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Brent Spiner: B4 and After

The man who would be Data (and B4) talks STAR TREK: NEMESIS

By SCOTT COLLURA     December 11, 2002

Brent Spiner is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as they say, when arriving early on a Sunday morning for his interview sessions to promote the new STAR TREK film.

Cracks like "So, what did you think of my movie!" and "Next time I'm going to play Picard!" erupt from the actor as he walks into a room full of journalists, immediately gaining laughs in the process.

Laughs, however, are not the centerpiece of STAR TREK: NEMESIS, the tenth film in the revered sci-fi franchise. Rather, this latest TREK film (the first in four yearsthe last one was the lackluster INSURRECTION in 1998) deals with some grave matters, including the introduction of an enemy for the normally honorable Captain Picard who provides the skipper of the Enterprise with a troubling look at his darker side. Along the way, a slave race of the evil Romulan Empire is revealedthe Remansand they turn out to be even more nasty than their masters. And Spiner's Data meets up with a mirror image of himself as well, a prototype android called B4 (also played by Spiner), who may be more than he seems. It all adds up to another exciting STAR TREK adventure, if a decidedly darker than usual one. Which isn't to say there is no levity in the film...

"Believe it or not, it was not my idea to sing in this movie. That was strictly [screenwriter] John Logan's doing," says Spiner, referring to a scene early in the film where Data croons to his fellow crewmembers. "For my taste, they cut out of it way too soon. But if you buy the soundtrack you can hear the entire number!"

Of course,

The Remans have got a hold of B4 in STAR TREK: NEMESIS.

fans of THE NEXT GENERATION know that Data's been dancing for years (something that Spiner attributes to one of his co-stars: "Data's dabbling in dance... That was Gates McFadden, because she is a tap-dancer and choreographer.") For Spiner, there are pros and cons to working on the movie version as opposed to the TV version of STAR TREK (dancing not withstanding). For one thing, the actor is happy to put that gold colored android makeup behind him when the film shoot is done.

"The pros are definitely that you work for three months instead of ten," he says. "And I don't have to wear that makeup every day for ten months. But you've got time [on a television show]. In seven years we did 178 episodes. So you've got time to develop character, but obviously with these films we come with that intact. And B4 is a new character. It would've been nice to see a couple more scenes with him to kind of know him a little better, but then again, when we were working on the story I kept saying to John, 'You know, where B4 is concerned, less is more.' We kept paring down his dialogue and what he said because we didn't want to do too much. I kept stressing he shouldn't be capable enough to do too much because he is really a very unsophisticated prototype."

Spiner's references to conversations with screenwriter Logan aren't simply an actor putting on airs; in fact, Spiner shares a story credit for NEMESIS with Logan and TREK producer Rick Berman. So even while Data has clearly become the second lead in the NEXT GENERATION films over the years, with Spiner co-writing the story it only makes sense that his character get a meaty arc in the film. Ultimately, though, Data's story had to match that of Picard's in order for the film to work thematically.

"We did want parallel stories going on," says the actor. "We started with the Picard story, but we wanted a parallel story with Data [so] that they reflected on each other. We wanted a story about family because we thought this might be the last [film]. Who knows... it's all about economics. If this movie makes money we'll be back again and if it doesn't, then you've seen the last of us. The big question in the movie is nature/nurture and it's just a musing on that, but really I think for us the overall [story] is about family. You've got Picard and his [nemesis]... whatever he is, himself, his son, and whatever he becomes in that, and [you have] Data and his brother, and the family of STAR TREK that is all moving off in different directions and changing, and the Remans and the Romulans, who are family of another kind. So there are a lot of layers of that going on."

On the

Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart and producer Rick Berman on location shooting STAR TREK: NEMESIS

topic of family, considering that Data is an android, he sure has an awful lot of relatives. Spiner jokes about the various incarnations of the Data kin that he's played over the years.

"[Data's creator] Dr. Soong's family is a big family," he laughs. "I've played Dr. Soong at three different ages through the series and [Data's 'brother'] Lore, [who] now we find out is his middle son because we never even knew about B4. I've played the three sons and the only one I didn't play was the mother. Well, I tried. They cast someone else!"

Spiner also confirms reports that Logan's screenplay came in longapproximately an hour over the necessary two-hour running time of a STAR TREK film (necessary for a commercially viable picture, anyway). Fans are already hoping that the cut scenes, most of which was shot, will make it to the DVD of NEMESIS (these same fans haven't even seen the theatrical version of the film yet, mind you!), but until then, Spiner can fill us in on some of what's missing.

"There was a scene that Patrick [Stewart] and I did that was... really nice," he says. "Data goes to Picard's quarters and they talk about friendship, really, and the nature of 'If I were to leave, I would miss you, blah, blah, blah.' And it kind of echoed the end of the movie, and it was a really nice scene, but they really felt when they were cutting the movie that we needed to get on with the story, so we unfortunately lost that. And we lost a scene that I enjoyed doing. I don't know if it added anything to the movie, but it was the most difficult thing we did in the whole film. [It] was a motion control scene with Data and B4 that was a whole pantomime sequence with Data teaching B4 sort of little behavioral things. We walked into a lounge together, said hello to people, sat down at a table, showed me how to use a knife and fork, and it was a really fun sequence that worked like gangbusters. They would watch the playback of it and the whole crew would laugh every time and I thought, 'This scene is going to work so well,' and it's not in the movie."

A scene

Data and Picard affect a unique escape from a Reman ship in STAR TREK: NEMESIS.

that did make it in to the movie involves an exciting escape by Picard and Data from within a fearsome Reman ship. According to Spiner, it fell to him to come up with the particulars of the escape when Logan had a brief case of writer's block.

"John called and said, 'How do we get off Shinzon's ship?' recalls Spiner. "And I said, 'Well, why don't they just fly a ship through the ship?' And he went 'I love you!' We wrote that scene, by the way, and it was five minutes long. We brought it in to Rick, and Rick said, 'Uh, this is great. Great scene. This is like a five-minute scene. That's our entire special effects budget in this scene, so when you see this, it's going to be 30-seconds.' [And] he was right."

As for what else Spiner is working on outside of STAR TREK at the moment... well, he seems to be following in the footsteps of the illustrious Dr. Soong.

"I had a son!" he beams with pride.

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