Actor Michael Dorn making sure the world
doesn't forget the original Star Trek universe and the character
he lived in for nearly 20 years — the Klingon Lieutenant Commander Worf.
And he is doing it not only through appearing at Comic-Cons and in the
film Ted 2.
With the original 1960s Star Trek
series there was a Vulcan member, but no Klingons on the crew. Then,
with the 1987-'94 reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf
became a Klingon crew member who was as critical to his ST series
as Mr. Spock was to his generation. Then Worf moved on to a successor
series, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and several Star Trek film
As separate from the real world the Star
Trek universe is, Worf and his Klingons were so important that they
spawned a particular fan base determined to flesh out his culture and
world. As Star Trek's canon became fleshed out, that was an
amazing thing. Though geeks appreciate how significant it was that Worf
one of the 10 most important Trek characters, there was debate that
justice still wasn't done.
For the last few years, Trek alumnus
Dorn has been pursuing various avenues to get a new TV series into
production which centered on his beloved character Worf. The character
had more hours on screen than any other in the franchise's history.
Even now, after more than 13 years since his
last appearance, he remains a fan favorite and sci-fi icon. Yet, despite
Dorn's Trek pedigree, and the worldwide love for his surly
Klingon, CBS hasn't budged on green-lighting "Captain Worf."
Back in the '60s, a historic letter-writing
campaign saved the original Star Trek series from an untimely
cancellation after the first season.
With reboots of classic series at an all-time
high, from the return of The X-Files to network television to
The Flash's resurrection, the Trek brand continues in the
form of fan-made films, hugely attended events, and continual
appearances of its many actors in other productions. It seems time for
another official ST series to have its own development
In order to do so, a core team surrounding
the 63-year-old veteran actor came up with a campaign to press the
network to produce the series. This campaign has encouraged fans to send
the message that Star Trek is ready to return to its TV roots.
To have this bid kicked off, a campaign has
been launched that asks fans to send mini-muffins to the powers that be
at CBS this summer. To prove that the fan-fervor exists, the goal is for
one million muffins to be sent to the CBS offices with a note saying,
"We Want Worf."
In order to increase a-worf-ness, Dorn has
been conducting a series of exclusive interviews with
journalist-trekkers — including this one held over the airways — to
bring the cause to the pop culture forefront.
character is one of the most fascinating in
Star Trek's history. That's because
Klingon culture turns on several classic human cultures, whether it's
Roman or Japanese or others. What did you think it was? What did you
draw on and what did others think you drew from?
Well, it started out as the Russians and that
was who they were. When the show was going on, the [Berlin] Wall had
come down before then, so we got an eye into the Russian culture. We got
a good look at them and knew they weren't all evil and bad. I then
brought into it, in terms of deeper things, the Samurai warrior code.
[The writers] basically had nothing until the character Worf [was
created]. We went into these different areas of the Klingon culture. I
told them, "Look, they're like wild people. Whenever they fight they're
screaming and yelling and all this other stuff, I think it gets a little
crazy. Why don't we do something a little more controlled, yet still
aggressive; [why not] make it more like the Japanese samurai?" So we
added some of the Japanese samurai [thinking], some of Chinese martial
arts, and other things, and put it all into [Klingon] culture.
was debated as to whether Klingons were like the Romulans or not.
Romulans were more Roman and Klingons, like you said, were more like
Japanese. while Romulans were more the opposite of Vulcans, Klingons
were the fighting side of cultures. Was there a discussion about how
Klingons and Romulan culture distinguished the one from the other?
They never discussed that with me. If there
were discussions [by the series creators], I never heard them. Because
the character of Worf was on the show, they had to make a distinction
with a lot of things. I don't think they really had much discussion on
how to keep things separate. They always had an idea of who the Romulans
were, who the Klingons were, and "neither shall the twain meet" as they
say, and that was evident. The cultures did not overlap at all.
20 or so people in broadcast media have had an opportunity to play a
character that has had so much growth and been seen by so many
generations of people — and even be a Shakespearean sort of character.
That cultural depth must be mind boggling at times, so I can see why you
don't want to squander that.
The way television is going right now, with
all the formats between Netflix and Amazon, and the cable shows and all
these things, there's so much of an opportunity. If you're going to do a
show, it has to be an intense, dark show like Game of Thrones or
Spartacus, all these shows that are out there. They're dark and
some are even soft porn. The Klingon Empire is a dark empire itself.
It's about assassinations and coups to take over the government and all
the things that are the mainstay of television these days.
of soft porn, there have always been fans who have fantasized about that
You hit on an important sub-plot element — envisioning the Klingon sex
There have been discussions, but we haven't
gone into it with any depth because I think we're living in the moment.
When it gets done we'll see what works. The thing I don't care about,
and I don't think it's necessary, is that television feels it has to go
way out there. I disagree. I don't think you have to. It's a little for
shock value. But if you got a great story, we don't really care about
that. It's just that a lot of these shows are just going for shock
value. "Oh my god, did you see that?" It doesn't really add anything to
the overall story or feeling of the show.
Trek: The Next Generation, you were never thought of as being a
"black actor" because you were a Klingon. You suffered less of the
sensationalist attention that Nichelle Nichols endured in the first
season of the original series. But now is the time now that we need more
black actors to be the lead in sci-fi or action shows. It seems like
that people will accept and gravitate to such characters like never
before. Do you hope that, at this time, this show might be possible?
