What do Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Wild Wild West, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Kicking & Screaming and Hawaii Five-0, not to mention Star Trek: Voyager and music videos by Alice Cooper, Elton John, Tina Turner, Chris Isaak, Amy Grant and Debbie Gibson have in common? The answer is Musetta Vander, the talented and gorgeous South African actress, model and dancer who appeared in all of the above. She played Sindel in Annihilation, Dr. Loveless’ assistant in Wild Wild West, and the wife of Robert Duvall’s character in Kicking & Screaming. As for Voyager, she guest starred as Derran Tal, the Varro assistant engineer who romanced Harry Kim in “The Disease.” That episode aired on Feb. 24, 1999, or a mind-boggling 18 years ago today. And that made now the perfect time to catch up with Musetta for an interview…
Let’s start with the present. Where do you call home these days? Are you still teaching Qigong? How does Qigong help you better contend with the stresses of life?
I’ve been living in Los Angeles since my arrival to the States. I love it here because it’s so diverse and has a variety of everything I love to do. Great beaches, beautiful mountains diverse scenery, Hollywood, the entertainment business and a melting pot of cultures. There’s always something exciting to do, learn or go see. Yes, I still practice and teach Qigong. Qigong changed my life and saved me from debilitating spinal surgery. I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher who shared this amazing healing system with me many years ago. And in turn I like to share it with others. I had to learn from a direct and painful experience, but it provided an invaluable opportunity to practice what I preach and made me a firm believer in the healing power of Qi. It changed my way of thinking and showed me the wonderful healing potential we all carry within.
For those unfamiliar with Qigong, how would you explain it?
The word Qi simply means energy and gong means skill. It refers to the skillful practice of gathering, circulating and applying this life-force energy. Science refers to it as bio-electricity. It uses breathing techniques, gentle movement and meditation to cleanse, strengthen and circulate this energy or Qi, leading to better health and vitality and a tranquil state of mind. The primary goal is to purge toxic emotions from within the body’s tissues, eliminate energetic stagnations, as well as strengthen and balance the internal organs and energetic fields. Our bodies are highly intelligent. It wants to survive regardless of what we put it through. Pain or discomfort is the way it communicates its needs to the mind. However, we don’t usually listen until we end up at a crisis point. We can save ourselves a lot of pain and trouble by paying attention to the signals it sends us, no matter how small, and, more importantly, taking note of our internal world to see where we find ourselves “living” emotionally and mentally. We are more than just our physical bodies, and emotions have a strong connection to our wellbeing. Your body speaks your mind, so listen up. Dis-ease doesn’t come out of nowhere.
You just appeared in an episode of Hawaii Five-0. How did you enjoy that experience?
I loved it! How could anyone not love working in Hawaii? It was a dream come true. The cast was lovely and I got to play an interesting role while working on the North Shore. Ironically, many years back, I did a movie called Under the Hula Moon in which the main character, played by Steven Baldwin, was obsessed with Steve McGarrett and Hawaii Five-0 (The older version of the TV show). Life came full circle on this one when I got the job. It was a wonderful experience and I even got to take a surf lesson on my day off. There was actually a really funny coincidence as the surf break the instructor picked to learn happened to be right behind where the crew and cast were set up to film that day, and we had no idea. When we showed up at 5am with our long boards, we were shocked to find the entire production there. I heard an announcement over the walkie that sounded like this: “Um, will it be a problem if we see Sheriff Alana surfing in the background in our shots…?” It was too funny! Luckily, it wasn’t a problem as I was far away and the camera wasn’t really focused in our direction.
Tell us a little about each of your upcoming films, Spreading Darkness, Alice: The Darkness and Shine.
Shine is a dance movie about two brothers who we’re once East Harlem’s best Salsa dancers and were separated after the death of their father, only to be reunited years later on opposing ends of gentrification. I play a lawyer. Being an ex-dancer myself, it was great to be part of a dance movie, even though I don’t get to dance in it. I love the dance world and they did a really good job. Alice is a horror movie in which I have a smaller role. I play a teacher. And in Spreading Darkness I play a cool character, the Grim Reaper. That was fun.
Trek fans know you from your Voyager episode, but if people run into you on the street, what of your other performances are they most eager to talk about with you? We’re assuming Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Wild Wild West, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Kicking & Screaming, and a few of your music videos. So, those and what else?
All of the above are very popular, especially O Brother , Where Art Thou? Most sci-fi fans love also love Stargate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5. But I recently had someone ask about Criminal Minds and NCIS. So, it really depends on who you talk to.
How aware of Star Trek were you before Voyager came along?
I was very aware of Star Trek. I loved the show and all the characters. They were always so interesting, and boldly went where no man has gone before. I got to work with George Takei early in my career in Oblivion and Backlash. There was a midnight opening screening of Oblivion opening night and I remember wondering who would show up at that time? To my surprise, the theatre was packed. Fans drove for miles to come see George.
How did you land your role as Derran Tal in “The Disease”?
I auditioned. Originally, I booked a different episode, but due to a scheduling conflict I couldn’t do it. I think I was going to be Tuvok’s love interest in an episode. But I was very fortunate, as they offered me “The Disease” instead.
What intrigued you most about the storyline, and how Tal played such a major role in pushing the story – and the disease — forward?
I felt very connected to the role. I love to explore and travel myself, especially to visit unfamiliar places. Like Tal, I would’ve hated to be prevented from pursuing my passion or dreams. I loved her adventurous and rebellious spirit and her fearlessness.
How did you enjoy working with the Voyager cast, especially Garrett Wang?
They were very welcoming and gracious. Stepping in as a guest star on a well-oiled hit show can be a little intimidating at times, but they made me feel at home right away. The first scene I filmed was where I beamed onto the shuttlecraft with Garrett. I think my natural excitement seeped into the performance, as I couldn’t believe I was actually working on an episode of Voyager.
What other anecdotes can you share about the episode?
In the bedroom scene with Garrett, we were about to shoot and heard some muffled discussions going on behind me, only to discover they were talking about my feet. I had been walking around barefoot on set just before I got onto the bed and apparently, the soles of my feet were black. Someone very sweetly came over to clean the soles of my feet. I was so self-conscious as everyone had to wait for me. Now I always check the soles of my feet on set if I happen to be barefoot.
What was the moment in “The Disease” that you just couldn’t wait to get on the stage to play? And why were you so excited to play it?
All of it, but I loved the scene where Tal confronts Janeway and Jippeq and refuses to go along with the majority. She fought for her freedom regardless of the consequences.
If you could play any character from Trek other than the one you played, who would you want to play — and why?
Mr. Spock, because he’s super cool and very different from everyone else. He’s the epitome of equanimity amidst intensity. Besides, I love his look and the Vulcan death grip.
Star Trek just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. What does it mean to you to be a part of the franchise on this huge occasion?
I feel very fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful show. I love the show and all the Trekkies. I believe this legend will continue for many generations to come. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll run into Tal in a galaxy somewhere? That would be awesome.
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