Denise Crosby’s Q & A at Phoenix Fan Fest 2015
Most of us will know Ms. Crosby from Star Trek: The Next Generation as not only Lt. Tasha Yar, but also as Tasha’s daughter Commander Sela. When ‘Next Gen’ premiered, I fell in love with Tasha. So much so that when the character was killed off the series I stopped watching it for almost a year. When I went back to watch it I realized Dr. Crusher was gone too. That was it, I threw my hands in the air, said ‘f—this’ and stopped watching it for another year. Finally my love of sci-fi combined with the fact that my dad still watched the show, eventually brought me back, and I was so glad to eventually see Tasha again and later her daughter, the half Romulan Sela. When I met with Denise I told her my ‘secret’ and she laughed. If I never meet another Trek alum ever again, I could still die happy.
In her panel, Denise told us the back story of Sela’s story line. She pitched the idea, after having filmed ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, to Rick Berman about Tasha being pregnant with Castillo’s child, and the Romulans deciding to raise this human child as a Romulan in order to use her against the Federation. Part of the idea was inspired by Mary McDonnell’s character in ‘Dances with Wolves’, which had come out at the time.
Sela’s story arc would be that she was raised Romulan, she would think, and act like, but not actually be a Romulan. She would learn about her mother, and maybe, become a bridge to peace with the Romulans. It was a few months later before Denise heard back, but the end result was seen in ‘Redemption’. It is quite possible that she is the only actress to play her own daughter, and in James Crawley’s fan film she played Tasha’s grandmother.
Her initial reaction to the call about ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ and that Tasha was alive again, was “What? It’s not gonna be one of those; you know, it was all a dream in the shower sequences?” Rick Berman sent her the script, saying she would love it. He was right. Denise loved the script, saying “this is great” and that she couldn’t wait to get back on the show. Adding to the behind the scenes info, Denise shared that she and Christopher McDonald (Lt. Richard Castillo) got along so well, and laughed so often, that they almost had to be separated like school children. Their laughter ruined takes they weren’t even in, they were in the background. Her example: Captain Picard has a long monologue scene with Enterprise C’s captain. Denise and Chris were in the background “working on the panels”, and Denise caught Chris’ eye, almost laughed, and had to fake a coughing fit. Chris covered for her by asking for water. After apologizing and still pretending to cough, she said Patrick Stewart asked if she was ok. I don’t know if she ever told that story before. If not, her secret is out now.
Something that had bugged me for some time, was knowing that she and Marina Sirtis auditioned for the opposite roles they eventually played on TNG. My question to her was how they handled the change from auditioning for one character and being cast as the other. Denise’s response was that the initial audition “was very mysterious, we were given no scripts. It was very secretive. Now it’s funny, because now so much is done that way, you know, but back then it was kind of a novelty, and they gave us nothing to go on, you know. I got this thing that described Counselor Troi. She was a Betazed, and she was a counselor, and she was an empath, and I’m going ‘Well what’s a Betazed? She’s from Betazoid. Well yeah, what does that mean? Just think of it… maybe she’s…Iceland’ (audience laughter). Because you got to get your head into something. So it was all out there, so by the time they flipped us, we were just making it up anyway. It didn’t really matter. I could have played Data for all that mattered and it would have been the same. We were just trying to find something to kind of give us a hook into it, and then once we were cast in the roles we ran with it. It was now about who and what, and fortunately we had Gene Roddenberry still with us, and he was always available to ask questions and he gave us a huge rein to do whatever we wanted to make this ours”.
Given Tasha’s death on the show, the question of how that came about was asked. Denise chose to leave after the first season, and she stressed it was not predicated by any anger or any disconnect with the cast, it was simply a creative idea; that she had gone to acting school and still had dreams of what she wanted to do as an actor. No one wanted her to go. Gene didn’t want her to go, but understood her reasons. He was the only one who could have let her go because of her contract. Even though he knew it meant Denise couldn’t return to the show, he wanted the character to die because it would be so strong a sendoff, and he hadn’t done it before. Denise then told us something surprising. “As a matter of fact, truth be told, what was going to happen was they were gonna let Marina go at the end of the first season, and they let Gates go. So I essentially was going to be the only one and then I left. They were like ‘Oh God. Now what do we do?’ So it changed. And that’s from Marina telling me. I did not know that. Life is strange isn’t it?”
Denise is also responsible for Trekkies and Trekkies 2. Working with the cast of the original series was a dream. She never thought it would happen. Currently she has a chance to make Trekkies 3, to which the audience applauded. She has footage of interviews with Deforest Kelly, Leonard Nimoy, and Jimmy Doohan that she didn’t use in Trekkies. It is her hope to transfer the film to a higher resolution and include the footage as extras. Hopefully Paramount will ‘bite the carrot’ so to speak.
An audience member asked her about ‘The Walking Dead’ and the subject of ‘secretive’ returned. In order to keep casting a surprise, Denise said Melissa McBride pushed her head down, and threw a tarp over her head, because someone had spotted fans on the road ahead. As hungry as we are for all things related to our fandoms, perhaps the excessive leaks and spoilers are having a negative affect on the actors. Hopefully we can all learn from this and perhaps give these creative people who bring so much entertainment to our lives, a bit more room and less stress in which to create that which we love so much.
Moving on to her work in Deep Impact, Denise got to meet Vanessa Redgrave, who inspired Denise to become an actor. Ms. Redgrave “was extraordinary and everything I imagined her to be and more, very down to earth, and real.”
Denise’s experience with ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ was in first run syndication. She was 18 and renting a guest house on an organic farm owned by an 85 year old Italian man named Chico, from Chico. Every night at 5pm they would watch TOS together. “I always had this little glint in my eye…this twinkle, thinking…I always thought about Chico and how funny this would have been for him, to see me, you know, on The Next Gen.”
She was in Vancouver filming a new series which should premiere in January on the Syfy channel. This series, called ‘The Magicians’ is based on a trilogy of books by Lev Grossman. John MacNamara is one of the writers for the series. Denise described the show as a contemporary magic school; sort of like ‘Harry Potter’ meets ‘The Breakfast Club’. Her role is that of Genji who is a master magician and aunt of one the leads. Denise’s character acts as a mentor for her niece. She thinks it will be very good. Recently Denise was on Scandal, saying it was fun; “to be part of Shonda Rhymes’ world is quite amazing”. She added that “tomorrow [meaning Monday 7 December] I start ‘Raven’s Watch’ an indie thriller with John Billingsley.
Like many of us she has goals and dreams, comedy and music (piano, playing Chopin) are among some of hers. What ever her next step is I’m sure her fans will be there to support her.
As the panel ended, with a standing ovation, she invited us all to come to her table to continue chatting, she really enjoyed the Q & A because they’re not always that way. She said we had taken her on a roller coaster of emotions – high, low, and high. She left with a smile on her face.
Meeting Ms. Crosby at Fan Fest was a dream. She is so warm and friendly with her fans. I genuinely hope to meet her again in the future.