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Actor-Director Michael Dorn is best known for his longtime popular portrayal of Klingon Starfleet Officer Lieutenant (later Lt. Commander) Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Michael has appeared more times as a regular cast member than any other Star Trek actor in the franchise’s nearly 55-year history, spanning some 272 TV episodes and 5 feature films. He also appeared as Worf’s ancestor, Colonel Worf, in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Beyond Star Trek, Michael has appeared in various feature films, including as Apollo Creed’s bodyguard in Rocky, and in Shadow Hours, Lessons for an Assassin, and the Santa Clause Trilogy, in which he played the Sandman.  Michael’s also appeared in numerous TV shows, video games, and commercials.

Michael has also directed 3 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. And as an accomplished pilot, Michael is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

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STORYBEAT WITH STEVE CUDEN

STEVE CUDEN INTERVIEWS ACTOR-DIRECTOR MICHAEL DORN

ANNOUNCER:

This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden:

Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming from you from The Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. StoryBeat episodes are available at StoryBeat.net and on all major podcast apps and platforms. If you like this episode, please take a moment to leave us a rating or review. And please, won’t you subscribe to StoryBeat wherever you listen to podcasts. Well, you’re already likely to be a fan of my guest today, Michael Dorn, best known for his long time popular portrayal of Klingon Star Fleet Officer Lieutenant and later Lieutenant Commander Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Michael has appeared more times as a regular cast member than any other Star Trek actor in the franchise’s nearly 55-year history, spanning some 272 TV episodes and five feature films. He also appeared as Worf’s ancestor Colonel Worf in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Beyond Star Trek, Michael has appeared in various feature films, including as Apollo Creed’s bodyguard in Rocky and in Shadow Hours, Lessons for an Assassin, and the Santa Clause trilogy in which he played the sandman.

Michael has also appeared in numerous TV shows, video games, and commercials. Michael has also directed three episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. So for all those reasons and many more, I’m deeply honored to welcome the great Michael Dorn to StoryBeat today. Michael, thanks so much for joining me.

Michael Dorn:

My pleasure.

Steve Cuden:

All right. Let’s go back in time. You’ve been at this acting game for a bit of time at this point. Where did it all start? Where did the bug first bite you? Were you a kid or? How did you get into the acting game?

Michael Dorn:

The bug first bit me when I was shadowing directors and producers on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Steve Cuden:

Oh really?

Michael Dorn:

Yes. I had gotten the bug in college to direct, because in college you do everything. You run the camera. You do the sound. You do editing. Everything. And I really loved the directing part. My professor at the time said that, “You really have a good eye and this is something that you could pursue,” and I really enjoyed it. And interestingly enough, a good friend of mine, Benjie Chulay, that I went to high school with, his dad was assistant director on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and they were very instrumental in saying, “Hey, you can be a director. You can come in. You can see what it’s like, and you can make a little money if you want to be a stand in on Fridays when they tape the show.” And I go, “Okay, great.” It’s very interesting, you can see me in the background the last year and a half or two years of the Mary Tyler Moore Show right behind Ed Asner’s office.

Steve Cuden:

Really?

Michael Dorn:

There’s a guy sitting there all the time. Yeah. And that was the directing part. But in the meantime, which is a very interesting story, is that one of the actors that was guest starring, John Amos, was supposed to be there for one of the rehearsals and he couldn’t make it. He had to go to the hospital because I guess he got hurt or something. And so they said, “Michael, would you stand in for him?” And I go, “Great. No problem.” And I had known the other actors, Mary and Ted and Ed and Gavin, for a long time. They’ve seen me like for a year.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

I wasn’t like a stranger. So I started kind of acting and just kind of playing around with the words and doing stuff. For two weeks after that, they said, “Michael, this directing thing is okay, but you’ve got to do the acting. You were really, really good.” First, me, I kind of go, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever.” But they kept talking about it. And one of the other guest stars came by and I guess he had talked to somebody and they said, “Look, Michael, we heard you wanted to do this. Go see this commercial company,” to do commercials. Commercial agent. Commercials Unlimited. So I went in, had an interview, and they started sending me out. And I got a number of commercials. And that was really good because great, I make a little extra money. But when I started doing the acting, I got another agent through a chance happening, and they sent me on auditions and I got the auditions and that was when the bug hit me. So I went back to school and started studying acting. And about six months later, about a year later, I got my first…

Steve Cuden:

Where did you study acting?

