Actress Louise Fletcher reflects on her long tenure as the scheming Bajoran spiritual leader Kai Winn in 'Deep Space Nine.'

Accomplished movie actress Louise Fletcher has been generating deep-felt emotions from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans over the last seven years as a result of her portrayal of Bajoran spiritual leader Kai Winn, a villainess of Cruella de Vil proportions that viewers love to hate. Taking time out from her hectic shooting schedule, we caught up with Louise at the Destination Terok Nor convention in London. Not surprisingly, she is nothing like her conniving on-screen persona, and shared with us some thoughts on her popular Trek character, in addition to the many genre roles that she has essayed over her formidable career. As the winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, why did Louise want to appear in Star Trek?

"Quite simply, they offered it to me, it was simple as that. I was thrilled and happy to do it because only a few actors get to be on Star Trek. I have two boys, they are in their 30s now, and I used to watch the original series with them. However, my children are not particularly impressed by me being on the new show, even if my nephews and nieces are. I think that they were more proud when I won an Oscar."

Inevitably, an actor will find their current performance being compared to previous roles, and Louise examines the similarities between Kai Winn and her Cuckoo character. "Nurse Ratched wasn't ambitious and ruthless in the Machiavellian way that Winn is, she was just controlled and wanted to keep her world intact, the way that she wanted it -- a control freak if you like. She was happy in her world, but then this guy [played by Jack Nicholson] walked in and rocked the boat. Winn, however, is ambitious, and can visualize everything in a bigger and better way. Her greed is for power rather than material things. I love playing her because I think of it as grand opera, and it lends itself to permissible over the top acting.

"You're in this amazing costume and standing in an amazing place, so you have to be a little larger than life. You can't just wear that costume and act as if you're walking down the street, her pride is so out of control that she has to be grand."

Public Kai

Right from her early appearances, Winn's back-story has been evident -- she spent five years in a Cardassian labour camp, where she was systematically beaten for her continued preaching of the words of the Prophets. This adds yet another layer to this ripe character, and Louise is keen to look beyond the ornate robes and find out what lurks beneath this troubled character.

"Winn herself is not a very introspective person. It is said that self-examination is the key to happiness and peace, and I don't believe that she knows herself at all. She is actually blinded by her tragic flaws, and when looking at her past she becomes emboldened by these experiences, rather than analyzing them. She doesn't have any compassion for other people who have gone through a similarly tough time, she just thinks about 'Me, me, me.'"

Perhaps Winn is not really a bad person, just misunderstood? Louise disagrees. "I see her as a delicious baddie who is just on the wrong side of everything. Look at all the different religious leaders we have that appear so wonderful on the outside. They smile a lot, talk the talk and walk the walk, but they're not really ducks. They are just pretending to be."

Louise continues, adding that she has embraced some of Winn's characteristics from other contemporary people. "No one specifically, but I've certainly had them in mind. Richard Nixon perhaps -- a person totally flawed by his inability to fit in to the real world. He was a misfit, and although he was politically brilliant, he couldn't survive."

Winn or lose

Louise has a firm understanding of what makes the Kai tick, and has made her own suggestions. "I have tried this last year to make a suggestion or two, in particular that I want her to be a little more outrageous. I want her to take a little more pleasure in her power, and my suggestion was that she had little children flanking her and sprinkling petals in her path. She could then make it seem like she was teaching these children how to walk with the prophets, and have this phalanx of innocents disguising her evil motives."

Winn's world is firmly ensconced in Bajoran theology, and Louise has an interesting take on how much she should need to know. "The religious imagery in the show is very deep, and I can't say that I have a complete understanding of it, but then Kai Winn is only giving it lip service, and it follows that so should I. It's the Ava Gardner school of acting [laughs]."

Many of Louise's scenes involve her having discussions or arguments with Sisko or Kira (Nana Visitor), and this is all part of the fun for her.

"I love saying to Nana 'My child' because it annoys her so much, and it gets her visibly frustrated. I love it when Winn and Kira look at each other that way, doing double takes. I think that Kai Winn actually admires Kira, and she even enjoys being stumped by her sometimes."

The Kai's the limit

Many actors bemoan the difference between film and television sets, citing that the latter are more rushed and inferior. Louise, however, defends the quality of the DSN set. "There is no difference between Star Trek and working on a major motion picture because they have a really well-oiled machine, and know how to produce this quality product. Other television shows don't have the money, such as VR.5."

Louise played the role of Mrs Nora Bloom in this short-lived 1995 virtual reality series.

"It was a good show, but it was ahead of its time. If it had been made this year then it might have been a different story. They didn't have the luxury of time to work out some of their problems."


In 1983 Louise played scientist Lillian Reynolds in Douglas Trumbull's Sci-Fi thriller Brainstorm, a film that was overshadowed by the tragic drowning of its lead actress Natalie Wood. "We'd pretty much finished shooting, and Natalie only had half of a scene to go, which they managed to complete without a body double, contrary to what people said at that time. It was Thanksgiving weekend, we finished working on the Wednesday night and she was found dead on the Sunday morning. It was just terrible, a stupid loss. They had to release the film, there was no reason not to. It is quite normal for a film to go out even if the actors have died."

Another memorable genre film role was that of schoolteacher Mrs McKeltch in Tobe Hooper's 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. "I played a teacher that was taken over by aliens, and this involved me eating a frog. My kids loved that! I really enjoyed making that film because it was such fun."

Louise's last moment in the film sees her legs hanging out of the giant mouth of one of the invader guards. "I did another 'invaders' film called Strange Invaders (1983), and with that same director [Michael Laughlin] I did Strange Behaviour [aka Dead Kids, 1981]."

At the height of the time when Stephen King films were being churned out in their dozens, Louise took the role of kindly Norma Manders in 1984's Firestarter, which also starred a young Drew Barrymore.

"She was a miraculous child actress. There was this scene where she is meant to run across to me and jump up into my arms. She was only a kid, but she said to the director [Mark L Lester] 'You know, I've lost my mommy and my daddy and that makes me sad, but there's this kind truck driver who has rescued me, and that makes me happy. Don't you think that it would be good if I am crying and smiling at the same time when the camera is coming round?' The director said 'Yes, that would be good,' and Art Carney and myself were just staring at each other in disbelief. This was just an eight-year-old child, and she was brilliant, with such insight."

Exorcist II

A horrendous -- as opposed to horrific -- film that many would like to forget is 1977's ill-conceived Exorcist II: The Heretic, in which she played demonic Linda Blair's doctor, Gene Tuskin. "There are certain directors that are so good that if they agree to do a sequel then they hate themselves because they don't really want to do it. John Boorman was full of self-loathing for doing the film, and because of that he set about making a movie that was so different to the original that it bore little resemblance to it. He ended up going too far into his head, and that's why the film ended up as it was."

More recently, we've also seen Fletcher in Profiler, playing the mother of serial killer Jack of All Trades.

Deep Space Nine made its last stand in May and it came as no surprise when Kai Winn met her comeuppance in "What You Leave Behind." It's long been obvious that the devious Kai had it coming to her, and even the actress had secretly hoped for a fitting end. "She needs to be taught a good lesson!" she insists.

Copyright September 1999 Starburst.