Back in 2001, MGN editor Ed Gross conducted a number of one-on-one interview with cast and crew members of the then still-to-launch fifth Star Trek television series, Enterprise. Originally presented in the print medium, these interviews have never been posted online before. What follows is a conversation with actor Scott Bakula, who had been come out of, among other things, Quantum Leap, and found himself cast as the captain of the first starship Enterprise, Jonathan Archer. Please note that this and subsequent interviews that will be appearing on Media Geek Network are being presented as originally written without the addition of hindsight in the show’s aftermath.
Scott Bakula makes the leap from time traveler to starship cptain in “Enterprise”
By Edward Gross
It would be difficult to find someone who didn’t agree with the notion that in recent years, Star Trek — once one of Hollywood’s most powerful franchises – had lost a bit of its luster. Audience apathy greeted both the last feature film, Insurrection, and the past couple of seasons of Voyager.
Let’s face it: the magic was gone.
Which is why news of a fifth Trek series was greeted with a collective groan and a roll of the eyes. Why, many wondered, couldn’t Paramount give the 24th century a rest?
Well, much to their credit, that’s exactly what the studio and creators/executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are doing with Enterprise, a prequel to the original series that debuts this fall. While this in itself was enough to get the fans and the media buzzing, the buzz only intensified when it was announced that actor Scott Bakula had been signed to play Jonathan Archer, Starfleet’s first captain of earth’s first starship Enterprise.
Although Bakula had previously headed up Tom Clancy’s NetForce and played the gay next door neighbor in the critically acclaimed American Beauty, the actor seems to have met his calling within the science fiction genre, having first achieved fame in Quantum Leap as Dr. Sam Beckett, a time traveler who leaps into the bodies of different people to right events that once went wrong. More than anything, Bakula brought a human element to Beckett, and it’s the same thing that fans are hopeful he will bring to Star Trek. It would seem to be an awesome responsibility.
“Not really,” he counters. “I’ve got to be honest, I responded to the idea of it and this character and then I got the script for the pilot and everything just fell into place. I like it, the character is great and it’s really a return, in many ways, to what the original Star Trek was all about. There’s just a lot of emotion in this show, this version of it, and there’s a lot of relationship among the crew, which is great. It very much has an ‘anything goes’ feel to it, which I think is going to be a lot of fun for the audience.”
In assessing what he brings to Enterprise – and, indeed, every role he plays – Bakula notes, “What I try to do is bring reality to a situation. As much reality as I can, because I see that as my job as an actor. Believability, reality, whatever you want to call it. As I said to Rick and Brannon early on, I don’t know why I’ve done as much sci-fi as I have. Part of it, I think, is that I want to believe. If the job calls for me to stand in front of a 60-foot dragon and battling it to the death, then I want to believe that that dragon is out there. If I believe, then maybe I can help the audience believe it. If I believe I can travel in time, then the audience believes it also.
“[Creator] Don Bellisario and I got into a thing very early on on Quantum because the network wanted to jazz it up a little bit,” he adds. “They wanted us to be a little more Bill Murrayish, which is the best way I can put it. I said, ‘You know what? If you want that, you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t believe that the heart of the show is going to live on me being a snappy, wise-cracking, wiseass time traveler. I want to play this guy who’s out there. He’s created this machine and he’s done it, he has the technology and the power of knowledge.’ I said the same thing about Star Trek: ‘I believe that we can be doing this some day. Boy, would I love to be the captain of a starship if people were going out there.’ So I’m bringing that element to this show. The producers have given these characters some nice backstory. I’m grounded here on earth. I have a home, I grew up in San Francisco, I’m a Starfleet brat – I have all these nice, tangible things to land the character and, hopefully, that will all come out and play nicely.”
The true appeal of the show, as the actor emphasizes, is the fact that this particular adventure represents mankind’s first trip to the stars beyond the moon. This, he believes, brings a whole different kind of “energy” to the show than its predecessors had.