Michael Dorn:

There was an acting school called Charles Conrad in LA for many, many years. Maybe the school is still there. I don’t know if he’s still around. And also, Bryan Reise was instrumental in my acting. It wasn’t about knowing how to act. His thing was getting the job.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

His whole focus was this is how you get the job, which was good because I already knew how to act, it was just the idea of really kind of honing it and really understanding who you were and how to go into an audition.

Steve Cuden:

What were the principal things that he taught you as to how to get a job? What did you learn?

Michael Dorn:

Well, the first thing was you went into his class once a week, and you worked once a week. And what that gave you was experience in terms of when you went in for, like cold readings is what he does, and that’s what most of these auditions in those days did were cold readings. You get the sides. You got in and you do it.

Steve Cuden:

You got the sides that day. You weren’t given any advance on it, right?

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. Usually it’s either a day or two days, but usually it’s a day, and you have to go in and give a performance.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

And so he just taught you how to do that. Like for instance, one of the things he said is you can go into a cold reading or into an audition, somebody will say, “Okay. That was good. Go higher or go bigger.” And you think that you’re going really big in your head, but you’re not really. You’re going like not a foot, you’re going an inch. But in your head, you think you’re doing a lot more.

Steve Cuden:

Right. Sure.

Michael Dorn:

And so it teaches you that when they say, okay, go bigger, you have to go bigger. Like really big. Like almost where you think it’s ridiculous. And if they say, okay, bring it down some, then you have your level that you can go by. Also, doing it every week you’re not afraid of going in to an audition, because it’s just another audition. It’s just another reading. You’ve got it, boom, you’re done.

Steve Cuden:

True.

Michael Dorn:

And that is other thing too, is working all the time. The auditions aren’t so strange to you. And so that was the other great part.

Steve Cuden:

Well, there’s no substitute for just doing and doing and doing. You just get better and better.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly.

Steve Cuden:

I think there’s no piece of the entertainment industry that isn’t like a muscle. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly. And for me, my thing was whenever I go into an audition, my heart is beating like crazy. And if you’re just going in there going, “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” then none of that stuff can affect you.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

And also, I had audited three or four acting classes and all of them were like, okay, okay, I get it. Some have their own systems. Whatever. But his class I walked in and I watched these people do their cold readings and they were fantastic. I mean, they were really good and really interesting. Also, he taught you that… They do this thing called casting director night where you play the casting director.

Steve Cuden:

Okay.

Michael Dorn:

And everybody comes in, and these are people that you know, that you’ve been in class with. And everybody does the same audition basically. The one that does something really different is the one that stands out and you notice.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

He’s not going to walk in and put on a bozo wig and a fake nose. But if you are within the parameters and you’re really interesting or you have a different take, you get noticed. There’s something different about that.

Steve Cuden:

And I’ve been in bunches of auditions and there’s no question that when you see lots of people over and over again, most of them are sort of hitting the same notes.

Michael Dorn:

Oh yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Then you find the one-

Michael Dorn:

Which is not bad, I mean, and they’re good at hitting those notes.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

But that person that is just… Like, you go, “Oh, well, that was interesting.”

Steve Cuden:

Just a little special in some way.

Michael Dorn:

Just a little special.

Steve Cuden:

So did you then think about auditioning so that you’d find something special as you auditioned? Was that part of that?

Michael Dorn:

No. The other part of Bryan’s formula for his class was you become, or… That’s not the right word for it. You are that person or that character when you walk on the lot or when you’re driving to the audition. You don’t break character because if it’s a bad guy or if it’s a guy who’s mean and you come in and you have your little Izod shirts and you go, “Hi. How you’re doing? Well, great, and you’re joking and laughing, and then you go, “Okay. I’m ready. I’m going to kill you,” people kind of go, “Hmm.” It takes it out of… And I’ve seen it too on the other side when I was casting for stuff, the people that came in as the character, that came in and they had it when they walk in the door, you were more likely to hire them.

