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Jeri Ryan - Voyager's stunning ex-Borg drone

Borg Basics
  What did you know about Voyager before you started?

When I started out on Voyager, they had to tell me everything about Star Trek, because I knew nothing about it. I had never seen the original series, I had never seen The Next Generation. I think Iíd seen a couple of episodes here and there - of the original series, probably. Never seen Voyager. Didnít know what a Borg was. They gave me a copy of First Contact, the movie, so I could at least see what a Borg was.

They also gave me a copy of the Big Star Trek encyclopaedia, whatever it is, so that I could bone up on my Star Trek knowledge. Fortunately, it sort of worked for the character that I wouldnít know any of the back stories of the people on Voyager, because she was coming in cold, like I was. That was actually helpful as opposed to detrimental.

Most of my research was sort of done on the job and they made it very clear when I signed on, that we were creating something completely new. This wasnít a Borg that had been seen before. She wasnít an automaton, like the drones that we had seen, but she wasnít as free as the Borg queen, which was initially very scary, because I knew enough to know that Star Trek fans have very proprietary feelings over every aspect of the franchise. You donít want to be the one to come in and tinker around with their favourite villain and be pegged for screwing up the whole franchise. So that was a bit nerve racking, in the beginning, but I think they did a wonderful job of developing this new hybrid Borg.

  Did you have any sense, when you began, of the legacy of Star Trek?

Well, I knew that the franchise had been around for over thirty years, at that point, and I donít think thereís anybody born in the latter half of the 20th century whoís not familiar, at least, with Star Trek. And itís really become part of our culture, part of our pop culture, certainly. So, I was aware of it from that aspect.and I was certainly aware of how passionate the fan base is.

When I signed on, initially to do Voyager, Rick Berman, the creator the show said, ĎYouíre getting on a moving freight train and you have no idea how fast itís moving until youíre on.í That was certainly the most apt analogy that Iíve heard. I had no idea what I was getting into. Itís been a wild ride. It was a bit overwhelming in the beginning, but itís been a great deal of fun.

Themes and things
  What did Seven of Nine standd for in Voyager?

Humanity in general, I think, is one of the things that Seven allowed them to explore, through the character. She brought conflict to the show, which was sadly lacking. Once the Maquis made up with Janeway and company, it was just one big happy family.

I think they were really looking to add some edge to the show and add some conflict, because thatís drama, thatís what makes it interesting to watch. More than anything else, I think, thatís what Seven brought. Also, in grand Star Trek tradition, Seven of Nine was an outsider who could comment on humanity and all of its foibles. Also, it was a foil for Janewayís character, someone to explore more levels of Janewayís humanity in teaching Seven about hers.

Girls on Top
  Strong female roles in the Trek universe

Itís almost unheard of to have so many strong women on a TV series, and I think thatís what made Voyager stand out is that you do. You have the Captain, whoís a woman, you have the Chief Engineer whoís a woman, you have Seven of Nine. Theyíre all very intelligent, very strong, very self sufficient. That was a real joy to walk into.

Clever Combination
  Combining non-human qualities with an attractive human appearance - a clever move by the producers?

I absolutely think the combining the two most watched elements was a clever move on their part. Thatís the fun of the characters, that dichotomy. The fact that she has this overtly sexual outward appearance. She has no concept of her own sexuality, at least initially, and was completely oblivious to whatever reaction that might get from the male crew members or people that she encounters. I think the fun of the character, at least, for me, is that she was such an outsider, and she was so far from being human, initially, no matter how human she looked on the outside.

Dry Borg humour
  Was Seven, like the Doctor, intended to be a source of dry humour for the show?

I donít know if a sense of humour was one of the things they were initially seeking out with the character, but I think they realised, very quickly, that she was brilliant for that.

Acting Challenges
  How did you approach playing someone who is 80 per cent Borg?

The two biggest challenges with Seven are keeping a straight face, working with all those guys that I had to work with, who are nuts and , because Seven has emotions, she is human, she has all the emotions that everyone else has but she, a) doesnít know how to express them, and b) is terrified to express them, so theyíre all suppressed.

Thereís a fine line that you walk between unemotional and then showing too much. So, that challenge was really fun to play as an actor. I mean, this character really was a gift as an actor, because everything is new to Seven, everything was a discovery.

Silver suits and high heels
  The infamous Seven of Nine costume

I had enough input as to, you know, tweaking things and, ĎAre you OK with wearing high heels?í and, ĎDo you mind that itís tight?í Things like that. They were wonderful. They were very open with the design sketches, they showed me as soon as I was cast what the design idea was to make sure I was comfortable with it.

I know that the producer and Bob Blackman, who designed the costume, have gotten a lot of flak about the fact the character wears high heels. Number one, all the female characters wear heels, they all wear boots with heels. Number two, if youíre going to walk around with a body stocking, I want to see you pad around in flats, itís not happening. That wasnít a character choice, necessarily but you donít design the costume to have the shoes shot, necessarily. It just created a better line for the overall character.

Initially, I would stay in the costume much longer than I ended up staying in it, because it takes about twenty minutes to get into. Someone has to dress me and undress me. Itís a production break if I have to get out of the costume to use the rest room or something,. It grinds to a halt unless they can shoot something without me, which typically they canít, if itís a scene that Iím in. So, in the interest of being a team player, the first season, I would not take rest room breaks, I just didnít drink anything on set, which is not the healthiest thing to do.

