Mark Lenard: Star Trek’s Other Alien 1/?
By Alan Brender – Star Log Interview January 1981
Whenever I run into people, they invariably recognize me as Spock’s father. I have even been accused of being Leonard Nimoy,” says actor Mark Lenard. Although the role of Sarek has gained Lenard a great amount of notoriety in the realm of Star Trek, that role was neither his first nor his last among the case who made the Starship Enterprise live. His first, and favourite Star Trek part, was as the Romulan Commander in Balance of Terror, during the first season of the show. And his latest alien role was as the commander of the Klingons in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Lenard’s tendency to portray aliens has not been strictly limited to Star Trek. In the TV series Planet of the Apes, he was cast as Urko, police chief of the gorillas. And in a semi SF TV series called Cliff Hangers, he played Thorval, emperor of the underground.
But it is in the Star Trek roles that he has made his mark with SF fans. “I only played two segments of Star Trek, but you would think it was much more,” Lenard admits. He was slated to play a third role in the television series - that of Abraham Lincoln in The Savage Curtain episode, but prior commitments prohibited him from taking the part.
As Lenard explains it, “I was doing a series at the time called Here Come the Brides in which I played Aaron Stemple the resident bad guy/rich man. The Lincoln segment came up about Christmas time when we had a slight hiatus, and I though I could work it in. I had already played two roles on Star Trek and they were well received. But it turned out we just couldn’t work it in. I think we went back to work on the other series too soon, and instead of having the six or seven days I would have needed to do the role, I only had three or four days.”
The Romulan Commander, Lenard says “was one of the best roles I have ever had on TV. At conventions,” he admits, “I used to say that the role of Spock’s father was the one I preferred because a big cheer would go up when I said that – I think it was because Sarek was part of the family. In many ways, I did enjoy that role, but I think the more demanding role and the better acting role was the Romulan Commander.
“Still, I enjoyed Sarek. I’m sorry they didn’t do more with him and bring the character back I thought they would have since it was well written, successfully done and very well received,” Lenard says.
After Star Trek was cancelled as a TV series, Lenard was considered for a role in each of the false starts made in resurrecting the show. Then, when it finally appeared as if a movie would indeed become a reality, “it somehow seemed natural that I should be in it But,” Lenard adds, “the role that I might have naturally played – that of Sarek, Spock’s father – was not in the movie script. So Gene Roddenberry said there was another role he would like me to play – that of the Commander of the Klingons. I never dreamed of myself as a Klingon because they are the arch enemies of the galaxy. But of course I wanted to be in the movie, so I took the part.”
In the movie, the Klingons were made to look much more alien than they were in the TV series. This required Lenard to spend several hours each day just being made up for the role.
The Klingon makeup consisted of a head piece that came down over the brows and back over the head. “It was made in two segments, and they were joined together with cement. The nose came down over my nose – that was all one piece. It came down over the head and down over the nose. So that was pretty warm. The rest of the makeup was lots of hair and a beard. There is a lot of hair on the sides of the Klingon appliances.
“In the Planet of the Apes” he adds as comparison, “there was more in the way of appliance. There was an upper appliance for the upper part of the face, including the nose, which left only the eyes open. There was a lower appliance for the jaw with the teeth and everything in it. It was a little more complicated, but all in all it felt pretty much the same when it was on – pretty uncomfortable, especially in hot weather.”
Being made up for both parts took about the same amount of time – between 11/2 to 3 hours, Lenard calculates. The time span varied to allow time for the makeup artist to redo the makeup in time for the start of the day’s shoot - usually 8 a.m. This meant that Lenard often had to be at the studio at 5 o’clock in the morning.
“Toward the end of the session,” says Lenard, “when the thing started heating up. I felt like the man in the iron mask.”
To make the appliances, the makeup people had to take a mold of Lenard’s face. Over the years, he has had a number of these molds made.
“But this time,” says Lenard, “it seemed harder to take. I began to get panicky, I felt it coming on, and I didn’t or couldn’t stop it. Then it was too late. I was overcome by the panic, and I made them take the mold off.
“I never had that feeling before. I might be getting more nervous as the years go on. Also the fellows who did the mask, helpers f Fred Phillips, weren’t my idea of professionals. They kind of left you alone. And they took a long time putting it on. What you really have to do is keep contact with the person under the material – talk to him to keep his mind off where he is. If you leave him a lone in the darkness, especially with this stuff that gets heavier and heavier and warmer and warmer, he begins to feel that he can’t breathe. All he has are a couple of holes for the nose. Everything else is closed in; so it really is like the man in the iron mask.”
As a result of having the mold taken off too soon, a crack developed in the mask – right across the cheek. “It wasn’t bad,” says Lenard, “but they wanted the mask perfect because they were spending $30 million on the movie. I came back to try it again but I couldn’t do it. So they had to use the cracked one, and it worked. I told Fred Phillips to hang on to that mold – it may be the last one I ever make because I had developed this feeling of claustrophobia.”
Despite the restrictions of the makeup both in the role of the Klingon and as Urko in Planet of the Apes, Lenard says that he could put a lot of expression into the characters.
