Star Trek.com has published a two-part interview with Rene Auberjonois, DS9’s Odo, in which the actor talks about his experiences on the show. In particular the evolution of Odo from “Emissary” through “What You Leave Behind” is discussed, along with the Odo-Quark and Odo-Kira relationships that both grew as the seasons went by.
By StarTrek.com Staff
June 07, 2011
Rene Auberjonois is the epitome of a character actor, amassing countless credits across numerous entertainment media. But he’s also been lucky enough – and talented enough – to leave plenty of lasting impressions. He can walk down the street, run into several people and have them comment that they adored him as Father Mulcahy in the movie M*A*S*H, Clayton Endicott III on Benson, the voice of Louis in The Little Mermaid, The Duke in the Broadway musical Big River, Paul Lewiston on Boston Legal and/or, of course, Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “I am all of those characters, and I love that,” Auberjonois says proudly. The actor then laughs and adds, “I also run into people, and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaner. I love that, too.” StarTrek.com recently caught up with Auberjonois for a wide-ranging interview in which he talked about his days on Deep Space Nine and updated us on his current projects. Below is part one of the conversation, and be on the lookout for part two tomorrow.
Auberjonois: The day that (DS9 executive producer) Rick Berman called to welcome me to the Star Trek world, he said something like – I don’t remember the exact words – “This character is like Pinocchio.” And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” And, over time, I came to understand that that was a certain aspect of the character. He was a very unformed being. Just as Pinocchio was wooden, Odo was a mass of liquid, really, and he was trying to get some kind of shape to his life and to who he was and he wanted to answer the questions he had about what his role was meant to be in that particular universe. People used to say to me early on, “Oh, I hope Odo finds out where he’s from and who he is,” and I’d say, “Gee, I hope not. I sort of love the mystery of it.” But then, of course, I wasn’t one of the writers. So I had nothing to do with that. I was simply the instrument to play the music that the writers had come up with. And we did learn, over time, so much about him. His relationships with Kira (Nana Visitor) and with Quark (Armin Shimerman) and with everybody, really, all made him more and more identifiable in human terms.
So, where I thought in the beginning that I didn’t want to know where he was from and loved that it was a mystery, I also loved the fact that when we got a script – one that focused on Odo and his world – I’d learn something new that I didn’t know about the character. I would have to ingest it and incorporate it into this character that was being built over seven years. I’ve never really sat and talked to Rick or Ira Behr about it, but I would venture to say that a lot of the things that happened to Odo, they would not have been able to tell you at the beginning of the journey that that’s where the journey was going to go. That is one of the delights of getting to play a character for seven years, the organic nature of the work. It wasn’t prefabricated. It wasn’t a mold. I had nothing to do with it, how the show was written or what was going to happen with Odo or what he was going to say. But I had a lot to do with the tenor of the character because, as I said, I was the instrument, and in that sense you have a lot to do with what the music is eventually going to be.
You mentioned the Odo-Kira and Odo-Quark relationships, both of which became cornerstones of DS9. Was it your sense that the writers glimpsed the chemistry between you and Nana Visitor and you and Armin Shimerman, and played to that?
Auberjonois: I have a feeling that they knew the Quark-Odo would be one of the things that would be, not necessarily a cornerstone, but something that they could go back to, that was the kind of relationship between characters that Star Trek fans revel in. I don’t mean to be too obscure, but it’s sort of like of In Mice and Men, when Lennie keeps saying, “Tell me about the rabbits.” He wants to hear the story again. So I have a feeling that there’s an element of that in the Quark-Odo relationship, because it meant the writers could refer to that very briefly and have it have meaning. We’d have tiny little encounters most of the time. It wouldn’t even be scenes. I would walk into the bar to do something else completely, and Quark and Odo would have an exchange, maybe only two or three lines between them, but the audience was so in tune with that relationship that they could extrapolate. And, in fact, Armin and I have commented on it over the years. When people talk about how much they loved that relationship, we’d say, “You know, there was really only one show in the seven years in which it was all Odo and Quark.” That was ‘The Ascent.” Other than that, it was always just short little scenes. But that relationship was so embedded in the audience’s understanding and psyche that it took on a weight that far surpassed how much time we actually spent with each other. So I think the writers knew that Quark-Odo was likely to be a running theme.
And how about Odo-Kira?
Auberjonois: I know for a fact that the writers did not anticipate the Odo-Kira relationship. It happened in the second season, in “Necessary Evil,” the flashback episode with Odo investigating a murder on Terok Nor, and in the end, in present time, he understands that Kira was responsible for this, that she was an underground fighter. The writers wrote in that scene at the end that they were in Odo’s office and he looks at her. I can’t remember the exact words of how they described him looking at her, but it was clear that he understood that this person who was his only real friend on the station has betrayed him in some way. I don’t know what it was that I did or if it was how it was shot, but the next day, when they were looking at the dailies, the writers said, “Oh my God, look, Odo loves Kira.” And they went with that. Both Nana and I, when that started to become a theme, went, “What? Oh my God, look at that. Isn’t that interesting?” Ours is not to question why as actors. So we went with it. We loved working with each other, Nana and I. We still love working with each other. We have tremendous respect for each other as actors and we’re very comfortable working with each other.
