||03.29.02 Grand Slam Report 4: Who Needs the Oscars?
This is the fourth of a series of reports from Creation Entertainment's Grand Slam X convention held in Pasadena March 22-24. See also Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Sunday, March 24, was a big day in Hollywood as last year's movie stars walked the red carpet to see if they would get to take home an Academy Award®. But over in Pasadena the timeless stars of Star Trek stepped before the crowd knowing they've already won the hearts and adulation of thousands of fans who preferred to be at the Grand Slam convention rather than at an Oscar® party.
In fact, Creation Entertainment handed out its own award Sunday, bestowing a Lifetime Achievement Award upon the beloved Ricardo Montalban.
Presented by Judson Scott, who played Khan's son Joachim in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," the award recognized Montalban's "enduring contributions to the fantasy and science fiction genres." Humbled by the thunderous ovation he received, Montalban commented, "Creation Entertainment...you may have created a monster." He added in all seriousness, "You don't know what this means to me. God bless you, thank you."
That took place at the end of Montalban's appearance Sunday. The start of his appearance was delayed due to traffic problems created by road closures around the Oscar venue in Hollywood. But he did manage to squeeze in a visit to a special charity breakfast taking place in the convention center's Little Theatre, where a screening of "STII" was held (and because Montalban was running so late, convention organizers began to run the film in French, to keep the audience amused). Proceeds from the morning's event will benefit Nosotros, an organization founded by Montalban to improve the lot of Latinos and Hispanics in the entertainment industry.
Montalban then took the stage in the Main Auditorium, with the assistance of a walker that he's been forced to use in recent years. "See what you've done? See what you've done to Khan?" the 81-year-old legend jibed after having been introduced with a clip from "STII." "When that ship [the Reliant] went haywire, this is what happened to him."
"Well, I am very grateful for your reception, really at this stage of my life, and this stage of my physical being. And by the way, my health is excellent," he announced to huge applause. He has been disabled since receiving surgery in 1993 to repair an old spinal injury. "I have had three operations on my spinal cord not the spinal bones but the cord itself, where the center of the nervous system is and they have ruined me. They gave me paralysis of this leg, they gave me spasms, pain... so I've had eight years of hell. Except that my wife has been the support of my life. She is with me constantly." Although he admits to having difficulty remembering names, "my mind is all right, my voice hasn't left me yet and I am here with you."
Montalban told the story of how and why he agreed to play a role in the upcoming "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," in spite of the fact that the movie was being shot in Austin, Texas. "I said, how am I going to get to Austin, Texas, when I can hardly get to the bathroom?" But his doctor encouraged him to do it, and Montalban greatly wanted to work for Mexican-American filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, whom he admires immensely. And once his special needs as a physically handicapped person were met (including an exclusive Lear jet), he agreed to do the film. "Outside of the pain and outside of the discomfort, it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life to see this man [Rodriguez] work."
But then on to Star Trek. "Star Trek was an incredible experience for me. I was on hiatus from my sixth season of Fantasy Island...and I was presented with this script called Star Trek Number Two. I read it, and after being absent from the screen for six years doing Fantasy Island, I thought the role that would be offered would be the starring role you know, Hamlet! So I opened the script, and the role wasn't really all that extensive... But then the more I read it, the more I realized that when I was not on the screen, they were talking about me, you see! So the part seemed more important that way." Later he noted with pride, "By the way, Star Trek Number Two was changed to 'Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.'"
Roxann Dawson & Robert Duncan McNeill
This time last year the cast of Star Trek: Voyager was in the middle of shooting their final episode ever. That made the first Grand Slam appearance since the show's conclusion feel a little odd to Robert Duncan McNeill ("Tom Paris") and Roxann Dawson ("B'Elanna Torres"). "And you know, the show is still over, I don't know if you know that. It is," Dawson remarked to the audience with a wink. Both McNeill and Dawson have not become strangers to the Paramount lot, however, as they both have returned to direct episodes of Enterprise. But old habits die hard. "I keep going back and looking for my trailer, and it's not there..." McNeill said. "I know!" Dawson concurred, "I wasn't even thinking and I almost went into Jolene's trailer. (laughs) I just had my mind on stuff, and I just started heading toward where my trailer was." "I did go into Jolene's trailer," McNeill mock admitted. "Well, I've heard about that..." Dawson replied slyly.
