Culture

'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' star Nana Visitor had one wish as Nerys

The "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" star calls her time on the show an important part of who she is, but says she also finds it hard to watch reruns.

CBS

As part of our coverage of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, I chatted with nearly a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek's inclusive message to whether the ships are actually real.

If Nana Visitor could have done one thing on Star Trek, she would have been captain.

Call it galactic jealousy that Kate Mulgrew ended up as Capt. Kathryn Janeway of "Star Trek: Voyager," running a ship with a lot of strong female characters.

Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

CBS

Visitor was powerful on her own. As Kira Nerys, Visitor played a freedom fighter who fought back the invasion of a militaristic species. Her race seemed to embody allegories to World War II, specifically the French Resistance and the Holocaust. Nerys was a fighter. Visitor loved that about her.

Even then, she wanted more.

"I really wanted to do Captain Janeway," she said. "I wanted everything, but I didn't want to leave Kira...I wanted to do it all."

Visitor (whose first name is pronounced na-NAW) clearly had an emotional connection to her Star Trek experience that made it more than a job. Maybe that's because Star Trek was the only TV show she watched as a teenager, usually while eating dinner before work.

Or maybe it's because executive producer Rick Berman wooed her to join the cast by telling her about the gritty and emotional stories "Deep Space Nine" would explore during its 1993-1999 run. That was enough to get her to ignore her manager, who told her being on Star Trek was career suicide.

For the next seven years, she lived and breathed Star Trek nearly 16 hours a day. "It's taken up a big part of my life and an important one," she said.

Visitor also identified as Nerys so much she sometimes still slips into talking about her in the first person. "When we'd go on the Defiant," she said at one point, referring to a ship on the show. Then she caught herself and said, "OK, when we'd go on the set of the Defiant..."

The realness of what the Star Trek series was able to create with sets, props and makeup had a profound effect. "I don't have a really good handle on reality, not when my senses are being filled like they were on the show," she said. "It was happening, and it was important. It was real to me."

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Visitor is currently working on a production of a play she wrote called "Bardo," which explores suicide. Here are edited excerpts of her answers to my warp-speed round of questions.

Were you into Star Trek as a kid?
My connection started when I was a teenager. I was about 18 years old and doing a Broadway show as a chorus girl. And it came on, on channel 11, I think it was at 6 or 6:30. I would fix myself dinner, sit down and watch Star Trek and then go do my show.

There was no recording -- you caught what you could when you could. That would be my TV for the evening. The rest of it would be working and dancing. So it was a big part of my life.

I remember I was out of town, I think it was Boston, and I didn't know anything about conventions or the fan world or Trekkers or anything like that. And I was put in a hotel that had a convention going on, or at least I'm assuming that's what it was because everyone was dressed like Spock and it was really just the original characters. It just seemed like the most exotic, most fun world. That's all really I thought of it until I joined the cast.

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Visitor dreamed of captaining a starship.

CBS/TrekCore

Did you have any other exposure to sci-fi?
That was the only exposure I had. I was very much into "War and Peace" and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I went through all the classics. I read scientists like Asimov and all those guys, but I never really understood the power of placing the lessons we learn through mythology in the future. In a future that looks the way Star Trek does. And I didn't understand the power of that until I started doing it.

Who's your favorite Star Trek captain?
Bill (Shatner) -- I have to say he's my absolute favorite. I thought, back in the day, when I was 18, he was the sexiest guy I could imagine, and I loved everything he did in that show. I was definitely...on his team.

What's your favorite episode?
I really loved our pilot. I was sick and missed the premiere of it in the theater. I had the flu. And they sent me a videotape of it. I remember goosebumps when the station appeared and that haunting music started playing. I just couldn't believe what the show looked like. I knew what the sets were, what the actors were, but putting it all together, I found it stunning.

Who do you want with you on an away mission?
Besides Bill?

It's OK if Bill is the guy. I'm sure he'd like to know.
I think I'd want Data. I think that would be very, very useful.

Because he's kind of all-knowing and very powerful?
Yeah, and I also love people on the spectrum in my own life and I feel like that's who he represents. I'd feel really comfortable with him.

Do you watch reruns?
Once in awhile I do, but it's become like looking at pictures of the house that you loved and sold. It's a little bittersweet. Sometimes it's hard to watch.

Star Wars or Star Trek?
I'm more of a Star Trek person but I love Star Wars. I mean I'm a huge Joseph Campbell fan, and I read all his books. (Campbell was credited as an influence for Star Wars.)

Why does Star Trek remain popular?
We need to tell ourselves stories that advance us, and Star Trek advances us.

Through history, human beings relay stories. They need myths, they need ways of seeing where they are, and where they could go. People talk about a journey in a spaceship. We have individual journeys of our own that we need to do while we're alive. I think it gives us ideas of how we could do it better and what makes it better and what are our dreams. I think that's why we need it.