As time progressed, I finally learned that you just heed the call of nature and take breaks when you need to take breaks. And finally it got to the point where, they would just let me get out of it after every take. When I wasnít in the shot, I didnít just wear it to wear it, because it was very uncomfortable. It looks very simple, it looks just like a leotard, but it really was a feat of engineering on Bob Blackmanís part to design this costume.

Thereís a corset, one-piece undergarment. Itís constricting and itís not comfortable. You canít really bend, you canít really sit comfortably in it. So I would get out of it between takes.

I donít know that I would leap at the opportunity to wear another really, really uncomfortable costume thatís not normal clothing, but if itís a great character, of course, Iíd be willing to do that. You do whatever it takes to play a wonderful, rich role as an actor. The overt sexiness of the costume, I had no problem with. I have no problem with it, because of the way the character was written. If she was written the way everybody thought she was going to be, when they saw pictures of her initially, then, yeah, I would have had a big problem playing that character. That was not something I had any interest in doing. But she was brilliant. Sheís a brilliant character, she was strong, she was a wonderful role model for young women, and I have no problem with it. We have intelligent women in every physical form, in real life, so why shouldnít we see that depicted on television.

Making it up
  Prosthetics and Borg bits

I have to tell you, Ethan Philips, who plays Nelix, who has nothing except his lips exposed on his face when heís in make-up, and never complains. I think heís a saint. I donít know how heís does it. The Borg make-up is very tough. Itís a whole rubber head and neck and the first part of your chest. Your ears are covered, thereís a laser over one eye, thereís rubber glued to your head in different places where tubes come in and out. It took five hours the first day we did the make-up. They got it down to two and a half or three, eventually.

But itís tough. After working an eighteen hour day, you have to sit in the chair and for another hour and a half to get out of the make-up, when everyone else is going home. Thatís when it really becomes tough.

The assimilation tubules that come out of the hat were all post production, that wasnít an actual thing at all. That was done by computer.

Itís a huge relief to only have a little bit of the rubber on. I was always for as few prosthetics as I could get, once I was in the Borg make-up. It was an interesting experience [but] I donít necessarily need to do it again for another job.

A monster hit
  Why are the Borg so popular?

I think because the Borg are so different. Especially with Americans. I canít really speak for foreign audiences, but America is all about independence and individual freedoms, individual rights. And the Borg are the complete antithesis of that, everything that America stands for. I think thatís what makes them so fascinating, at least to us, is to see that just completely different world. The ultimate villain, for us.

Federation Fun
  Fun moments on the Voyager set

We had so many ridiculous moments on the set. You do a lot of acting to nothing, because thereís a lot of special effects, so youíre acting on a green screen or a blue screen, which means youíre acting to nothing and reacting to nothing. So, there was a lot of that, and you always feel really foolish.

One one of first episodes - I think it was my second episode, The Gift - there was a scene when Seven of Nine was in the brig. I had to throw myself up against the force field that holds you in the brig, which, of courseÖ thereís nothing there. So, force field acting was always one of the most embarrassing moments on the set, because you just stood there and did this and looked like a complete idiot.

  Talking technical

A lot of the techno-babble is just, ĎYouíre in quadrant 72.73,í you know, stuff like that, which doesnít really have any bearing on the story. And then, in that case, youíre basically memorising syllables. I liken it to when I was on the series, Dark Skies, and I had to speak Russian in one or two of the episodes. Its the exact same thing, I memorise a string of syllables. If it has some sort of dramatic meaning to the story then, of course, you have to figure out what youíre talking about.

Taking Control
  In one of the season sevenís funniest episodes, the Doctor takes control of Sevenís body, Was that fun?

The episode where the Doctor took over Sevenís body was great fun, really, really fun. Especially as an actor, it was just such a hoot to be able to play Bob for a while, because heís such a rich ground for acting things. - especially in that character, because the character indulges himself completely in every emotion. It was really fun to play something so different from Seven. I donít know whose idea it was, initially, to do just a really comic episode, but I think they tried to bring that in as much as they can, they bring the humour in, and thatís one of the things thatís so endearing about Star Trek. It does have huge epic, dramatic issues that it covers. But it also lightens it up and is very funny.

Star Gazing
  Seven spends a lot of time in the Astrometrics lab. Does astronomy interest you?

The Astrometrics Lab was always a challenge to work in, because youíre supposed to see this huge arcing view screen, with all of these elaborate graphics and things like that, which, of course, are not there, because weíre working in front of a green screen.

Because we did this well before the design with the graphics were going to be, [we would sit] down with the directors and the producers and the post production people and try to figure outÖ "Well, we think this is going to be a dot over here, and we think this is going to be a big swirl thatís going to be roughly over here." We never knew exactly what we were looking at, so it was always a treat to watch the episode and see what we were actually reacting to because it always looked really good.

From a reality standpoint, how can you not be fascinated by astronomy and space? Itís so vast. Itís so incomprehensibly huge. I think itís a conceited point of view to think that weíre the only life out there, when there is that much of it. I mean, for example, Voyager takes place in the Delta quadrant, thousands, millions of light years from home, right? It would take us seventy-something years to get home, travelling at Warp Nine, or whatever weíre travelling at. And thatís still in our galaxy, thatís still in the Milky Way. We havenít even got out of the Milky Way yet and itís that big. So, how can we think that thereís no other life anywhere else?

There are so many solar systems and so many planets. I think thereís fifty thousand planets they found out there that have, potentially, Earthís environment. The same distance from their sun and possibly the same atmosphere and things like that. So, I think it would be wonderful within our lifetime if we could explore deep space but, sadly, thatís not going to happen.