‘Star Trek’ actors share favorite moments



Actors Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and James Doohan from the original "Star Trek" series. The show premiered 50 years ago as one of the new fall shows on NBC's 1966-1967 schedule. (Paramount Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/Zuma Press/TNS)

By Jack Millrod



NEW YORK — The future began 50 years ago Thursday for “Star Trek” fans.

When NBC aired the show’s first episode on Sept. 8, 1966, Capt. James T. Kirk and the 23rd century crew of the starship Enterprise began a journey that would include an animated series, four spinoffs and 13 movies. And another TV series, “Star Trek: Discovery,” launches in January.

To mark the anniversary, many of the actors who brought the various incarnations of “Star Trek” to the screen gathered last weekend in Manhattan for a convention that drew thousands of fans. We asked them to share their own quintessential “Star Trek” moment and what they loved about their characters.

WALTER KOENIG (Pavel Chekov)

Koenig, who played the Russian ensign in the original “Star Trek” series, vividly recalled the day in 1976 when he first understood the show’s true impact.

HIS MOMENT: We were invited to the rollout of the shuttle — the Enterprise shuttle. We each drove ourselves to the designated area, not really understanding what was transpiring … There were chairs set up for us, and lo and behold, out of the corner of my eye, I see the Air Force band is there. I’m still not quite sure what is about to happen … At one point, a tow truck, a tug, came from around the corner of the building, and behind it, it was pulling the shuttle craft. And that’s when the band started playing the theme music from “Star Trek.” That was the most extraordinary moment that I can think of. Holy cow, we’re not just two-dimensional images on a screen. We have some substance in this world and some influence. And we’ve made an impression … And when it came fully into view, I looked across the nose and saw “Enterprise,” and that just about knocked me down. A chill ran through all our spines.

HIS CHARACTER: When I was in drama school, a teacher pointed out to me … that my personal comment in life was self-pity. It was a terrible thing to hear, but almost immediately it resonated with me, and I knew that was something I would have to cope with, and I began to learn how to do that. I began to be able to play somebody who could lead with his chin and not be ducking, and have fun. And that’s what I liked most about playing Chekov … that I could inject some humor and some sense of fun and feel comfortable doing it.

LAVAR BURTON (Geordi La Forge)

For Burton, who portrayed the Enterprise’s chief engineer in “The Next Generation,” his quintessential “Star Trek” moment occurred when he was in the director’s chair.

HIS MOMENT: In the first episode of “Star Trek” I directed, “Second Chances,” I had the opportunity to bring Mae Carol Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, onto the set to play a transporter chief. Having a real astronaut who grew up and became a doctor, a scientist and an astronaut because of “Star Trek” and seeing the show when it was on TV, that was a quintessential “Star Trek” moment for me that really spoke to the enduring nature of the legacy of this franchise.

HIS CHARACTER: His enthusiasm. The fact that he never let anything stand in his way … Without the chief engineer, we don’t get to boldly go anywhere!


On “Deep Space Nine,” Visitor played the space station’s Bajoran first officer.

HER MOMENT: At a convention, just this past year, a youngish guy in his 40s had his computer with him. He was waiting in line with his family, and he got my autograph. And he said, “Do you have a moment? Can I show you something?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And he showed me — it looked like it was from a space movie, something landing on Mars. I said, “That’s amazing. Did you do the graphics for that?” He said, “No, no that’s really Mars. I landed that on Mars.” … An astrophysicist getting my autograph. He said, “You guys — this is why I do what I do.”

HER CHARACTER: She was fully realized. She was lovely shades of gray in a moral, ethical sense. She was struggling to know herself and to know why she was where she was … She was struggling from post-traumatic stress, and over seven years recovered from it.


Ethan Phillips played the lovable Talaxian chef and chief morale officer aboard the starship “Voyager.”

HIS MOMENT: I was in graduate school, up in Ithaca at Cornell. Me and my roommate were eating dinner at six o’clock at night and he said, “Should we watch a little TV?” I said, “Sure.” … And he put on “Star Trek.” He said, “Did you ever see “Star Trek,” and I said, “No.” “Really, well, let’s watch this episode.” And it was unbelievable! We loved it … And we watched it every night for the next two years.

HIS CHARACTER: I liked the fact that Neelix was anonymous — that he was covered in a mask. I liked hiding behind that incredible makeup. I also liked the fact that he was a very empathetic and generous person. He was way different from everybody else in that ship, who were military … They had to hold things together, but Neelix was all over the map emotionally, and that gave him great contrast to the other characters. He was a great listener. He was a good soul. He knew everyone was fighting a battle, so he was always kind.


Keating portrayed an armaments officer aboard “Enterprise.”

HIS MOMENT: I grew up watching the original show. I look a little younger than my actual years. I started watching it in black and white, and I nagged my father rotten to get what was possibly one of the first color TVs in our street in Leicester in England to watch “Star Trek” in color. This TV came from a company called Multi-Broadcast and it was the size of an aircraft hangar and it had a louvered door in wood because you’d pull that across it. What could that coffin in the corner of the sitting room be? Surely not the television! I was just absolutely blown away as a tender 8-year-old to see that Spock’s shirt was blue … To find myself 50 years later knowing Mr. Shatner quite well. I knew Mr. Nimoy quite well. You know, we were friendly, God bless his soul. So it’s an extraordinary journey for me to be a part of this incredible phenomenon.

HIS CHARACTER: I loved the fact that he was a bit of a dichotomy — and I hope I brought some of this to him. I fleshed him out. As an actor, you’re given a three-line bio, and mine was that he was a stiff-upper-lipped Brit, button-down shirts and shy around women — I thought, oh cripes, I’ll have to act that bit — I could easily have just played those three lines and they would have written it that way for me … I decided to flesh him out a little bit and make a little bit of Dominic into Malcolm’s sinew, and I think it worked well. It made three-dimensional, made him a little contrary at times … and it made him more fun to act.


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