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Calling Counselor Troi
Marina Sirtis guest stars in STAR TREK: VOYAGER episode,
By Anna L. Kaplan
November 29, 1999
When 'All Good Things...' came to an end for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION in 1994, fans got their last chance to see Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi in a first run TREK episode on the small screen. They had to content themselves with TNG movies, GENERATIONS, FIRST CONTACT, and INSURRECTIONthat is, until this week, when Sirtis reprises the role of Counselor Troi on a new episode of STAR TREK: VOYAGER entitled 'Pathfinder.'
No, Troi and the Enterprise do not rescue Voyager. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz) once again falls into a holodeck fantasy while trying to find Voyager, and he calls Counselor Troi to help him cope with his new obsession, the Voyager crew. Sirtis filmed all of her scenes for this episode with Schultz, using her tried-and-true counseling skills, but did not work with the VOYAGER cast. Sirtis explains, 'When I was working they were all off, but he got to work with them because they were being holograms. I went into work; in a weird kind of a way, it was like my show.'
She continues, 'There were some really poignant and touching scenes in this show. While I was doing them, I thought, 'I really used to enjoy doing these scenes where the other characters came to me and needed me, and we bonded on a kind of empathic level, and I was there for them.' We haven't really had any of those scenes in the movies, since the first movie, when I had one of those scenes with Patrick [Stewart]. But in FIRST CONTACT and INSURRECTION, Troi's kind of been wacky and funny, and I realize that I actually missed the way that she was before, a little.' Sirtis loved her years with TNG, the television show and the movies. She enthused, 'I just love working with those guys. I love being around them. We just adore each other.'
At this point, the next movie is barely in the planning stages, possibly behind the next television show. What does she think about the idea of mixing different TREK casts, either on television or in the feature films? Sirtis answers, 'I think there is such a big stable of actors now that have been involved in STAR TREK that they could easily do that. I don't know whether they would want to or whether they would want to bring in fresh faces. I talk to the fans when I do conventions. I've never actually asked them whether they'd want to see new characters or whether they'd want to see the old characters again.' She laughs, 'I kind of think they'd want to see the old ones, but maybe that's just me angling for a job. But I do think THE NEXT GEN had a much larger crossover of fans than the other shows.'
During Sirtis' early years on TNG, she felt a lot of uncertainty about her job. She initially read for the role that became Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby, while Crosby auditioned for the part of Troi, mainly because of their physical appearances. Sirtis remembers, 'When they're casting, they'd say, 'She's dark haired and she's ethnic looking,' so I was called in for Tasha. They all felt that I was a very empathic person, and so they switched us. Denise was very ballsy and very up in your face, and that suited being security chief much more.'
Although happy to get the part, Sirtis was concerned about the role of counselor aboard a starship. She says, 'I think I would have felt more secure if I had gotten the Tasha Yar role, because I think the security chief was more important. Looking back in hindsight now, if I had been a security chief, and been more technical, it would have been easier to do crossovers. I was never on DS9. This was the first time I've been on VOYAGER. If I did technical things, it would have been easier to write me into a show. Trying to find things for psychologists to do is hard, without making all the crew [look] like they are in need of therapy. I have to give them full credit. They came up with a lot of shows for me. That just shows how creative they were. I'd have been hard pressed to find stuff for a psychologist to do for seven years.'
Sirtis spent the first year worrying that her character would be written out of the show. She explains, 'There were rumors. Little things were adding up to me, and I remember calling my agent halfway through the first season and saying, 'I think you better get me out there auditioning again, because I don't think I'm going to be here at the end.''
Instead, Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) was replaced for a season by Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski. Denise Crosby asked to have her character killed. As a result, during season two, Sirtis really got the chance to do different things. 'I think that season was very important because of the fact that I was the only young woman left. For me, on a personal level, 'The Child,' was a huge episode psychologically. For them to start the second season, the all-important, first episode of the season with a big Troi episode, not only made me feel secure but also made me feel really proud that they had the faith in me as an actor, and my character, to carry that episode.'
By season three, Sirtis finally felt more secure. She laughs, 'I'll give you a story. Patrick applied for his green card as soon as he got the job. I didn't apply for my green card until the third season. They have to re-advertise your job. That will tell you how I felt. I did get my green card. But I didn't want to risk them advertising my job and finding someone they liked better until the third season. I didn't feel secure until then.'
Other favorite Troi episodes? Sirtis answers, 'I think historically, 'Face of the Enemy' has to go down as a real turning point for the character. I really enjoyed shooting 'A Fistful of Datas' because that was kind of the first time that Troi was lighthearted. Those two I think were real turning points.'
Her favorite episode of THE NEXT GENERATION did not feature Troi. Said Sirtis, 'Actually my favorite episode as far as a fascinating story, well-acted, and really bringing up issues, was 'Measure of a Man' which was an episode that I was hardly in at all, but I think that was truly STAR TREK. It kind of embodied what Gene [Roddenberry] wanted, and the evolution of our show. I just thought it was just brilliantly acted by Brent [Spiner] and Jonathan [Frakes] and Patrick.'
Sirtis has spent much of her time recently doing theater, including the Neil Simon play HOTEL SUITE in Philadelphia. She has continued guest starring on television, trying to break the mold of Deanna Troi. She played Olivia Kohler in an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS that aired early in the year. Her character was a human amongst aliens, a mother with two children on a jet shot down in the wilderness. Explains Sirtis, 'She was really hard, and bitchy, but there was a nice kind of arc of the character development. She started like that, and because of the circumstances of the episode, she began to see the other point of view. There was a nice growth to the character. That's something that actors always look for, that you are not just like one dimensional in what you do.'
Sirtis will guest star on an episode of EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT, whose executive producer Majel Barrett Roddenberry played Counselor Troi's mother on TREK. Without spoiling the plot, which involves a cult of humans, called the Cloister, seeking spiritual connections with the Taelons, Sirtis says, 'I'm a human, but I really am kind of devoted to the Taelons. I think they can continue the storyline. I think they realized that was really interesting and they could follow through, but I don't think that I'll be back.'
Sirtis continues to look for work that will bring her professional and personal rewards. She jumped at the part in the OUTER LIMITS episode because it stretched her acting muscles. She adds, 'I really like OUTER LIMITS, so that was another reason why I did it. I liked the old OUTER LIMITS. It's one of those things that, like STAR TREK, is important in pop culture. It's kind of cool to do things like that. I did an episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER, because I was just so pleased, delighted to work with Dick Van Dyke. He's Dick Van Dyke, for God's sake. To get to work with an icon like that is a once in a lifetime thing. I've had wonderful experiences in my professional career.'
As Sirtis looks forward to the next television pilot season and new roles, fans will continue to watch for the appearance of Deanna Troi in any of the many possible TREKs to come.