Star Trek: Voyager's Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang).
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 talented and affable Garrett Wang talks about trekking through The Delta Quadrant as Ensign Harry Kim on the long-running Sci-Fi TV series Star Trek: Voyager. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
An ensign’s work is never done, especially if you happen to be Star Trek: Voyager’s Ensign Harry Kim. A couple of weeks after the wrap party for the show’s sixth season, actor Garrett Wang, who plays the dutiful Mr. Kim, was back at work in front of the cameras.
“The next to last episode of this past season, The Haunting of Deck 12, which David Livingston directed, came up a little short,” recalls Wang. “So he asked me to come back and shoot some additional footage. Not only has Kim been killed, tortured and abused in his six years on the show,” laughs the actor, “but he had to work overtime, too. He also pulls the night shift on the bridge, so his sleep pattern is all screwed up. The poor guy can’t get a break!”
Life aboard the U.S.S. Voyager has been anything but dull for Harry Kim and his fellow crewmates since their ship was marooned in the Delta Quadrant. What was meant to be a two-week mission to the Badlands has, to date, been a six-year struggle to find a way back home to Earth. Of all the ship’s senior staff, Kim was the least prepared for such a journey. This was, after all, his first deep space assignment. However, the experience has helped the young ensign mature into a seasoned bridge officer and valued member of Captain Kathryn Janeway’s (Kate Mulgrew) bridge crew.
“Kim is definitely being given more responsibility,” notes Wang. “We had one episode in the fifth season [Warhead] in which he commanded his first Away Team mission. There have also been scenes where we’ve seen him in charge of the bridge, so he’s grown and changed in that respect. I’ve also tried, especially over the past two years, to make Kim a bit quirkier and show viewers that he has a sense of humor.
“I remember a luncheon we had with Rick Bermen [series co-creator and executive producer] and the rest of show’s production team when Voyager first began. We were expressly told that all non-alien characters had to behave in a more reserved way. We had to operate within this a, b or c emotional range and that was that. I guess the producers thought if we did so, it would make the aliens look more authentic. However, it was recently pointed out to me that Captain Kirk [William Shatner] never did this, so why should we?
“Every so often this joke arises when a director will ask one of us, let’s say, Robert Duncan McNeill [Lieutenant Tom Paris], ‘Robbie, are you ready for this take?’ Robbie will say, ‘Sure. What do you want for this shot, a 37b or 15a?’ He’s poking fun at the fact that we do the same thing on the bridge all the time,” says the actor. “There are three basic bridge reactions. The first is status quo, when everything is running smoothly. Next, is the look of amazement, when we come across a funky nebula or other spatial anomaly that no one has ever seen before. Third is the red alert reaction when Voyager is under attack. Come on, we need to shake things up a little.
“I’m not saying that we should be doing slapstick comedy - that would be ridiculous. However, a little joking around would be great, and I’d love for Kim to be the one to instigate it. The writers have been trying to inject some laughs into the show’s opening teasers. There was one in which Paris and Kim were ribbing Tuvok [Tim Russ] about his age. To be honest, it wasn’t funny. What I’m talking about is bringing a one-liner to what’s already written. When Janeway asks Kim for a report, perhaps something amusing can come out of his response to her. I say give up writing jokes and just let them come naturally. That’s when they’re really funny. People love to laugh and whenever you can successfully mix humor and drama together you end up with a great story. Thank you, I’ll get off my soapbox now,” chuckles Wang.
Fun is not the only thing the affable actor hopes to see Harry Kim have more of in Voyager’s seventh and final season. He would also like to revisit his character’s dark side. There was quite a bit of favorable fan reaction to Wang’s portrayal of the angry, embittered “future Harry Kim” in the show’s one-hundredth episode, Timeless. Wang has come up with a storyline that would introduce viewers to an even nasty version of the young ensign.
“Do you remember the second-season episode Deadlock and the scene when Harry Kim number one is sucked out into space never to be seen again?” he asks. “In my story, which I’ve been pitching to our producers for the past couple of years, Kim doesn’t die. The Borg, who just happen to be in the vicinity, beam him aboard a cloaked vessel. He wakes up on a table surrounded by 20 or 30 Borg and he has one line, which is, ‘Oh, great.’
