Julia Nickson played two very different roles on Star Trek. First she portrayed Ensign Lian T’Su in the Next Generation hour, “The Arsenal of Freedom,” and then guest starred as Cassandra in the Deep Space Nine installment, “Paradise.” Those two opportunities followed an intriguing near-miss: Nickson had auditioned for the role of Tasha Yar on TNG. Oh, and there’s another cool Trek connection: Nickson was married from the late 1980s to the early 1990s to David Soul, best known for Starsky & Hutch, but also a Trek guest star himself; he played Makora in the TOS episode, “The Apple.” Nickson – whose other credits include Rambo, Sidekicks, Walker, Texas Ranger and Around the World in 80 Days – will make a rare Star Trek convention appearance when she joins in the fun this weekend at Star Trek Las Vegas. StarTrek.com caught with Nickson to chat about all of the above and more.
What’s life like for you these days?
I am the happiest I have ever been and feeling grateful that I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world that is known and celebrated throughout the world. I believe that like many actors that have spent years spiraling through the ups and downs of the entertainment industry, one settles into a certain gratitude, understanding that it is not the achievement of goals that brings total satisfaction, but the attitude with which one is able to embrace life. We live in an uncertain world, and I am aware of how fortunate I am.
If our facts are correct, you auditioned for the role of Tasha Yar on TNG. What do you recall of that process and how close did you get to landing the role?
I remember the outfit I wore, a white linen suit with very sheer sleeves by ABS. The casting director surprised me many years later, by describing it exactly. I can’t give you many more details. Auditions are always nerve-wracking. There are usually large numbers of people in the room and one only hopes that words will actually emerge from one’s mouth at the appropriate time. I am sure Gene Roddenberry was in the room. I didn’t feel that I blew it in any way. It was a decent read. I do remember thinking I lost out to Marina Sirtis, which makes me believe I actually read the sides for Counselor Troi and not Tasha.
As far as you know, was your casting as Ensign T’Su in the TNG episode “The Arsenal of Freedom” a result of you’re having come so close on the Yar role?
I would agree, as the casting director, Junie Lowry Johnson who had brought me in for the pilot, obviously remembered me and made a straight offer. There was some emergency situation with production and the call came at 10 pm the night before when David and I and all the kids were in Mammoth. We bundled everyone into the car, got back to L.A. at midnight and I was on set at 5:30 am. This was before cell phones, so I must have checked my answering machine. It was sad to leave Mammoth early, but I loved working. Every moment on set gave me great joy and, to his credit, there was not a murmur of dissent from David about cutting our holiday short. We were in total unison that every show was on opportunity to reflect a different side of one’s personality. I had no experience at that time with science-fiction, although it became my favorite genre.
What interested you most about T’Su as a character and her arc in the episode? She really was a very strong character.
She was a newbie and was not battle hardened. Her past had been about recent training rather than actual experience. I was still a fairly new actor and definitely found a correlation, going to set and confronting situations that were completely different than anything I had experienced before. An actor learns skills very fast whether reacting to bullet shots and subsequently dying or focusing on destroying enemy ships. There is a level of command one must project regardless of lack of experience.
How did you enjoy working with the TNG cast, particularly Michael Dorn and LeVar Burton?
I mostly interacted with Michael and LeVar, as well as my co-star, George de la Pena, who had been a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre. I loved ballet and took class even though I didn’t start dancing until my early twenties. Everyone was extremely pleasant and welcoming. Michael Dorn and I would walk to lunch in the commissary and he would joke and comment on my “waddle,” as I was actually five months pregnant. Junie had assured me I would be seated most of the time. Jonathan Frakes was such a gentleman and always open and friendly. Patrick Stewart was our neighbor in Silver Lake a couple of years later and we would chat when we met on walks. Such an amazingly talented cast with a great deal of classical training. I felt very star-truck.
Were you aware that in one of the Trek books, T’Su was revealed to have made the leap to captain, but also died on a mission?
I just read that recently. I would have loved to have been a recurring character, but after shooting “Arsenal of Freedom,” I gave birth to my baby and immediately started filming Around the World in 80 Days with Pierce Brosnan. The concept of tracking the inner growth of a warrior as one becomes accustomed to handling more complex situations, and facing the ultimate sacrifice is a journey I would have been thrilled to have undertaken on TNG. A few years later, you guest starred in the “Paradise” episode of DS9. How did that opportunity come about?
Again, that was a straight offer from Junie Lowry Johnson, casting. Michael B. Silver, who played Vinod, was in acting class with me, as well as Denise Crosby, and it was a lovely surprise to see him on set. It was a large cast and I remember very early calls, and makeup that gave us a rather orange tint, which must have been the earth minerals from the planet. I asked my makeup artist why we all had this certain hue and the response was because Michael Westmore had designed it. I decided to go along with the program. You had a very interesting scene with Avery Brooks. What do you recall of working with him on that?