“When they did The Planet of the Apes,” he explains, “they sent out a call for people who had classical backgrounds – people who played Shakespeare – because they felt the voice had to tell the whole story. But surprisingly enough, you can do a lot more than you think. My character Urko developed very rapidly. You can move the appliance quite a bit; make expressions with the eyes to show whatever you’re feeling or thinking within a certain range. You would be surprised at what you can do with a turn of the head, a nod, an attitude; you can do a lot of acting in those appliances.
“I think you have to exaggerate a little more to make it come out the way it would if you would act normally. In this case, you could be a little more expansive, and it was a little more fun. And, oh yeah, you could be expressive – even as a Klingon.”
Lenard enjoyed doing the movie, but he has mixed emotions about the final outcome. “I thought parts of it were too slow,” he explains. “It went on too long. It had too reverential an attitude toward the old Star Trek, toward the ship and all that stuff. Parts of it were quite marvellous, but I guess, in general, when you do something like that you have to have at least a semblance of action. Even if it isn’t fighting action. Star Trek as a television program never really had too much fighting, but it had a certain amount of action – action that was intrinsically tied up with the story. The TV series was never too complicated. But there was something very complicated about the movie. The rhythm of it didn’t seem to be quite right. I think they were still describing what it all meant.
“My feeling in general about Star Trek the TV series,” Lenard adds, “is that it has become such a part of American mythology that it combines good entertainment with something important to say. It’s a moral show searching into peace, brotherhood and all the noble, worthwhile ideas in society but it also has lightness and entertainment values. With some 80 shows, there may be some repetition in the stories but where the stories fail, good characterization and the interrelations between the characters give an ongoing strength to Star Trek.”
Although many of the actors were reunited during the filming of the movie, Lenard didn’t really see that much of the other cast members. “My sequence in the movie,” he explains, “was shot after everyone else’s. When it was arranged for me to be in the movie, Gene said it would probably be around January. This was in December. Then January came, and they said: “March, maybe April.’ Finally, on the 18th of June I shot my seque3nce. So I didn’t see too much of them on the set – but at a party here and there.”
When Lenard did his first guest appearance on the Star Trek series as the Romulan Commander, he also missed meeting the regular cast members. “All my scenes as the Romulan Commander,” he explains, “were done on my own spaceship. They were done in sequence. And the other scenes were done in the other spaceship. The only contact that we had was that we talked together through the screens. So I never saw any of the other crew or even the rest of the cast at all. I did my talking through the screen with the director. I never met Leonard Nimoy or any of the people until the second year when they cast me as Spock’s father.”
Lenard had met William Shatner, however, several years earlier in New York when they worked together in stage productions. “We just knew each other casually, however.” He is quick to add. “I don’t think he hardly remembered me, though I did him, but it all came back.”
Even though he played Nimoy’s father, Lenard says he never developed a special friendship with Trek’s resident alien. “I think,” He elaborates, “when Leonard was doing Equus on Broadw2ay, I went to see it. We spoke then, but there is no special relationship. I suppose I am closest to Walter Koenig in the cast. We did some work at the Actors’ Studio together, and we did a play by Pinter. We’ve met on various occasions. I also see Jimmy Doohan once in a while, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and De Forest Kelly, mostly I see them at conventions.
Lenard no longer sees as many of them at conventions as he used to, however. “All the bigger conventions a few years ago,” he says, “everybody came – Leonard Nimoy, Bill Shatner, De Kelley and all the others. So we would see each other there. But since the conventions got smaller, there are only a couple or three people. I think the others ask too much money. For a while I did all the big ones – but not as many as Nichelle, Walter or George. George is the all-time champ. He goes everywhere – to Alaska, Idaho – anywhere they can put too people together to say Star Trek Lives! George is there.
Asked whether he felt the Trekkie movement was still alive and well, Lenard replies: “What will happen to the movement? – I don’t know, I think it will diminish. The thing that seemed to hold it together before was that the fans wanted to see Star Trek live. “We’ll bring it back. It’s not dead,” was their cry. It had to come back someway or another. Well, it came back, and even though there was tremendous excitement at first, I think it all died down. It would have been nice if the movie had been as successful as Star Wars. But it was a more serious thing, and it had its flaws. It was really like a Star Trek TV segment. That’s what the Studio wanted, but maybe that’s a problem with Star Trek. Maybe it is better as a television series when they can do 22 or 26 segments a year with different stories and characters maintaining that particular quality and relationship all the characters have – and everyone loves.”
There are, however, strong rumours that a sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture will be made, Lenard, too has heard these rumblings. “I spoke to Walter recently,” he says, “and the latest was that Gene was working on a script.
“Paramount was determined to go ahead and make another movie. They felt they had made certain mistakes in this movie, and it had been their fault that there were problems. They hadn’t listened to Gene sufficiently. He submitted a story – this isn’t gospel, but it is reasonably true that he submitted a story – and they rejected it, saying it was too expensive… at least for this year. The movie business is down. The actor’s strike hasn’t helped. Now there is talk about maybe doing a sequel later. Gene was asked to move from Paramount; so at least for the time being there isn’t going to be anything. Maybe they’ll come back to it. Everyone in the cast hopes so. It’s a kind of life-line for them. I think the general audience would like to see another movie too.”
Amen. And it will be interesting to see what kind of alien Mark Lenard plays in it.