Yesterday we had the pleasure of speaking to Wil Wheaton, today we're talking with Michael Dorn. Dorn has appeared in more episodes of Star Trek than anyone else, as Worf, the first Klingon ever to join Starfleet.
Bryan Young: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about Star Trek, I’m sure it’s not something you do very often.
Michael Dorn: No, no, this is the first time [laughs]
BY: With the season Rur Blu-ray coming out, which I guess is the primary thrust of what and why we’re talking. What did you feel about season 4 as you guys were going into it?
MD: Season four was I think when we all kind of hit our stride, in terms of the producers, the directors, the actors, everybody was kind of finding, well they’d found their way. Which is one of the great things about television, you really have time to kind of flush out a character or arrive at some comfortable place for the actor and the character, and I think the fourth season is where we really hit our stride. Everybody was just clicking and we knew that the series was going on, we knew that the fans loved it so it was a good season.
BY: I read that you’re one of the few cast members who was a giant fan of the property before you got the job.
MD: Oh, yeah.
BY: What was it that drew you to Star Trek before you got involved?
MD: A couple of things. When it originally came on, my brother and I were, you know, we loved television and we grew up watching cowboys and Indians and westerns and the Untouchables, the Riflemen and all these kinds of shows that were on, and comedies, too. It was the first one that really had a multicultural cast, that was interesting to us, but also initially it was a fun show. It was was like Gene Roddenberry was fond of saying, it truly was Wagon Train to the stars. They were doing stuff also that was kind of groundbreaking, which was they were talking about balance of power, talking about the Communists and the Americans and the whole Cold War attitude that was going on, which was part of it.
BY: That was something that kind of struck me, I was about seven when Next Generation started and I remember being shocked at how steeped in that whole Cold War, how bold it was to put a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise.
BY: Was there any sense of that, when you were doing that, right off the bat?
MD: Not at all, the one thing that does hold true by the facts, and I always go by the facts, is that I was the last one cast. I was an afterthought. The story that backed that up is that people had given Gene so much guff about the Klingons, are the Klingons still the enemy, are the Klingons gonna be this and are they gonna be that? He just said, “forget about this, we’ve moved on,” and that’s why he put him on the bridge. That’s one thing about Gene, is he’s smart about television and those type of things, he wanted to show that people move on. It’s not the same thing, it’s not us against them.
BY: Over the years, you’ve played more Star Trek than anybody, a fact that I’m sure you get pointed out to you all the time…
MD: Which I’m really proud of, I’m really proud of it.
BY: How did you feel, did you ever delve into, are you this expert on Klingon culture and history now that you’ve been the avatar we’ve all seen it through so much, through Next Generation and Deep Space Nine?
MD: Actually, the Klingon culture, and, again, this is a direct edict from Gene when I got the job, he didn’t want the character to be anything like we’d seen before. I knew all the characters and I knew all the actors, I knew all the Klingons before then so I just took a different tact, I just went in a different direction and from that the writers and producers took off on that. They just went way out there, which was great in devising the Klingon culture really. We really got an idea of what it was about, and his place in the whole hierarchy of the Klingon Empire. It was a new start for Klingons and that’s what I was happy about.
BY: My favorite episodes with Worf through Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were ones where he does specifically play against type, I think my favorites might have been the babysitting episodes in Deep Space Nine; I imagine that was fun, too.
MD: The good thing about the producers, one of the good things, is that they understood that I was very close to my character; Next Generation, maybe not so much because basically they were writing and I was just working, but Deep Space Nine I really made it clear that I wanted my character to do something else. Not to do something different, but to really delve into this guy, not to just have him sitting around being mean and being pissed off at everybody. I think that’s what they did, and luckily they understood that Worf is not a guy who tries to be funny, or tries to be dramatic or any of those things, he just is; and if you write good dialogue, it’s just going to come off good. They were good about that, at least.
BY: So season four actually set the stage for a lot of stuff that you guys paid off in Deep Space Nine, with Alexander and things like that were you guys, with season four how was that going into it? Could you imagine that you’d be doing that years later on another Star Trek show and carrying through some of those stories?
MD: Not at all, I never imagined that I would go on to do eleven years as a character, I was happy to do four years. In this business, to work is the number one thing, to get work, so I was just happy to do the four years and had no idea. The one good thing is that I was never the one that had to go up and yell and scream at the writers and the producers to give me stuff. There’s seven characters, so you’re not going to get something every week, the show’s not going to be about you every week and I understood that, but when they wrote stuff they wrote really great stuff. I think that I just, I don’t think I ever went up to them and said “I don’t know what’s going on, you’ve got to write me more stuff, this isn’t good!” It was always really, really interesting. I was number seven on the call sheet, so that meant I wasn’t going to get every show, but when they wrote him they really pulled out all the stops. It was fantastic, I was always really happy with what they wrote. It’s interesting, there was one time, I remember very specifically, where we captured a Romulan and the character, my character, had the blood that could save the Romulan because he needed a transfusion, and I read the script and at the end it says “Worf refuses and the guy dies.”