By the end of the series, Odo saved his people, said farewell to Kira and entered the Great Link. How satisfied were you with the conclusion of the storyline? Of the Odo character arc? And was there anything that, in the seven years, never went answered or that you’d wanted to play, but didn’t get the opportunity?
Auberjonois: If anything could be called inevitable in a series as out-of-this-world as Deep Space Nine, that was inevitable. The one thing I knew, by the time we’d explored the relationship with Kira and started to know who the Founders were, was that that had to be the way it was going to end for them and for Odo specifically. So I was completely satisfied with it because I thought, “This is the way it has to be.” It’s the classic, poignant ending. It’s people making great sacrifices for the greater good. And while I may say that the writers didn’t anticipate that he’d be saying goodbye to Kira in the end, I have a feeling that in the large scheme of things the writers knew that they’d eventually be saying goodbye to Odo, that he’d be returning to the Great Link. That was the very purpose. It’s why he was sent out by his “people.” He was sent out on a paranoid mission to protect them, to be an advance guard, to be the canary in the mine, so to speak. So it just had to be that he would ultimately be the creature that would return to his world to bring it back to sanity and to stop this terrible paranoid destruction. So I thought it was perfect, it was great. And, not to talk out of school, but if you talk to Armin, he might have a different take on how Quark’s story resolved. Everybody had their own take on how, “Oh, is that how my character…? Is that where I…?” But for Odo, it was exactly the way I would have done it myself if I’d been writing it.
When was the last time you actually watched an episode of the show?
Auberjonois: You hear that silence? (Laughs). I don’t watch television. When I finished Benson, I never saw another episode of it. I’ve never seen an episode of Deep Space Nine since we finished shooting it in 1999. That’s almost 12 years, and I’ve never seen an episode. That’s not out of a lack of interest. I’m not particularly fond of watching myself act. I think because my roots are in the stage that the joy for me is the act of doing it. The joy for me is not sitting down and watching me do it. I’m so critical of myself. I’d sit and watch myself in a scene, maybe one in which I’m just in the background, and think, “What are you doing back there, Rene? Why are you doing that? Why didn’t you just stand still? Shut up. What’s the matter with you?” It’s not that I’ve avoided Deep Space Nine. I’ve passed it when flipping through the channels to get to The Daily Show with John Stewart, which is my only television habit. When that happens, I’ll stop and pause for a few moments, whether or not I’m in the scene, to watch it for a little bit and get a sense of how it’s aging. With that said and having undermined my own argument, I suppose, what I’ve seen has aged very well, like a fine wine. I always thought that would happen.
Early on, when we started the show, people had reservations about it and I’d say, cockily, “I have a feeling that years from now this is going to be one of the shows – whether it’s a sci-fi show or a sitcom or something like Dallas — that you can come back to and enjoy and appreciate, regardless of how times change, styles change.” Some shows have a certain creakiness over time, and I think Deep Space Nine suffers very little of that. We’re set in the future, so we’re not as susceptible to changes in hairstyles and clothes styles. There is something about the darkness of the show, the sort of neurotic nature of the characters, the complexity of the characters that has made it sort of like a Russian novel that you can keep returning to and that stays fresh and is something you want to keep partaking of, to mix my metaphors.
You directed eight episodes of Deep Space Nine during its run. How important a part of your experience was directing, and which one or two episodes worked best?
Auberjonois: I blame Rick Berman for putting me through that. It was a real education. When it was all over, people would say, “Well, are you going to go to other shows and direct them?” I’d look at these people like they were crazy. I had no interest in going to a show where I didn’t know the actors and the crew and the producers and everyone involved, where I wasn’t part of the whole world, so I wouldn’t really know the story. I mean, I could watch other episodes, but I wouldn’t be as immersed in anything else as I was in Deep Space Nine. Rick sort of nudged me into it and he was very supportive. I did eight of them and I’m going to say this off the top of my head, so it’s not anything that should be carved in stone, but I would say that of the ones I did maybe two of them were shows I was really proud of, where I thought I truly brought something to them. I thought maybe four of them were fine. They were exactly what was written on the page and I delivered that. Everyone was very professional and did outstanding work, so the shows were good shows. And then the other two I’d look at and think, “I didn’t do very well by that,” and I was not pleased ultimately. But that’s sort of the way it is for every director, I think. When you direct something for television, the train is on the tracks and it is going, and you’d better be ready for that. And one of your responsibilities is to not derail the train. You have to make sure the train gets to the station on time and delivers its cargo, and some rides are ultimately better than others. So, for the most part, I’d say I delivered that. If one stands out, it’s probably “Hippocratic Oath,” which was a Dr. Bashir episode with people on this planet dying of a strange disease, and he ultimately figures out what’s going on.
Prior to doing Deep Space Nine you appeared as Colonel West in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And after Deep Space Nine, you played Ezral in the Enterprise episode “Oasis.” What do you recall of those experiences?
