multitalented Nana Visitor, known to millions of Deep Space Nine fans as Major Kira Nerys. Nana was incredibly candid and a sheer joy to talk to. She will be attending the Destination: Star Trek London convention this 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 Nana!
Nana Visitor Interview
Interviewed by Adam Walker for TrekCore.com
TrekCore: Great to talk to you, Nana! I thought we could kick straight off with DS9. Kira was arguably the strongest female character written for any Star Trek series. Was that written in from the start, or did you have to fight for it?
Nana Visitor: What was described to me was that this Bajoran woman was highly aggressive and very spiritual. I came in with the situation that was written in the pilot [‘Emissary’] and that’s what they liked. They wanted the aggression that I brought. From there, she evolved in seven years.
TrekCore: Can you tell us a bit about the audition process for DS9? Do you have any memories of it? I know you’ve gone on record as saying that the producers thought you were perfect for the role but you’d be a nightmare to work with!
Nana Visitor: Laughs Yes! Because I walked in… very often actors walk in and there’s a “Hello, How are you?” you know, niceties. I just didn’t do that with Kira – I came in as Kira and I said “Let’s just go”, which isn’t usual – to take over. Usually it’s the producers who run things and say “OK, shall we do this?” So, I think that they thought I’d be a problem!
TrekCore: Was this in front of Rick Berman and the studio big executives?
Nana Visitor: Yes it was! And in front of a whole bunch of Paramount people…
TrekCore: So that was quite a brave move!
Nana Visitor: Yes! Then they called me back and they said “Do that again”, and there were more people in the room, and I did it again. But you know – I went out and bought a pair of army boots, and I put them on for the audition – I bought them for the audition – I put them on and I was Kira, and that was that. And I knew it – and there’s a sense in the room when you’re waiting with other actors, sometimes you’ll go “Oh, that one’s got it already, she’s already got the part”, even though you all haven’t read that. And I sensed that there was a consensus that I was already Kira.
TrekCore: Over the years, Kira has famously sported a number of different hairstyles… [Hysterical Laughter!] …changing almost every season. Whose choice was that, and tell us your favorite and your most despised style.
Nana Visitor: Well, it’s me! Because I never keep my hair the same. As a matter of fact, I just went from long dark hair and now I have short blonde hair. I famously can’t keep the same hairstyle. My most despised was when they tried to soften and feminize me, and I had a little bit of curly hair – I despised that. I didn’t understand it at all! I very much liked what I ended up with, with the braid at the end, there was just a little braid that was in my hair, and I thought that was very Bajoran – I liked that.
TrekCore: What about the really short style in the first season?
Nana Visitor: Yeah I loved that! Yep, I like short hair.
TrekCore: What are your honest thoughts about the Kira/Odo relationship. How did you feel when you first found out where the writers were going to go with it?
Nana Visitor: Well, you know – honestly – I was disappointed. I thought it was so great to have a deep friendship between people who worked together that wasn’t romantic. I thought “Oh, here we go, the moonlighting thing – everyone always has to end up in a romance.” But then I had a very deep friendship with Alexander Siddig that ended up with a baby, so I had to go “Well, you know what? This is truthful! It happens!”
TrekCore: Art imitating life
Nana Visitor: Yes, exactly! Laughs
TrekCore: Were you pleased with how Kira and Odo turned out in the end, did it come around for you?
Nana Visitor: Oh it absolutely came around for me. I thought it was a beautiful love story, and a real love story that they both understood that he had to go back to the soup. Laughs
TrekCore: You and René had such an awesome chemistry on screen, does that transcend into a good friendship offscreen?
Nana Visitor: Oh absolutely! We have plans to have dinner Friday night in London. I can’t wait to see him, he’s one of my favorite people.
Nana and René Auberjonois (Odo) still remain close friends and are looking forward to reuniting in London for the convention.
TrekCore: Wonderful! That leads me to my next question. The cast of The Next Generation are quite unique in Hollywood in still all being incredibly close to each other after 25 years. Do you remain close to the DS9 cast?
