RED ALERT! This interview contains spoilers for the seventh and most recent episode of Star Trek: Picard season 3, “Dominion,” currently available for streaming on Paramount+.
Brent Spiner first appeared as Data the android in the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint.” Over the years, he’s played multiple roles across the Franchise, as well as playing countless more roles across the stage, screen, and page. Now, the actor has returned as Data (sorta – maybe just watch the season).
The Beat caught up with Spiner over Zoom to ask all about Picard season 3. We asked about working with long-time co-star LeVar Burton‘s daughter Mica Burton, found out more about how meeting fans at conventions helped him better understand the perception of Data, and learned about Dreamland, the follow-up album to Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back.
This interview has been edited for content and length.
AVERY KAPLAN: Did you have a personal relationship with Trek before joining the TNG cast?
BRENT SPINER: I had seen some of it. That was my only relationship. I didn’t know any of those people, I’d never met them prior to TNG. I subsequently met all of them.
I can remember being in college, and a friend of mine and I would come home from school and watch an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
But even prior to that – and I’ve told him this – I remember William Shatner from an episode of a series called The Dick Powell Theatre. It was an anthology show. I remember seeing him in an episode about a Swede in the Old West (1963’s “Colossus”). And then, boom, there he was, as Captain Kirk!
But I always think of him as that Swede.
KAPLAN: How does your makeup in this season of Picard compare to past makeup iterations?
SPINER: Well, it’s a lot less makeup, blessedly. I mean, I’m still wearing the contacts, but basically it’s my skin – it’s just a base makeup, like everyone else wears. But gone is the gold. Golden Boy is no longer golden, he’s just a boy. With yellow eyes.
KAPLAN: Picard season 3 has reunited you with LeVar Burton. However, I’m curious what it’s like working with the next generation, Mica Burton. Did you know her before production?
SPINER: I’ve known Mica since the day she was born! I have a really good Mica story that I won’t tell because she’ll get mad at me. But I’ve known her since she was a child, and watched her grow up and become this formidable young woman who is a talent in her own right. I’m so pleased for her, and for the rest of us, that she was there.
The whole season seems to be about family in a lot of ways, and connections. It goes deep. Certainly, that’s the deepest is LeVar and Mica, because they are indeed father and daughter. But the season deals with Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers) who is the son of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). And William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) have a relationship, and we’ve met their living child, Kestra (LuLu Wilson). And they have a sad history with one of their other children. And Data and Lore are brothers.
And even to the depth of Amanda Plummer (Captain Vadic) being there, and the callback to General Chang, the character her father Christopher Plummer played in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And all the rest of the people who have made appearances so far, like Michelle Forbes (Ro Laren) and Daniel Davis (Hologram Moriarty). I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t go on, but there you have it.
KAPLAN: You’ve appeared in all 3 seasons of Picard. What has this progression been like?
SPINER: Well, it’s been like a surprise – both for me and the audience. Because I never expected to be there for any of it. And I wound up somehow being in all three seasons, albeit very different in all three seasons. Which as an actor, is more satisfying.
KAPLAN: Do you have a favorite role you have played in Star Trek?
SPINER: I wouldn’t say I have a favorite, really. Obviously, I have played Data more than I’ve played any other character – I think I’ve played Data more than anyone’s played any other character, in all of history, it seems.
But I’ve enjoyed every one of the characters that I’ve been allowed to play. It’s been an incredible gift. Data himself played many different characters. He was Sherlock Holmes, we did a Western where he was three or four characters (“A Fistful of Datas”), and of course, there was Lore and all the Doctor Soongs. I just embrace them all as they come along; I look at every one of them as an opportunity.
KAPLAN: Do you have any particularly memorable convention stories you could share with us?
SPINER: They’re all interesting. For a variety of reasons, including meeting people who are enthusiastic and encouraging, as our fans are, unlike any fans – and finding out that there have been these ancillary aspects of it. The bonding that people have had with their families over this show.
For me personally, the awareness that I didn’t have while I was doing the show, was that the character appealed so strongly to people on the spectrum who were having difficulty understanding emotion and were relating to the character in ways that I had no idea. And that was such an honor to me to find out that the character was able to…
You know, we set out to be an entertainment. We’re a sci-fi show! Action, adventure, you know. But it had so many other tangential benefits, both for us and for the audience, that I didn’t even know about. And I found that out doing conventions.