The banter between this on-screen couple gives away the close relationship the two obviously still have. "We're not really married, I don't know if you knew that," Dawson had to qualify. "We're only married in space."
But you wouldn't know it from the way they talk. When asked how their respective approaches to directing differ, the exchange went like this: She: "Well, um, one of us is good and one of us isn't." He: "Oh, honey, honey, honey..." She: "How many episodes have you directed that you've cut me out of? I've never forgiven you for that..." He: "I didn't cut you out of the episode, Mr. Berman cut you out of the episode..." She: "I don't care who you want to blame it on, it was ultimately, y'know, the buck stops here, okay? But it's okay, we're not upset about it. (brief silence) I didn't cut you out of my episode, I just want you to know that. You were in my show." He: "Okay, let's just leave it at that."
The weekend's Voyager contingent was completed with Kate Mulgrew ("Captain Janeway"), who held court at Grand Slam while the rest of Hollywood was concerning itself with the glitz and glamour of the Academy Awards. "The Oscar for the best, most beautiful, and most loyal of all audiences...goes...to you!" she proclaimed to rousing cheers. The quick-witted and gracious Mulgrew enjoyed her time onstage, affectionately referring to audience members as "sweetheart" or "darling," and professing that she would rather be at Grand Slam than the Oscars. "Who needs the Academy Awards?" she exclaimed. "I'm (in) Pasadena, where it's really happening!"
Mulgrew went on to announce that her acclaimed one-woman show based on the life of Katherine Hepburn, "Tea at Five," is set to hit Broadway this fall. Mulgrew thanked the fans profusely for making the play such a success. "It wasn't until I did this play that I realized how fiercely loyal (Star Trek fans are)," she marveled. "People have come from all over the world, they have bought six nights, they have bought blocks of 50 seats in the theater, they have stood up in the back, and they've done this for three months straight in Hartford, Connecticut. (When) I walk out at night, and I'm taking my curtain call, I'm wanting to say, 'Thank you Captain Janeway, and thank you, you wonderful fans!'"
Mulgrew also revealed her role in the upcoming Star Trek film, "Star Trek: Nemesis." "I'm in it!" she said gleefully. "I'm telling that old sod what to do and how to do it. It was so much fun bossing Captain Picard around!" And how big is her part? "Don't blink," she joked. "It's a cameo, honey, but it's nice, it's fun!"
Mulgrew commented on the Voyager finale, "Endgame," saying that though some fans felt the show ended too quickly, she thought it was appropriate. "I said, 'If we concentrate on the Janeway dilemma, the sacrifice, they'll understand. It will seem abrupt at the end, but they will understand.' And if you recall, we came in abruptly... And I think the Chakotay/Seven of Nine thing worked, don't you?" When this sentiment garnered a handful of boos, Mulgrew chuckled good-naturedly. "They're still holding out hope that ol' Janeway's gonna say, 'In the ready room, baby!'" she laughed.
The burden of representing both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on the final day of the convention rested with Colm Meaney ("Miles O'Brien"). But he got good and loosened up when a fan asked him to reprise the Elvis song he did in the Irish film "The Commitments." After clearing his throat, he crooned, "Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you" with a distinctly Elvis-like vibrato.
Meaney spent a good part of his time onstage talking about how the character of O'Brien evolved over the course of two shows. "It's unusual for a character to develop like that on a series," he said, referring to his part in TNG. "Usually you're cast as [a principal] character for the pilot episode and then you're set as that." But in his case, "They always wanted to develop the character more but they couldn't really find the space on Next Generation to do that because there were so many other characters there. So they asked me if I would go over to DS9 in order to develop the character more, and I was happy to do that."
His favorite episode of DS9, unexpectedly, was an episode that he had only a small part in "Past Tense." "I thought that was an extraordinary episode that addressed great issues [regarding homelessness], and as an audience member, it certainly was very appealing to me." He also cited the first-season "Captive Pursuit" as one of his favorites "from an acting point of view." "It was one of those episodes where you realize the potential of the script, and it was actually even better than we anticipated it would be," he said.
