Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell).
Once again, I have decided to open up the interview vault and revisit some of the many interviews I have had the pleasure of writing over the years and that just appeared in-print and not on-line. In today's interview, the lovely Terry Farrell gets in touch with her alien side and playing Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax on the Star Trek spin-off series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
When actress Terry Farrell accepted the role of Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax, the Starfleet science officer on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, she also took on the challenge of portraying an alien individual whose consciousness is hundreds of years old. Dax comes from a race of people known as the Trills, a joined species comprised of two separate beings, a host and a symbiont. While her twenty-nine-year-old body serves as host, the symbiont which lives inside her is a three-hundred-fifty-year-old lifeform resembling a short fat snake. Although her outward appearance is that of a beautiful young woman, Dax possesses the wisdom, intelligence and knowledge accumulated from six previous lifetimes of experience.
"What first attracted me to the part is that she has lived seven different lives," explains Farrell. "Dax is the mother, in a spiritual sense, on the show. She's centerd, intelligent, giving and someone who knows who she is. I thought, 'Wow, these are things that will help me grow as an actress.' I thought it would be a good stretch for me, especially since her past personalities are male as well as female.
"At first it was frustrating because the writers really didn't know who the character is other than that she is over three hundred years old and has lived seven lifetimes," the actress continues. "When I got a script it was sort of like, 'OK, Terry, go!' I thought, 'I don't know what to do with this,' but as we went on the writers helped me a lot and I found out more about her.
"I think what I've gotten comfortable with over the years is that, since Dax has seven different personalities inside of her, if I want to play one episode more masculine or feminine or more introverted or extroverted, it works because maybe one of those personalities fits into a particular situation better. There are certain Jadzia qualities that I try to keep consistent but what makes the part fun for me is that aside from those qualities I don't have to play her the same all the time."
Farrell was waiting to hear about jobs in both a film and a sitcom when she received a call from one Friday morning from her agent telling her that Paramount was interested in seeing her for a part in Star Trek:Deep Space Nine. "I was in one of the last groups of women to read for the role. I had read for a part in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation but didn't do that well in the audition, so, the casting director for DS9 Junie Lowry-Johnson had no interest in seeing me. When I got the call I thought, 'They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel.'
"I had to test for it twice with two different sets of women. I knew Marina [Sirtis], Michael [Dorn] and Jonathan [Frakes] from Star Trek: The Next Generation before I got DS9, so, I told Marina that I'd go down to the Next Generation set to meet her after I read. When I got down there I was told to go right back up to Rick Berman's [executive co-producer] office. All I could imagine was that Rick was going to give me some notes and that I was going to have to read again. When I got there he said, 'You know what? You're Jadzia Dax.' I fell apart and started crying. It felt like it came right out of the blue since I hadn't expected it at all."
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Farrell was encouraged by a family friend to send her picture to various New York modelling agencies. Much to her surprise she received a call at home from the prestigious Elite modelling agency. "They flew out to Iowa, said that I looked like my pictures and I signed with them.
"I moved to New York on June 4th, 1981," recalls Farrell. "When I got there I was met by a woman, an editor at Mademoiselle, who was a friend of one of the agents at Elite. She said, 'My God, would you come in to Mademoiselle on Monday?' I said, 'Sure, I'll come see you,' because I didn't know what I was doing," she laughs. "Six weeks later I was taking acting and commercial classes and had signed an exclusive contract with Mademoiselle.
"At first modelling is really exciting," she says, "then, after you do it for a year, you realize that you've become a thing. People begin to talk as if you're not really there. Luckily, my acting class made me feel like a human being, someone whose opinion is respected and who can have ideas about things, so, that's where I had my outlet."
In 1984 Farrell quit modelling and moved to California after having been cast as Laurie Caswell in the short-lived ABC television series Paper Dolls. On the advice of Sean Penn, whom the actress met while he was doing a play in New York City, she continued her acting studies at The Loft with Peggy Fury and Bill Trailer.
"Then I sort of disappeared for two or three years," Farrell explains. "I had a relationship with an actor and traveled with him for a while. The first thing I did when I got back to California was go to the Stella Adler Studio and study various things such as Shakespeare, movement, scene study and technique for six months. After that I just started auditioning for things, got a network pilot [Mimi and Me] and, eventually, DS9."
Before signing up for a tour of duty aboard Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the actress appeared opposite Rodney Dangerfield in the film Back to School as well as in Miramax Films' Hellraiser III. She played the Cat in a short promotional film for a proposed American version of Red Dwarf and guest-starred on a number of television series including Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Quantum Leap and The New Twilight Zone. "Actually, that Twilight Zone episode was the first time it said, 'Starring Terry Farrell.' I was so excited. I saw it in Merrimack, New Hampshire with my aunt and uncle, who, God love him, always thought I was a star and called me one before I was.
"I had so much fun doing that episode [The After Hours]. It was so exciting to work on a show that's all about what's happening to your character. It was neat to work with Ann Wedgeworth who's so amazing and just a wonderful actress. The whole thing was an all-around really cool experience."
The actress laughs when recalling her mixture of surprise and embarrassment when she first saw the script for Quantum Leap. "Scott Bakula and I naked on the beach! I thought, 'OK, fine, you've got to get past this and just do it.' It was sunset when we shot the scene and it was freezing in San Pedro. I had to walk out of the water - some of the dirtiest stuff on Earth - go over to Scott Bakula, trying not to shake or let my teeth chatter, and kiss this actor I'm meeting for the very first time in my life.
"Scott was a really cool guy to work with," comments Farrell. "After we shot that scene, during which time I noticed he had something weird on his stomach, Scott came to my trailer with all sorts of antiseptic things and shampoos he got from the nurse for me to use after being in that water. He also gave me some cream for poison ivy because that's what he had already had on his stomach!"
