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Star Trek The Motion Picture : Remembering Persis Khambatta and Lt. Ilia


By GustavoLeao / 18:56, 23 February 2010 / Star Trek: Nemesis

Continuing our retrospective on the 30th anniversary of Star Trek The Motion Picture, TrekWeb presents excerpts of a rare interview with the late actress and former Miss India Persis Khambatta, who played Deltan navigator Lt. Ilia in the 1979 Star Trek movie directed by Robert Wise.

The interview was published in the now cancelled Star Trek Communicator magazine, issue Issue 120. (Dec 1998/Jan 1999) and it is presented here as part of our "Archives Interviews" series of articles.

Here are excerpts of the last interview with Ms Khambatta, who died on August 18 1998 at the age of 49 from a massive heart attack.

When you were cast as Ilia, the role originally was for the never-made Star Trek II television series, right?

Yes. I had signed a contract for five years with the TV series. There were something like 600 actresses who had tested for the role. Paramount and Gene Roddenberry sort of gave me 10 out of 10. There were a lot of women with hair that looked really stunning, but when you remove the hair they somehow lose the look. Basically, they had asked me if I would shave my head or wear a bald cap. I said look, if you are doing a series for five years I would want to shave my hair because I would go bald with all the gum and glue from the bald cap. Besides, a bald cap would have never looked real.

You had a beautiful head of hair. It sounds like you were just ready to shave it all off for the part.

I didn't have a problem with it at all. If they say, "Persis, you have to shave your head," it's just part of my work. If I want to do the part I will do it. I did not think it was going to look bad.

When they shaved my hair, Fred Phillips, who was our make-up man, (director) Robert Wise, Nichelle Nichols and everybody were all there watching as my hair was shaved off. I later saw in a film that they had shot of it that Fred Phillips was crying. I had told them to cover all the mirrors with newspaper.

Were you disappointed that Star Trek, and with it your role, jumped to the big screen instead of landing onTV?

I was thrilled, because I like the big screen and I could then move on to the next thing. It was the biggest break for me. In a way, though, I wish it had been a TV series because then you are working for five years.

As if the shaved head wasn't stunning enough, that costume you wore in the film basically left you half naked through most of it. (Laughs)

That outfit I worn in Star Trek, the white one, it was my idea. I was supposed to wear one of those same gray uniforms. I said, "Look, give me something white. Give me a pantsuit with something that has a little collar to it." So they did. I then walked into Gene Roddenberry's office and pulled the pants off.  I said to Majel and Gene, "Listen guys, I've got the best legs, so why don't you use them!"  (Laughs) You see, being bald and wearing that gray starship uniform, I would have looked like a boy. I wanted to look like a sexy female.

It sounds like your time on the film was fun. What was your relationship with Bill Shatner like on the set?

Everybody was saying, "Listen, you are going to have a rotten time with this guy, so be careful." But if you say, "Oh, God, he's going to be terrible," you only put a vibe on it and create that negative energy. Maybe I'm being philosophical and spiritual, but I believe that if you put negative energy out there that that is what will come back. I realize now as I look back on it that perhaps it was his own insecurity.

Creative people are very insecure people because they don't know whether people like them or are in awe of them. That insecurity always comes out. It makes them a better actor, I feel.

What do think of Star Trek's success since that first film?

I think it deserves the success. I don't think anybody made science fiction as well as Gene Roddenberry.  That man's thoughts! I don't know where he got his thinking from. He was blessed. I mean, every Star Trek episode you saw was just phenomenal.  Gene Roddenberry was a genius. I've got him in a framed picture right here in front of me. He wrote on it, "To my dream alien..." There was nobody like him. He was a lovely person.

The full interview can be found on issue 120 of the Star Trek Communicator magazine.

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9 comments Post New | Help

Persis | Report this post to moderator
By: GustavoLeao (Odo's file, contact, web site) @ 05:15:58 on Feb 24, 2010

She was a wonderful actress and a very honest and positive person. TMP will always be a personal favorite of mine.

Rest in peace, Ilia.


-------- Supervising Editor

RE: Persis by Robnhud4747 @ 08:37:17 on Feb 24
    RE: Persis by katefan @ 22:56:25 on Feb 24
    RE: Persis by GustavoLeao @ 12:11:01 on Feb 24

Ah... | Report this post to moderator
By: Tupperfan (Odo's file, contact) @ 03:37:26 on Feb 24, 2010

Ilia, Persis...I remember you.

You made confident bald chicks sexy, even if you cried when they shaved your amazing hair...

Thanks, hope after-death is decent...


"Gods drunkenly cried juvenile acne, lop ears, the Lafontaine park, retirement at 60, disappointing love, public washrooms and raging toothaches"


Thanks very much | Report this post to moderator
By: Muldfeld (Odo's file, contact) @ 23:27:12 on Feb 23, 2010

I enjoyed reading this. TMP is my favorite Star Trek film and she sounds like she was an interesting person.

RE: Thanks very much by katefan @ 01:50:08 on Feb 24
    RE: Thanks very much by Muldfeld @ 12:21:44 on Feb 24
       RE: Thanks very much by katefan @ 22:46:40 on Feb 24

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