VAUGHN ARMSTRONG GETS PROMOTED
An Interview With Admiral Forrest
by Michelle Erica Green
Vaughn Armstrong is the only Star Trek actor to play three Klingons, a Romulan, two Cardassians, a Vidiian and a Borg. Finally, on Enterprise, he plays a human -- Starfleet head Admiral Forrest. He also appears in 'Sleeping Dogs' as a Klingon, thus coming full circle from his first role as The Next Generation's Korris, who taught Worf the Klingon death roar.
Trek Nation: You got promoted!
Vaughn Armstrong: I did get promoted -- to human! And to Admiral. During the pilot, they said that it could be a recurring role. With the fact that they're staying closer to Earth, I had hopes that Forrest would return.
Trek Nation: So you managed to break out of alien typecasting?
Armstrong: I always say that anybody can typecast me in anything they want to typecast me in, as long as they keep calling.
Trek Nation: And you're still saying that despite the fact that you've worn every prosthetic known to Star Trek!
Armstrong: I hope they're typing me as prolific! I just did another Klingon in the episode last week ['Sleeping Dogs'] -- the captain on the screen. I did the log entry that the crew watches, and then later on I come back and attack them. It was nice to see that I may get more foreheads, because there's nothing I like better.
Trek Nation: How did you get the part of Forrest? I remember you said that since you'd played most of the aliens, your one remaining fantasy was to become a regular cast member on Star Trek.
There aren't any leads my age in this show -- everybody else is a good five to ten years younger than I. The role I read for was Ambassador Soval, the Vulcan. I got home afterwards and they called and said, 'The minute you walked in the office, everybody said, "That's Admiral Forrest." I take a good deal of pride in that. I was around when the first Star Trek opened. I have an affinity for the original series because it was the one I watched with my dad.
Trek Nation: I read that Admiral Forrest was named for the actor who played Dr. McCoy. Did you ever meet DeForest Kelley?
Armstrong: No. The only original series cast member I've met is George Takei, at a Shakespeare contest that I judge every year. He was also one of the judges. What a voice that guy has!
Trek Nation: What's the Enterprise set like compared to the other Trek sets you've been on?
Armstrong: I knew some of the people on the other shows -- I had worked with Kate Mulgrew, Casey Biggs, Rene Auberjonois...
I had been to John Billingsley's wedding before he got Enterprise, but he was the only cast member that I knew. So I didn't know anybody there, but they're great people. Everybody hit it off immediately. I don't come on the set every day so they don't know me like they know each other, but as I go back more, I find that they really seem to enjoy each other's company. It seems like they're delighted to come to the set in the first place, and while they're on the stage they're having a really nice time working.
I kind of keep to myself when I'm on the set. I want to know where the character is coming from when I get in front of the camera, so I like to have the work ready when I get there, and in order for me to do that, I've got to stay pretty un-rattled. It's pretty intense. In my youth I would let my emotions carry me away sometimes and not be as ready as I ought to be.
Trek Nation: What's your relationship with Captain Archer like?
Armstrong: Scott is just great. While I was in my costume fitting for the role, he came in and introduced himself. I said, 'You and I already met in an episode of Quantum Leap -- it must have been twelve years ago.' And he said, 'I remember you! You were Donald Trump's father!' Every time I come on the set now, it's 'Hey Don! How ya doin'?'
It's funny -- I ran into him at a campground in the San Bernardino Mountains that I had taken my son to. My dad left me a motor home. I'm sitting at the table and I glance out the door, and there's Scott Bakula! We spent a little time chatting around the campfire and got to know each other a little better. But I'll be damned. 250 miles from L.A. in the middle of the wilderness, there is Captain Archer. My subordinate!
Trek Nation: What did they tell you about how to play that relationship?
They told me nothing about my character. What I have picked out of the scripts indicates that I'm the highest-ranking Starfleet officer -- I've been around Starfleet for a while. So I'm assuming that I worked with [Archer's] father. I watched Archer come up through the Academy and enjoyed his abilities, his human-ness, his spontaneity and his intelligence. I sent him out there because I kind of look at him as being myself as a younger military man, and I really want to be out there myself, playing with the greatest toy in the universe. But they need me at home, so I send the favored son.
