Big Issue Vendor

Marina Sirtis: It’s an oxymoron – a Star Trek fan does not equal a Republican

Politics, playing a potted palm and new production Dark Sublime - the world in 2019 according to Marina Sirtis

Boldly going where she hasn’t been for a while, Marina Sirtis is returning to the stage for new play Dark Sublime. Best known as Counsellor Deanna Troi in seminal science-fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation, London-born (and massive Spurs fan) Sirtis plays Marianne, a jobbing actress best remembered, but increasingly forgotten, for starring in a cult fantasy show. When obsessed fan Oli turns up at Marianne’s house an unlikely new friendship starts to form.

The Big Issue (which apparently gets not one but two mentions in the play) caught up with Sirtis to ask about returning home, politics on either side of the Atlantic and the impact and legacy of TNG

The Big Issue: Are you happy to be back working in the UK?

Marina Sirtis: I have to be honest, I miss it. Despite the fact the weather is so much better [in LA] I’m really homesick and thinking seriously about coming back. Since the election I just don’t think I can live in the America Trump has created, I really don’t.

You live in California, is that not its own little bubble?

We’re the one state that is defying him but I travel a lot so I come out of the bubble. When I go to other places my heart sinks. My fellow cast members are always telling me off for being political in places where they wouldn’t advise it, like Georgia. ‘Marina you can’t say that we’re in Atlanta’ and I’d be like ‘Yeah, but this is where I have to say it’. I have to say things in places where they possibly don’t agree with me, in a way that makes them think about something.

Surely Star Trek fans are opposed to Trump’s brand of politics?

You feel like saying, did you watch the show? Because you are saying the exact opposite of what the show represents. It’s an oxymoron – a Star Trek fan does not equal a Republican, it doesn’t. The people who I hear from on social media, I don’t get how they can be huge fans of the show and my character and think the way that they do.

Brexit is forever. I don’t know what got into us with that vote.

Do you think living in Brexit Britain would be any better?

You know what, as bad as it is [in the US] it’s not going to be as bad as Brexit. Trump is going to be gone in two years hopefully. Or if they lose their minds again – I should say ‘we’ because I’m a dual citizen – and re-elect him, six years tops is all we’re going to get. But Brexit is forever. I don’t know what got into us with that vote. Still, totally baffled.

There are either a million reasons for people voting how they did or there are none.

The thing is… I’m very outspoken. I say what I think. Trump and Brexit are both about immigration. That’s the bottom line. And you know what, we’ve got to stop using euphemisms, like I just did. ‘It’s all about immigration’ is a euphemism for racism. We sugar-coat it, that’s how they get away with it. We’ve got to call it what it is. Fear of the other.

And the other right now is people who don’t have white skin or aren’t Christian. I hate that we sugar-coat it and use euphemisms like populist. Let’s call it what it is, let’s call these people out. This is how Trump is doing it, he’s giving them permission to be their hateful selves because there’s no consequences. They don’t feel embarrassed to say the things they would have been embarrassed to say when Obama was President.

It’s like they pulled the scab off the wound and the pus is all pouring out. That’s exactly the right metaphor. It’s just disgusting. So I don’t think I can live here anymore. I don’t think English people are as bad. British people have a reputation across the world for being snooty, cold and distant but we’re authentic. We’re much more authentic than Americans.

So you must be glad to be in the country for Dark Sublime?

Well, it’s about an ageing actress who used to be in a sci-fi show.

That must be way outside your comfort zone…

Guess what, no research! It’s me and it isn’t me. The main difference is, Marianne’s show was called Dark Sublime and it wasn’t hugely successful. It has a core devoted fan base but it wasn’t a huge international success like my experience. I’m sorry all you other sci-fi fans but in my opinion TNG is the best sci-fi show ever. I know I’m biased. But personality-wise we’re very close. It really does shine a light on what an actor’s life is like, what we have to go through. In funny ways, and not funny ways. The toll it has on you.

Why are sci-fi fans more devoted and dedicated than fans of other genres?