Nana Visitor: Well we don’t all live in L.A. I think The Next Generation cast as a whole are more social beings, we were kind of… I can certainly say that I’m a loner. I’ll say this – when we get together, you can’t … one of my favorite memories is when we would have an Ops scene, and we would all get to see each other once, and the director would be so annoyed because he couldn’t start the scene, we just kept talking, kept catching up, and joking and laughing and playing around. So I think there’s a deep fondness that we have. But we catch up when we see each other at conventions, or we happen to be in the same city, but no – it isn’t the same as The Next Generation, that really is unique. Although I talk to Siddig constantly obviously, our son is 16 now which is hard to believe – looks just like Siddig. So we have a lot to do with each other. I’ll be seeing him in London too.
TrekCore: So Siddig is in London at the moment?
Nana Visitor: Yes! He’ll be in London at a certain point for dinner probably, to see me, but he’s usually not in London.
TrekCore: So there’s no mini-DS9 reunion on the cards then?
Nana Visitor: No, I don’t think so. We’ll sneak off and catch up together, he and I.
TrekCore: We are very close to the 20th Anniversary of Deep Space Nine. Fans of the show have been incredibly vocal – to this day – about wanting to see more of it. Do you know if a DS9 movie was ever realistically considered by the studio?
Nana Visitor: No, and I really don’t know why that decision was made. But I know that it would be – I think it would be a great film, I really do – a great movie. I think Avery is so interesting on film, and René, Armin, Colm, Siddig… everybody. It would be a strong cast, and I think it could be a strong storyline.
TrekCore: Deep Space Nine was – some may say unfortunately – on the air at the same time as two other series, The Next Generation and Voyager. Do you think that harmed the series?
Nana Visitor: I don’t know. I know that it wasn’t what the Star Trek fandom as a whole wanted to see. It was dark, and I think that was our problem. More than being the middle child, I think it was just a very different take on Star Trek.
TrekCore: Many people have said DS9 was the black sheep of the Trek family. But in a way, it paved the way to shows such as Battlestar Galactica which were huge successes. Do you think it has been unfairly maligned?
Nana Visitor: I do, but when I catch bits of episodes, I go “You know what, it has staying power.” Armin and I used to say on the set – when people would say “You know, I don’t know if I really like this.” – we’d go “You know what, in ten years people will get it.” And I think even ten years from now, people will get the show.
TrekCore: It’s still incredibly politically, religiously and socially relevant. Were you consciously aware of that when you were filming it?
Nana Visitor: Yes! There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t – certainly I can speak for my self – when I wasn’t aware how important it was and the archetypes I was playing out that existed in the world. And that we were being watched so carefully made it so important that even if you’ve waited ten hours to do your scene in your little trailer, and you come out at 2 in the morning to finally work, it doesn’t matter that it’s 2 in the morning, it doesn’t matter that you’re tired or hungry or your makeup is driving you crazy – because what is about to be filmed will be watched and will be important and will have something to say. So you gotta bring it!
TrekCore: Ira Behr and Ronald D. Moore had to go against the studio a lot of times, against Rick Berman’s almost Roddenberry-esque vision of Star Trek to create a darker show. Did you feel that created tension between the show-runners and the studio?
Nana Visitor: We were protected from a lot of that. There was tension on set too, we were that kind of show. It was dark, and there were problems, and there were scenes when there was dischord. So that creates a certain energy, so it didn’t seem out-of-place if the higher-ups were having the same relationships.
TrekCore: How did you all feel when Michael Dorn [Worf] came on board from The Next Generation.
Nana Visitor: Well I found out about it on a stage at a convention! One of the people asked “How do you feel about Michael Dorn joining the show?”, so that was – laughs – I mean, I know the fans always knew stuff before we did, it was true. But that was a little bizarre. I wasn’t crazy about it because I was afraid that my character would be demoted in terms of being the woman second in command, I didn’t know how that was going to work out. But it worked out well and Michael is so adorable and I am crazy about him, and he was a great addition to our cast.
TrekCore: When the show ended did you feel that there any other places that you wanted to go with Kira?
Nana Visitor: She was such a fully-rounded being that just like life, when I think “Is there something else I’d like to do? Is there somewhere I’d like be next week?” I go “Yeah, sure!” It was the same with Kira – they really… I didn’t feel like she was a character just drawn on a piece of paper that had to stick to that paper, I felt that she was outside the lines and even outside the paper, she could go on.
