I recently discovered several interviews I did a number of years ago that, for one reason or another, were never published. Rather than have them continue to gather "dust" in my computer, I thought I would share them with you. In this interview - actress Susan Diol talks about her career including guest-starring roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.
Telling stories has been a part of human history ever since prehistoric man first began drawing pictures on cave walls. Nowadays, of course, the process is far more sophisticated with stories being passed on to audiences in a variety of ways including films and television. It is this art of storytelling that Susan Diol feels is one of the most rewarding parts of her job as an actress.
“I love the challenge of trying to get someone else to understand my character’s point of view and, perhaps, foster some compassion for her,” she says. “If that fails, then I’ll at least try to show audiences why this person does the things they do. I always search for the vulnerability in the character even if it’s somebody who is an evil or a supposedly evil person. I think it’s interesting, not only to the actor playing the character but to the people watching, to discover how and why they’ve gotten to this point in their lives. So to me, being a good actor and a good storyteller go hand-in-hand.”
Six years ago the actress played a small part in telling a story of galactic proportions with her work in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Silicon Avatar. Diol played Carmen Davila, a colonist whose life is tragically cut short when her planet is attacked by an old nemesis of the Enterprise crew: the Crystalline Entity.
“I had first auditioned for the role of Data’s daughter in another episode of The Next Generation [The Offspring] but I didn’t get the part” she says. “The show’s casting director Junie Lowry-Johnson remembered me, however, and brought me in for the part in Silicon Avatar. I’d watched and enjoyed the original Star Trek as a kid, so I was thrilled to have the chance to work on The Next Generation.”
In Silicon AvatarCommander Riker and Data are helping Carmen Davila and her fellow colonists adjust to their new surroundings when the planet is attacked by the Entity. Riker and Data manage to save all but two of the colonists, one of which is Carmen. Although her on-screen time with Jonathan Frakes (Riker) and Brent Spiner (Data) is limited, Diol was able to enjoy a few laughs with the actors behind the camera.
“The cast on that show is very bright and a lot of fun to be with,” says the actress. “Everyone would be sitting around and talking to each other about current events or politics and, of course, telling jokes. I just remember the witty repartee between Jonathan and Brent. I had actually gone out on a date with Brent a couple of years before so we already knew each other. My friend Roy Brocksmith was working on an episode of The Next Generation [Peak Performance] and when I came to the Paramount set to have lunch with him he introduced me to Brent. I thought Brent was a very nice man but I had started dating someone else at the same time and things ended up getting serious between this other gentleman and myself. So with Brent it was pretty much wrong timing but he’s a very attractive and extremely intelligent man. It was great fun to see him again and work opposite him on the show.”
Diol’s work on The Next Generation was only the beginning of her association with Star Trek. Not only did she audition for the part of Jadzia Dax on Deep Space Nine, she returned two years later to try out for the role of Dax’s former spouse Lenara Kahn in the episode Rejoined. Although she lost out on both these parts, Diol would be remembered once again by Junie Lowry-Johnson. In 1996 she was cast as the Phage-ridden Vidiian Doctor Danara Pel in the Star Trek: Voyager episode Lifesigns.
Unlike her character’s fleeting appearance on The Next Generation, Diol had the opportunity to explore many facets of Danara Pel’s personality including her struggle living with the Phage disease. “I’d describe Danara as a very passionate individual who’s truly striving to find a cure for this disease that is decimating her race,” she explains. “At the same time she’s ashamed of the way in which the Vidiians must keep repairing themselves by using the vital organs and other body parts of various alien species.”
The actress was also able to delve into Pel’s softer side when the woman becomes romantically involved with Voyager’s holographic doctor. “I don’t think she’d truly experienced love before meeting the Doctor, so the relationship they share is really an extraordinary one for her.”
When Voyager rescues Danara the Doctor discovers that the Phage has seriously damaged her physical body. He is able to stave off her death by transferring her Vidiian brain waves into a holographic image that is free of the disease. Although this meant a bit more time in the makeup chair for Diol, the actress felt that the transformation helped with her portrayal of the character.
“Well, even when I was the beautiful Danara,” laughs the actress, “I still had a pretty extensive forehead piece that had to be put on over my head. That took, I think, two-and-a-half hours. When I was the disfigured horribly diseased Danara they had a prosthetics piece that covered my entire head except for a small area where my real face was exposed. That application took about three hours and the end result was very claustrophobic but also quite realistic. When I looked in the mirror I truly felt as if I were a hideous monster. This was great in terms of helping me play the character because I was really able to relate to what she must experience every day of her life.