Steve Cuden:

Interesting. And so-

Michael Dorn:

And that’s what happened. Every audition I went on after being with Bryan for a while, I was that character. I didn’t show up with the other actors. I didn’t kibitz out in the ante room, I took a place by myself in another room or away from everybody, and was that character.

Steve Cuden:

And how long were you at it? I assume that you started to book various shows-

Michael Dorn:

Yes.

Steve Cuden:

… and jobs. How long were you at it before you thought to yourself, “You know what, I’m actually pretty good at this.”? Was it soon in or did it take you a little while?

Michael Dorn:

I thought I was really good from the very start.

Steve Cuden:

You did?

Michael Dorn:

I thought I had this natural ability. It’s my ego. I mean, what can I tell you? I was a bit egotistical. But I just thought there was this natural thing that I had. But I realized that I wasn’t, it was just I could just do that one thing. And then after, with Bryan’s class, then I realized that I could do it. I wasn’t the greatest or anything like that, but I went, “Oh, I can do this. And this is how you do it.”

Steve Cuden:

Well, I assume you were able to look around at the rest of Hollywood and know that there were lots of people who were okay, but not great, but they were finding work. So that had to be some encouragement that no matter what you were, you were going to go find something.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. There was a really difficult point in my career where my agents were going, “Michael, your cold reading stink, and you got to do something about that or get out of the business.” And I looked back and I said, “Well, I’ve done work.” I was reoccurring on a series and I had numerous commercials, and some sitcoms, so I knew that I could do it. I took that seriously for a second, and then I went, “No, no, no, I can do this.” It’s just I needed to expand my expertise. That’s all I had to do.

Steve Cuden:

So it was patience and persistence at that point. Yes?

Michael Dorn:

It was persistence, patience didn’t really enter that much into it. It was being persistent.

Steve Cuden:

Persistent.

Michael Dorn:

And being focused, and not letting anything kind of get in the way of the goal, which was to get rid of that nice guy image that I had, and to be able to do many other things.

Steve Cuden:

And to go deeper, darker, weirder, funny, or whatever those things would be, yes?

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. In auditioning, you get a role, and I never got dark roles. I would get like cops, and lawyers and doctors and boyfriends. But you had to understand, if you’re doing a sitcom, you had to understand comedy, if you’re doing a drama, you had to basically be as serious about that role as you possibly could be.

Steve Cuden:

Do you enjoy doing comedy when you get it?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, I love comedy. I absolutely love comedy. I like good comedy.

Steve Cuden:

Pretty much every actor I’ve ever talked to would rather do comedy than drama. They love doing drama, but they would rather do comedy because it’s just so much more fun.

Michael Dorn:

It’s a lot of fun. But there is an art to comedy.

Steve Cuden:

No question.

Michael Dorn:

There is definitely an art. And I remember I was at a meeting about directing a sitcom in New York, and the guy said, “So what do you think? What do you think about comedy?” I said, “Look, good comedy is drama.”

Steve Cuden:

Oh, sure.

Michael Dorn:

“Is serious. It’s not laughing and slapstick and pies in the face. It is like when you say something,” and interestingly enough, my character on the show became a comedic character once a year because they wrote one line a year that they thought would be hilarious for me, because he was serious about it. Whatever he said, he wasn’t joking. He wasn’t trying to be serious. And the more serious he was, the funnier it got. And actually I got hired for that because I think the producer went, “Yeah, that’s it.” And I got hired for the sitcom. So that was great.

Steve Cuden:

Well, Edmund Gwenn allegedly once famously said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

Michael Dorn:

Comedy is hard.

Steve Cuden:

Comedy is hard. And if you want to see exactly what Michael’s talking about, just go watch the movie Airplane, where all the actors in it, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen, they’re playing it straight. It’s as straight as can be.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, my. And it was just hilarious. It couldn’t have been funnier. And they’re saying words that they’ve said maybe 100,000 times in their careers.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

But it is hilarious.