TrekCore: What do your two sons think of your role on Star Trek?
Nana Visitor: You know when they were younger and they’d be flipping through the channels, they’d come to Deep Space Nine and go “Oh look, there’s momma!” – and then keep changing the channels! Laughs Django honestly said this when he was about three years old, someone said “Where are you from?” and he said “Star Trek, Los Angeles”. So they had the unique thing that they really were brought up on the set, it was like everyday stuff for them. Literally every day. So, to see the show, I don’t think they were that interested – [because] they were there.
TrekCore: Do you have a favorite role that you’ve performed outside of DS9?
Nana Visitor: You know, I loved Madame X on Dark Angel. I thought that was a very interesting role. Especially because, well of course we never got to explain why she was chasing these children around, but that she was… I think hundreds of years old actually, and was using their DNA – she’d found the fountain of youth. From that perspective, you go “Well wait a minute, she’s after something important.” And I love that. I love when it looks like you can flip the perspective on if someone is bad or not.
TrekCore: What led you to choose a professional acting career over the offer to study at Princeton?
Nana Visitor: It just happened. I went “OK, I’m just going to be a chorus girl, and it’s one season of summer time and then I’ll go to Princeton.” And I did that. And then I got another job and another job and another job, and I kept deferring. The second year I deferred, I said to myself “You know what, I was going to Princeton to become an actor. I am.” You know, it would have been really fun – looking back – to have that experience and that kind of childhood, almost. You grow up very fast in the business, but I don’t regret doing it the way I did it. I’ve had an opportunity to perform with so many interesting actors and do really interesting work.
TrekCore: Tell us about Family Guy, Nana. You’ve had a huge number of different roles on this show, how did that come to be?
Nana Visitor: Well Seth [MacFarlane, Family Guy Creator] of course loves Star Trek. He finally had me in for this role, and he found me funny! He was like, “Oh my God! She can do this stuff!” I, of course, was in complete awe of what he does – how he goes from character to character with such ease. The fact that he was there reading it with me, as opposed to just having someone else put it down, he was delightful to work with. Yeah, I just did another show recently – I’m living in New York now – and I just did a show in a studio here for them. I love working on that show.
TrekCore: Do you find it tough creating personalities for different characters just through your voice?
Nana Visitor: No, because it’s not a typical “cartoon”… what he wants is truthfulness and then he makes the situation. It’s really just being an actor, being a truthful person and he makes it funny. The writers make it funny.
TrekCore: Bring us all up to speed with what you’ve been doing at the moment. I had no idea that you’re an online gourmet sensation!
Nana Visitor: Oh, I had a business in New Mexico when I was living there, a bakery, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. It was incredibly tough, I learned so much. But at the end of the day it was time to go back to acting. I spent a year in L.A. after that, did a couple of shows, and then my husband got a job on Broadway – he’s a general manager. He’s taken so much time letting me do what I want to do, really the only place where he can do what he does is either Vegas – although that’s not even true any more, those shows have pretty much all died – but here in New York. So, I went “Yeah, we’ll do that.” So I moved a couple of months ago, and I’m settling in – of course I’m from New York City so it’s fantastic to be back here, and I’ve just established myself with an agent, so hopefully there’ll be work here. I’d love to work in television here.
TrekCore: Final random question for you Nana – how does it feel having an asteroid named in your honor?
Nana Visitor: You know, laughs, there will be random times in the day when I go “Wait a minute, just think about that!” It astounds me, it absolutely astounds me. It’s kind of unreal and wonderful.
TrekCore: Right! I couldn’t help but think how I’d feel if there was a big lump of rock out there floating around with my name on it!
Nana Visitor: It’s crazy, isn’t it!? It’s as crazy as having a little doll that’s an effigy of you.. It’s bizarre
TrekCore: But a great story for dinner parties!
Nana Visitor: Yes, absolutely. Laughs
TrekCore: OK, Nana – it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you
Nana Visitor: Same here! I’ve loved it.
TrekCore: Hope we can catch up with you at Destination London
Nana Visitor: I’d love that! Please come and say “Hello”!