Article: Washington native enjoys 'Star Trek' ride

LOS ANGELES ? Most actors go through their entire careers without playing a character with a name half as distinctive as Zeus Zelenko, No. 1 or No. 2.

Six years before assuming the personality of Chief Engineer Charles "Trip" Tucker III on UPN's "Enterprise" (8 p.m. Wednesdays, KSTW), Connor Trinneer became only the second actor to play the evil magician on the consistently wacky ABC soap opera "One Life to Live." Death is a sometime thing on the soaps, but Trinneer is pretty sure he won't be asked to reprise the role any time soon.

"I think I was blown up, or fell down an elevator shaft, or was blown up while falling down an elevator shaft," recalled the 34-year-old Washington native, over enchiladas in Lucy's El Adobe restaurant, across the street from the sprawling Paramount lot. "Zeus was the lackey for the villain on the show. I'd forgotten there was a No. 1.

"I wasn't very good at it. But that's probably because I didn't really know what I was doing."
Working on a soap opera, explains the former all-state football player from Kelso (he was born in Walla Walla, but only spent a short time there), is one of the "hardest things in the world for an actor. If you're a main character, you have to learn 30 pages a day."
By all accounts, playing Trip is a much better gig.

On the 2-year-old "Star Trek" prequel series, which in Seattle gets ratings that are nearly triple those for the show nationwide, Trinneer enjoys plenty of screen time, and, this time, he gets to play a good guy. The chief engineer is a charming Southerner ? yes, girls, Trip Tucker is a single Earthling ? who spends lots of time interacting with Capt. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and Sub-Commander T'Pol (Jolene Blalock).

According to official "Star Trek" mythology, Tucker is a gifted orbital engineer and an old buddy of Archer; he has an offbeat sense of humor; his adventurous streak has manifested itself in various ways, including deep-sea diving, constructing starships in orbit and "interspecies dating."
So, how did Trinneer ? the middle child in a family of five ? make the leap from his home in the shadow of Mount St. Helens to deep space?

From sports to stage

"I was an all-state athlete in high school, but I knew it wouldn't lead to a pro career," said Trinneer, who today is dressed casually in a black jacket and jeans. "I played football at Pacific Lutheran, and thought I'd end up being a teacher and a coach. That was OK with me, because both of my parents are teachers."

In between seasons, though, a friend talked him into auditioning for a play called "Lone Star." Even though he didn't get the part, Trinneer received a lot of encouragement. "The first production I was in was 'A Doll's House,' which is pretty complex," said Trinneer, who looks as if he could still find work as a defensive back or receiver. "I needed a lot of seasoning, so I decided to take graduate courses at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It has a great drama school."

An actors showcase in New York helped land him roles in commercials and such productions as "The Rover," "Picnic," "Arcadia" and several Shakespeare classics. He also was able to find work on "ER," "Sliders," "Touched by an Angel," "Gideon's Crossing," "Pensacola: Wings of Gold," the play and PBS film of "Far East," the independent films "Raindogs" and "Duncan's Rainbow," and HBO's "61*."

"I begged to read for the part of Roger Maris in '61*,' but I heard about it too late," said Trinneer. "It went to Barry Pepper, but I got to play a reporter. It was nice to be part of a love letter to baseball."

While in Los Angeles for TV's annual "pilot season," Trinneer was encouraged by his agent to try out for the new "Star Trek" spinoff series, "Enterprise." So packed was his schedule that the personable young actor almost begged off a callback from "Trek" brass.

"I didn't feel as if I did a good job, but I got called back the same day," Trinneer said. "It meant changing and going back an hour later, so I almost canceled. I was asked to return again, a couple days later, and I nailed the reading."

Co-creator and executive producer Rick Berman said that Trinneer impressed him immediately, but he didn't see him in action until 50 other actors already had read for the part.

"Connor's a remarkable actor ? a natural talent ? and absolutely believable as chief engineer," Berman said. "The principal characters always go through some modification, and he's one of three central to all the episodes. Trip is smart, but he has a bit of country in him.

"He's such a likeable character that we sometimes have to caution our writers about coming up with too many 'Trip' stories."

A place in Trekkie lore

Anyone with even a passing interest in "Star Trek" knows how seriously Paramount takes the franchise. Once an actor is handed a recurring role, he or she becomes permanent fixture in the mythology. "They said, 'Your life is going to change,' and it sort of has," Trinneer adds. "To the point that it can be controlled, though, I'm trying to hang on to the life I had. But, this has been a tremendous gift.

"I've got a great part on a good show. Thanks to a loyal fan base, we've had the luxury of working out the kinks."

Trinneer said he was pleasantly surprised to discover that Trip would be part of the "triumvirate" of characters driving most of the show's storylines. He was probably even more surprised to discover the engineer would become the first male to become pregnant.

It occurred in an early episode titled "Unexpected." Conception occurred during an innocent encounter with a Xyrillian engineer, and it pretty much assured Trip a place in Trekkie lore.

Even though "Star Trek" personnel aren't required to appear at conventions, Trinneer has happily volunteered to wave the "Enterprise" banner at fan events.

"Hey, when you walk into a room filled with 3,000 people shouting your name, that's a good feeling," he said.

"The fans, in general, have gotten a bad rap. As a kid, had Reggie Jackson come to my town, I would have lined up two blocks to get his autograph, too. "It's a very diverse community of fans, and I've enjoyed myself."

In fact, he continued, "They clarified the message for me, more than anything I learned on the job. A lot of what the show offers, in its various incarnations, is about man's need to explore. It's proactive about humanity, and also isn't afraid to suggest that humans are fallible." Because Trip is chief engineer, it's natural that series loyalists have compared him to their beloved Scotty.

'Big shoes to fill'

"Connor's had some big shoes to fill, including those of James Doohan, LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson," remarked longtime fan Huxley Dunsany. "At first, I felt Tucker was a poorly defined character, with little to do other then serve as Archer's buddy. However, as the series has matured, so has Trinneer's role.
"He's begun to take stands that sometimes are contrary to Archer, while moving away from being what some feared would be a sorry caricature of a Southern good ol' boy. He is possibly the most xenophobic of the show's main characters, often expressing amazement ? bordering on repulsion ? at the strange alien

ures the crew meets along their journey." As his character has developed, Dunsany adds, "Tucker is clearly becoming more accustomed to dealing with strange life-forms and alien concepts." Although Los Angeles isn't known for supporting live theater ? the leading newspaper doesn't even have a full-time critic ? plenty of good work does get done there. Trinneer is a member of the Circle X company, which includes several refugees from the Pacific Northwest.

"Theater, here, has gotten a bad rap, but you have to be diligent in your search for good productions," stressed Trinneer. "I've seen some extraordinary things on stage here. I've also witnessed some of the worst." Circle X was among the companies involved in last month's Lysistrata Project, during which Aristophanes' classic anti-war comedy was read or staged in 390 cities in 40 nations.

Last summer, Trinneer spent his hiatus from "Enterprise" traveling around Europe with his longtime girlfriend, a writer/actor whose name he chooses not to reveal. After the current season wraps, he's exploring a couple of projects that would allow him "to get behind a camera and futz around a little." He tries to get back to Washington as often as possible. "It's so damn pretty up there," Trinneer brags. "When I go back home, I love to drive to the river and to the coast." And, yes, he even mentions the rain.