A fan who came to the convention all the way from India wondered if Meaney ever wanted more to do on Star Trek. "It's funny, most people doing TV shows, they're looking for more to say, more to do," he replied. "I was the opposite. I was really happy to do very little, just because I was doing a lot of other stuff. I love my relationship with the show and I loved doing the show, but it was very important also to keep doing other things." His impressive resumé of movies including "Con Air" and "Far Away" both of which he was complimented on by the audience attests to that.
Andrew J. Robinson
Also hailing from station Deep Space 9 was the enigmatic "Garak," Andrew J. Robinson. Robinson told the crowd that he has been busy directing (he just finished an episode of Judging Amy) and writing. "There is life after the Garak book!" he proclaimed, referring to his novel A Stitch in Time about the aftermath of the Dominion War on Cardassia. "That book is near and dear to my heart. I got out a lot of stuff I wanted to say about the character, and also about me. Because, basically, after a while there's that strange symbiotic relationship that happens between an actor and (a character). When you really love a role and you really get inside the skin of that role, that's what happens. And that happened with me and Garak."
Further illustrating this bond, Robinson continues to write about the complex Cardassian. "I've started writing a whole other series of Garak diaries," he said. "This is fresh! This is newly-minted Garak as you know him and love him! Who knows? Perhaps it can turn out to be a book."
Robinson added that playing Garak was always a fascinating experience primarily because even he never knew what the "plain and simple" tailor would do next. "I never had any idea where they were going to go with the character," he said. "I was surprised every time I got the script as to what the character was going to do as you were whenever you saw an episode!"
Robinson also joked about Garak's less-than-truthful tendencies, saying, "Did anybody ever fully believe Garak? No! Thank God. And if there's anybody here that did, I have a bridge that I would love to sell you. Or stock in a certain company in Houston, Texas."
And the rest...
Creation boasted over 100 celebrities at this event, and they certainly couldn't all fit onto the schedule in the Main Auditorium. Appearances in the Little Theatre adjacent to dealer's room included TNG's Wil Wheaton ("Wesley Crusher"), Patti Yasutake ("Nurse Ogawa"), Jonathan del Arco ("Hugh" and other characters), Jennifer Hetrick ("Vash"), and many others. Gary Lockwood ("Gary Mitchell" in "Where No Man Has Gone Before") appeared with "2001: A Space Odyssey" co-star Keir Dullea about working with Stanley Kubrick on that seminal science fiction film. One part-time cast member from Voyager did get time on the main stage Scarlett Pomers ("Naomi Wildman"), now 13 years old, talked about her recent TV roles and her part in the movie "Erin Brockovich."
In years past the Autograph Room was a very hot, crowded and noisy affair, so this year Creation took over the second level of the Pasadena Convention Center and spread out the many signing celebrities over several meeting rooms, allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere. There were more luminaries upstairs penning their John Hancocks than you could shake a quill at, including Lee Meriwether ("Losira" in "That Which Survives"), Richard Herd ("Admiral Paris" in Voyager), and Elaine & Diane Klimaszewski (the twin "Butterfly Dancers" in "Broken Bow").
Signing autographs in the dealer's room as a special guest of the official fan club and Star Trek Communicator magazine was Vaughn Armstrong, a frequent guest star who has probably played more alien characters in Star Trek than any other actor. But he is perhaps most recognizable as the human Admiral Forrest, Captain Archer's boss in Enterprise. Armstrong not only graced attendees with his autograph and stories of his experiences on the show, but also with a song. Breaking out his banjo and harmonica, he regaled visitors with "Enterprise Blues," using the music from "St. Louis Blues":
"I've got the Enterprise blues, blues I can't beat; You took off into space and you took off without me; C'mon give me a forehead and put me back on TV." That was the refrain, which was followed by verses such as, "I've got a Cardassian neck, what the heck; I'm wearin' Klingon shoes, they give me the blues; I love the Hirogen hunt, my Borg can be blunt; I've got Vidiian flesh, I'm such a mess... Well, now I'm the Admiral, maybe I've got some clout; At least I'm hopin' they don't throw me out; If they do, you know I'm gonna shout: I got the blues!"
Next week: The convention's ancillary events, including the DS9 charity breakfast, "Love Letters," and a tribute to the Great Bird of the Galaxy. Happy Easter!
All Andy. All the Time. (Andrew Robinson's site)
Story by Sandy Stone & Sarah Kuhn
Photos by Sandy Stone
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