"I love doing Deep Space Nine. Can't you tell?" offers an enthusiastic Louise Fletcher, who has been playing the recurring part of Kai Winn on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine since "In the Hands of the Prophets," the first season's finale. "I love those costumes. I love the theatricality of the character. I find it a lot of fun to work there and all of the people that I work with -- Avery Brooks and Nana Visitor and the others -- are very nice. I had to go to Paramount yesterday to try on my clothes for a movie role, and I dropped in on everyone. I saw Armin Shimerman, who's a friend of mine, standing outside his trailer with Rene Auberjonois, and I had a chat with them. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Winn on the show, and I always look forward to coming back again."

When Vedek Winn first arrived on the space station, she was merely an ambitious religious figure seeking to complete a swift ascension up the Bajoran political ladder, and hoping to displace her main competition, Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim), along the way. Winn's method, which initially involved fanning the flames of religious fanaticism, made her a threat, of whom then-Commander Sisko and Major Kira were extremely wary, particularly when she teamed with the equally power-hungry Minister Jaro (Frank Langella). Since officially replacing Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola), Winn has mellowed just a bit. By the third season episode "Life Support," she was even working with Bareil, as he was dying, to negotiate a peace treaty with Cardassia. Yet, in Fletcher's last third-season outing, "Shakaar," Winn was up to her old tricks once again when she thought she could assume the duties of the recently deceased First Minister of the Bajoran Provisional Government.

"I think she's a typical politician, but one with grand ambitions. Sometimes ambition can lead a person to commit evil acts, but I don't necessarily think Winn is evil. The first time you saw Winn, she was trying to blow up a schoolroom," remembers Fletcher, a veteran actress who earned a Best Actress Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and whose many genre credits range from Brainstorm and Flowers in the Attic to the TV series VR.5 and the recent virtual reality thriller Virtuosity. "So, she has always felt the ends justified the means. Maybe she does have a little bit of evil in her, but I try not to play that very much. I try to play her as the benevolent spiritual leader. Bajor has a very organized and specific religion. The Prophets are like the Gods, making it like the Greek religion in its own way. But I don't think the description of the religion is as important as the way Winn uses it, and she uses it."

Fletcher, who describes herself as a "longtime" Star Trek fan, always thought she would someday end up guesting on one of the shows or in one of the movies. When, in spring 1993, the producers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine contacted her about playing Winn, Fletcher put in a call to her friend Shimerman, the series' Ferengi bartender Quark. He pleaded with her to accept the role of Winn. Soon enough, Fletcher, herself the daughter of an Episcopal minster, was before the cameras for "In the Hands of the Prophets." That Winn turned into a recurring character couldn't have pleased the actress more. "They give me more to work with than you could shake a stick at. I probably shouldn't complain at all, but I do a bit because I still find the language very difficult to relate to. In one of my most recent episodes," she notes, "I was discussing the attributes of interstellar vegetables. Remembering the names of those vegetables like you would remember carrots and peas, where it just rolls off your tongue, wasn't easy."

"But I love what I've gotten to do with Winn. She's larger than life. She sits back and kind of smiles at everybody. There's not much of me in her, just as there's not much of Nurse Ratched [her Cuckoo's Nest character] in me. I do use the friendly, charming, pleasant side of myself, both when Winn is actually being pleasant and when she's smiling while delivering those horrible lines. The combination is a little unsettling for people, which I love."

Fletcher has been informed in advance that she'll be asked her thoughts on each of her appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Though she claims not to be terribly good at remembering details of past work, she gamely looks back on her various Star Trek adventures. The place to begin, of course, is "In the Hands of the Prophets," in which Vedek Winn made her presence very much felt by having Keiko's (Rosalind Chao) classroom aboard the space station bombed. "I was in awe that first time, when I saw this enormous machine of a show they've got going every day. They had these huge sets, a huge crew, a big cast and lots of extras on that show," she recalls. "You don't see very much of that on television anymore. You don't see shows using two cameras very much or a show with full makeup and costume departments."

"I've worked on many movies that don't hold up to what they have on Deep Space Nine. It seems like they're making a movie every week. That was very impressive and it reminded me of my very early days in the business, when it was the end of the studio system and you would go from the makeup department to the costume department to the set, and everything was in a different building. Deep Space Nine's very much like that and it was very impressive."

Winn and Fletcher returned to the Paramount lot for "The Circle," the second episode of the second season. Winn's involvement in the show was relatively brief, as the character pops up, along with Dax, Jaro, Bareil, and several Bajoran legislators, in a vision generated by one of the sacred Bajoran orbs. "That was just a quick one, but it was rather mysterious, wasn't it?" says Fletcher, laughing. "I was still finding out exactly who Winn was at that point. Actually I'm still in that state where I don't know quite what's happening from one episode to the next. I more or less know who my character is and what she's like, but I still don't know what they're going to have me do from one show to the next."

