VISITOR TO THE STAGE
A DS9 Denizen Puts On Her Dancing Shoes
by Michelle Erica Green
Even though she hails from New York, lives in California, and has spent a lot of time on Bajor, Nana Visitor is enjoying a homecoming of sorts in Chicago. The actress who played Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is currently appearing at the National Theatre in Washington, DC in the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Bob Fosse musical. Visitor's father, choreographer Robert Tucker, worked with Fosse for many years, while her mother, dancer Nanette Charisse, taught Ann Reinking, who choreographed the new production of Chicago.
For Visitor, performing in a musical "feels fantastic" after nearly fifteen years away while her career flourished in other areas. "I feel like a leopard who has been let out of the zoo and is back on the . . . jungle, savanna, whatever, I'm not sure where leopards live!" the actress laughed in a recent interview from her dressing room. "The lions may be chasing me, but at least I'm in my element. I really feel that way."
Though she and Rene Auberjonois, who played her onscreen lover Odo, have performed together recently in A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, Chicago makes much greater demands on Visitor's formidable skills. "It's a really demanding role; I'm onstage most of the time. Which is great, because I definitely won't get bored fast, which is the one concern about theater. I very definitely wanted to do something onstage. I said, 'I think I need to go back onstage.' And weirdly, it just happened that way, which is really unusual, and very lucky for me."
Playing Roxie Hart in the touring show came with a price, however. Although she brought toddler Django (her child with husband and Deep Space Nine co-star Alexander Siddig) to Washington with her, Visitor had to leave her seven-year-old son Buster with his father in California. "He's coming to me on holidays, but it's tough," she admitted. "When I got this job, I wept. It was like, 'I don't want to deal with this.' But the reality of show business, especially today, is you don't get to choose where you want to be. In film and TV even, there's more travel than ever."
Visitor, who will travel with the show to Las Vegas in January for a three-month run there, said she "adores" Buster's father and his new wife. "If I didn't know what great hands Buster was in, it might be more of a problem doing the show. So far, it's working out. The moment it doesn't, I'll be saying goodbye to the job. The most I'll be away from Buster is three weeks at a time. In every other sense, I'm really happy to be onstage."
All That Jazz
Chicago tells the story of a pair of vaudeville performers who have committed crimes of passion. Narrator Velma - who killed her "sister act" when she caught her sister with her husband - explains the background of chorus girl Roxie, who tried to get her husband to take the rap for her murder of her lover. But Roxie winds up in jail, where a corrupt warden and a sleazy lawyer help the girls become celebrities. The attractive, notorious women must struggle to maintain their level of fame to make sure they're acquitted.
Director Fosse began his own career in Chicago, where he performed a vaudeville act and worked as a dancer before becoming one of the most famous directors and choreographers in musical history. Visitor's father worked closely with Fosse, who in 1973 won the highest awards in three different media: a Tony Award for Pippin, an Oscar for Cabaret, and an Emmy for the TV special Liza With a Z. In Chicago, Visitor as Roxie now sings such classics as "Funny Honey" and "My Own Best Friend" - both performed on the cast album by her mother's former student Reinking, who played Roxie on Broadway in the 1996 revival.
Of course, many Deep Space Nine fans have gone to see Visitor in the musical, and some have congratulated her afterwards. "But they don't seem shocked or anything, or like 'Oh my god, that's so weird to see you doing that stuff.' They take it very much in stride, which always fascinates me about people who watch Star Trek. They're a pretty sophisticated bunch, and not much throws them."
An enthusiastic guest at Trek conventions, Visitor said, "I'm a stage person and I also love people. I always enjoyed meeting the people I met at conventions, and I found it fascinating. I'm sure I'll continue to do them."
Asked whether Roxie Hart and Kira Nerys have anything in common, Visitor exclaimed, "Not anything! Not a thing!" Then she paused. "Except that they're both strong women who are survivors. I guess that is a big deal: they're both survivors."
What You Leave Behind
Kira, the former Bajoran resistance fighter who is currently in command of Deep Space Nine, "had a profound effect" on the actress who played her. "There were times when the character took me by the hand and made me look at things that I didn't particularly want to look at, because things happened to her that never happened to me," Visitor recalled. "It absolutely changed me. Even though I didn't have to go through the steps of living that out, I certainly had to go through the steps of emotionally letting in what must have been happening with her. I like to approach parts psychologically, and she taught me a lot."
The actress laughed that "it was so inappropriate how happy it made me" that the series ended with Kira in command. "Rene always said, 'Nana, it's a TV show, you're taking it a little seriously,' but it thrilled me that I was left in charge." She also enjoyed getting to wear a Starfleet uniform in the final arc. "God, I wish that had happened a long time ago. But it was important that I not be a part of anything. They said from the beginning that that's how my character would be - I'd be on the fringe of everything."
On the other hand, the actress herself said that there were times when she understood how it must feel to be a Bajoran among humans. "The first couple of weeks when I was working on the show, I'd walk around the lot with my makeup on, and it didn't really look like makeup even in person, it was so well done. People would look at me, and look again at my nose, and I really started to get disturbed about it. Like, 'Yeah, I look different. What's the problem? I got two arms, I got a nose, I got two eyes, everything's the same as you, why do you have a problem with me?'"
It gave the actress a new comprehension of intolerance. "I started to understand what prejudice feels like, just on the level of curiosity or ignorance. They didn't know what I was, so they were looking; the minute they knew, 'Oh yeah, those are Bajorans, they're on DS9,' no one gave a shit anymore, and no one looked at me. But when they didn't know, there was curiosity, and even curiosity I took as being made to feel different. Being a white woman, I never experienced that before."
