J.G. HERTZLER VS. THE ROCK:
The Retired Klingon Roars Back
On hiatus from his role as Chancellor of the Klingon Empire, actor J.G. Hertzler turned into a Hirogen.
Since Deep Space Nine went off the air, Hertzler hasn't forgotten Chancellor Martok - in fact, he's writing a pair of novels about the Klingon leader in the aftermath of the Dominion War, and he's hoping there will be a place for Martok on the next Trek series. But when Voyager called to ask Hertzler to play a new alien in the episode "Tsunkatse," he didn't hesitate.
"There were so many good things about it," the actor said recently from his home in California, where he lives with his wife and baby daughter. "The first was that they asked me to do the role - I didn't have to go in and interview with anyone. Then they said, 'There's good news and bad news. You have to wear a great deal of makeup, but you get to wrestle with Seven of Nine.' I said, 'Yeah!'"
Between The Rock and a Hard Place
"Tsunkatse" is getting a lot of press because it features a guest appearance by WWF star The Rock, who also appears on UPN's WWF Smackdown! Greedy fight promoter Penk, "the Don King of the universe" [played by fellow Deep Space Nine alumnus Jeffrey Combs], sets up fights between conscripted alien fighters, of whom The Rock is one and Hertzler's character is another. When Tuvok is injured, Seven agrees to go into the ring to try to save him.
"My character has been in this situation for about 20 years, and I'm the best," explained Hertzler. "But I'm getting on in years. Then this Seven of Nine thing comes on. You've never wrestled Borg till you've wrestled Seven of Nine! I had a great time and it was a great character."
Despite the hours he has spent on the Paramount lot where Deep Space Nine and Voyager used to share a swing set, Hertzler had never met most of the Voyager cast. "I know Robert Picardo only because of a German charity connection. I met Robert Duncan McNeill at a convention in Baltimore, and that's it." The actor had not met "exquisite" Jeri Ryan before. Because most of "Tsunkatse" takes place away from Voyager, he did not work with many of the regulars. "Kate Mulgrew wasn't in the show. Robert Beltran had one tiny moment standing next to me, then he disappeared. Only Tuvok and Seven of Nine were in the episode the whole time."
Still, returning to the lot was like a homecoming. "The director, Mike Vejar, was a DS9 director. And all the background people were people from DS9 too, during the four hours in the makeup chair. It's the same stunt people. These are people that I knew for five years, you know?"
Could Hertzler return to the series? "Anything's possible. He's not dead. Anyway, in the Trek universe, I've died several times - I think I died twice on DS9 - and still came back." The numbers would seem to be in Hertzler's favor: look at the "deaths" of Seska, Tasha Yar, Spock.
"Spock probably came back because Leonard Nimoy said to himself, 'You dummy! You ARE Spock!'" Hertzler joked. "It was insane. I saw Leonard Nimoy do his one-man show as Theo Van Gogh, Vincent Van Gogh's brother, at Catholic University way back in the 1970s. It was good...but Spock was brilliant! I don't care if it's on television, in a feature film, or on stage on Broadway: when you have a connection between character and actor as magnetic and electric as that, you don't throw it away."
An Actor's Actor
Describing himself as "an actor's fan," Hertzler heaped praises upon many of the people associated with Star Trek over the years. "How could anyone judge negatively DeForest Kelley and William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy? They made those characters. Next Generation had Patrick Stewart who is one of the most wonderful Shakespearean actors on the planet. I love Avery [Brooks], I love his strength, I love his attitude - he's got his own agenda, you've got to respect the man. One of the things I liked so much about DS9 was the cast, the people have been around the block a million times. All that history that they bring to life, that makes a difference in terms of depth of character."
Hertzler saw Rene Auberjonois and Nana Visitor, who played lovers Odo and Kira on the series, in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters at a convention in Philadelphia. "I'd never seen the play and I was expecting the worst, because it's just a producer's dream - there's no costumes, no props, no theater to rent, just two actors reading. I saw the play with those two people reading it, and I was ripped apart. It's one of the best pieces of theater I've seen in my 35 years of watching. Nana was just fabulous. I'm so glad she's doing Chicago now, I hope I can get out to Las Vegas to see her."
The actor had an idea for another of his former cast members in Las Vegas, the site of the financially disappointing Star Trek Experience. "Really, we should work on convincing the powers that be on starting a Vic's Lounge. If you had a lounge that was hosted once a quarter by James Darren, you'd have not only the gamblers coming, but all the people who love Vic!"
Hertzler had little interaction with Darren because, needless to say, the boisterous Martok prefers Klingon opera to lounge music. The episode "Chimera" offered him a rare opportunity to interact with cast members from whom the general normally remained distant. In that installment, Hertzler played Laas, a changeling like Odo who had never before met another of his kind. While Laas bonded with Odo, he became increasingly impatient with the "solids" on the station, until he finally committed an act of violence that required his ostracism.