Steve Cuden:

Well, it tends to be the context in which it’s being said, but you’re playing it straight ahead, you’re not trying to get the laugh.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah, I watched a bit of it, when the guy, Leslie Nielsen, says to Peter Graves, he says, “You have to land this plane.” He says, “Let me…” Something like that, “I got to talk to you.” Or, “Let me ask you something, when can you land this plane?” “Well, I can’t for two hours.” He says, “You can’t tell me for two hours, or you can’t land for two…” And, “No, no, no, I can’t land for two.” And it was just this normal conversation, and I was on the floor.

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely.

Michael Dorn:

And that’s what’s missing a lot. I mean, I’m a big Anglophile, so I love British comedy.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, me too.

Michael Dorn:

And my favorite was, of course, Monty Python-

Steve Cuden:

Of course.

Michael Dorn:

… But Yes Minister, if you want to see great comedy, and they’re deadly serious about it, and it is just hilarious.

Steve Cuden:

Well, nobody’s better at underplaying the line than the British.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, and also the new one I have is Doc Martin.

Steve Cuden:

I don’t know that one. Is that British?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s about a guy, a doctor, very short, not short stature, but he doesn’t suffer fools. And I think he has a bit of OCD, but he’s a brilliant surgeon, and he gets a phobia all of a sudden about blood. And he’s a brilliant surgeon. And so he says, “I can’t do this anymore. I might as well go to this little village and become their village doctor,” and his deliveries are some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

Steve Cuden:

Who’s the star of it? Do you know?

Michael Dorn:

Martin Clunes.

Steve Cuden:

Martin Clunes. I will definitely check that out. I’ve never heard of it.

Michael Dorn:

You definitely have to. It’s brilliant.

Steve Cuden:

Sorry, now let’s talk about what happens in your process as an actor. At some point, you book a job, you get a script, and when you’re on a series, you get lots of scripts, obviously, what is the first thing you do? Aside from just reading it, what are your first processes toward turning the script that you have into something that you can now say? How do you start to think about your script?

Michael Dorn:

The number one thing is that I talk to the producers and say, “What do you want from this?” As a guest actor, you don’t have that opportunity a lot. You basically are hired, and you got to show up with the character. So that’s my first question is, what do you want from this character? Or who is this character? And the next thing is that if it’s a character, like one time, I played a psychiatrist, and I went to people that I knew who knew and who were psychiatrists. And I said, “How do you do this?” And they gave me the parameters of what a psychiatrist should do.

Michael Dorn:

And then the next thing I do is I give this character a backstory, which is… Now, they may say, “Oh, well, he’s a psychiatrist and he treats people with this kind of trauma.” Okay, that’s basically a outline, I give him a backstory. Where did he come from? Where did he go to school? Is he married? Is he happily married? Has he been divorced? Does he have children? Is this his first job? Was he something else? And all of these things, I give him a life of his own. And then from there, whatever somebody says to me, or whatever the lines are, I bring that to the lines, whatever they are.

Steve Cuden:

You’re taking the life that you’ve built and bringing that forward through the lines.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly.

Steve Cuden:

And I assume you’re first looking for clues within the text of the script to help you with that background, but if it’s not there, then you’re going to start to make things up on your own.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly. I mean, if one of the lines is yeah, I was married twice, and my kids hate me, then yeah, there you go. I mean, that’s not a clue, that’s who you are.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

But then you have to take that and start to build another story with that. So that when somebody says something to you, you’re coming from someplace, and it’s going to be a little more interesting than if you’re just reading the lines.

Steve Cuden:

Would you say that’s the most challenging aspect of getting into the character is figuring out the backstory?

Michael Dorn:

No, that’s the easy part.

Steve Cuden:

What’s then the most challenging thing of developing a character?

Michael Dorn:

It depends. If you’re on a series, you have to kind of conform to a lot of things, the politics of whatever series it is, the politics of the production company, the politics of the producers, there’s a lot of things that you can’t… There’s a politics of the other actors, if you have a big star actor, or somebody who is above you on the call sheet, that’s a challenge, depending on who they are. Some actors that I work with are very giving, some actors are very standoffish in terms of who they are and all that. You really have to navigate that, and that’s been a very difficult part for me.

Steve Cuden:

Would you say that that takes time on a series? If you’re on a series for a while, that takes a little time to figure it all out? Or are you sort of having forced through circumstance, to have to figure that out pretty quick?

