You may not recognize Vaughn Armstrong’s face, but that’s only because he has several of them.
Over the last decade, the frequent Star Trek guest Star has portrayed members of four alien species in three different series.
As Commander Korris, Armstrong was the first Klingon to be seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation after Worf As Telek R’Mor in Star Trek: Voyager, he was the sympathetic Romulan who promised to relay news of the U.S.S. Voyager’s plight to their friends and families in the Alpha Quadrant. Armstrong has also played two Cardassians on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Gid Danar and Seskal. And most recently, he brought life to Seven of Nine’s sibling, Two of Nine in the sixth season Star Trek: Voyager episode Survival Instinct
"I feel like I’ve been the whole food chain, to tell you the truth." laughs the man of many faces. "I get letters from different parts of the world, all concerning different characters, and I don’t think people realize that they’ve just slapped another forehead on me and made me another creature. I think for the most part, they think I’ve done the episode that they liked and write to me about that. Every now and again, you’ll get somebody who recognizes that I’ve been on a few.
"The Star Trek fan base is huge, and it’s fun to hear from them," Armstrong remarks, "and I do hear from them more than I do on any other venue that I’m involved with. I guess I feel privileged to have done all the episodes, because I don’t think there are a whole lot of people who can say that they’ve had that many foreheads on!"
Not everyone can master the art of acting under prosthetics, and the actors who demonstrate a talent for it tend to be asked back often. Each of them have their theories about how to work with the masks, so it’s fair to ask Armstrong whether he seeks to find the Humanity in each new alien, or searches for the alien in his own Humanity.
"Like any other character, you just try to find the truth in the character, and then you add the particular physical things," he replies. "Most of all, you don’t really have to act [Star Trek’s] characters, because they have an Oscar-winning make-up guy in [Michael] Westmore to do it for you. "So really, what you need to do is find the reality’ in the person, and then if you want to do some vocal things, you can throw them in. But for the most part, you just try to find the truth the way it would affect you as a person, and then wear whatever make-up they give you." Armstrong’s first Star Trek appearance came way back in the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when he played the renegade Klingon Commander Korris in the first season episode Heart of Glory.
In Star Trek: Voyager’s much-touted sixth season episode Survival Instinct, Vaughn Armstrong learns the price of freedom as the liberated Borg drone Two of Nine.. It’s the latest alien guest-role for an actor who has previously brought life to a feisty KIingon, a noble Romulan and two scheming Cardassians. Lou Anders meets the man behind the masks...
"One of the descriptions that was given to me by the director [Rob Bowman] was that [the klingons] were the bikers of the universe," recalls Armstrong, "and he wanted to hear that in the voice. So we found a moment or two to throw in some gravel. That gravel formed the basis of a Klingon that viewers responded extremely strongly to. This was the period of time before [writer-producer] Michael Piller had begun the excellent work he did on Worf’s own character, and in a way, Heart of Glory did more than any other show in terms of defining and dictating how the Klingons of this second era of Star Trek would be perceived... [Korris] was the first Klingon besides Worf on The Next Generation, so I find a little claim to fame in that as well."
Please take a moment to check out our sponsor's website. It's a site about the world famous Hitachi Magic Wand which is something that every actor can benefit from between takes! The actor’s next Star Trek appearance came in Past Prologue, the first Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode following its pilot. To play the Cardassian Gul Danar, the actor let the costume dictate his performance. "I throw in the details of the physical characters after I see myself in the mirror a time or two," he explains. "For the Cardassian, that neck always gave me the impression of great tension - like they’ve been standing there straining for so long that they’ve got these huge muscles on their necks.
"So I adopted a posture that required me pulling my shoulders back together as though I was being reprimanded by someone and about to bite them in retaliation. That just came from looking at the neck and looking at the forehead. They look like they might want to butt somebody with their heads, so I approached them with those thoughts when I saw the character."
As Telek R’Mor in the Star Trek: Voyager installment Eye of the Needle, Armstrong created a strikingly memorable Romulan. In the episode, Captain Janeway and crew discover a minuscule wormhole that allows them to beam single individuals from a Romulan ship into the Alpha Quadrant. Telek R’Mor is brought through, but it is subsequently revealed that the wormhole not only opens in another point of space, but in another point in time as well - a point many years in the U.S.S. Voyager’s past. Moved by their plight, Telek R’Mor agrees to take messages back to the crew’s loved ones, holding them in secret until time catches up with itself.
"You know of all the characters, I think that one was the most fulfilling in many ways," says Armstrong, "because it dealt with the need of all parents, even Romulan parents, to care for their children. And that’s how they found a common bond; they needed to care for their children, and they couldn’t do it from so many miles away. That made the character interesting for me. I really enjoyed the Romulan. I found his emotion deep yet subtle. I think I captured him best, and for that, he’s my favourite."