When we started in 1987, sci-fi was alternative entertainment. People looked down their noses at it a little bit. I’m sure a lot of Patrick’s – Sir Patrick, sorry – friends at the RSC were a bit snooty about it as well. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine because of the environment we were in back then. One of the reasons sci-fi is number one at the box office is because of TNG. We were so successful, we brought so many new fans into the genre. We turned a whole new slew of fans onto sci-fi. We don’t get credit for it except when I’m being interviewed. All my other fellow thespians in the show are much to humble to say that kind of thing, but I’m not.

TNG didn’t exactly hit the ground running. Why did it turn out to be a success?

We were really blessed in as much as we had really good actors on the show. Most of them came from the theatre so they knew what they were doing. We had some horrible stories in the first season. Honestly, my heart just sank when I read the scripts. The fans will know which ones I’m talking about. Then our wonderful writer/producer Michael Piller came in the third season, may he rest in peace, then the shows got exponentially better.

From being this potted palm on the bridge I suddenly became all things to all men overnight.

Do you think your character would be written differently if TNG was being written today? (it took several years for Troi to be allowed to wear a uniform like everyone else as opposed to a tight-fitting jumpsuit)

I do think the female roles might be different. Although we were a show about the 24th century, it was written generally by 20th century men. I think there are certain situations where my character and the character of the doctor would be treated differently.

I’m not saying we wouldn’t be the psychologist and the doctor – I loved playing Troi, although she wasn’t the star of the show by any stretch of the imagination. As an actor, she was the one with the emotions so I got to do all the emotional stuff, which for me is like the red meat. You’ve just got to look at Discovery now to see how far women’s roles have progressed since we started in 1987.

In the first episode, the audience doesn’t learn much about your character except that you’re pretty, stand behind the Captain and wear a short dress.

It was awful. That first episode, I was amazed I had a job at the end of it. I took a date to the screening and there was a party afterwards. He was like, are we going to the party? and I was like, no. I didn’t go to the party because I was so embarrassed by my performance. It was so over the top, it was awful. She did evolve, thank goodness. Well, I say that… Originally, she was supposed to be the brains of the Enterprise.

Then they realised if they’ve got an android who’s really popular, he can do all that stuff, right? So I kind of became decorative for a while. Then gradually it began to change. In the second season, of the three women who started, I was the only one left. From being this potted palm on the bridge I suddenly became all things to all men overnight.

At conventions do you meet up with the rest of the cast afterhours?

We were an anomaly. We loved each other. And we’re all still best friends. One of the reasons we love conventions is that we all get to hang out with each other – without our significant others. I’m not going to tell you what we get up to. It’s nothing sexual, don’t let your mind go there. But we have a drink, a laugh and a good time.

What are your thoughts on the new Picard series?

There’s probably a bunch of Star Trek fans out there who know more than I do because they search for things on the internet. All I know is it’s 20 years after TNG and it’s not quite as hearts and flowers and rosy. It’s a little more dystopian, I think. That’s all I know.

What would you like it to be?

The original show and TNG tackled issues of the time and I think I would like it to do that again. It felt like we were doing a little morality play every week. I loved that about our show. Star Trek has lost that a little bit. I think if we go back to that with Patrick’s show that’ll be really good – because we’ve got a lot to talk about right now. We have issues to discuss.

Fans will be calling out for cameos (at the very least) from original cast members…

Oh my goodness, when [Patrick Stewart] announced in Las Vegas that Picard was back, it was like… I can’t even describe it. This explosion of glee and happiness and joy from 6000 people – it was an amazing thing to see. It’s so great for him. I mean, I am a bit jealous because I wish it was me, but I’m so happy that he’s doing this again because he’s so loved in that character and he’s going to make so many people happy. Never say you’re never going to go back because you never know what the future holds.

Dark Sublime is on at the Trafalgar Studios 25 June-3 August. Tickets available here

For more from Marina, follow her on Twitter @Marina_Sirtis