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  anews120.gif   02.08.00 Spotlight: Combs Returns in Voyager Smackdown
Special to STAR TREK: CONTINUUM by Deborah Fisher

Star Trek: Voyager heads into February sweeps this week with its own heavyweight entry, "Tsunkatse." The episode stunt-casts WWF's The Rock as a Pendari champion that Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) must fight in order to save an injured Tuvok (Tim Russ). Perhaps more interesting to Star Trek fans, however, are the guest appearances of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stalwarts Jeffrey Combs (Brunt, Weyoun) as Penk and J.G. Hertzler (Martok) as The Hunter.

Chatting by phone with The Continuum, Combs talked about how much fun he had returning to the world of Star Trek and creating a new character. "I turn out to be the Don King of my quadrant," laughs Combs. "I abduct Tuvok and Seven and take them to my gym in space. J.G. plays my fighter of choice, but he's getting a little long in the tooth, so I'm looking around for a new one. Penk thinks Seven is perfect because everyone in the quadrant hates the Borg."

After doing some 35 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the Ferengi Brunt and the Vorta Weyoun, Combs says he was very pleased to be offered a new role. He found working on the Voyager set a bit surreal, however.

"You're going through the same motions with the same allies, and, in some cases, parts of the DS9 sets have been re-fabricated into the 'Tsunkatse' sets, but oops, you don't go there. It felt like how an old person might feel going home, but things are not quite the same."

It didn't take much prompting to get Combs talking about not only his involvement with Star Trek, but his great love for the show. "I was a big Trekkie when the Original Series was on, but my dad wouldn't let me watch it. He thought it was nonsense. I never imagined I'd ever work on Trek, especially during The Next Generation because I couldn't get arrested on that show. I would either fail my auditions or just not get the job. Eventually I thought 'darn it, I guess I'm not Star Trek material.'

"But about three years into DS9, I auditioned for Jonathan Frakes. We sort of knew each other from years previous which didn't give me an inside track, but it helped me relax. I didn't get that part, but I did reconnect with Rene [Auberjonois] who was going to direct in a month. That's how I got Brunt.

"I was humbled by the chance to create two characters on DS9. May I say that [Executive Producer] Ira [Steven Behr] is a deity? It was magical."

Actors don't always like to answer the question of which character they've portrayed they like the best, but Combs doesn't hesitate. "Weyoun. The Ferengi were pretty well articulated by Armin [Shimerman], Max [Grodenchik] and Aron [Eisenberg]. All I had to do was follow their lead and do my little version of that, but Weyoun was unexplored territory."

When discussing how Combs created Weyoun, one is suddenly treated to actually speaking with Weyoun as the actor transitions his voice into the vicious but soothing Vorta. "I tried to be velvet a lot of the time. Weyoun was really the ultimate middle manager. 'Everything is going to be fine. You run a wonderful office and I'm going to go back and tell my managers that your place is secure.'

"Monday when you come in, there's yellow tape across your door and a pink slip in your mailbox!"

How did Combs create Penk? "Fear is a great motivator. You get these jobs, but you don't the get the script terribly early. You look for clues-what does the character want, what does he look like? With Penk, it was all last minute. I showed up at 4:30 a.m. on the first morning for makeup and had no idea what process I'd go through. I looked in the mirror when they were done and said 'Oh, that's what he looks like.'

"I tried to make Penk a little more slippery with a vocal pattern more staccato and precise. The costume is very interesting. It's very sleek and tight, kind of Bobby Darren-esque. If you think of Weyoun as Kabuki, then Penk is more like a lizard-smooth, sleek and slippery.

"But you're always flying by the seat of your pants."

Combs has been flying by the seat of his pants since he discovered acting as a child growing up in southern California. "In sixth grade," Combs laughs, "I was told I was THE perfect Robin for Batman in a safety skit. I was a hit and I remember just loving that."

Combs didn't pursue acting in earnest until college, however, and after a brief, formal stint at the University of Washington in Seattle, he hit the boards in Los Angeles.

"I think the thing that first attracted me to Star Trek was that it was a metaphor. It conveyed a way of living life and exploration that really hit a cord with a lot of kids like me. What I particularly liked about DS9 was that it had a theatricality about it that was very similar to TOS. The actors committed themselves to it. They leaned into the material."

Combs said both Jeri Ryan and The Rock leaned into their parts-especially their well-choreographed fight scenes-for "Tsunkatse" as well. "Jeri, the poor dear, was really sore the first day, but she rose above the pain. The Rock did his own stunts. He really is an amiable fellow and was a lot like a little kid running around on the set."

"Tsunkatse," written by Robert Doherty and directed by Mike Vejar, airs Wednesday, February 9th on UPN.