Trek Nation: While you get stuck dealing with the Vulcans.
I'm not sure that I'm not fond of Vulcans so much as I'm not fond of being told what to do, and Vulcans may not mean to, but they do that. We are independent people, we humans, and we find that wonderful freedom when we can all be individuals and just get along. Then we're doing things right. If you get aggressive with us, we can get aggressive back.
Trek Nation: Do you see Forrest and Archer becoming adversarial? Archer could come back and say, 'I've been out there, here's what I saw, and here's what I think we have to do about it no matter what some bureaucrat says.' There is no Prime Directive...
Armstrong: That's right! Not yet! I'm hoping that soon, Forrest is going to have to make that decision. I think part of the reason Forrest chose Archer was because he has a volatile nature but also real common sense. The common sense element is where we relate to each other. I get the feeling they're making Forrest the figure at home who loves to see Archer lash out at something that's wrong, but at the same time he realizes that he has to keep that in check.
I have to pull him back in and show him that there's a bigger picture -- there's a lot out there that he doesn't see, because he's on one ship. I've got a whole fleet of ships out there, not as far as he is, but they're all dealing with people. I've got a feeling that we may see sometimes that Archer feels he's the only one in space, and has to be reminded what the reality is. I don't think they will ever have a moment where Archer disobeys him. But I hope they have confrontational moments. Forrest has got to deal with the Vulcans who have knowledge of what's beyond what Archer has seen, and all these other creatures who could come and make problems. He has to protect Earth. Just as long as they don't kill him! They've got seven-year contracts; I don't.
Trek Nation: Tell them that they need a war. When Kirk was around, they made reference to all this fighting with the Klingons...
Armstrong: You're right! They did! We've got to have that Klingon war. So far we've seen the Klingons three times, and none of the meetings have been particularly pleasant, but nothing has happened to spark irrevocable hatreds, and that's got to happen. In the pilot they said they had eliminated war and hunger on Earth, so the threat of war on Earth would be really something. I would love to see that threat. That would make for some nice plot lines.
You can always count on those Klingons for something nasty. They're giving a great sense of honor to them, because that's what has developed over the years, but they were a lot rougher on the first show. Now they're rough people with honor. Who's the one with the eye patch? I've got to talk to J.G. Hertzler [Chancellor Martok] -- maybe he and I can start this Klingon war. That can be the feature!
Trek Nation: They're not even through the first season and you're planning the movie!
I think they can do a feature. In fact I think they could do it as early as three years from now. The Enterprise episodes I have watched, I'm just amazed at what they do. The last one with the Klingons that I was in, when they open the door and there's those animals the Klingons keep for food...I thought that was just so wonderful! They're really using nice effects. I think there's a lot in store. I hope they do a feature, and I hope they realize they can't do it without the head of Starfleet!
I'm pitching an idea. I think they should do an episode where the Klingon that I did from the last episode of Voyager, Korath, gets that time machine back from Janeway and goes back to stop Forrest from sending Archer out into space with the Klingon from the pilot. I'm plugging that because the overtime would be great.
Trek Nation: On the other hand, the makeup time would be hell.
Armstrong: That's okay. I like the makeup time. It gives me a chance to memorize my lines. Usually, the first few days, I've got hours to memorize my lines in the makeup chair. With Admiral Forrest I'm in there ten minutes and I'm gone.
Trek Nation: I bet you get asked at conventions about the makeup.
Armstrong: I do. They claim that the Borg is the most difficult, but I had a reaction to one of the Klingon foreheads -- I got blisters. It's never happened since. I guess they called me for this latest Klingon because they like the way I wear that makeup.
Trek Nation: Has the atmosphere on the set changed since your first episode? Was it any different when you played the Klingon?
Armstrong: The most immediate change I recognize is that they're all more comfortable with each other. The cast seems to be settling into the working situation, and their characters. In the pilot we saw the potential for real action -- it gave you the sense that something really scary could happen. During Deep Space Nine and Voyager, the final ones seemed a little too clean, and taking themselves so seriously. Here they want to keep messing it up so you don't know what's going to happen next, and keep it fun -- give those guys a sense of humor.