I went up to Rick Berman and, I wasn’t yelling, I just went, “Rick, are you sure you want to do this?”
And he goes, “Well, why?”
And I said, “Well, it’s Star Fleet and you kind of do stuff that, and it really would put him in a different light. I’m not sure how, but what do you think?”
And he said “Well, Michael, that’s why we want to do it. We want to show that he’s NOT a human being. And he’s not ordered to do it, but if he has a choice then, no, he’s not going to do it. And he’s fine with that.”
And I was like, “Okay, it’s your show.” And it was a great decision, it was a very wise decision.
BY: At what point did you find the character? You said the show hit its stride in the fourth season, but when was the moment that you were the character? Or when were you more invested in things, like that story you just told, instead of just taking the scripts and doing your best with them. At what point did Worf really gel for you the most?
MD: I think actually the first season, there was an episode, “Heart Of Glory” I think it what it is? Where the Klingons come one the ship and they try to take over, and Worf is, you know. It really dealt with all the things that Worf dealt with, it showed where he came from and it showed where he was born, where he grew up and his human parents and it really kind of, and that was kind of the first episode where I was like “I get it” I had already given him a little bit of a back story, but that’s where I understood and got it. From that moment I just took off and I didn’t have a question after that, they didn’t have a question after that either.
BY: How difficult was it to find the voice? And once you found it, were you worried? Like, “I’m going to have to do this every day for the next eleven years.” [laughs]
MD: I didn’t know it was going to be eleven years when I first did it. No, the voice was, the way I’m talking now was his original voice. If you watch the first episode, maybe the first two episodes, that’s the voice I have, it’s this voice. Gene came to me and he said, “We’ve got to do something about that, because you sound like an American, and we wanted you to sound different.”
So I said, “okay, great,” and for two days I tried a couple of different things and Gene said, “no, no, no,” and I think I came back the next day and tried two or three more things, and the Worf voice that you heard, that was one of the voices, they said “That’s the one.”
And I go, “okay,” and that’s it. Once again, changing your voice is small potatoes when you’ve got a job. If they said, “Michael, you’ve got to talk like this for the rest of your life,” I go, “okay!” If you’re going to be on a show for 20 or 30 years, yeah, that’s fine!
BY: So you didn’t find any challenge in keeping it once you were there? It wasn’t physically demanding on you? Probably much less so than the makeup process that was every day.
MD: No, that was no demand at all. My voice is low anyway, so I just lowered it some more and got a little more gruff, and put it, he doesn’t use contractions a lot – there are some times when I slip and there will be a contraction, but for the most part he doesn’t use contractions, which gives his voice a little stiltedness.
BY: You directed, I think, four episodes? A lot of the other cast members went on, I’ve talked to LeVar Burton and Jonathan Frakes, and they kind of made a career out of that, but you seem to have only done the four. Was that not something that held a lot of interest for you after you’d done it?
MD: No, actually, interestingly enough, the history is one thing that people can kind of look back on, but I actually asked Rick if I could direct from early on and because of the makeup and the time that I was going to take, I just didn’t have the time. I was in makeup, you know, 12 hours a day; but I always wanted to, that’s why I got in the business, to direct. I did four episodes, and it is a very interesting thing, after that I directed these other shows, I directed a sitcom and I directed VIP with Pamela Anderson and was going in that direction, but as with in the business it just didn’t work out that way. The shows, they like my work and a couple of them got cancelled, and there was another show that I was shadowing the director on and that one didn’t work out so it’s one of those things where it just didn’t work out like it did for those guys. But, it’s not over yet, I still have things, I’m working on my own projects and I think that it’ll come around again.
BY: For my last question, it’s kind of a two-parter: one- what would you say the episode of Star Trek that you’re the most proud of and I know you’ve talked a lot about making Worf a captain and getting that off the ground, where is that at?
MD: Well, there were two episodes in Deep Space Nine that I just though, when it comes to Klingons and Worf, that I thought were just fabulous which were “Soldiers of the Empire” and “Once More unto the Breach” with Jon Colicos. Those were just brilliant, brilliant episodes, wonderfully written episodes. I think Ron Moore wrote the episodes and they were just brilliant, just brilliant. There were a bunch of episodes on Star Trek that dealt with Worf, I think that “The Redemption” part one and part two are great episodes, but I really loved the feel of those last two. We were actually on Klingon ships, we were in the Klingon Empire. They were fantastic, I think they were my two favorites.
Also, the Worf thing, last year there was interest and I talked to a couple producers and we actually had pitch meeting with Paramount and CBS, and it got a little, business things got in the way in terms of the JJ Abrams movie coming out and CBS/Paramount and their relationship with JJ Abrams. I don’t think they wanted to step on his toes by putting a new series on, but it’s not dead yet. I’ve finished the script and hopefully someone will take a look at this and say “we can do this” so we’ll see.
BY: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me, I’m a big Star Trek fan. I think the stuff with Worf and Jadzia and Ezri is probably some of the most compelling, dramatic, incredible Star Trek that’s ever been put down.
MD: Oh yeah, I agree.
Check back for our review of the season four Blu-ray, via Huffington Post.