Off Hollywood - Brent Spiner
It is impossible for him to live up to the expectations we all have of someone so pure as a sentient automaton.
Star Trek The Next Generation (1987-1994), Out to Sea (1997), Independence Day (1996), The Aviator (2004), Fresh Hell (2012)
Brent Spiner is a brilliant comedian in thespian’s clothing and famous for playing an android.
While die-hard fans may be disappointed to hear that he isn’t terribly interested in science fiction and doesn’t know all that much about his character, Data, understand that it is impossible for him to live up to the expectations you have of someone so pure as a sentient automaton. Brent Spiner struggles with the pressure of disappointing fans when they realize he is merely human.
Of course there is a part of me that would love to meet Data. Every morning, I drink coffee out of a Star Trek: The Next Generation mug that I bought at Quark’s Bar Gift Shop at the Las Vegas Hilton, which has since been demolished. There is no doubt in my mind that Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of the most important shows in the history of television. Aside from the common praise it receives for projecting a future envisioning racial harmony (including alien races), it also introduces the concept of improved human understanding and a life beyond capitalism. The prime directive and other philosophies from Star Trek have made an impact on us Trekkers and ultimately given us a lot of stuff to talk about at parties.
Although he has appeared in major motion pictures like The Aviator and Independence Day, rather than wait for an outside force to greenlight his creativity, Brent Spiner and some friends decided to take their careers into their own hands and create their own web series, Fresh Hell. In a tale similar in tone to Day of the Locust, Fresh Hell places Brent Spiner in an alternate reality where by some mysterious incident he has lost everything and ruined his acting career. It’s so grim, he has to bum money off of Levar Burton.
VICE: How much of Fresh Hell is real?
None of it! That is not my life, but it is inspired by what I have experienced and witnessed. We call it a Sit-Trag [Situation Tragedy] because underneath the comedy, which is certainly the way we are presenting it, lies a serious and heartbreaking subtext. People get dismissed, make mistakes, and really no matter who you are, there comes a time when you are just not wanted in Hollywood.
What is the “incident” that ruined your character’s career?
Well, I can’t tell you. We know what it is, but really the incident in Fresh Hell is what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin. It’s just a mysterious plot device that moves the narrative forward. The bigger overall incident is that my character has made the mistake of getting older, and has been dismissed from this fraternity that he loves.
Is the fraternity Hollywood?
The milieu is showbiz. I use the term fraternity as euphemism for a group you want to belong to. In this case it really just represents success and belonging to the successful few in this profession. Anything you've worked hard at that gives you a sense of worth, of value. It could be as simple as your family. My character is desperate to get back in. He will suffer any kind of humiliation necessary to get back to that fraternity where he once belonged.
Does this in any way reflect the fact that at one point in your career, you were a part of the mainstream that now you are not?
It may not have seemed like it but Star Trek: The Next Generation was never mainstream. It was a first-run syndicated series. We didn’t come on at the same time and on the same channel everywhere, and it wasn’t on a network. Right now sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are everywhere, but at that time sci-fi was not common. Personally, I never felt like I was mainstream. I did feature films and things but the majority of people who came to see my movies were Star Trek fans. I’ve been on Broadway, but even Broadway is very provincial.
Did you ever want to be mainstream?
Oh sure! When I was 7! I don’t reject mainstream, it’s just never really knocked on my door.
What’s it like having played Data for so many years?
Sometimes I think it limited me in ways I wished it hadn’t, but I realize I don’t have any control over that. The part and the show was a gift and I am eternally grateful. I’m delighted that other people have opinions and affection for the character. The only thing that bothers me—and it happens all the time—is when people see me and shout, “DATA! DATA”! I’m fine with people recognizing me. I just wish they shouted, “Guy who played Data”!
What was it like playing Lore, Data’s evil brother?
Well, I just played myself when I did that. It was playing Data that was the stretch.
You love to joke that you have a horrible personality!
Not horrible, just real. I have all the foibles that humans have, like ego, anger, and selfishness. It was easy to play Lore because he is closer to who I am in real life. Closer to who you are too, I bet! I hope I get to play my evil twin brother on Fresh Hell.
Oh, please do that! And have a mustache. You look awesome with a mustache!
Previously - Adrienne Barbeau