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STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE - Michael Dorn

The actor on life after Worf and his burgeoning animation career.

By Steve Fritz     December 18, 2000

If you ever meet Michael Dorn sans his infamous Klingon makeup, you'd be hard pressed to place him as Star Trek's Lt. Commander Worf outside of his height. These days he sports a close-cropped patch of white hair, a side-effect from wearing the 'turtle shell'as he affectionately calls the makeupfor over a decade. There's no trademark goatee, he runs around in glasses and his voice is noticeably higher. If anything, dressed in a smart suit with some sharp accessories, one would probably mistake Dorn for a very successful entrepreneur, not the Enterprise's top security officer or Deep Space Nine's strategic operations officer.

In the year and a half since he last appeared in a Trek episode, Dorn has found it both a blessing and a curse. 'I'm just trying to continue with my career,' admits Dorn in a phone call before last weekend's 30th Anniversary Creation Convention. 'I don't know where it's heading right now. I've been doing more directing and have also been in a few independent features. That's kind of where it's been right now. It's been kind of a difficult time, because the business has changed in the twelve years since I donned the turtle shell. It's taken me some time to regain my footing, you might say.'

Dorn has a simple explanation for it all, one that doesn't chalk it up to simple typecasting. 'I think that because of the makeup, people don't know what I look like,' he says. 'I've spent so much time in that makeup that I'm now unrecognizable. The business doesn't know who I am. When they hear my name, they have Worf in mind. So I've been working hard to dispel those myths and misconceptions.'

One of the key ways Dorn is breaking that preconception is by becoming a multi-faceted voice actor in the world of animation. True, he'll probably never shake that god-given basso profundo that's his trademark. On the other hand, he can imitate his former co-star Patrick Stewart down to the Shakespearean 'T.' He can also bend his voice around a number of accents, raise it up to a fairly low tenor and generally muck it around to suit a number of other sounds besides his signature deep baritone. And it has been giving him plenty of work.

Dorn first broke into animation with the Disney series Gargoyles, where he was the character Coldstone. The most steady animation work Dorn's picked up is as I. M. Weasel in the Cartoon Network series I Am Weasel. Created by director David Feiss as the middle skit in his Cow & Chicken series, the character became so popular that it was spun-off into its own series, where it's enjoyed a three-year run.

A major benefit of Weasel is that it introduced Dorn to the current king of voice actors, Charlie Adler. Adler, who also directs such shows as Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys and the most recent Rugrats movie, thinks Dorn is a wonderful talent with a long career ahead of him, although it didn't quite start off that way.

'When I got the job on Weasel, I had never worked on an animated show with all those kinds of crazy things going on,' recalls Dorn. 'When you work on a show like that, what you find is a lot of people that do it every day. And I don't.

'So the first day I walked into there, it was shocking. They were nuts! Absolutely crazy. I walked into there and I guess it looked like I had an attitude. It wasn't the case, it was just they were so strange. Eventually, Charlie walked up to me and said I walked in like Olivia de Havilland, like some kind of movie star. He helped me get use to all that.'

'What happened is Michael walked into the studio and I guess we kind of scared him,' laughs Adler. 'He slunk off into a corner and tried to stay as far away from the rest of us as possible. Finally, I just walked up to him and said, 'Who do you think you are? Joan Fontaine?' At first I thought this H-U-G-E man was going to kill me. Then he broke down and we both started laughing. It broke the ice and got him to relax.'

The payoff is that Dorn wouldn't mind doing more animation work. He sees it as a continuing field for himself. 'I would like to think so,' he acknowledges. 'It's a little exasperating, because there are so many people who are awesomely talented. I have to become more ensconced in that crowd. Basically, what it still all comes down to is a supervising director saying, 'We need this, this and this for our next show.' They have their group that they always call in. To break into that group, you have to do sort of what I did, which was become a lead character for one of their cartoons. Now they call me when they have other stuff. Still, it's very rare.'

Dorn's most recent animation work includes the character of Steel in the animated Superman series. Still, before adding animation to his resume or donning the turtlehead for the role of Worf, Dorn had a three-year run on 'straight' TV in the old police TV series CHiPs, where he played Jed Turner. What's interesting is he appears to be getting those kinds of roles again.

'I've recently been in three independent features,' says Dorn. 'One was called Shadow Hours and it came and went. Another I just completed is called Lessons of the Assassin. That one's going to come and go, too. The last one is called The Prophet's Game, which is the one I like the best. It will air on Showtime in the beginning of the year. It's a co-starring role and was a lot of fun because I was working with Stephanie Zimbalist and Dennis Hopper. He was terrific and, obviously, a wonderful actor. It's about a guy, a cop, played by Dennis. In the past, he caught and killed a serial killer. Later, someone is doing copycat killings in his town.'

Beyond that, Dorn is making the occasional appearance at Star Trek conventions, such as the upcoming Pasadena Grand Slam, which honors the franchise's 35th Anniversary. He doesn't want to make a habit of convention appearances, though. 'I do them for short periods of time,' says Dorn. 'I find that doing them that way is nice. I don't have any problems with that. I like being part of it.'

Just don't expect Dorn to go on stage and be Worf forever. He shares a very similar sentiment to Brent Spiner, who says he's only going to play Data one more time and then call it a day. As Spiner puts it, he's going to be 50 soon and doesn't see Data with jowls.

'At some point there is going to come a time where I'm going to move on,' concurs Dorn. All I can add to what Brent said about Data is, 'Me, too.' I know a lot of people who would say that I'm crazy, but I don't see Worf getting to be 50. I don't see me at 50 doing that character. I know there are people who will say to me 'Yeah, you'll do it if you need the money.' To which I say, 'Hopefully not.''

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