Michael Dorn:

Well, it depends on if you’re on a series and you’re a regular on the series, then you pretty much figure that out pretty quickly. Because you’re there, and they have to share things with you, they have to share their ideas, and their foibles, and all of this stuff with you, because you’re there. I mean, it’s not like a guest star, which means a guest star is you show up that day, you go on the set, they say sit over there, and you do the work or whatever you do. And that’s it, and you’re gone. So you have to get that all arranged within a few minutes. And you don’t have that luxury when you’re a guest, but you’re also not bound by that, because nobody is going to give you a bunch of crap because you’re going to be gone.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

The producers aren’t going to even probably see you until they see you in dailies, so.

Steve Cuden:

Would you say that you got better at that? At sussing out the politics of a set after a while? Or were you pretty good at that early on? Or was there a trick to it?

Michael Dorn:

I’m terrible at that. Some people are very good. I’m just terrible at that. And so I don’t get involved with it. And as a guest star, you go there, you’re on time, you know your lines, you don’t bump into the furniture and you go home. There’s nothing they can say about that. Unless you’re terrible or something, and then they go, “Oh, God, he’s bad.” But-

Steve Cuden:

You’re a pro. You go and you approach it as a pro, you do the job.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly. And you have no idea what the politics are, and you don’t care, you really don’t care. As a regular, then that becomes a little more problematic, depending on the show you’re on.

Steve Cuden:

Well, because now you’re dealing with not just politics in the studio and the production company, but you’re dealing with coworkers, and like any job in any place, you’re dealing with the politics of what I call tiny town politics, because it’s a small self-contained thing.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah, exactly. That’s a very good definition. Very good definition. Because-

Steve Cuden:

And you have to kind of work your way through it or suddenly you’re on the outs somehow. And that’s not good.

Michael Dorn:

And depending on where you are on the call sheet. If you’re number one, you carry a lot more weight.

Steve Cuden:

Sure. Of course.

Michael Dorn:

People are gonna… It just goes on and on. I mean, it’s just a myriad of things. And then you have to, how do you get along with the crew?

Steve Cuden:

Of course.

Michael Dorn:

If the camera operator doesn’t like you, he may be apt to shoot you out of focus-

Steve Cuden:

Shoot you out of focus.

Michael Dorn:

… a bit, depending on… I mean, and also I haven’t been on shows like this, but I was very close to a couple of people that were on shows where the lead actors and actresses were just horrible to each other.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, wow.

Michael Dorn:

And unprofessional.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Dorn:

And it’s just amazing. Luckily, I haven’t been involved in anything like that, so.

Steve Cuden:

No, and nothing that I’ve read from your history suggests that you were involved in anything like that?

Michael Dorn:

No, I’ve been very fortunate. Even the first series I did was CHiPs. And Larry and Eric, for all the stuff that was going on at the time, which was it was a crazy time in the business, they were the greatest guys. I mean, I really liked them both a lot. And they didn’t make it difficult for us to act. They were-

Steve Cuden:

Did they make it fun?

Michael Dorn:

They made it challenging. Larry, not really. Larry was a cowboy from Oklahoma. Really, really good guy.

Steve Cuden:

Right.

Michael Dorn:

Eric, he was becoming really, really big. But they didn’t make it difficult not at all. They made it like you really had to kind of navigate that show, because I mean, it was a wild show. I mean, it really was a wild show, and in not a negative way, it was just wild. I mean, you’re talking about the late ’70s, early ’80s, it was sex, drugs and rock and roll to the nth degree, so.

Steve Cuden:

And like you say, he was becoming super famous. He was-

Michael Dorn:

Super famous, super famous.

Steve Cuden:

… exploding.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah. So obviously, you’re going to take jobs as an actor in Hollywood that you may not relate to well, or you may not even like that much, but you’re going to take the job when it’s offered to you. But when you look at parts, and you look at scripts, what for you makes a good part or a good role, good? What is the thing that you get turned on by?

Michael Dorn:

Great words.

Steve Cuden:

Great words, the great writing.

Michael Dorn:

The great writing. I mean–

Steve Cuden:

And without that you’ve got nothing, right?