I think you're right, hopefully. Like you
said, they don't look at Worf as being black. They're not going to say
"Oh wow, let's have some more Klingons on television," or something like
that. But I do think that any time you can show that there's money to be
made with you, they're willing to do anything. I don't think that it's a
matter of racism or anything. It's purely financial. If they think they
can make money and there's a market for it... you see it more today. If
you look at commercials, I did commercials when I first started, so I
know this first hand: there would be one, maybe two commercials a year
where you might see a black face. If you watch commercials now, they are
inundated with them. I don't think that was an altruistic decision. They
realized there was an audience and money to be made with these products
in the black community. So they started doing more. I think that's what
it's going to be. If this show becomes successful and it's a highly
rated show, critically acclaimed and they're making money hand over
fist, my being a black actor can't do anything but help other black
actors coming up, or at least have them say, "Hey, this guy did it,
let's try it with this guy." There won't be a hesitance to it.
have a wish list of actors you'd like to show up, like James Earl Jones
or old actors or new actors that could make a cameo, like you made in
What I do wish for is that I want every part
to be a great part. I don't want it to be a cameo or stunt casting. I
want it to be a great part even if it's 10 or 15 minutes onscreen. I can
go down the list of people we would have on the show. Of course, all the
Star Trek alumni can do the show. There are certain characters
that can't show up because they're dead or whatever is the case, but
those actors can still do parts on the show. The wish list is too long
to imagine. I hadn't even thought about James Earl Jones, but he's
definitely... I think Laurence Fishburne is wonderful. The list goes on
and on and on.
Trek actors who are typically known as "character actors", but they
play their parts — like the guy that played The Doctor on Voyager,
Robert Picardo. Before that, he was a great character actor, but after
that it makes you appreciate him even more. There same can be said for
Armin Shimerman, the guy that plays the Ferengi. There's something about
being in Star Trek that gives great actors quite a stage to
create unique performances. The same goes for the great theater actor
Rene Auberjonois who played Odo.
The whole point is that there's a dearth of
actors that fit that bill. Armin Shimerman, who played Quark, is a
wonderful actor. He's so identified as Quark that it would be hard to
bring him back as Armin, but I don't think he would mind coming back and
doing a great role as Quark. It's a job. What you're saying is something
we've discussed and thought about. It just got overwhelming for us
because there were so many actors and so many facets to bringing these
characters back and how we do it? Do we bring back the character or just
the actor as themselves? It goes on and on.
you had much interaction with JJ Abrams and how his
Star Trek universe connects with yours?
It's interesting how there's a relationship between them yet they're not
That's why the Klingon thing is perfect
because it has nothing to do with what he's doing. I've never met JJ,
but they're very clear about keeping the TV and movie things separate.
Not getting in the way or having them cross over, or getting someone mad
at us for doing something. They're keeping it very separate.
did you think of their version of Klingon culture?
There wasn't much to it. I couldn't say
anything about it. It was just a cameo for Klingons.
going to produce and direct as well as act?
On the pilot I'm going to be producing and
directing, but that's it. When it goes to series I'm not going to be
producing. I'm trying to do as much directing and acting as I can.
regard to Klingon cultural development, I want to see more of that.
Re-elaborate about the idea behind your show and how showing the
cultural development of the Klingons relates to the Federation.
The A story is that the Klingon culture is on
the verge of dying because it's so homogenous. They don't allow anything
except for Klingons. There's no allowance for any other culture or any
other way of thinking to go in there. It's almost like having a culture
that only has one type of individual in it. At some point it's going to
die out. They realize this, so they start allowing other cultures and
species into their culture, painfully at times. It's the growing pains
of this culture that I'm interested in showing. Worf is at the forefront
of that because he's the guy that's supposed to bond other races and [he
is] one of the unique individuals in Klingon culture that can talk about
that. He says we have to look at this as learning, take the best from
other cultures to make our own culture better. The B story is that Worf
is on a spiritual journey himself. He is trying to find out who he is,
which he has been doing for the past 30 years.
though Worf, and you, were in more episodes than any other character, it
always felt like he was reacting to other characters; we didn't get
enough episodes from his perspective, expanding his mythos. Not that he
didn't have moments. I can't say I've seen all your episodes. Is it 167
episodes you were in?
With Next Generation it's 170, then I
did 100 with Deep Space 9.
I've seen a lot of episodes, I can't claim to be that thorough. It
seemed Worf was more often reacting than leading, so this new series
seems like a great idea and that you should have this opportunity to
expand on him and Klingon culture. Though Worf wasn't treated as
secondary, but he didn't get as many pivotal moments as Data or Troi.
I definitely have to agree with you. I was
always cognizant of the fact that on Deep Space, even if it was
supposed to be a Worf episode, everyone was doing more talking than I
was. I don't know why that it was. It could do with something about the
edict behind the show and how they want to portray Worf. But I think
you're right, and this is an opportunity where people will finally get
you were starting out as an actor, did you think you'd get so immersed
in this character and universe? There's no question that this role
changed the course of your life. If you hadn't played it, you might have
been a great actor in a lot of different ways, but this is something
that will live way beyond you.
Unless they have the biggest ego in the
world, I don't think anybody thinks they're going to be a character like
what Worf is to a culture. I don't think anybody expects that. I just
wanted to have the freedom to do a bunch of different jobs, whether it's
movies or television, just do something really interesting. I always
wanted to be an interesting actor and I didn't really think much further
than that. I never denied myself the fact that I love science fiction,
have always loved science fiction, and that I would love to do science
fiction. You can't dream about something like this. The thing that you
have to realize is that even if you're on a show like Star Trek,
that doesn't mean your character is going to be as popular as Worf is.
It's a real special thing and it's an amazing time for me.
Ted 2 — attending New York Comic-Con in a really bad Worf costume —
was a sort of commentary on the comic and geek culture. Did you have any
input on that or did you just throw yourself into the role?
The only thing I told them was that I really
wanted the makeup to be not even close to Worf. I wanted it to be so bad
that it wouldn't be an imitation of Worf. There was no beard, the
uniform looked nothing like mine. I thought that would be very funny and
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