“It’s all about, ‘What’s around the next corner? What are we going to find?’” Bakula explains. “It’s not dial in a new planet every week and we’ll show up. We’re getting the kinks out, the ship is not working perfectly so there’s humor and fun with that. The initial mission to the Klingon homeworld is a kind of off-the-cuff, last-minute deal and all of a sudden we’re out there and we don’t have to turn around and come home. It’s got more of an improvisational kind of feel to it in that, for these people, there are no rules, there’s only Starfleet, not a Federation, so we’re out there like the Wild West. We’re bumping in the night out there and finding out how to behave as we go, which is just a blast. Also, 150 years from today isn’t very far at all. I can kind of imagine, and I think we all can, what life is going to be like 150 years from now. The trick for us, and so far I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it, is creating this excitement about, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be the first pioneers?’ It’s The Right Stuff – that kind of energy of being the first ones out there, and being a little scared sometimes, and being a little overwhelmed by the experience, which I think is, again, a great emotion to have to play with.”
It’s his feeling that Enterprise, like the original, can take the opportunity to couch genuine morality tales within a science fiction setting. “That’s because we’re the least experienced people out there and we’re the only humans out there,” he says. “So the issue of how do you go about exploring, which has based mankind on this planet forever, is just pushed out into space. We have a Vulcan on board who is constantly reminding us what their version of the rules are and what’s proper behavior and what kind of message do we want to give to the universe? We’re representing a planet. Being human, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to make some enemies, obviously, but hopefully we’ll make more friends. I just think that overall feeling permeates the series so even in small encounters that may seem innocent, there is this great sense of wonder and awe that we’re carrying out into space with us. We’re not out there trying to gain territory.”
In the past, Star Trek has dealt with such themes as racism, war, overpopulation, drug addiction and the like. Bakula has his own thoughts of the moral groundwork he’d like to see Enterprise explore.
“Americans have explored our planet in a variety of different ways,” he explains. “Some successfully, some not. We have a wide history of exploration in this country. Certainly different experiences in Vietnam and places like that where we tried to impose our ideas or philosophies on different cultures, and still are in many places around this planet. As we talk about in the pilot, earth has in the next 150 years figured out famine, disease and the main problems that are plaguing us environmentally, so that going in to this journey now, with that under our belts so to speak, hopefully we can do an exploration kind of series with more of a broad-mindedness than perhaps we’ve done on this planet in the past. Making it more about the experience and less about planting the flag. In other words, enjoying the experience and learning from it, rather than saying, ‘Now we’re here and we’re going to tell you how to do it. We’ve got good ideas and can do things better than you.’ I think the great analogy about space, and we say this all the time, is that we’re just a speck in the universe. But if you can imagine being out there and traveling through it, I would think it would weigh on you tremendously how infintismal we are, and the impact of what we’re doing and how we’re going to behave.
“Obviously,” he continues, “when you’re out there, there aren’t rules of people looking over our shoulders, so you get into the true choices of conscience and good and evil, and those things become very pure because there is no governing factor. You’re not necessarily going to be held accountable, certainly not at the stage of 150 years from now. So if you’re someone out there looking to do good, and looking to explore in a healthy way, there’s a great responsibility to that. As well as a great temptation to change and alter and fix and do all the things we like to do here. We have an opportunity in this series to make mistakes and to plunge ahead and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, that was a terrible idea,’ and the only people who are, in a sense, going to be judging that are ourselves. Which becomes this very wonderful kind of play within the show, which is, ‘How are we all going to deal with not only being out there, but the choices we make?’”
With Enterprise, Bakula is in a position that few television actors are in: not only does it seem a guarantee that he’ll be employed steadily for the next seven years, but by becoming a part of Star Trek, he seems to be ensuring a bit of immortality for himself.
