TREK'S J. PAUL BOEHMER:
A Nazi Hologram Becomes a Singular Borg
by Michelle Erica Green
J. Paul Boehmer has been in positions on Star Trek Voyager that many on the crew as well as in the audience would envy. After all, he was B'Elanna Torres' lover and Seven of Nine's child. Unfortunately, he was only a hologram in "The Killing Game" and his character died at the end of "Drone," but that doesn't mean he won't be reincarnated. Boehmer has also appeared as a Cardassian on Deep Space Nine and as a Klingon on the Star Trek Klingon CD-ROM. His fantasy is to star on the next series.
"Star Trek was one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid," says Boehmer, who is currently working on a production of House of Mirth at ACT in San Francisco. (Boehmer is in good company; Trek stars Robert Picardo, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman, and many others have done stints at the acclaimed repertory theater.) "I knew that I wanted to be an actor when I was five, because I was watching Star Trek. I knew it wasn't likely for there to be that kind of space travel when I was an adult, so I thought, if I can't do it really, I might as well do it as an actor."
Boehmer doesn't believe it's an accident that so many theatrically trained actors get called repeatedly to Star Trek. "The way they write it, the thrust of the language is very classically driven. It's not classical text, obviously, but it's classically driven. So they cast a lot of theater people. That's really amazing about that show. It's one of the few on television that does that."
One With the Borg
Ohio-raised Boehmer got to play the most complex Borg in the history of Star Trek - a transporter-generated combination of the Doctor's 29th-century mobile emitter, junior engineer Mulcahy's DNA, and Seven of Nine's nanoprobes. The futuristic drone who named himself "One" quickly developed into a sophisticated adult Borg, but he had no life experience, nor knowledge of the Collective. Everything was new to him and wondrous. Over Seven's objections, One decided to contact the Borg, but when the deadly aliens threatened Voyager, he allowed himself to be destroyed rather than put the ship at risk.
"This particular character has never experienced life before, ever...suddenly he's popped out, he desperately wants to know who he is, why he's here, and he's got this strong urge to be part of something that is so clearly bigger than he is," observes Boehmer. "I thought it was a remarkable script, because it got to the core of what is for me great about Star Trek. It asks a lot of questions that we all ask. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? You can identify on a human level with it."
"When I watch Star Trek, for me anyway because I'm really a big fan, it hits when it gets to those really human issues that made it great in the first place," Boehmer continues. "And it hits often, but writing 26 episodes a year, they're going to miss once in awhile. When it's about human issues, what we all go through every day, I think it brings people back and keeps the interest alive. It makes the future seem a bit brighter."
Though he described the role as "a dream come true" since he grew up watching Star Trek, Boehmer's description of his costume sounds more like a nightmare. In addition to having one eye covered by a Borg eyepiece that made it difficult for Boehmer to see, the Borg skin-tight black covering required that he be covered in neoprene - a rubbery material used to make diving suits. The costume loosened up a bit over the course of the shoot, a development that worked to Boehmer's advantage as the character of One loosened up around humans as well.
"I lost 20 pounds. I was on the Borg diet!" laughs Boehmer. "It took 40-50 minutes just to put the outfit on. We took part of it off for a lunch break, but we didn't take it all off, because there's a lot of electrical wire involved. Fortunately I didn't ever have to go to the bathroom, because I literally sweated off 20 pounds of water weight. The only thing that ever came close for me was Hamlet - I did Hamlet in Texas where it was 104 degrees, and it was so active, I had four shirts made for me so I could have a dry shirt at different points in the show."
The outfit also proved advantageous in that it helped Boehmer get into character. "The costume puts you in a place where you aren't normally. It really constricts you, and because of the Borg stuff, one of your eyes is gone, so you lose depth perception. It was interesting to walk around in this confined space with no real depth perception - it was great. 'Great,' what a high school thing to say!"
If Boehmer occasionally slips into adolescent slang, there's a reason. When he's not working on a play or a film, he teaches voice and speech at the High School for Performing Arts in Los Angeles. Though he is on hiatus now to perform at ACT, "I'll be coming back to finish out the year. We have two students out who are doing television series, but other than that, most of them are committed to finishing the high school years before they get into the professional world, which I think is wise, for education's sake."
The Meaning of Star Trek
Boehmer tries to teach his students that the elements that make a great speaker aren't always positive traits. "I see Dr. [Martin Luther] King speaking, and there's something in his eyes and something in his being and he's so calm and centered," Boehmer says. "That's so attractive. You want to engage in it. That's a great example of powerful speaking in a positive way. But we also have examples of speaking used in ways which are detrimental to the world, one example being Hitler. The kids in high school brought that up. He was a great speaker. He motivated a country into something horrible."