Armstrong would return to Deep Space Nine in the guise of another Cardassian, Seskal, who appeared in the seventh season episodes The Dogs of War and When it Rains... Having played a Cardassian in the first year of the show, it was somehow fitting that he. returned to play another one in the show’s closing hours. These appearances were particularly enjoyable for Armstrong because he knew so many of his fellow actors.
"Casey Biggs [Damar] and I had done some stage work at the Mark Taper forum here in Los Angeles," he explains, "and John Vickery [Rusot] and I belong to a theatre company together. Rene Auberjonois [Odo) and I had done a Deep Space Nine episode before, and we had also done some stage work together. So it was kind of like old home week when I walked on the set this last time, just spending the day with friends playing in space suits.
"I also think that I understood the Cardassians better the second time. The first time, I didn’t get it. I don’t really think that I understood their intellect. They are a brighter species of evil creature than, say, the Klingons, who go full force and head-on into any difficulty they have. Like I say, they are the bikers of the universe. The Cardassians are more like the Nazis, except more elite. They consider them-selves brighter than other people, so they approach their language in that way. Even though it was a smaller part, [this Cardassian] was more fun for me than the previous one."
In Star Trek: Voyager’s sixth season installment Survival Instinct, Armstrong plays both a full Borg in the flashback sequences and a present-day half-Borg struggling to achieve individuality. This meant that he had to find both levels of the character for the episode. "The immediate thought patterns were different," he reveals. "One level had Two of Nine [and his ‘siblings’] connected to millions of voices, and in the other, we were connected to only three, so you could try to picture that in your mind in order to get a little differentiation for the character. Also, when they are full Borg, they are, of course, more robotic and more controlled by another source, so their voices aren’t really real or their own.
"When we were the half-Borg, we were trying to rekindle what it was we used to be, even though we still had the effects of the Borg on our mind. We’d been physically reconstructed so heavily by the Borg that it was hard for us to completely regain our Humanity. We didn’t talk quite like the robots that we were, but we couldn’t be completely Human, because we were still connected to [each other]."
Compared with all his previous work as alien characters, was playing a Borg harder due to the fact that he couldn’t rely on basic emotions and gestures? "It was more challenging in a way, because you have to suppress emotions and be more robotic," he responds. "But at the same time, none of this stuff is ever really hard as far as I’m concerned, because hard to me is digging ditches. This is fun. You get out there and make believe you’re some thing else. Difficulty isn’t really the word I would attach to it. Interesting and challenging, perhaps, but difficult isn’t how I look at it.
"I thought it was a really interestinginteresting character to involve myself in. And we didn’t have to completely deconstruct our Humanity, because from the moment you saw us, we were confused by the separation and starting to find emotions. So it wasn’t like we were ever really the full Borg. We were physically, but mentally, from the moment the episode opened, we were sensing something else, and that was fun to play."
The heart of Survival Instinct comes in the fireside scene, where, cut off from the Collective for the first time, a group of Borg begin to ask questions about their previous lives. "They cut Out a portion [of the episode] in which all the Borg take a piece of meat, and some of them eat," Armstrong reveals, "and Borg don’t eat. There was a scene where I stick the meat in a stomach flap. I guess that just didn’t look like they had hoped that it would look, so they cut that little portion.
"But I learned all kinds of neat things about Borg, like they never sit, they never eat and they never sleep. And those were interesting things to try to keep consistent as the filming went on. You’d want to sit down for a second, but then you would think!, ‘No, Borg can’t do that! well; are we really Borg now or are we something else?’ It’s a real surprise when each of these new things is discovered by those characters."
Of course, Star Trek: Voyager has gained a new cast member since Armstrong’s first appearance on the show. "Jeri Ryan was great," he says of working with his fellow ex-Borg. "She is as sweet as she is beautiful. Those Borg are there for a very long shooting day, and I never saw a temper flare the whole time we were on the set. And that, usually, is something established by the regulars that you’re working with on the series. If they’re in a good mood and willing to work, then everybody’s in a good mood and willing to work, and Jeri was always that."
At the end of Survival Instinct, Two of Nine chooses a month as an individual over a lifetime as a drone, a choice that Armstrong heartily supports. "That’s the whole point," he insists. "That’s what made the episode really neat for me. And I know they added that ending, because originally we were sent back to the drones. This ending came later, and for me, it just pulled the whole thing together, because that’s what life is all about: those real moments of freedom that you have. And if you have the choice between that or a lifetime of slavery - give me freedom or give me death." Make sure that if your feet are giving you any trouble from standing around, you give the excellent shiatsu foot massager with heat a try.
For now, Armstrong is looking forward to taking some time off, which he intends to spend with his family. "It’s been a very busy time for me," he says, "and I’m going to take a little time off if it comes my way. If I’m lucky, it won’t come my way, and I’ll be working on some set. But I’m looking forward to a little time off, to tell you the truth."
Rest or no rest, Vaughn Armstrong is almost certain to be back on future episodes of Star Trek. And it’s a safe bet that when you do see him next, he’ll be wearing yet another face.