Perhaps the Bajoran freedom fighter's most memorable episode is first season's "Duet," in which Kira had to come to terms with her hatred for Cardassians when she met one who was pretending to be a mass murderer in order to pay for the guilt of his entire species. Kira was forced to explore her own survivor's guilt, as well as her sense of responsibility for some of the actions she took in the Resistance. "That is still my favorite Star Trek episode. And I would say of the whole show, it taught me the most. It obviously had a huge impact on me."
In an interview with Ian Spelling several years ago, Visitor had expressed her pleasure at her son's lack of bias about physical appearance because he spent days around people who looked like Ferengi and Jem'Hadar. "He'll describe his school friends as the one with the curly hair or the one that loves yellow, and I love that," she said. "I felt like I got it right with him. He definitely got it right."
Visitor was not initially enamored of the romance between Kira and Odo, but thought that in the end that, too, made a powerful statement about differences which make no difference. "I didn't like it when it was happening - I didn't want them ever to get romantically involved," she recalled. "I would love to have seen a male-female relationship that had nothing to do with falling in love, I'd love to prove, even on TV - even if it's not true! - that men and women can be friends without any kind of involvement."
Because Odo was a shape-shifter, not a humanoid male, even the male-female dynamic was complicated and deepened by Odo's profoundly alien physiology. For several seasons, his love for Kira seemed almost spiritual, a bond which had nothing to do with the desire for sex or domestic bliss. "I would have loved to have kept it on that level," Visitor agreed. "But in the end, it's men who write the show." Still, episodes like "Chimera," in which Odo showed Kira how his own species made love, ultimately persuaded Visitor of the power of the romance.
Though Kira had a brief love scene with Dr. Bashir in the episode "Fascination," during which both characters were under the influence of alien hormones, most fans felt that Visitor and Siddig had little chemistry. "I agreed!" chuckled the actress, who fell in love with "Sid" after several years of considering him only a good friend - much like Kira with Odo. With the birth of Django, Deep Space Nine impacted every aspect of Visitor's life, from her professional work to her private happiness.
"I loved that show, and I loved the time, but I'm good at enjoying the time when I'm there, and not going, 'Oh god, I wish this was over,' and then missing it when it's gone. So I knew how great it was when I was there." Though she misses Deep Space Nine, Visitor calls the show's run "a very satisfying seven years of my life. It's not like it was truncated; it was full on, and I lived it every day. Every day I went to work, I looked at the Paramount sign in the dark and drank coffee with the crew on the side of the stage, I enjoyed where I was and I knew what it meant. I felt the romance of it. So it's OK with me, now that it's done."
All the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine actors are regularly asked whether and when there will be another Trek movie, and whether it's time for a DS9 film. "I'll say we don't know, and I bet you not," said the actress. "Maybe a crossover, but no Deep Space Nine movie."
Auberjonois had thought that the producers might cross over some of the TNG and DS9 casts in the next film, but believed it would make more sense to work with the Starfleet officers - not Bajoran-identified characters like himself and Kira. On the other hand, since Kira is now in command of DS9, she would be a logical character to bring back if and when Paramount makes another film.
So what's next for Visitor? "I'm going to Las Vegas till April; I have no idea from there. I'm trying to just live life as it comes, because god knows I'm surprised at every turn."
Because her children are so young and stability is so important, she would be delighted to commit to another long-running series as long as the role was compelling. "I just know the reality of getting series. It's a very tough market out there. If an interesting role came up, I'd be happy because it would keep me in one place, and that's certainly easier on one's personal life."
After seven years of working beside Sid, she admitted it was painful to be away for so long to do Chicago. "It's always difficult not to be with the person that you're married to. That's even trickier than children. It's very hard, and I think it's one of the real down sides of the business. Very definitely I want to stay with stable as much as possible."
Ironically, doing a musical out of town gives her stability. "I just go to work at six o'clock, which is a lot better than the 16-hour days I used to have, and I'll be able to be home with the boys eventually. Buster's going to travel to Vegas and I'll be able to travel from Vegas, and it'll just be more normal."
She has no qualms about raising her kids in the spotlight: "It would be like me trying to say, 'I'm going to raise them as French countryside children.' It's impossible; they're my kids. I can't be someone other than who I am, so they're just going to have to deal with Mama and I'll have to deal with what comes up because I'm their mama."
A guest star on more than 30 television series and a former series regular on Working Girl, Visitor said she enjoys science fiction, but most of her entertainment comes from books. "Mostly I am with Django, take him to school, do little business things that I need to. I do publicity for the show, and I do the show, and I might go out afterwards with friends or come home and read, and go to bed. That's my life right now. Kind of an athlete's life. . .well, not athletes these days, but the way it used to be when they actually took care of themselves!"
The actress said she has no ambitions to write or direct. "I'm an actor through and through, that's it." While she says "I can see it" about the possibility of producing something she wanted to appear in, she added, "It's not something that I go, 'Oh, one day I'll be able to produce my own thing.' I don't think that way. God knows what will happen - so far, just at the last minute, I start to understand what I want the next step to be just in time to make it happen. So I'm hoping that after Chicago, the same thing will happen - I'll know what I want to do next."
Despite a multitude of career successes including several previous musicals and a Best Supporting Actress in a Genre Television Series award from the Sci-Fi Universe's Readers' Choice, Visitor said she is most proud of her personal commitments. "I am proudest of taking care of my family and my extended family, being responsible, and using what I've made from hard work to make sure everybody's OK." The actress has raised money at her convention appearances and supported several charities that benefit children.
"Now I'm going to put my eyelashes on and stretch my legs out and do a show," she concluded. It's the path she chose long before Kira Nerys came into her life, and the one to which she has returned.