ARON EISENBERG, FOREVER FERENGI:
Nog Gets Promoted
by Michelle Erica Green
People who meet Aron Eisenberg are often surprised that he's not a kid like Nog, his Ferengi alter ego. Though he's nearly thirty and has a new baby at home, his small stature and association with the Starfleet cadet he plays on Deep Space Nine make people think he's much younger than he is.
"When I got into acting, I had just had a kidney transplant and didn't know where I was going to be in four years," the actor recalls. "At the time, I was eighteen and I looked eleven. I knew I had an asset I could market, because I looked like a kid but I was an adult they could work with. I didn't go to college then because that was my advantage - but I also didn't want to give myself nothing to fall back on."
Quark's nephew has done a lot of growing up over the course of the series - he's gone from being a bratty criminal who expects women to chew his food for him to being the first of his species at Starfleet Academy. His appearance has changed little over five seasons, but he now wears a cadet's uniform and sports a professional demeanor which is quite a contrast to his conniving Uncle Quark and his clever but clueless father Rom...not to mention his new stepmother, Leeta.
"It's like that situation in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - she's my mom!" he groans. Nog's own romantic life has been less stellar than his father's, especially after a disastrous double date with Jake Sisko a couple of seasons ago. But Nog has changed a lot since then; now he's the orderly, fastidious one, while Jake is the lackadaisical artist.
"When I first heard [about the plan to send Nog to Starfleet Academy] I was concerned - I thought I was being written off the show!" Eisenberg recalls. His concern made it to the ears of executive producer Rick Berman, who told him quite the opposite: that the change would probably bring him more work. "Then I thought it was a really cool idea. My favorite scene to film was in 'Heart of Stone,' where I got to plead with Sisko for a recommendation to the Academy. The most rewarding part about being an actor is when you get in a scene with somebody and it's alive, and that scene comes alive, you can feel something, and I had that with Avery Brooks, because this was something that was so important to Nog."
Getting inside the head of an alien wasn't particularly difficult for Eisenberg, who says his acting comes as much from instinct as training. "I can easily play different types of things, but what I tend to do is to take the honesty of the situation and ask how I would play that if I was put in that situation. So it's more or less been my standard of putting what's in me into the character, and then changing it, making it Ferengi," he says of Nog. "He has the same feelings and thoughts that anyone else has, the same desires." Asked about the greedy, sexist attitudes of the Ferengi, the actor becomes quite defensive of his character's culture, citing Gene Roddenberry's idea of contrasting cultures (infinite diversity in infinite combinations).
"We look at the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition as chauvinist and sexist, but they don't. To the extent that different cultures have different ideas, and what might seem completely wrong in one culture is okay in another culture, you can't morally say what's right versus wrong." He cites Quark's relationship with his Moogie - "She's pretty much in control, you might look at it on the surface as chauvinist and sexist, but who's really wearing the pants?" - and points out that the only culture really explored in depth on Star Trek is human society.
"You see Klingons, and you get into Vulcans, and Romulans, but you never get in deep." Eisenberg then quotes some of Quark's speech from "The Jem'Hadar," in which the Ferengi complains to Sisko about human imperialism and presumption of authority, and adds, "Quark was basically right! If that society works for them, that's what needs to be accepted, not judged based on [the belief that] everyone should live how we live."
It's interesting to hear Eisenberg quote Roddenberry because, while he was an original series fan, he barely paid attention to The Next Generation. When he picked up the script for "Emissary," he had no idea what a Ferengi was. When he arrived at the audition, director David Livingston asked him, "'You're not reading for the troll, are you?'" The casting director gave Eisenberg a tape of TNG's "The Last Outpost" so he would know what a Ferengi looked like; only then did he realize how many hours of makeup he was going to be in for if he got the part.
"I don't think I knew what it entailed, but that wouldn't have changed my mind anyway - that's not a big deal," he says of the 5 a.m. and earlier set calls. "When I did 'Rocks and Shoals,' it was very difficult because we were out in a rock quarry, it was sweltering hot and I was dripping wet!" Still, he adds, the makeup helps him sink into character once it's on.
Eisenberg was featured in two of the most critically-acclaimed episodes of the series - "Little Green Men," the screamingly funny B-movie sendup which reveals that the aliens who landed at Roswell were Nog, Quark, and Rom, and "The Visitor," in which Jake Sisko grows up (along with Nog) in an alternate timeline where Ben Sisko disappeared. "I thought Avery [Brooks] and Cirroc [Lofton] and Tony [Todd] just were phenomenal - I really was moved by that show," he says of the latter. "But any time I get to work with Armin and Max, whenever the three of us get together, we have a really good time. So I really liked 'The Magnificent Ferengi'...actually all of this season, with the war."
Part of the appeal of playing Nog is that he's so different from himself, says the actor - who does not generally demand that women chew his food for him - but there are also things which strike an empathic note. He is particularly fond of Nog's relationship with Quark, which he describes as very different from his relationship with his own father, who died when Eisenberg was a teenager. "It's a reflection of our own society when our dads aren't part of our lives, and mothers are so much more revered than fathers," he notes. "My dad and I weren't very close, he worked all the time. I always knew he loved me, but the point with Rom is that he fully supports his son, not just financially but psychologically, mentally, with love and support. He even stood up to Quark against Ferengi tradition for him. That's good to see."
Eisenberg also enjoys the ongoing development of Nog's relationship with Jake Sisko, with whom he has practically grown up. "It's really remarkable, showing how two cultures get along, yet keep their own identities." He hopes to get an opportunity to explore Nog's problems at the Academy - his difficulties fitting in, his emerging heroism - but he's a little afraid of becoming a Wesley Crusher, whose reputation as a boy wonder earned him fan hostility. "Nog's always overzealous and always overcompensating and trying too hard, and I like that that's in there because even when I do something right it's more out of surprise," he says. "But I think Nog is very intelligent - I'd like to see more of that intelligence." Still, with only one season remaining for the show, he's not certain that he'll have the opportunity to explore the character as much as he would like.
He did, however, get the opportunity to create a new character on Voyager during that show's second season - the young Kazon intiate, Kar. "Apparently they couldn't find a kid that could play the part, so I auditioned. I knew the crew on Voyager because I had worked with them on the first couple of seasons of Deep Space Nine; when Voyager came on, that crew went there, and the TNG crew went to DS9. It was really neat to be a character on both shows. My take on the two was that Nog is always searching for people to give him the answer, and Kar was more of a demanding type - he knew what he wanted and how to get it. I was proud of what I did."
Eisenberg hasn't done many conventions, a fact he attributes partly to the organizers' perception that he's as young as the characters he plays. He is delighted to be a part of the Trek phenomenon. "You're always remembered as part of something." He has also found the franchise highly enjoyable to work for, citing the senses of humor of the people on the set, and worries about whether he'll be invited back as the series winds down.
"It's just so sad that it might end in one more season...it really is. He's just such a fun character it's sad to let go of him. But, you know, you gotta move on." His major project at the moment is his new baby, but he's auditioning for roles outside of Trek - he's been in several horror movies, a genre of which he says he's a fan. And as we all know, nobody ever leaves Trek permanently, so even with Deep Space Nine off the air, the young Ferengi could show up in films or even another series.