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DS9's Chase Masterson on Star Trek, documentary film, and advocacy

In this interview, Chase Masterson recounts fond memories of working on Deep Space Nine, describes some of her other acting, producing, and singing work, and talks about being a mentor.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans will know Chase Masterson as Leeta and Emony Dax. The actress is also a film producer, jazz singer, dancer, and anti-poverty advocate. Read our interview to find out whether she was a Trekkie when she was hired as a cast regular on DS9, what she's working on these days (which includes Doctor Who Big Finish recordings), and more.

TechRepublic: On a scale of evil diva to awesomely amazing, what was it like working with Armin Shimerman every day? What was an average day like working on the show [DS9]?

Photo credit: Geno Nicholas

Chase Masterson: Without exaggeration, I have to say that Armin was awesomely amazing squared. Throughout the run of the show, Armin made it a point to be welcoming of Max Grodenchik (Rom) and me, and to be particularly conscientious of what we may be going through as guest actors. Even if you recur, being a guest star on a show can be tougher in ways than being a series regular -- you come in and are an additional part of a show that has a close-knit cast (or at least one that's well in their groove) and you naturally want to fit in.

But you have to do that without ingratiating yourself, without either trying to fit in or staying on the sidelines. Armin was always aware of that and went the extra mile to make us comfortable, and even to explain things if he thought we might benefit. He helped make it more fun -- and it helped us do our jobs.

As far as an average day on the show, my call was usually about 4 a.m. for makeup, hair, and wardrobe. I was almost always one of the first people on the Paramount lot, along with security guards and our makeup and hair department. It was beautiful, quiet, and haunting, with the moon still out before sunrise, and lovely to see the lot come alive minute by minute.

The team would usually work til early evening or later, a 12 hour day from the time of crewcall, about 7 a.m. And I'd stay and watch after my scenes were done. The set was close-knit and light-hearted, a super group of people.

We knew what we had when we had it, making powerful stories with a team we loved. It was a bit like Camelot, a great show to be on.

TechRepublic: Do you have any particularly strong memories about your work on DS9? Chase Masterson: It's funny, the things you remember. So many of the moments were just magic.

Mostly, it was so much fun seeing what the writers would do, from script to script. The writing team was lead by Ira Steven Behr, who has one of the most prolific voices in television, and he mentored so many of the top writers on TV through that show: Rene Echevarria, Ron Moore, Bradley Thompson, and David Weddle, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Hans Beimler, and Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor and Morgan Gendel coming in for episodes. And the late, beautiful Michael Piller, who created the show, had such a powerful take on Roddenberry's vision.

And these guys are the reasons the show still holds up; the engine, the themes, the character arcs, situations, and dialogue were all so strong. But Ira and his team took a risk, in that it was one of the first episodic shows on TV, which required a new kind of commitment from its audience. So -- in answer -- it was a thrill getting to see that the audience bit, they were willing to tune in week after week, they took the challenge. It's an immense compliment to an audience to have that kind of faith in them, and a huge compliment to the DS9 team. TechRepublic: How familiar with Star Trek were you when you got cast on the show? Had you watched much of it? Chase Masterson: During the run of Next Gen, I had a boyfriend who was such a Trekkie that I was only allowed to call him during commercials. So I started watching the show, so I could know when. Who's sorry now? ;-) TechRepublic: When we met, I was amazed at the incredible work you'd done as a producer. I'd love to hear more about the documentary Through Your Eyes and how that came about. Chase Masterson: Thanks for that! Through Your Eyes was an eye-opening journey. It's the story of a set of deaf-blind triplets, seven years old at the time, and all producer profits went to support the girls. Sophie, Emma, and Zoe Tucker are only three of the 60,000+ deaf-blind people in the U.S., and it is truly astounding to see the strength and determination of so many of them. I came onto the producing team rather late in the game, so I can't take any credit for the project's inception; I merely showed the care that's due for the people in these circumstances, and the team asked me to come onboard as a co-EP. The doc was featured twice on Dr. Phil, and we raised $450,000 for the triplet's educations. TechRepublic: What drew you to producing and to documentaries in particular? Chase Masterson: I've never wanted to be a producer, per se, but there are projects that I've been so drawn to that I just had to see get made. That said, producing does fill an entirely different set of creative spaces in me than work as an actress; and that said, producing makes acting seem like a walk in the park. So it's something I approach with great discretion, strictly on an as-needed, passion-infused basis.

That's what happened with my producing Yesterday Was a Lie, a critically acclaimed sci-fi noir shot in classic black and white. I was originally cast in the film, and the producers fell out, and I loved the script, so I stepped in and said, "Dammit, I'll do it."

I have sole Produced By credit, and the film was released by Entertainment One. It won over 50 awards, including over a dozen Best Feature awards, on the festival circuit.

