||02.10.00 Spotlight: J.G. Hertzler Joins the Fray in "Tsunkatse"
Special to STAR TREK: CONTINUUM by Deborah Fisher
The makeup was different, but the voice was unmistakable. J.G. Hertzler, the man who brought General Martok, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's glorious Klingon, to life stepped into the ring of Star Trek: Voyager's "Tsunkatse." Playing the Hirogen Hunter, Hertzler's aging champion trains Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) to kill him in the Spartacus-like story of humanity redeemed.
Forced to compete after being kidnapped 19 years earlier by Jeffrey Combs' character Penk, Hunter sees a way out when Seven of Nine is forced to compete to save Tuvok's (Tim Russ) life.
"He's had enough," says Hertzler of his thoughts on creating Hunter, "but he's such a good Hirogen, he can't overcome his own abilities. His sense of survival won't allow him to be killed until Seven comes along. Then he sees someone he can train to overwhelm him.
"Seven doesn't realize this until she walks into the match. Then the question is do I choose life or do I choose to kill? It's part of the character arc for Seven who's trying to realize her humanity through the whole series."
Hertzler says he turned to the Klingons for some of his Hirogen character development, but also drew on some other strong influences, basing Hunter, in part, on one of his acting heroes, Morgan Freeman. "In 'The Shawshank Redemption,' Freeman plays a lifer. A guy that's been a lifer in prison has a different attitude toward life and death.
"Another big influence was Tony Todd." Todd, who played Worf's Klingon brother, Kurn, in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was also cast as the Alpha Hirogen in Star Trek: Voyager's fourth season "Prey." "Tony was a brilliant Hirogen," says Hertzler. "I attempted in my feeble way to reach the bar.
"The frustrating thing for me was that Tony got to wear shoulder pads, a huge chest piece, a fabulous helmet. I didn't get any of that. I was in a skintight, rubber suit. Had I been 23, I would have been much happier, but at 49? I called [Costume Designer] Bob Blackman and said you're going to kill me. Besides that, the suit was hot. The only skin exposed was the palm of my hands and my cheeks."
There's a moment's pause in the conversation.
"My face, not the other cheeks," laughs Hertzler. "Thank god it wasn't the other cheeks or sweeps week would be for naught. I'm not exactly The Rock."
Guest-starring as the Pendari Champion, The Rock did his own stunts for "Tsunkatse." Even though Ryan and Hertzler had stunt doubles, their parts were still more physical than usual. "For us acting types who aren't in the greatest shape, we still had to do a lot of our own stuff so there were pulled muscles here and there. Our stunt doubles were really phenomenal, flipping through the air and rolling. You can make a pretty good bet that ain't me. It's great for an actor to have someone making you look so incredible."
Star Trek: Voyager Executive Producer Brannon Braga came up with idea for the Hirogen after watching Monday Night Football. Coincidentally, Hertzler credits his college football experience with getting him started as an actor.
"When you're playing football, you're performing for a very big audience. Your name is called out when you do something good and there are cheers. The same muscles are being flexed when you're performing on stage. Theatre is about emotion and if you capture the same amount of emotional participation that you get in a sporting event, you have a great hit."
Hertzler left Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in 1972 -- his senior year -- to do something else. That something else turned out to be theatre. Inspired by both his football and acting coaches, Hertzler played regional theatres all over the country, doing his share of Shakespeare before getting into television in Los Angeles with a stint on Zorro (among whose cast was another wrestler named Jesse Ventura).
The Shakespearean training turned out to be the key that got Hertzler cast as DS9's Klingon General Martok in the fourth season "The Way of The Warrior." "Shakespeare helps you do speech in a heightened form that's believable. That speech is what is appropriate for the heightened reality of science fiction."
Hertzler says Martok is definitely the favorite role of his career. "The nice thing about playing Martok for several years was being able to bring in everything I'd done in the past, select what was best and throw out the worst. You get to know the other actors, of course, and there's a relaxation zone that helps.
"In DS9, like TNG, the characters were older. With young characters, like Voyager, you have juice. With older actors, you have experience. You hope with the experience, you still have the juice.
"I think Voyager could use the Klingons. They are the most passionate characters in the Star Trek universe. I'd love to bring that passion back to Star Trek. The Klingons stir things up in such a hearty way. It adds zest."
When he's not acting, Hertzler's writing. He's currently working on a ST: DS9 novel for Pocket Books about-of course-General Martok. "The book takes place after the demise of DS9," says Hertzler. "I get a kick out of writing lines for myself."