Today, September 8, is the 46th birthday of Star Trek! Raise a glass of blood wine, don your Starfleet uniform, and pop in your favorite episode. But before you do, we here at OTF have a Trek treat for you! We’re kicking off a week of Star Trek love with a series of interviews from favorites such as Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim), Robert Picardo (The Doctor), Roddenberry.com’s Mary Czerwinski, and maybe even a few surprises!
At the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention a few weeks ago, we sat down with Star Trek: Voyager’s Garrett Wang and got some of his thoughts on Star Trek’s legacy, his favorite moments from Voyager, and why geek culture is having a moment.
Open the Fridge: Do you think you had a part in breaking stereotypes, as an Asian actor, following George Takei’s portrayal of Sulu on the Original Series? So much scholarship on the genre and media studies have stated that Asians are the most underrepresented group on television.
Garrett Wang: Correct. I would say that George Takei had probably the first non-stereotypical role for an Asian man in the history of television and film. I’m just happy to follow in his footsteps because it is few and far between, the roles for a non-stereotypical Asian. It’s usually very, very accented roles, or a Chinese gangster, or a Chinese delivery guy. So it was nice to portray a role that was non-stereotypical. For me, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was the subject of racist comments on a daily basis. One of my driving motivations, in terms of my career as an actor, was wanting to portray roles that were non-stereotypical, roles that people would watch and go, “Oh, he’s a Starfleet officer” first and foremost. Secondly, he happens to be of Asian descent. So when I got on “Voyager”, I said, ”Look, don’t have me walking up to the replicator and ordering bowl of fried rice, noodles, or something like that. Let me eat the normal things and don’t draw any attention to the fact that Kim’s Asian. I would really, really appreciate if you helped me out on that.” And they did.
OTF: On the subject of “Voyager”, what is your favorite scene that you were not in? What did you appreciate seeing your cast members do?
GW: My favorite is in the episode “Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy”, in the conference room. It’s the Doctor’s dream sequence where all the women of Voyager are flirting with him. That was my favorite scene, by far. It was just hilarious. That’s what I want to see more of. I want to see more comedy. I tried my hardest to pitch comedy and make things funny.
OTF: Star Trek’s not really known for its comedy, unfortunately.
GW: Well, it could be. Maybe that’s my next thing in life. Maybe I have to come up with the Star Trek “Scrubs” in a way. If “Scrubs” can be the comedic version of “ER”, why can’t there be a comedic version of Trek?
OTF: On “Voyager”, you had so many very talented people. Very funny. Robert Picardo is particularly hilarious.
GW: He’s very funny. Robbie McNeill is very funny. Robert Beltran’s funny. They’re all funny. They just never got the chance. But not every actor is good at comedy. I will say that every actor on “Voyager”, if given the chance, is good at comedy. It’s only Bob Picardo who was allowed to flesh it out because he wasn’t human.
OTF: They always seem to do that. Data got to be that character.
GW: That’s the problem, because Rick Berman was around when Data was around, so he got used to that same formula, thinking we’ll give this non-human character all of the comedy because we’ll let them explore dating for the first time, eating, getting a cold for the first time. That, to me, is a bit of a crush. Once you’ve done that, fine, move on to the next series. Don’t keep reproducing the same thing over and over again.
OTF: One of the great things about Star Trek has been the belief that differences don’t matter. Have you had any experiences with fans that have had an impact on you?
GW: The fan experiences that I remember the most are usually when people come up and say, “I was in a horrible car accident and the doctor said I wasn’t going to make it, but while I was in the hospital in intensive care, I actually watched ‘Voyager’ and it made me pull through my injuries.” I hear that and I’m like, “Wow!” I remember one guy gave me a little pewter wizard character, and said, “This is for you. I’m giving this to you because of all the magic that you have given to us.” That was so cute.
OTF: As a Star Trek actor, you’ve very active on the con scene, which we all appreciate very much. How does it feel to reunite with everybody and see them a lot more often?
GW: It’s so nice! You were at the “Voyager” panel. You can see the camaraderie going on. Me doing bunny ears on McNeill while he was talking, and then he saw it! It’s great.
OTF: Geek culture is having a moment right now, and you’re a big part of it. What do you think has been a worthy successor to Star Trek since it is not currently on the air?
GW: I just started watching “Doctor Who” and I’m really getting into that. I was joking around with some friends, and I said, “You know what, after 50 years of Doctor Who, the reincarnation of each Doctor has always been Caucasian British. Why don’t they have an Asian British Doctor?
OTF had lots more questions for Garrett, and he had loads more to share with us. If you liked this interview, stick around for another visit from Garrett later this week, plus other peeps from the Trek Convention, in a special podcast! Hear Garrett talk about his rockin’ geek t-shirt design company, Cosmic City, how he’d like to be involved with the Big Bang Theory, and more fun moments from Voyager! And for the full recap podcast starring Tek and me on the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, click here to go to our podcast page!