But also, it’s another place where I get to hang out with my friends. A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan and I were in Kansas City. The beauty of that is we get to hang out, and we work long days at the conventions, and then we always go to dinner someplace, together. Whether it’s two of us, three of us, or five of us. Or seven of us. And that’s always fun. I always look forward to that: to just communing with my mains.
KAPLAN: Is there any possibility we will ever see an episode of Trek where you play every single character?
SPINER: (laughs) One can only hope! It’s high time, don’t you think? (laughs again)
I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I think this one’s as close as you’re going to get. You know, I think I’m too old – but I would like to see the ultimate Soong episode, or series or miniseries. Just finding out who this family is. Where they came from, really. Because you always have to ask yourself: “How did this guy get a Chinese last name? Who was he, really? Why are all iterations of him so into eugenics and creating perfect species?”
It’s a really intriguing story of a family. It could even be told without me. There could be other actors who do it.
KAPLAN: If you could give your younger self some advice back when you began your Trek journey, what would it be?
SPINER: Buy Apple. That would be it.
KAPLAN: How have your interactions with the press and fandom changed over the years (if they have)?
SPINER: My interactions with the press… I think the press is probably less interested in me than they were at certain times in my life. Which is fine, I get it. The press is “of the moment,” and you have to be of the moment to pique their interest.
But as for the fans, the fans have been great from beginning to end. It’s not ended yet, so I’m assuming that ending will be just as pleasing. No, but we have the best fans in the world. They’ve stayed with us through thick and thin. Not without some criticism, and I think there are some fans who are professional criticizers.
I actually saw a review of episode 4, “No Win Scenario,” that was a very negative review, and the episode hadn’t aired yet. It wasn’t specific, it sort of just a general, “I hated this episode. They’ve lost it again. Blah blah blah.” But it hadn’t actually aired yet, so I don’t think that person had seen it.
But for the most part, 99.9% of the fans are encouraging and delightful, and we’ve been really fortunate to have them.
KAPLAN: Would you ever consider releasing a follow-up to the 1991 album “Ol’ Yellow Eyes is Back”?
SPINER: Well, I did another album – do you know 2008’s Dreamland? That would be my follow-up. It’s only a follow-up in that it’s another album that I sing on.
But I think Dreamland is a far better CD than Ol’ Yellow Eyes – I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet on Ol’ Yellow Eyes. I had some wonderful arrangements and musicians playing, but I don’t think I was that good.
But I think I got better by Dreamland. And then I had the advantage of having a brilliant singer like Maude Maggart sing with me, and Mark Hamill doing all the other characters. And it was a real concept album. So I’m really proud of it. Very few things I’m really proud of, but I think Dreamland came out really nicely.
KAPLAN: Are there any books, albums, shows, movies, or any other kind of media that you have found particularly inspiring lately?
SPINER: I’ve been reading so much lately. I just finished Paul Newman’s The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir, which was put together from tapes that he did with a friend of his. I found that a really interesting book. Primarily because here was a guy who was an idol to so many. I mean, he was a movie star, and he gave so many great performances.
But the essence was how really he was unsure of himself, all the way to late in his career. That he just felt like, “Is this really any good?” And just to see somebody of that quality and that stature, who suffered the same things that most of us who do this kind of work suffer, was very reassuring and inspiring.
KAPLAN: If you personally could order anything from a replicator, what would it be?
SPINER: I don’t know. It’s kind of bizarre what I was thinking, which was, everyone that I’ve ever known that was gone. I’d like them back. I don’t know if that’s really something you want to do with a replicator… but it hit me, is everyone that I’ve ever known.
KAPLAN: Is there anything that still remains on your “Star Trek bucket list”?
SPINER: You know, I’m not sure. There may be nothing. It just depends. If there’s more Star Trek in my future, hopefully, it’ll be something that I want to be a part of. It probably will be.
And if there is no more, I don’t feel like I got cheated.
KAPLAN: Would you be willing to appear in one of the animated shows?
SPINER: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah, I would love to. I think that will happen at some point. I’d love to, because they’re doing great work – those animated shows are terrific.
New episodes of Star Trek: Picard are available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.
Read all of The Beat’s Star Trek coverage by clicking here!
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