I think they want to deal with people's personal problems, too. We are heroes in spite of ourselves, not natural heroes. We all have difficulties that we have to battle through and be heroic in spite of. When I do conventions, I talk about having been an obsessive-compulsive when I was a teenager, because I figure if there's anyone out there with the same problem, they might take solace in the fact that I'm getting through life without too much difficulty. I have had people come to the signing table weeping, thanking me for telling them. I think that if you have the opportunity to contact millions of people through television, if you've had a problem in your life and you share it, somebody who has that same problem feels a little bit lighter with it. There is that about this sort of cult celebrity that goes on -- if you deal with a lot of people, somebody's going to have a problem that you can inadvertently help them with just by being who you are.
Trek Nation: Do you enjoy conventions?
Armstrong: The fans come there to like you. It's a wonderful feeling. On January 1st I was in Las Vegas for a Klingon New Year's party. I don't speak Klingon at all, but I did open a speech with some syllables, and they seemed to be in awe until I said, 'I have no idea what I am saying right now.' It's a difficult language! And there are people out there that know it so well! There's a Klingon Hamlet for chrissakes!
I've written a song called 'The Enterprise Blues' that I play with my ukelele and my harmonica. I actually played on the same stage as Elvis -- the Hilton in Las Vegas! I talk about my Cardassian neck, what the heck, I'm wearing Klingon shoes, I got the blues.
Trek Nation: Sing it to me!
I got the Enterprise blues
I'm as blue as I can be
You took off into space
And you took off without me
C'mon, give me a forehead
Put me back on TV
Well, I could be any creature
That you need on your show
Yes, I could be a Klingon
Like nobody that you know
Give me a forehead
Enterprise, don't go!
I got the idea from Bob Picardo. He was in Blackpool, my first convention, and I followed him onstage. It was ten o'clock in the morning and they told me that I was going to give a little seminar. I thought it would be me and a few other actors talking to 60 people. I see Bob Picardo out there with 3000 people, and I'm going, okay, where's my seminar? They say, 'You're going to walk out onstage after him.' Out there? There are 3000 people! They don't know me, I've always got a forehead on! So I took the cue from Bob Picardo and wrote a little ditty.
Now when the questions dry up, I threaten them with the ukelele. I've gotten a couple of questions about Power Rangers. I don't know anything about Power Rangers -- I did one episode. I know they were nice to me and it was fun doing the show, but 'Who's your favorite power ranger?' I don't know!
Trek Nation: It seems like a lot of other actors from previous series are popping up on Enterprise. Ethan Phillips, Rene Auberjonois, Jeff Combs...
Armstrong: I met Jeff Combs in Atlanta. He's the guy with the feelers, right, the Andorian? He's a great guy -- a down-to-earth alien.
Trek Nation: You're really doing the convention circuit.
I've done about eight conventions since July, which are the first I've ever done. I'll do as many as the send me. I went to Ireland for a day; I was in the air more than I was on the ground, but I had a ball and got to meet some new people.
Trek Nation: What are you working on that's not Star Trek?
Armstrong: I just did an HBO film, Path To War, in which I have one scene with Alec Baldwin, Tom Skerritt and Frederick Forrest. It's about the beginning of the Vietnam War; I think Baldwin plays McNamara. The other two are generals, and I of course am another military man showing them what's going to happen in the war if we proceed as we do. John Frankenheimer directed, from The Manchurian Candidate, so it was a nice crowd.
Now I'm being approached about doing some theater. I had taken a break from theater for a while when my father was ill, I had to go live with him for awhile. I wasn't really pursuing much; if it didn't come looking for me, I didn't go looking for it. I'm just now getting back in the mode where I really want to do something. Casey Biggs wanted me to do Hamlet, but I couldn't -- I was going off to do an episode of Seven Days. My friend James Reynolds from Days of Our Lives -- he and I actually moved to Los Angeles together and had a couple of theaters -- is talking to me about doing a play, a light comedy about a 1940s detective. I might do that. And, of course, I'm waiting for Enterprise to call Admiral Forrest back into action. They were calling me about every three weeks or so. Now we're on the third week, so I'm waiting for the call.