“One of the reasons why I love the Danara character so much is because of the underlying message she conveys to the audience about the emphasis that we in our society place on looks. She didn’t feel as though she was a very worthy person because of her appearance and the fact that she had always been prejudiced against as well as teased and taunted. Of course, all this turns around for her when the Doctor becomes attracted to her. So the story had a very important moral message to it and I like that.”
Diol has nothing but good things to say about working with Robert Picardo (The Doctor) and the rest of the Voyager cast and found the whole filming process to be extremely organised. “It just seemed like everything was very well thought out in terms of schedules and when they needed you on the set. Everyone was so supportive including the cast and the director of the episode, Cliff Bole, and, of course, the crew. I think we were leaving for Christmas vacation or something like that and the sound guys came by and gave everyone microphones shaped like little ice cream cones. It was a real family atmosphere on the set and everybody respected and cared about each other. So it was a wonderful experience for me.”
The actress returned to the Voyager set several months later to briefly reprise her role of Danara Pel in the episode Resolutions. As her character only appears in the story via a viewscreen Diol had no interaction with the rest of the cast when it came time to film her scenes. “It was very fast,” she recalls. “I basically went in for a couple of hours, shot it and left. I was hoping that I would at least get to see Bob Picardo but he had filmed his material on another day so I had to play my scenes opposite someone reading the Doctor’s lines off-camera. The person did the best they could but it wasn’t the same as when you have a rapport with someone. I’d love to play Danara again but I think probably too much time has passed for her to come back. The character didn’t die, however, so I guess that potential still exists. That’s one of the wonderful things about Star Trek - you never know what can happen.”
Teacher or thespian? This was the question Diol pondered while she was growing up. Because her father and both her grandmothers were teachers it would have been no surprise if Diol followed in their footsteps. After she graduated college the actress moved to New York and it was not long after this she began working in the theatre. It was because of this early success on stage that Diol decided to pursue acting instead of teaching.
“Teaching will always be in the back of my head because I just love children and being able to teach or share things with people. I guess that’s another reason why I like acting because it allows me to give something to the audience. When you’re doing theatre the connection with them is much strong because they’re sitting right there in front of you. It’s more difficult when you’re working on film but you’re still able to pass on something to the audience. It all relates back to storytelling,” she says.
The actress was hired right out of college to appear as Viola in a production of Twelfth Night for the Alaskan Repertory Theatre. At the time Diol was working for a New York casting company and was responsible for auditioning actresses for the role. "I’d go home every night thinking, ‘Gosh, I could do this part. I just know it.’ One day I went to the director and said to him, ‘You know, I really feel like I could play this part and I’d like to audition.’ He kind of jokingly said, ‘OK, sure. We’ll let you read.’ So I went in and read and he was amazed. So he hired me. By the way, the director’s name was Roy Brocksmith, whom I’d mentioned earlier. That was the first time we had met and since then we’ve become dear friends. To get my first job doing Shakespeare was such a thrill but Roy’s efforts as a director made the work so much more exciting. He really involved the audience in what was going on and in doing this allowed them to form a true connection with the characters.”
When Diol returned to New York she took a job as a perfume spritzer girl in Macys department store to help pay the bills in between acting work. Her next big starring role was opposite Uta Hagen, Victor Garber, Amanda Plummer and Phillip Bosco in the Broadway production of You Never Can Tell. “I remember standing backstage the day of the opening and it was as if I were dreaming,” she says. “First of all I couldn’t believe I was actually in a Broadway play but to then be in one with Uta Hagen, the queen of acting teachers, and Victor Garber, who’s a marvelous actor. It was the biggest thrill of my life and probably of my acting career so far.”
Since coming to live and work in Los Angeles, California Diol has guest-starred in several television shows including Murphy Brown, Wings, Seinfeld, Party of Five and Touched By An Angel. She has also appeared in various made-for-television movies including Alien Nation: Millennium in which Diol plays an alien woman named Marina Del Ray. “That was another three hour makeup job. I get cast in all the large foreheaded parts,” chuckles the actress. “I love the director of the Alien Nation films, Ken Johnson. He’s a very compassionate and caring individual who really loves his work. We had some long hours on the film and I remember us doing a long scene on the roof of this building in a very seedy section of Los Angeles. Ken made things a lot of fun and it was an enjoyable atmosphere in which to do your job.”
Over the past year Diol has been busy with other television work as well as working on a screenplay which she hopes to eventually produce or direct. “So that’ll be my next hurrah,” she says confidently. “In the meantime it would be nice to get a somewhat steady acting job.”
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