Avery is such a dignified man with a voice that could make a nursery rhyme sound like a most solemn oath. As we only had one scene together, there wasn’t time to have a conversation. Crew are working around the actors, doing all kinds of technical things. It’s rather amusing to reflect back on this scene, as I really did not know Avery at all. Usually, there is time to build up a rapport, but he had much to do in this episode. Usually, conversations between actors are much easier when the production is filming a scene that you are not in. Do you think Cassandra went to Sisko willingly, or did Alixus compel/force her to do so? It was rather intimidating to think a young lady who mostly does menial work was going to have even the slightest chance of manipulating Captain Sisko. I would say Cassandra was used to obeying Alixus. As she had no immediate family, Alixus certainly represented a mother figure in the way that many cult leaders have been able to approximate. I think Cassandra would’ve loved to have left the planet with Sisko and O’Brien and wear the latest fashions, but to leave all that was familiar, knowing that one would not have resources or training to inhabit a new environment, would have been much too frightening. As we look at the world and its similar problems, most people are happy in their home environments and would not choose to leave if peace prevailed.
When was the last time you saw your Trek episodes? How do they hold up?
I watched “Arsenal of Freedom” two years ago, as it is on Netflix. It’s not possible to watch oneself without cringing. I remember really wanting my hair to be set properly, but the hair department was in a hurry and they liked the wash-and-wear look. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of the plot and the marvelous performance by Vincent Schiavelli as the Peddler. I just viewed “Paradise” for this article, as I discovered it is on Netflix as well. It was most definitely a trip down memory lane. Always, the guest stars drive the story forward and Gail Strickland and Steve Vinovich give wonderful energetic performances. Michael B. Silver fit the role of Vinod perfectly and has become a director. I recently worked with him on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.
Star Trek has the highest standards of creativity and imagination, which make its shows classics that will always endure, regardless of new trends and technological advances. I was not able to watch much television or film during those years because there simply wasn’t time between career and training and child rearing, but I might start binge-ing both now.
IMDB lists Ready Player One as an upcoming credit. What do you play in that? And how was the experience?
All big films now come with a non-disclosure agreement, and if violated, one could be sent to a very dark place with no transport back. Ask me again in 2018! You’re also listed on IMDB as providing additional voices for a number of projects over the years. How did that come about? And which have been some of the more intriguing/notable ADR gigs?
I began ADR with Walker, Texas Ranger, as I had worked with Chuck and Aaron Norris on Sidekicks and Walker. It’s a great deal of fun and a wonderful feeling of freedom to be able to go to work without worrying about hair and makeup or whether last night’s banana cream pie is showing. Automated Dialogue Replacement is not part of the filmmaking process that audiences know much about. Every sound one hears that is not spoken by the main actors is performed in a sound studio. Dialogue is improvised as background talent walk by, whether they are street people, cops, or just sitting in a restaurant. My favorite moments were doing all the “efforts.” We would watch the fight sequences of Walker against the many bad dudes and then vocalize the sounds of them being punched and falling to the ground. The sound effects of fights are always highly exaggerated. I have always been excited about performing action sequences on camera, but it’s a lot less toll on the body when doing just the vocals. I also played a recurring role in the series, as the mother of a young boy who was a llama reincarnated.
You will be at Star Trek Las Vegas this week. How many conventions have you done in the past, and how eager are you to meet the fans and share your Trek memories?
I have signed at a number of conventions, but the only Star Trek con I have been a part of was in Burbank in the early 2000s. This will be my first Las Vegas con and will therefore have a special significance. Seeing that TNG still plays every single day makes me feel a part of a special family. Most fans are far more educated in the details of the episodes I worked on than I am. It has been great fun to reacquaint myself with various memories and it will be a great privilege to attend and share them with Star Trek fans.
Your former husband, David Soul, guest starred years earlier on The Original Series? What, if any, memories of his experience did he share with you?
Actors rarely talk about their on-camera experiences with each other. At least David and I didn’t. It was, after all, work and we had pressing daily needs such as who was picking up the dry cleaning and why were the sprinklers not going off, and what to do about the rat that was making his home in our kitchen. Don’t ever use glue traps! I did recently look up stills of David in “The Apple” and I can honestly say he never looked finer… a young Adonis! I would have given him a very hard time back then, as he was wearing more makeup than any character I had ever played.
If you could have had one more scene as either T’Su or Cassandra, which character would have gotten the extra scene and what would have happened in it?
I would have loved to have continued as T’Su because I was an athlete growing up and extremely competitive. I used to play polo and was quite comfortable charging down a field with men twice my size. I think Ensign T’Su would have made a great addition to the TNG fleet with her courage and bravery, as well as perhaps developing an overly confident estimation of her own talents. I think this could have caused a number of interesting conflicts.
Star Trek recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. What does it mean to you to be a part of the phenomenon and legacy?
I am really honored to be a part of the Star Trek legacy. It has, from the very beginning, paved the way for women and minorities to shine on both big and small screen and continues this mission with the prequel, Star Trek: Discovery. In watching the themes that Star Trek has unfolded, we become better individuals, kinder and more tolerant. Deep within all of us lies the spirit of adventure and conquest. With Star Trek, we are all able to viscerally travel through the unknown and conquer the unfathomable, realizing that in the end, the answer to the complexities of life, lie deep within one’s own moral compass. I truly believe we must strive to live our lives as peaceful warriors and I find much inspiration in this long-lasting series that has meant so much to so many. Star Trek Las Vegas will be held August 2-6 at the Rio Suites Hotel. Go to CreationEnt.com for details and to purchase tickets.
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