Michael Dorn:

I’ve been really fortunate, for a lot of reasons, that Star Trek has given me the opportunity to really pick and choose what I do.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

And so I don’t have to take jobs because I have to take them, or because, “Oh, my God, if I don’t take this job, I’m going to be dead in the business.” You know, in any case.

Steve Cuden:

Of course, of course.

Michael Dorn:

So I’ve been very fortunate. And also, for better or worse, I’ve done… I’ve always loved Shakespeare, the classics. And I did two plays, I did As You Like It and Antony and Cleopatra, I was a lead in Orlando. And just beautiful words, just incredible words.

Steve Cuden:

Well, it’s very hard to beat William Shakespeare, isn’t it?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, my gosh. And the more you do it in terms of and even if it’s a long run, it changes every day. And it gets better and better and better.

Steve Cuden:

And what’s the most fascinating thing to me about Shakespeare is that he almost gives you no stage directions of any kind.

Michael Dorn:

No.

Steve Cuden:

It’s just the words itself.

Michael Dorn:

Just the words. And it was quite an experience. So I love the words, and there are great writers, but I just recently did a movie where the role was really good and the character had some depth.

Steve Cuden:

What film was it?

Michael Dorn:

It was called Agent Revelation.

Steve Cuden:

Agent Revelation?

Michael Dorn:

Yeah, it should be out, gosh, next year, sometime.

Steve Cuden:

2021? Because we’re talking-

Michael Dorn:

2021, yeah.

Steve Cuden:

… we’re speaking at the end of 2020, today.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. And I really liked that. I mean, it was a low budget movie, it had a lot of interest, but I did enjoy the character. And the words were great. And the scenes were fantastic.

Steve Cuden:

Again, you were able to pick and choose this, it came your way somehow, and you decided to do it.

Michael Dorn:

Right.

Steve Cuden:

And when that happens, does it feel to you like it’s just right, it’s your part? When it comes to you, does it feel like it’s yours? Like you own it?

Michael Dorn:

No, no, I don’t think I’ve ever felt, at first, no, maybe later. In fact, a director wanted me to do a show, and I couldn’t do it. And I said, “Well, the guy that did it,” I said, “He seems fine.” And she goes, “Yeah, but if you had done it, it would have been different.” And that’s the way I look at it, as that I don’t own it, but what I do would be different than somebody else.

Steve Cuden:

Sure, of course.

Michael Dorn:

But I don’t, I’ve never said, “Oh, I own this,” or when I read something, I’ve never said, “Oh, this is me. This is my role.” Never. I just look at it as, “Wow, this will be interesting.” And interesting is always good for me.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So you had, obviously, tons of experiences in a couple different directions. One is, we’ve already talked about being a guest star on a show where you’re in and out. And you’ve also clearly been on a show for a very long time, years. Did you find that, as you did Worf over the years, that he deepened for you in any way? Did the writing deepen for you? Did your take on him deepen?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I think that he, it’s funny, he and I became more comfortable in our skin.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, that’s interesting.

Michael Dorn:

And I think that that really, really helped the character a lot.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that’s interesting because, and I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on Star Trek-

Michael Dorn:

That’s fine.

Steve Cuden:

… I’d rather talk about process, but the truth is that the Klingons in general are not known as soft, fuzzy characters.

Michael Dorn:

Mm-mm (negative).

Steve Cuden:

So for you to feel like you became part of the skin of that character, that’s interesting.

Michael Dorn:

It wasn’t I became part of that, it was just the idea that I was very, very comfortable doing Worf because he was like an old friend to me. You know what I mean?

Steve Cuden:

Like putting on an old shoe, as they say.

Michael Dorn:

It’s easy, you can do it and it’s easy. There’s no fuss, no muss. And when I say the character is more comfortable, he was more relaxed. If you can see the way that he has grown since Next Generation, he was stiff and angry all the time and wasn’t very sure. Like I said, he wasn’t very comfortable in his own skin. And as the character went on, he became a lot more comfortable with who he was. And luckily, I was very fortunate that the writers on Next Generation and Deep Space picked up on that. And they wrote some just beautiful, beautiful episodes for us.