“When we next see the ensign he’s been turned into a Borg and is being briefed by the Borg Queen [Susanna Thompson]. He’s become her pet project. She’s groomed and trained him to lead an elite team of Borg drones to recapture Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan]. He and his Borg cronies find Voyager, transport aboard and mayhem ensues. The Borg Kim beats the living daylights out of all the male regulars – Chakotay [Robert Beltran], Paris and Tuvok. He grabs Seven and is about to leave when the real Harry Kim comes to the rescue and saves the day! End of story. So, what do you think? I love the idea but, of course, I’m prejudice. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to see the light of day but it’s fun to dream.”
Wang would have welcomed Harry being turned into a Borg or any other alien lifeform for that matter during Voyager’s sixth season. Like a handful of other characters on the show, his had a limited amount to do last year. “Overall, the sixth season was weighted very heavily towards Seven of Nine, Janeway and the Doc [Robert Picardo],” explains the actor. “So much so, in fact, that some viewers nicknamed Kim the ‘Invisible Ensign’ on the Internet. There were a few episodes last season where I had one line on the bridge. If you blinked you missed me,” he jokes.
“I’m a big boy and as an actor I’m not going to make a big stink about it. Especially since my character wasn’t the only one this happened to. It was the producers’ decision for the sixth season and that’s the way it was. However, they have to realize that every character on the show has his or her fans. There are people who especially like Neelix [Ethan Phillips] or Paris or Kim, and they aren’t going to be satisfied seeing their favorite featured in pretty much one episode. It’s not to say that the fans were disappointed in the sixth season but they were probably curious as to why certain characters weren’t used as much.
“Having said that, I know the guys in the front office want a balance, too, but a big part of the problem is with a lot of the story pitches that come in. It’s so much easier to write for the Doc or Seven, who’s trying to become human, than it is for Kim, Paris or Chakotay. It’s not even difficult to come up with a storyline for the captain. I think most of the ideas they’ve been receiving lately have been for Seven, Janeway and the Doctor. I can’t see many writers rushing into the producers’ office yelling, ‘Hey, do I have a Harry Kim story for you!’ So that was the deal last year. Hopefully, things will change this season and I think they will.”
The actor does have a soft spot for one particular sixth-season episode, Spirit Folk, in which the villagers of the holographic Irish town Fair Haven revolt against Voyager’s crew. “I always like doing scenes on the holodeck, especially because we get to wear something other than our Starfleet uniforms. Even though I had on an entire suit including a vest, jacket and tie I didn’t mind at all.
“It was fun to work on those old Irish village sets, although the cow that Robbie and I had a scene with was not a happy heifer,” laughs Wang. “It was not a movie cow. That beast just wanted to say home and graze on the range. It almost kicked Robbie you-know-where and it nearly ran me over a couple of times. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get that cow to stand still for the shot in which it ‘morphs’ into one of the townspeople. In order to appease or at least distract the animal, I was given the job by its trainer of feeding it carrots just before the take. Lucky me!”
Prior to Voyager’s debut back in 1995, a certain journalist questioned whether or not Harry Kim would be around for the long haul. Kim did not have a bumpy forehead, pointy ears or even spots. How would he stand out from all the other characters? What made the young ensign unique and likeable to Trek fans was his wide-eyed innocence and naiveté.
“I try to react to situations as truthfully as possible,” says the actor. “This was especially good for me at the beginning of the show because back then Kim truly was wet behind the ears. He’d never been on a starship before, and the fans had not experienced this either. So his response to the situation was similar to that of the ordinary person if he or she were in Harry’s shoes. I think this helped endear him to a certain percentage of fans out there and that was a great jumpstart for me.
“Voyager has provided me not only the opportunity to work with some talented people but also to learn how to relax in front of the camera,” he adds. “That’s truly when an actor’s best work is done. It’s also enabled me to build up my savings, which, in turn, will allow me to turn down certain stereotypical roles that I might be offered once the show ends. I’m hoping a very strong part comes along for me that will help change the image of the Asian American male for the better. That’s my goal after Trek.”