Article: StarTrek Communicator

By now, Connor Trinneer's "Trip" Tucker has emerged as more than just the Chief Engineer of Star Trek: Enterprise - he has become one of the show's pivotal characters both before and after the Xindi attack that launched an all-new direction for the show. We finally lasso the good ol' boy of the NX-01 crew, who opens up about his accent, his history, living a dream - and keeping an even keel when the world seems against you. And, oh yeah - that thing with T'Pol...

Connor, when did you first determine that acting was something you wanted to do?

I was playing football for a couple of years at college, and I really wasn't enjoying it anymore. I was looking for something else to do, and I wound up auditioning for a play at my school. I had taken the script home and worked on it with my mother, who had acted in high school. I went in for my first day of auditions and, literally the moment I walked out of there, the moment I had some time to reflect, I knew I had an understanding of it. I walked out of there and quit football the next day and became an actor.

What is your earliest recollection of Star Trek?

Coming home from my elementary school, and it being on at 3.00! I'm sure I have seen every one of the original series episodes. In hindsight, yeah, it does strike me as sort of curious to be able to identify with something that I watched as a kid and now I do it as my profession... Hell, I thought I was going to be a baseball player! When you were cast for the role of Trip, you had said in earlier interviews that you were excited about finally owning a house and a new car. Has that all worn off or do you still have to pinch yourself now as to how your life has changed since you got the role on Star Trek? Every now and then I will walk around my house or be out in my yard or driving my car that I know is going to work every day and I still pinch myself. I pinch myself for the simple fact that I get to do this as a profession - something I love so much and something I had a great passion for the moment I discovered it. The ability to express yourself artistically and get paid for it, and support yourself and your loved ones, is a great gift. A lot of people can't say that. Other than that, I really try to keep a balance. There is a curious thing that has happened : I get recognized in a way that I hadn't been before. Whether or not people even say anything to me, I tend to sense the energy that somebody is paying attention to what I am doing in a room. That is interesting. I have to say... I appreciate people, at the proper time, commenting on what they think of me as an actor. If you are going to walk up to somebody, hopefully you are going to tell him or her that you think they are good!

When you first got the role, who was the first person you told?

My parents. Is it strange for your family to watch you every week now on television? They are excited about it. I have done enough guest-star spots on television for them to get used to seeing their kid on the screen. I come from a small town in Washington state, and it is a kind of nice for them to go to the grocery store and have people say, "Are you Mrs. Trinneer? Are you Mr. Trinneer? Are you Connor's parents?" They get a kick out of that! One of our fan club member has submitted a question for you. Richard Jordan asks: "I know you are not from the south, so what lengths did you go to get the accent and word choice correct?" I have always had a pretty good ear for them to begin with. I have done several different accents in different roles on stage, a lot of voice training in drama school. I was never intimidated by the fact that Trip is a good ol' Southern boy. My mother's family is from southern Missouri and Arkansas, so I have heard that sort of draw my whole life even though I was in Washington. I had done a play at Lincoln Center in New York where I play a guy who was from Oklahoma. Now initially on Star Trek, it didn't seem that anyone knew where exactly Trip came from - [and] I tried to do a middle-of-the-road Oklahoma, not-quite-so-deep-South accent that I got good feedback on. I was willing to alter it. Then, I found out he was from Florida, I said "Well, come on guys! I'm not doing Florida." It didn't really matter so much; people's accents change and get manipulated by their experiences in other locations. I come from a small town and there is a rural sound to most people; I've got sort of a rural Southern twang, anyway. I don't know exactly where it came from - [and] the guys I grew up with didn't talk any different that I do.

How much input do you have with the writers in molding your character?

I am really thankful that there is an open door policy as far as I am concerned. And I use it! I call when I have things that I went to discuss; I call when I am curious about a direction it might be going in. Actually, I know that [these writers] are an anomaly in that regard - being willing to share their ideas with us, and allowing us to have input with them, is great!

Have they ever incorporated any of your own personal traits or hobbies into Trip?

Trip's interests have kind of developed in their own original way. I don't have a lot of experience with the harmonica, but they have given me the instrument a couple of times. I look at myself as somebody who can, basically, handle anything - so throw me the kitchen sink! How tech-minded are you in real life? I am not particularly tech-minded - I leave that for the professionals. Trip and I are similar in that we both like to figure things out, but it is not exclusive to technical things. Often times I will find myself in the middle of electric wires and I have no idea how to get out of it.

How do you feel about the new direction the show has taken this season?