That's what Boehmer thought was effective about "The Killing Game," in which he played a holographic Nazi captain working for the Hirogen who captured Voyager. "You have to get into a mindset that you believe what you say, and that character said some pretty horrible things about the Jewish race," he recalls. "But you have to be committed to it, you can't judge it while you say it."
"I had fun with it in a strange way, because you have to do it in a way that sounds attractive. You have to try to convince somebody. That's what's scary about that whole mindset. On a very deep, primitive level, it's an attraction-repulsion thing. That script brought up a lot of things that people don't explore in themselves. What's interesting is that it shows we have to be careful when we listen to speakers - especially very attractive, powerful speakers. You have to know what you're listening to and what to believe when you listen to it."
Boehmer appreciates the fact that Star Trek keeps issues like the Holocaust present for audiences. "We're going to keep running into this. They're traveling through space, yet it's a recurring theme with almost every race they run into." He cites Ro Laren's experiences during the Bajoran Occupation on Star Trek: The Next Generation. "I think it's great that they keep bringing this up, because I think it's dangerous for us to forget. You have to know what to look out for, you have to know that this is in the world. Hopefully somewhere someone listens, and stops it next time."
Philosophy aside, which was more fun: getting mothered by Seven of Nine, or getting B'Elanna Torres pregnant? "They're both great," laughs Boehmer. "Jeri really took on playing my mom. She was always fussing with my costume, making sure it was ready for camera. She took care of me like a mom - once we stopped shooting it didn't drop - and just for that alone, it was incredible. She really took it on."
Though the Voyager cast had been working together for years when Boehmer came onto the show, he felt comfortable among them. "There's something unique and powerful about moving into a production that has been going for so long. It feels like you're stepping into an engine that is in motion. They're all ready, and they took care of me and made sure I was OK. Kate [Mulgrew] is great. She is so totally in command - she walks around in command! She can't afford to let it down. And I love Tuvok [Tim Russ]. He's got a great sense of humor."
Boehmer briefly played a Cardassian in the final arc of Deep Space Nine. "I got the gun from Casey Biggs, and wished him luck - that was it, but it was fun," he recalls, adding that Biggs is a friend from Arena Stage in Washington, DC and that he enjoyed working with him again on Star Trek. "I think the Cardassians are really cool, with those spines on either shoulder."
He also played a Klingon for the computer game with Christopher Plummer, "and that was pretty intense too." Has he read the Klingon translation of Hamlet? "No!" exclaims Boehmer, who has played the title role both in the Dallas Shakespeare Festival and in an Off-Off-Broadway play called New Yorick, New Yorick. "Oh, god, I loved that scene in the movie about it being in the original Klingon. I think Shatner has a lot of personality, and he and Nimoy work so well together, great opposites for each other."
The actor lived and worked for six years in New York City after doing undergraduate work at Southern Methodist University and earning a master's degree from the University of Delaware. Recently, he relocated to Los Angeles. "Because I was traveling so much, I had an address in New York but I was never there," he explained. "I decided I'd try to see if I could get something going out here and be home for awhile." Boehmer's most recent film was The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan.
However, he would also like to be back on Broadway, where he starred in An Ideal Husband. "To be working on Broadway would be a really great thing. To get the opportunity to work on some of these plays that have been around for hundreds of years, you're in effect stepping into something that's bigger than you, and can really fill you up and make you really alive," Boehmer says, then groans with concern that he sounds too "high school" again.
Still, Boehmer reiterates his love for his craft: "I really like going to work every day, working on great scripts." He recalls that in addition to Star Trek, his decision to become an actor was influenced by a production of Twelfth Night that he saw in his youth. "The guy playing the clown was amazing. And unlike Star Trek, I knew that was possible for me to do, because he was right there in front of me. I actually met the actor at an audition ten years later and I said, 'You don't know me, but you're why I'm here. Thanks.'"
Having recently performed at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and now ACT, what would Boehmer like to do next? "To be on the next Star Trek," he answers without hesitation. "I don't want to be the captain, it would be great just to be on the next show. It would be a huge fulfillment of a childhood dream."
And why not? "If it makes people happy, and it keeps people honest, and it keeps people working for the betterment of humanity, why not," agrees Boehmer. "If that is all that Gene Roddenberry pulled off in his time here, it was time well spent. Bravo to him."