Auberjonois: Before the pilot of Deep Space Nine was aired, Colm Meaney asked me to step in for him at a convention in Chicago. I said, “Oh no, they won’t even know who I am because the show hasn’t aired yet.” He said, “They’ll know more about it than you do.” I went to do it, my first convention, and I was standing in front of this crowd. They were being nice to me, but most of them only knew me as Clayton Endicott III, so I could tell that most of them weren’t particularly delighted at the idea that Clayton Endicott III was going to be a member of a Star Trek crew. But they were OK with it because I was telling that that it would be different, that I wasn’t going to be Clayton. And then somebody asked me about Colonel West, and I looked blankly at them. I said, “Colonel West?” I couldn’t remember what they were talking about. I thought they were talking about a couple of Wild Wild West TV reunion movies and I thought it was maybe something to do with that. That’s when the audience started to doubt me, that I didn’t know the name of a character I had played in a Star Trek feature. But I survived it. They didn’t lynch me.
And how about your episode of Enterprise?
Auberjonois: I was sitting with Scott Bakula at lunch about two or three days into shooting the episode. He said, “I like this script. I think this is a good one.” I said, “Yeah, we did this one in season three.” And he looked at me and said, “What?” I said, “It was the same sort of story.” That was not really a putdown, but when you’ve done that many years of writing stories, there will be recurring themes. I think that’s one of the reasons why I thought the new feature film really sort of broke the mold. It was time for new minds to come in and new conceptions to happen, and I think it’s absolutely revitalized the whole franchise. I have that sense now when I got to conventions, that even though ours is an old show that was done years ago, the new energy brought to the franchise by the last feature film has rekindled people’s passions for the whole Star Trek world.
What are you working on these days?
Auberjonois: I’m doing an episode of Bored to Death, with Ted Danson and Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis. I’ve known Ted since he was a little boy. No, not quite, but when I first met Ted he was still at Carnegie, where I went to university. I graduated about eight years before him. I remember that I did a television show for public television, playing a young George Washington, and he was still a student at Carnegie, and he was hired and was in a scene with me. The next time we encountered each other, I was doing Benson and he was a guest star on the show. He married Caroline McWilliams’s character. That was the way that they wrote Caroline, who was leaving the show, out of the show. And my children, my real children – Tessa and Remy – played the flower girl and the ring bearer in the episode. They were eight and six years old. Now they’re both grown and married, with their own children. So that’s about 30 years ago. And, of course, over the years, Ted and I have seen each other, met each other, bumped into each other, and been at dinner parties together. So it’s a lot of fun getting to work with him. Zach is very funny and Jason is just the sweetest guy. So I’m having a very good time. I’m playing someone named Henry, who is the father of an old girlfriend of Jason Schwartzman’s. I hire him to protect a very valuable necklace that my daughter is going to be wearing. It’s a guest spot and my real reason for doing it is it’s a paid vacation and a trip to visit our son Remy, who lives in Brooklyn, and his wife, Kate, and our adorable two-and-half-year-old granddaughter, Sunde. In the two weeks that I’m here I’m only really working three days, so I’ve been babysitting and taking my granddaughter to the park and having dinner with Remy and Kate. I have two grandsons, my daughter’s sons, and they live in Los Angeles. I see them all the time. So I’m thrilled to see Remy and Kate and have some time to bond with my granddaughter.
Auberjonois: I just shot another episode of Warehouse 13, playing the same character that I did last season. It’s a character that will probably make appearances every now and then. That’s a lot of fun. I just recorded my eighth or ninth Aloysius Pendergast audionovel. That’s called Cold Vengeance and it’ll be out in August. I just started a new cartoon series called Winx Club, in which I play a little magician/guru kind of character. I’m ongoing doing the cartoon series Pound Puppies. I’m doing Pepe Le Pew for the new Looney Tunes show. It’s hard to remember everything because I’m at the point in my life where I’m really not out looking for work. I just sort of do things that are going to be fun or that seem like they’ll be fun. It’s just a very nice place to be in my life right now.
And you’re also on the convention circuit…
Auberjonois: I’m doing a bunch of Creation events. I started in San Francisco in May and I’ll be in Vancouver this month and also in Parsippany and Chicago. And I’ll be in Las Vegas, at the big show, in August. Nana (Visitor) and I are doing our show, Cross Our Hearts. It was kind of my idea to do the show because, frankly, because there are only so many questions you can answer. They used to ask me, “How long did it take to do your makeup?” Now, at my age, you think they should be asking, “How long does it take you to get out of bed in the morning.” So, Nana and I are having a great time doing our show. It’s a collection of poetry and short stories that do not directly relate to Odo and Kira, but have to do with love, all different kinds of love, like romantic love and love for your dog and love for children and love for life. And then there’s a direct Odo-Kira reference at the end of it. We did the show for the first time in San Francisco and we’re going to keep honing and perfecting it, and we’re really enjoying it. It makes me excited to go to the events. I always love going to the conventions because, honestly, the loyalty and love and continuing interest of the fans is so gratifying, but this just gives it an extra challenge and it’s a lot of fun.
And our last question: How long does it take you to get out of bed in the morning?
Auberjonois: (Laughs) I get up SO early and I go out and I hike in the hills. Really, though, I am blessed to be healthy and happy and still creative