“At this point in my career,” he says, “one thing I’ve learned is you never count on anything, so if we get through the first 13 and we’re still rolling, I’ll be happy. And everybody walks around saying five, seven, six – throwing all these numbers out, but I’m not pessimistic at all. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know it all seems a wonderful thing. So I’m approaching it as, you know, hopefully at least a two-year job. And I approached it as I approach everything. At the end of the day, they put a two-hour script in front of me that I just thought was fantastic, and a character that I really wanted to play, and that I thought should it go for a while, there would be room to do a lot of different things with it and there would be a lot of opportunity for this character with other characters on the ship. So, to me, it’s like a gift that this kind of job exists in this town. There are very few opportunities like this, if it turns out to be a show that lasts for a long time, and it’s a franchise that I love. It seems like a good thing.
“For me,” Bakula continues, “being around for so long allows me to focus on the big picture. You go in knowing that your every move is going to be analyzed to death and picked apart. I saw this with Quantum, so in a sense it makes you work harder and prepare more, and really think about the choices you’re making. Hopefully they’re choices that work for the character and the show, and then the fans will be able to embrace it in a positive way. I certainly have prepared myself for the fact that not everybody is going to care for my captain, and there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s like replacing Olivier in Hamlet.”
It’s his hope that Enterprise will be able to appeal to more of a general audience who may not have followed Star Trek religiously in the past.
“This is just a great adventure in space and there are certainly things that are inside jokes, in a sense that if you have seen Star Trek before, you’ll get it, but it’s not going to prohibit anyone from jumping on for the first time. I’m really encouraging people to sample the show. I can’t imagine what it would be like to sample this series for the first time, and then have 35 years to catch up on. It could certainly take over your life.
“You know,” he adds with a laugh, “one of the things I’ve been judging how well we’re doing is by the reaction of people who have been here for a long time. The people in the crew who have shot every episode of Voyager and some were on The Next Generation, and they are just jazzed; they’re having a ball. To be quite honest, I was somewhat nervous coming in in that everyone has been doing it for a long time. You want to jump into something and have everybody to have the same excitement level. I knew the cast was so excited about it and were thrilled to be a part of it. You want everybody to match that and to be doing their best work. You don’t want anybody phoning it in. But it’s just been fantastic. All of the designers are just outdoing themselves and everybody is having a great time.”
No interview with the actor, particularly at this stage of the game, could be conducted without one obligatory question. Cliches be damned, Bakula’s ready for it. “I know Kirk and Picard probably the best,” he says. “Again, I think Archer is very human and I think certainly he would be closer to Kirk. But because he’s a Starfleet brat and moved up through the ranks and the whole system, and his dad was part of it, it’s been his whole life and his whole dream. To get an opportunity to live that dream is something that very few people ever get a chance to do, so he’s driven in a sense to do this. Not that Kirk and Picard weren’t driven, but there’s just an excitement about being the first that you can only have if you are the first.
“There’s a lot on the line for this guy,” Bakula emphasizes. “We all know from our life here how delicate the space program is, how funding can disappear. And you ride the wave of public sentiment quite often. On the show, we’ve been desperately trying to get access to this engine and get out into space to prove that we’re as capable as the Vulcans, that there’s the opportunity and, finally, my character, with a little help, has succeeded in getting this chance. He feels a certain pressure, a certain obligation, a certain debt to his father and all of these things that are going on. At the same time, he wants to be the first one into battle, the first one out the door, and we have times where I have to be reminded, ‘You’re the captain and you don’t get to do certain things.’ There’s that kind of energy, an awe, a wonderment, a great sense of discovery that, certainly, Picard didn’t have to the same degree. Kirk had it, but, again, we’re much more involved in the reality of what this travel is in terms of we’re not always going to find a planet every week. What happens during those times? What I’m hoping to bring forth is a guy whose emotions are on his sleeves, but at the core of it all he’s just a kid in a candy store, getting to live the dream of a lifetime.”