I think it's great! Learning as we go along and trying to keep telling the story while retaining the character interest as well - has been interesting. It has also been nice to see that [viewers] have sort of gotten back onboard with us. They >et the bar and then raised it this year specifically, in these last five or six episodes. I think there is a sense of momentum in all facets that is really nice, we have picked up a bit of a second wind now. I think it has made the writing team really focused on having the opportunity to carry this arc throughout the season. It has given them some doors to open that they may not have noticed were there before. How difficult was it to take this kind of fun-loving Trip to the dark, angry Trip who is upset over his sister dying without looking too forced, too fast? I looked at it sort of like my own life. There are some people who have passed away that I cared about a great deal, but I am still a fun-loving person myself, who just has moments of darkness. That's how people behave and people react. If you don't keep on going, you sort of get swallowed up by the pain of it all. I can't say this for sure, but I think there was a little bit of trepidation on the fans' part that "Oh, they're going to make him a dark, dark character now!" Well, he's not. He is still a fun-loving guy who has these moments of reflection on that relationship that is gone, and it really affects him. When moments occur that he can put his finger on - say, a character shows up that is directly responsible for that occurrence - then that gets him going. Otherwise, at the end of the day, he still has a job to do and he can't let anything get in the way of that. It's another layer on this guy who just hopefully get more and more interesting. It makes him more human, and that is something I think the fan base identifies with. They see him as an Everyman. Of the T'Pol/Trip romance - did you see it coming before this year, and were you aware of some of the fan backlash regarding it? I did not see it coming. I think I, along with everyone else, in watching the shows and seeing the scripts, had sensed an Archer/T'Pol connection. In fact, there already was one ["Twilight"] where everyone aged 12 years and T'Pol sacrifices her own life to go take care of him, as he loses his memory every day. But that is one of the great challenges of acting - that you have to be malleable and find the truth in whatever it is you are handed. That's our job. In "Harbinger," Jolene and I had to find the truth of that and how that gets created. We have had a lot of conversations about it. In fact, we shot "the day after" scene first before we shot the rest of it. We had a lot of conversations about how we could stay true to our characters, and Jolene has the tough job in terms of how to rationalize that with the character traits that are Vulcan. It must be interesting and fun to read the new scripts each week and learn what the story is or what your character will be going in that particular adventure? It is wonderful. I am constantly surprised. The high level and speed of imagination of the folks that are coming up with these stories is amazing. What they bring down to us never ceases to amaze me. They are more under the gun than we are. They are trying to accomplish and polish these scripts and get them down to us in time to shoot them, and they do a great job. I don't know how they do it except by saying goodbye to their lives!

How did you like filming the western episode, "North Star?"

That was a hoot! It was like being in the sandbox as a kid. What do you want to play: War? Cowboys? Fireman? I got to play spaceman and cowboy! It was a riot and so much fun to get out there and put the stuff on and walk down those wooden steps and get on that dirt path and get on a horse - which I haven't had a lot of experience with.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I am awfully proud of "Similitude." It was pretty close to the vest, me playing my own clone; we had to be subtly different from Trip. LeVar Burton directed it, and what a fabulous director he is. I would come in with things and he would see what I did, and then he would tweak it - and he tweaked it in the right direction. He took me down to places and pushed me up in places and pushed the envelope with me. That isn't work; that's a great element of this career that I have this craft that I do - moments like that. Other episodes I was really pleased with were "Cogenitor" and "Shuttlepod One," because it was great to discover that Malcolm and Trip could have a relationship like they do. In the episode "Similitude," did you have a hand in casting or coaching any of the younger actors playing Trip? I did not. Ron Surma, who does the bulk of our onsite casting, has a great eye. The kid who played me at 12 [ Adam Taylor Gordon] also played me at 12 in the premiere episode this year, in a dream flashback. He's a good actor! He can hit it out of the park! I watched him in that episode and thought "Lucky me to have you playing me at 12!" Fan club member Jean Mortensen wishes to ask you " Now that you have had some time on the convention circuit, how do you view the fans' response to your role?" I had no idea what the reaction would be to me. I had hoped that they would like me. I can't say that it has been over-whelming. It has been really nice to get positive feedback that I have gotten from them and how they identify with the character. It is a great internal support to know that they think so. Star Trek is very special. That fan community keeps us alive. There are no other shows that have that kind of community drive and individual opinion based on something they care about. Some people will love something or hate something but they will do both passionately. That's all you want. You don't want a mediocre fan base, and we sure as hell don't have one of those! You also carry a bit more responsibility for what you are doing than you might otherwise. You should conduct yourself a certain way. You are not only responsible for what you do; you are sort of responsible for the whole thing. One can't forget that. I know that you recently went back to the University of Missouri-Kansas City to share some of your experiences of working on Star Trek with young actors there. How did it feel to go back there? One of the reasons I wanted to go back there is that I thought I might have something to offer in bridging the gap between what you get in drama school and what is actually happening out there, specifically after spending a lot of time in front of the camera - which most courses are not training you. I just wanted to be somebody in front of them who had gone to their program and was doing all right. I also wanted to say to them, "Listen, if you don't like this, if this is something that you really, really don't want to do, don't do it. It can be a rocky road and, actually, expect that." Your teachers there must be proud of the success you have achieved. Yes, they are. It was also, for me, a little bittersweet because as soon as I arrived in Kansas City a friend of mine Kellie Waymire, had died the day before. It sort of shifted what was important in terms of what I was talking about. My acting teacher, I believe, had taught Kellie, too, at SMU. It all comes back to "Be happy. If you're not happy, do something else and make yourself happy. Don't get mired in all the bullshit." I can't say how important it is to have a full life and be aware of the people around you that you care about and continue being a member of the human race.