The subsequent episode, "The Siege," closed out that season-opening trilogy. In it, Sisko and the rest of the space station's senior staff embark on a last stand against an impending attack by the Bajorans. When the situation is resolved and it's revealed that Minister Jaro was fooled by the Cardassians (who were behind The Circle), Winn instantly disassociates herself from Jaro in order to salvage her own political future. "I loved that show because we got to do a minuet of ambition, the two of us, then I turn on Jaro in the end. It was sort of like Watergate," she explains. "I let him hang out to dry. I liked that show very much, and I enjoyed working with Frank Langella. I got a very lovely note from Frank, saying how much he enjoyed working with me."

Fletcher appeared in only one more episode that season, "The Collaborator," a show about which she has few memories. That was the outing in which Winn becomes Kai after a dark secret from Bareil's past causes him to drop out of the running for the position. "The scene I remember most is the one where I'm looking down on Bareil and Kira. We went on location for that, to Griffith Park, in Los Angeles, which they use to shoot scenes that are supposed to take place in a forest or a park-like place," she notes. "Winn achieved her objective, and I achieved mine: a new costume."

Much of the third season had unfolded when Fletcher arrived on the space station for the controversial episode "Life Support," in which Bareil, who had become a fan favorite as Kira's love interest, was killed off. The hour begins with an accident in which Bareil is gravely wounded. Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) manages to bring him back from the dead long enough for Bareil to counsel the Kai through complicated peace negotiations with the Cardassians.

Soon after the peace pact is signed, Kira forlornly stands by the dying Bareil as she waits for him to breathe his last breath. "That was my favorite show, and my favorite line was when I ask the doctor, 'You remember how you replaced some of his organs? Can't you do the same with his brain?' That was great," enthuses Fletcher. "He stared at me a lot, didn't he? Winn was desperate because she realized she needed him very, very much. She wanted him to stay alive, at least until she finished the negotiations. She was actually pretty ruthless about it. I enjoyed working with Phil. He's a very good actor and a good friend of mine. I have no idea what went into the decision to kill his character off or where it came from. I think the feedback from the fans is that they miss the character. I think Winn misses having him around, and I miss him, too."

The last time Fletcher was involved in the action on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in the late third season episode "Shakaar," in which Winn, now both the Kai and the First Minister of Bajor's provisional government, sends Kira to Bajor to convince the Major's former resistance leader, Shakaar (Duncan Regehr), to turn over property that Winn needs for a Bajoran recovery project. After Winn breaks a promise to meet with Shakaar, Kira joins Shakaar and his supporters and they all prepare to do battle with Winn's forces. Ultimately, after Shakaar and Winn's soldiers agree not to fight, Shakaar decides to run against Winn in a formal election for the First Minister post. Realizing that Shakaar can now detail how her actions nearly threw Bajor into civil war, Winn withdraws from the running.

"Shakaar," for the first time, really found Winn butting heads with both Sisko and Kira. Their emotional head-to-head confrontations were scenes for which fans and Fletcher had longed. "We really had them this time, very verbose confrontations. I ask Sisko to send a security force and he turns me down. Kira is plotting against me. Obviously, I'm not very happy about that. In that show, Winn just goes a little over the edge," notes the actress. "You think, 'Maybe she's just psychotic or something.' She gets herself into situations where she's like a Pope, though she's called a Kai, but she has been appointed First Minister.

"So her cup of ambition runneth over and it goes to her head a bit. She goes into these warnings that it's a test by the Prophets to see if she's worthy of the roles she has been given. She believes she can do anything because it's mandated by the Prophets. She knows everything she does is exactly right. In that way, she's quite a bit like Nurse Ratched. She feels that everything she does is in the best interest of the people. It's for their own good and she knows best. I think that show came out very well."

Though much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's fourth season will be devoted to introducing Worf (Michael Dorn) and addressing the repercussions of the resumption of hostilities between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, Fletcher fully expects to be back in costume as Kai Winn. "They haven't said anything, actually, but I don't think they would just leave Winn hanging there," she argues. "They would have to kill me off or something if they don't want to do anything else with the character." So, assuming the actress is right, and Winn is called upon to create more havoc, what might she like to see the character do? "She has yet to rule the Universe," responds Louise Fletcher, laughing a devilish little laugh that would make Winn proud. "That's probably one of her goals.

"I just enjoy being a part of it, playing a recurring role that's interesting and doesn't lock me into anything for too long. Last year, I was able to do Deep Space Nine, another recurring role on VR.5, a small part as the drug czar in Virtuosity, and a few other films. I like that. I also love the actors on Deep Space Nine. Nana is adorable, so good and strong as an actress, and a very nice person, too. Avery is a doll. I would love to work with Armin, but there's not much opportunity to get Winn and Quark together. I would also like to work with Rene. I love those grand sets. On 'Shakaar,' we worked on a new set, that very temple-like set that was, for a very short time, my First Minister's office. As I've told you, I love my costumes. Now, they've got me in my saffron Kai's outfit with my modified Robin Hood hat. So, of course, I'm hoping to come back for more."

May the Prophets be with her.

Copyright Starlog 1995.