"I said to the producers, 'You mean in all of L.A., you can't find anyone who hasn't already been on the show?'" said Hertzler, who was very surprised when he was asked to play a second character on Deep Space Nine while Martok had such a significant presence. "The hope was that people would not recognize me. That was the danger - I said, 'I don't want to detract from Martok in any way, so if I can't completely lose any Martok persona in my performance, please don't cast me.' They said it would be fine, but I was scared because I didn't have a whole lot of time to think about it."
The actor used the name "Garman Hertzler" in the credits, hoping viewers would think he was a different actor. It worked: few viewers realized Laas was played by the same performer as Martok. "I had a wonderful time," Hertzler recalled. "To be able to walk into a room and insult everybody on the show, legitimately, without any malice! I go into Quark's Bar and say, 'I'm very sorry that you're all humans, you have that burden to carry, but you're idiots.' It was a great thing."
Laas gave Hertzler the opportunity to interact with Auberjonois and Visitor, whom he admires greatly but with whom he rarely shared scenes as Martok. He also has warm feelings for both of them personally. "I had one little tiny thing as Martok-changeling with Odo, but very little. Rene is probably the person I've stayed in touch with most, on e-mail and whatnot - he sends me jokes and we talk about things. Nana was one of the first people, when I first came on the show, who opened up to me and said, 'You know, you're good.' She made me relax and be part of the cast as opposed to this outsider."
Once a Klingon, Always A Klingon
Of course most of Martok's interaction was with Sisko and with Worf, who features prominently in the Trek books Hertzler is writing for Simon and Schuster. "They follow the adventures of Martok and Worf and several of the cast members of DS9, along with some new people, after the demise of the series, as they leave the station and return to Q'onos where all hell breaks loose - which is not an uncommon event on Q'onos. The books have to do with Martok's self-doubt because he's got no nobility. Of all the people who dislike that, he dislikes it most himself, and holds himself responsible for whatever goes wrong. It takes him on a journey against his past."
The actor has been trying to catch up on his science fiction reading. "As a younger person I was a Lovecraft fan, but I did not read that massive generation of Poul Anderson, Fritz Lieber, I have vast holes in my knowledge of sci-fi. I'm reading as fast as I can. I've always been fascinated and attracted to sci-fi, but I didn't spend the time before."
"Of course I watched classic Trek, how could you not, but I hate the tribbles episode. I hate tribbles!" he added. Martok would certainly agree with the actor on that; tribbles hate Klingons as much as Klingons hate the cute little furry things.
Hertzler has also completed a script about the Spanish Civil War. "I noticed in Variety that Antonio Banderas just optioned a book on the Spanish Civil War, so I think that's going to be happening, and I've got to get this out - it's done, now I need to get it into people's hands. I'm working on two or three other projects that are easier to accomplish, but I wrote this one because it was the one I felt the most strongly about. A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this one."
In addition to several other writing projects in the works, the actor's latest performance was in a commercial for Daimler-Chrysler which will air all over the world starting in the spring. "I get called for a commercial once a decade - I did a local car commercial in 1975, and a Miller beer commercial in 1983, but the beer was never released. It was a very funny campaign for a beer called Miller Special Reserve. which became Miller Genuine Draft. I was a Greek general in Alexander's army, standing around a bar in Babylon, watching a football game."
"In show business, there's not much I haven't done," he added. "My master's degree is in set design. I've spent half my theater career directing, and I prefer directing to acting. I like watching Martok - for some reason he transcends me - but for the most part I don't like people looking at me."
Still, Hertzler remains active in charity convention work. He plans to travel to Europe to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, and has made appearances recently with Robert Picardo, Avery Brooks, and William Shatner. Of his last overseas fundraising experience, he recalled in a serious tone, "I got to meet Claudia Christian, who is not only a gorgeous woman but a wonderful talent, and that was a great thing." Then he added gleefully, "Of course, I asked for and received a copy of her Playboy, which was very exciting! She's such a free spirit, and what a kid!"
The descendant of German-speaking Amish families "from the same small town in Pennsylvania for eight generations," Hertzler reflected on a humbling Trek experience in the small German town where he saw Star Trek Insurrection. "Germany is an amazing place because they really adore Star Trek. I saw the premiere in this small town where they had this ritual. The theater was packed. Everybody had beer. The Star Trek theme came up, and as soon as they played a particular note in it, all the beer popped. It's tradition!"
Though he has "incredibly limited knowledge" about what might happen in terms of the next Trek series or film, he is hopeful that Martok may return. A few weeks ago, rumors were swirling that a Klingon series might be on Paramount's agenda, but more recent word-of-mouth from focus groups seems to indicate a Starfleet Academy or space-based series. "The person I'd like to see write something is Ron Moore. I think he's a genius," said Hertzler. "Of course, the writers on DS9 are my pick. I was in New York recently, I went to see a play, I'm standing on a street on the Lower West Side at about midnight, and Rene Echevarria walks by. 'What the hell are you doing here?' 'I'm writing a show!' I'm really happy for him."
Hertzler has an additional ongoing project: the baby recently born to himself and his wife, an actress whom he met when they both worked at ACT in San Francisco. "She speaks a lot of languages, we just can't decipher them," he cooed of his daughter. "It's all gorgeous."