What is the most difficult part of being an actor?

The easy thing about being an actor is just being an "actor," the things that I know and have learned about being an actor and my desire to be one. The most difficult part of being an actor is that there is an up-and-down nature : As long as this show goes I have a job, and when it's over I will be hitting the streets again! It is the inconsistent nature of your employment that really winds up being difficult. The other part that ends up being difficult is that, in your own head, you are working on these parts - be it Henry V or "Trip" Tucker or an episode of ER or a commercial - and part of your job as an actor is to really take something of you and be a storyteller. ...You constantly go and prepare these scenarios for people to see in the hopes that they will cast you - and when they don't , it's not because you weren't prepared and didn't do a good job, but you weren't the right person. That gets very difficult to understand. The longer you go along the easier it gets but, initially, it can be murder on you. At any given time, in our profession and our union, there is at least a 95-97% unemployment rate. If you are not humble and not true to yourself and true to what it is that you are doing, then you are praying to a false God.

Do you watch the show on Wednesday nights?

Yes, I do. Often times I am working, but I tape it. It is kind of my homework. I don't just sit and watch the show. You are always learning different things and you get inspired by different things; it is like you are reviewing your own painting.

What is it like working with Scott Bakula?

I think Scott Bakula is one of the greatest people I have known. He has an understanding of self and his job and a love for his family that we could all hope for in the best of scenarios. He has, and continues to, set the tone for our show and for how to behave. He is just a good person who does his job exceedingly well and who has respect for everybody and, therefore, he gets the greatest respect from everyone. He would be the captain of anything he did! How did you deal with the period of time when the show was not getting the greatest ratings and was receiving a lot of negative feedback?

Well, I don't think we're out of the woods, to be honest with you. Scott has been in this business longer than I have and has learned a few things - and one of those is not to pay a great deal of heat to a lot of this stuff. At the end of the day, I can't control that; criticism is criticism. It was tough to deal with it, though. I bust my ass for this show and for this piece of entertainment to have that criticized - and I don't think particularly fairly, at times. I don't think everybody had done their homework before they shot their pens off. I feel like I already won, though : I am an actor who got a fantastic part on a great show. get enough of that negative criticism and that, in itself, can have such power...We have such a fantastic cast [and] to not be given the full opportunity to show what we've got has frustrated me at times and, really, quite frankly, pissed me off. But, hey, I am doing my job and if you don't like my job, you get to criticize me.

That's one of the givens as an actor and performer ; you put yourself out there and that's the deal. Having said that, it did bother me - but it also showed me the tenuous nature that is this profession and is this business. Anything can happen. Being on Star Trek is both a blessing and a curse; it is a double-edged sword. I don't mean this pejoratively, but there is an attitude, ...a certain amount of prejudice, that is inherent in the way that sci-fi gets looked at, as opposed to looking at it for its own merit. I don't know many closet "action fans" ; there are a ton of closet sci-fi fans!

That do you enjoy doing on your days off?

I enjoy being outside and being with my fiance.

Congratulations in that. Have you set a date?

We've set a date - it is during the hiatus. We are very excited about it. But I do the same thing I have always done. I spend time around the people I love and my friends; I look for things to do, go to museums, I love to read. I love to go on vacations whenever I get the opportunity. We have a beautiful yard with hundreds and hundreds of flowers; I like to just go out there and stand around and look at it. I like to catch up on my life because the up-and-down nature on my schedule: Monday I worked 16 hours, and then 12 hours the next day and 12 hours the day after that. Today, I have off. You do a lot of catching -up on your day off!

What is your prediction for the show going forward? Are you optimistic it will run seven years?

I hope it does. I think it deserves to; I think the story is one worth telling. Whether it will or not, I have actually had to stop worrying about leaks out my positive energy. I do think we'll always battle the big companies that are taking over these studios. If you are going to "numbers crunch," I don't know if we're going to win in that regard. But as a thing that deserves to be on television and is a thing that is a quality product, I think we will survive. I feel like I am part of an amazing legacy, and I take great pride in that. Connor, in conclusion, what has surprised you most about being involved with Star Trek since it has been such a part of your life for the last few years?

I don't know if surprise is the word I would use, but there was a great unknown that I was walking into - and that unknown has fleshed into such an absolutely wonderful experience. I love the people I have met. Being a part of this thing that is Star Trek has enriched my life on more levels than I can even tell you. I have put a lot into it, I get a lot back - it's been extraordinary. I take great pride in the fact that the fans seem to like Trip, and I never take it for granted. Connor, thanks for talking with us today.

It's been my pleasure!

- StarTrek Communicator, February/March 2004 -