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Brent Spiner talks playing evil on Star Trek & whether there should be a 'The Next Generation' reboot
Brent Spiner has been a fixture in the Star Trek universe for decades, ever since he joined the crew of the Enterprise-D as Lieutenant Commander Data in stardate 41000 (or 2364 in Earth years; or 1987, if you're going by when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in our reality).
SYFY WIRE had the chance to interview Spiner recently about his upcoming book, Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events. During the discussion, he also shared some fun insights on Star Trek as well as some Star Trek-adjacent topics, like the U.S. military's Space Force. Read on to find out Spiner's thoughts on (Spoiler!) Picard's positron body post-Star Trek: Picard, whether there should be a TNG reboot, and who his favorite Star Trek character to play is (besides Data, of course).
Beyond Data, the actor has played five other characters and numerous versions of the android (see "A Fistful of Datas" for a few of them). This variety is something that Spiner says he's enjoyed over the years. "There's that double-edged sword of being identified with one role, but if I'm going to have to be identified for a single role, at least it's a role where I got to play all kinds of other different roles," he explains. "I really enjoyed playing Sherlock Holmes when we did that [on TNG episodes "Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle"]. We did all kinds of things, and I was inhabited by different creatures and personalities. It's a dream, for an actor, to be able to do that. And so really, I think of them all as the same thing, in a way. It was all one character, even though the Soongs were human."
But even though Spiner loved the kaleidoscope of personalities he got to bring to the screen, there's still one role he especially enjoyed playing. "I always like playing Lore, because Lore is really more like me than any of the other characters I've ever played because I am evil," he jokes, remembering his time playing Data's evil android brother. "It fits like a glove! But, seriously, I enjoyed it — it really turned out to be a perfect part for me."
Spiner taking on all these characters, specifically the role of Dr. Noonian Soong, wasn't initially supposed to happen. Spiner suggested he should play Data's creator before he knew that another actor, Keye Luke, had already been cast to play Dr. Soong. "I thought that would make so much sense — that I built these creatures in my own image and I'd be a god-like character," he explains.
Spiner attempted to take back his suggestion when he heard Luke was already cast, but the show decided to move forward with his idea. "I panicked," he recalls. "I thought, 'Oh my God, how am I going to play this?' Because he was an old man, and I really didn't know what I was going to do."
Luckily for Spiner, the show's makeup expert, Michael Westmore, lent a helping hand. "Almost the day before we were going to shoot, Michael Westmore — one of the great makeup artists of all time — had designed makeup for Dr. Soong, and he said, 'Let me put it on you and make sure everything's right before we shoot tomorrow.' When he put it on me and I looked in the mirror, I knew exactly how to play the part. I owe him a lot, because I think we collaborated on that."
Spiner went on to play two other Soongs: Arik Soong (Noonian's great-grandfather) on Enterprise, and Altan Inigo Soong (Noonian's son) on the first season of Picard. It was Altan's positronic body on Picard, in fact, that ultimately became the home, so to speak, for Jean-Luc.
Does Spiner have any advice for his co-star Patrick Stewart, now that Stewart is also playing a character with a positronic body following the events of Picard? He jokes that Stewart could try to act smarter because Picard might now have better capabilities than his original organic brain allowed.
"I really don't know what his capabilities are now, though," Spiner admits. "I don't know whether it's just the body that's positronic and his mind is the same, so I don't know if he has any extra skills or super strength or anything like that. I don't think so. I think it just allowed him to go on living... or maybe he can fly," he adds cheekily.
Spiner's speculation on what's in store for future Star Trek media encompasses the large screen as well. "I've loved the recent movies," he shares. "I think that sooner or later, they're going to do a reboot, a motion picture version of Next Generation, and cast some young guys in our parts."
And does he have any ill will about Data potentially being recast? "Well, of course, I do," he jokes. "But no, I look forward to seeing it. I think it would be cool if they spun our show off."
Star Trek's impact on our world goes beyond what's onscreen, though. It's a factor fans have seen play out many times since the original series first aired, often in ways that sometimes raise fans' eyebrows. Take the newly created U.S. military branch Space Force, for example, which has adopted a very familiar logo. "It looks just like the communicator!" Spiner says, agreeing with the many fans who made the same comparison on Twitter.
Potential copyright issues aside, Spiner concedes that there might be some use for a Space Force — not to protect us from extraterrestrial threats, but to find new places where humans could live. "The idea of a Space Force to explore and find some place for us to live that's habitable isn't a terrible idea," he shares. "And I'm pretty sure that the first big ship they sent out will be called the Enterprise."
Brent Spiner's new book, Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events, comes out on Oct. 5. You can pre-order your copy here.