Steve Cuden:

So they started to follow your lead over time.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah, initially, it was. I mean, the initial thing was what I did the first three days on the show, on the pilot. I went to Gene Roddenberry and said, “Hey, what do you want from this character?” And he says, “Don’t listen, or don’t go by anything you’ve heard or people have said, anything. Make the character your own.” And that to me was like winning the brass ring, was to say, “Oh, fantastic.” And so I created this character, and the writers picked up on it immediately and just ran with it.

Steve Cuden:

Well, obviously, you did something right, because it lasted a long time, and is still to this day quite a popular character, so.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. Well, and can I tell you a little process?

Steve Cuden:

Sure. Please. Please.

Michael Dorn:

You want to talk about process is that the way, the technical part of this whole thing was that when they were casting for Next Generation, my agents called and they said, “We’re sorry, we love Michael, but it’s already cast. If we need you in the future, we’ll give you a call.”

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Dorn:

And so at that point, I was working pretty steadily. So it was just another audition. I love Star Trek, and always have from the ’60s. So I said, “Oh, well, whatever.” Two weeks later, they call back and they say, “We want to see you, we want you to do this character.” Long story short, I go and in makeup that day that I get the role and I’m hired, but I haven’t been introduced to the other actors at all.

Steve Cuden:

You’re talking about as Worf now, you’re in makeup as Worf.

Michael Dorn:

As Worf.

Steve Cuden:

Got it.

Michael Dorn:

But I went on the set one day as Michael Dorn, they don’t know me, they don’t know what I’m doing here. I went on the set, and I was watching them. And everybody was so wonderful, and so great with each other. “Oh, oh, that’s so… We’re comrades, and we’re going out in space together.” And they’re laughing and having a great time. And, “Oh, this…” And I went, “Okay, I’m going to do the opposite.”

Steve Cuden:

Oh.

Michael Dorn:

And that was my process for that.

Steve Cuden:

Interesting.

Michael Dorn:

I said, “I’m going to be as angry and as pissed off as I possibly can, all the time.” I don’t smile. I don’t laugh. I don’t understand their jokes. I don’t want to understand their jokes. Patrick would say, “Mr. Worf. Would you pick up that pen?” And I go, “I’ll die first and I’ll kill you if I have to.” And that was-

Steve Cuden:

Well, you know what they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Michael Dorn:

Pen is mightier, I’ll pick up this pen and stick it in your neck. But that was a choice.

Steve Cuden:

Okay. So in that process, because now you’re dealing with the other actors, did that impact them in a negative way toward you, because you were angry all the time like that?

Michael Dorn:

The other actors?

Steve Cuden:

Yes. The other actors.

Michael Dorn:

No, that group of actors were fairly, not even fairly, they were very, very experienced in guest starring and doing things, I mean, or reoccurring on something. I mean, everybody was very experienced. So they weren’t even that concerned. I mean, they understood that I wasn’t this character, because when I got out of makeup, and we hung out, I was Michael Dorn.

Steve Cuden:

So they respected what you were doing at that point, it didn’t impact them on a personal level at all.

Michael Dorn:

Not a personal level. They loved it, because they basically had something to play against.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

Like, Jonathan Frakes and… Sorry, people would get upset. Some people would, but I thought it was very funny. He always called me big, dumb, stupid Worf, because Worf would be standing around going, “What? I don’t understand.” Ya know, geez. So I think that not personally, not at all, not a bit, not a bit.

Steve Cuden:

All right, so what lessons did you learn early on in your career or early on in Star Trek? What did you learn that have stuck with you to this day? Obviously, the very first times that you go on a set, there things you don’t know, you don’t know how you’re going to be. What did you learn early on that you still do to this day that have stuck with you?

Michael Dorn:

It wasn’t learning as much as, not fortifying my beliefs, but validating my beliefs that when you start, whatever day that is, you come prepared, you don’t bump into the furniture, you know your lines, you basically do the work the best you can. And leave it at that. The one thing that we do, that I got from working on Star Trek and the other actors, is there’s rules, you don’t point, you don’t indicate, like I said, you don’t bump into the furniture. There was a sense of, when the camera is rolling, we were spot on. But when the cameras stopped, all of the things came down.