Turning to her work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Farrell was the last person to be cast on the show and, as a result, not only missed the opportunity to work with her fellow castmembers during the first two weeks of filming the program's pilot Emissary but was the last to finish work on the episode. Walking onto the huge Ops set for the first time was like walking onto a stage, she recalls, and, combined with the dreaded scientific jargon or technobabble, as it is officially referred to, that Dax is required to spout off with ease, the actress felt a bit overwhelmed.
"I probably slept four hours a night," she says. "I had nightmares about trying to remember my lines and then, when I got to the set, I didn't have anybody who I felt was being supportive of me and that was really hard. They were so busy trying to finish the show and I was just trying to keep up. If I had been there earlier I'd have been fine but I missed all the initiation kinds of things that you need to go through with people, so, I felt like the new kid in school. I didn't feel comfortable with my performance in the pilot because I was very nervous and felt very alone.
"Throughout that first year Avery Brooks [then-Commander Benjamin Sisko] was the person most supportive of me. When directors would get angry with me or be hard on me he would pull me aside and remind me that I needed to do it for myself and that I'd done it before.
"Most of what I say in the first season is technobabble. I hardly have a normal sentence at all. For people like Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton [Data and Geordi LaForge from The Next Generation] it's fairly simple because they can quickly memorize something and then forget about it. For me that's very hard to do," continues Farrell. "In Star Trek you're supposed to be extremely professional and know what you're talking about. Dax has to be able to talk technobabble, do stuff on the computer and pay attention to what's going on. At first all that was too much for me to try and handle and feel comfortable with.
"I was actually wishing that they'd fire me because it took so many takes for me to get my lines down," admits the actress. "I thought I was really disappointing them and that I wasn't doing a good enough job. Looking back now I'm so glad I went through it because I sort of weathered the storm and really learned a lot about myself."
Audiences also have been given the chance to learn more about Dax, particularly through her relationships with Doctor Julian Bashir [Alexander Siddig, formerly Siddig El Fadil] and now-Captain Sisko. "I think they dropped the relationship with Julian too soon," says Farrell. "They should have had it go through the entire run of the program, sort of what they tried to do with David and Maddie in Moonlighting, where audiences were always wondering, 'Oh my gosh, are they going to do it this week?'
"What Sid [Alexander Siddig] and I have tried to do, just on our own, is to play up the fact that we've become really good friends. There's an episode we did early this season [the show's fourth] called Starship Down in which Dax and Julian are trapped in a room together and they have a kind of resolution, which, after three-and-a-half years, is kind of weird," she laughs. "It's disappointing because I think it really added a nice flavour to the series. This season I'm trying to do that with Michael Dorn [Worf], with whom I've been friends for six years. From the opening moments of the first show this season Dax flirts with Worf, so, the writers are trying to work it in whenever and wherever they can.
"As for Dax and Sisko, I think my disappointment about this is in the prior relationship I was told our characters share and what's been happening to it. We've had scenes in which we've talked back and forth and given each other advice but during this season I've probably asked him for advice more than he's actually asked me. I think it was during the second season when he talked so much with Major Kira [Nana Visitor] that I thought, 'Hey, I'm his mentor! She's this angry major - why is he asking her for advice? I'm this wise old soul. Ask me the questions.' If Kurzon, one of Dax's past hosts, really is Ben's mentor my character would have a lot more to do with what he's doing."
Despite an initially bumpy ride with its audience, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has grown over the past four years to become the top-rated syndicated television drama in the United States. Its cast, too, has grown, emerging as a fluid on-screen ensemble capable of defending itself against attacks from Cardassians as well as critics. To what does Farrell attribute this on-screen camaraderie?
"When you're working with other people there's this precarious balance to be their friend but also to keep it professional. I don't know if anyone else feels this way but it seems to me that we all respect each other's privacy and, at the same time, care about and support each other and hope that everyone is really happy in their lives. However, although we've grown to respect and care about each other, that doesn't mean that we do everything together, because we don't want the personal/professional balance to get off the track. I think that's how we work well - we respect each other's space and private life."
In between quoting technobabble and helping Starfleet defend the Alpha Quadrant against the Jem'hadar Farrell appeared in the NBC mini-series Star, based on Danielle Steel's novel by the same name, and starred in the HBO movie, Red Sun Rising. She recently found time to take on yet another project requiring her to play a multitude of characters, ten to be exact, in a CD-ROM entitled Treasure Quest. The project, which went on sale in March, is marketed by Sirius Publishing and based on Masquerade, a sensational mystery novel that took the United Kingdom by storm several years ago. An on-line component allows individuals to team up with others to search for clues to solve the mystery and receive a one-million-dollar cash prize.
"I got to be everyone from Norma Desmond to a sort of Rita Hayworth, forties-style woman to a kooky angel to this mean, horrible Renaissance woman speaking Shakespearean English. I felt as if I were in Improv-R-Us - 'Here's the script. OK, here you go!' When I found out I was going to be playing ten characters I got very excited. It was so much fun!" she exclaims.
With only two years left on the castmembers' contracts with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Farrell is thinking optimistically about the future. "I know everybody wants to be a movie star but I really would like to be a storyteller rather than just a working actress. My goal is to get to a point where the stories are a reflection of how I respect and care about my work. When DS9 ends I have to go looking for a job again, and, in essence, I'd like to think of it as starting my career again. I'll have to go out and see people I haven't seen for a long time. This is like a stepping stone to the next level," she says thoughtfully, "and I think the best is yet to come for me."
Dax herself wouldn't disagree.