I kept my role as the second lead, a mysterious jazz singer (yep, that's me as a blonde), and sang four songs in the film. The soundtrack was picked up by La-La Land Records, which was named Film Music Label of the Year by the Film Music Critics' Association.

We got excellent reviews, all around. And the film was made for less than $200K -- a huge feat for the entire team. It was an exercise in thinking on both left and right sides of the brain, and a true test of resourcefulness. I'm extremely proud of it.

TechRepublic: Are you currently working on anything new? Also, are these films available on DVD or Netflix for us to see? Chase Masterson: Yes, and I'm really excited about this stuff! I was asked to do "Doctor Who Big Finish," the BBC-licensed audio adventures of the franchise. My first episode was with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson on "Doctor Who: Night of the Stormcrow." Big Finish then asked me to do a role opposite the incomparably fun Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy in "Doctor Who: The Shadow Heart," and it was so popular that we crashed the server when it premiered on their site. And that worked so well that they spun off my character, Vienna Salvatore, into her own series, "VIENNA."

Vienna's got to be one of my favorite roles ever, an impossibly glamorous assassin who generally lands on the side of good, but not before donning disguises, seducing whoever needs to be seduced, getting duped, and dishing out a fair amount of wisecracks along the way. The scripts are extremely well-written -- action-packed and often hilarious -- a rare combination in sci-fi. The show plays kind of like if La Femme Nikita and I Love Lucy had a baby. We got great reviews on the pilot, "VIENNA: The Memory Box," which is on introductory special for $5 pre-order. Check it!

I'm also doing RUR: Genesis, a short that is both a stand-alone film and a concept piece to raise financing for the feature, RUR. It's being done by the team that created Yesterday Was a Lie. I also did a central role in a pilot recently; I can't say too much about either project, but I'll keep you posted on both!

And one more thing: I have a new CD called Jazz Cocktail that is coming out soon and will be available through my website. We've gotten some excellent advance reviews. Stay tuned!

TechRepublic: Last, but certainly not least, what sorts of things do you geek out about? Chase Masterson: Honestly? I'm a huge anti-poverty geek. Don't get me wrong, I love the pop culture thing as much as the next guy -- but if we're into superheroes, why not be one in real life?

It's easy to take a passive approach because the world is messed up and we don't know what to do. Or we're afraid our efforts will get lost in corruption, or we don't think we can make a real difference. And it's easy to get caught up in our own stuff. So often, we pretty much just look away.

In Harlan Ellison's TOS episode, "City on the Edge of Forever," Kirk says, "Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over I love you."

What an awesome line. But aren't they the same thing? Love is a verb. Best used, "love" means "help."

And as Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer said, "Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." Once I started thinking and looking, I realized I had to find places where I could actually make a difference. There are lots. Here are two that I've seen enact real transformation on an enduring level.

Since January 2008, I've been a mentor at Homeboy Industries, the largest program for gang intervention and at-risk kids in the world. Serious poverty is about 15 minutes away from the heart of the entertainment industry. These kids were born into the cycle of lack of education, poverty, and crime. We help them get jobs and become better parents, so that cycle can stop; we talk about their goals, and the fact that they get to have them. And we talk about the stuff that gets in the way: fear, anger, pain, unforgiveness, addiction, self-esteem issues. They soak it all in; the levels of redemption in their lives are formidable and lasting. Seriously cool stuff.

And I love what's happening at Kiva, an amazing microfinance organization that provides loans to the working poor in both developing countries and the U.S. They've provided over $380,000,000 (yes) in loans in $25 increments, and there is a 98.9% repayment rate -- you make loans, not donations. If you've got an extra $25 to lend, pick a person on Kiva's site, and watch their progress as they make life better for their families and then pay you back.

Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel prize for pioneering the microfinance model, says that one day, the only place we'll be able to see poverty is in a museum. What an awesome goal, right?

It's a pretty cool thing to see how easy it is to help make the world better. And it's big fun.

So yeah, good things happening all around! Thanks for tuning in.

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For more updates about Chase's work and volunteer efforts, follow her on Twitter (@ChaseMasterson) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/chasemastersonpage). Thanks again to Chase for taking time for this interview.

Disclaimer: StarTrek.com and TechRepublic are CBS Interactive properties.

Editor's note: TechRepublic's Geekend blog is coming to an end this year in order for us to focus all of our resources on business technology topics. The Geekend blog has had a great run, thanks to our wonderful contributors and our loyal readers. We would love to hear which Geekend posts and/or discussions are your favorites. Perhaps it was Jay Garmon's post The five best Deep Space Nine episodes of all time! It got TechRepublic Editor in Chief Jason Hiner's vote.

1 comments
eghorst
eghorst

Thanks. Amd thanks for including the links. Ed -- Canada