Steve Cuden:

What things do you mean? You mean that the facade of being in the character, is that what you’re saying?

Michael Dorn:

Yeah, totally, totally. We weren’t even close to who we were, who our characters were. Not even close.

Steve Cuden:

Interesting.

Michael Dorn:

And so you were able to kind of let it go and not take yourself seriously, which is always good.

Steve Cuden:

If you took yourself too seriously, it would not be a lot of fun, would it?

Michael Dorn:

But there is one thing I did that I did learn that was the tenor of the show emanates from the top. So whoever is the lead, number one on the call sheet, his attitude permeates to the rest of the production.

Steve Cuden:

Am I correct that’s Patrick Stewart in that case?

Michael Dorn:

Yes.

Steve Cuden:

I mean, obviously, I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know him. But my guess would be is that he’s the ultimate professional and a very sweet person underneath it all.

Michael Dorn:

And a very sweet person. Yeah. Oh, and I’ve been on shows where the lead actor is a bit on the egotistical side, where if they call the person to the set for the shot or whatever, they may come at the time, or they may take their time and they may… I mean, I’ve definitely seen that, but not with our show. And Patrick was the lead in that because when they called him, he was out of his trailer and walking to the set. In fact, there was a, I don’t know how many years, but my trailer at that time was closer to the door of the set than his was, because I think his was just a bigger trailer, so they needed more space or something. And they’d call him, and we’d all come out of our trailers basically at the same time and Patrick would always be in front of me. And as I’m coming out the door, he’d always say, “Come along, Michael. Come along.”

Steve Cuden:

That’s wonderful.

Michael Dorn:

It must have been, I don’t know, three years, every day. And I walk out, “Come along, Michael. Come along.” And it was, it was fine. We didn’t rebel against that, everybody. I mean, you really had to be there, you really had to be on time.

Steve Cuden:

He obviously wasn’t saying it meanly. He was saying it sweetly.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, gosh, no. No, no, no, no, I don’t think we… That wasn’t us, but he was just giving me shit.

Steve Cuden:

So as an Anglophile, obviously, he’s British, would you say that that’s part and parcel of being a very good British actor, those that you’ve known and worked with?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes, they-

Steve Cuden:

They’re just pros.

Michael Dorn:

They’re just pros. It’s just like you going to a job, a real job. I’d never dreamed of being late for work. It just isn’t in my head.

Steve Cuden:

Me either.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. Early, yes. But I’m on time. And so that was never an issue. But Patrick saying that was just the idea, the reason I said that is that, I mean, they would call him and he’s out the door. I mean, if he’s sitting or if he’s in the bathroom, that’s one thing. But otherwise, he’s out the door.

Steve Cuden:

To me, I’ve been in the business a while and there’s no question whatsoever that the real pros are always early. They’re never on time, they’re always early, early is on time for them. And that they’re always there for you as you need them.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly.

Steve Cuden:

And the ones that aren’t professional, they tend not to, and it’s a funny, funny thing about that. So it must have been a joy to work on that show then, because everything was in sync.

Michael Dorn:

It was an amazing experience.

Steve Cuden:

All right, so-

Michael Dorn:

Amazing experience.

Steve Cuden:

So you obviously have also done a ton of voice acting, a ton of it. And I’m just curious for you, is your preparation, your thinking, your performance, how does it differ? I know you’ve got to work the voice a little differently than you would if you’ve got cameras up and close in your face. But how is it different for you? How do you prepare differently for a voice job versus an on camera job?

Michael Dorn:

For me you don’t prepare. I found that when you go in with something prepared, it’s not what they want.

Steve Cuden:

Got it.

Michael Dorn:

And it’s not anything malicious, it’s just that they’ve changed their mind.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

Or the client has said, “Oh, we want this.” So I just go in and be flexible enough to where I say, “Okay, how do you want this? Do you want Worf? Or do you want Michael Dorn?” And they go, “Well, we’d like to get a little of both.” And I go, “Yeah, of course you’re going to say that.” What do you want? This or that? “Well, can you do in between?” “Yeah, I get it.” But you don’t really prepare. You really have to kind of go in and be on your toes about it.

Steve Cuden:

Well, Michael, I don’t have to tell you, you’ve got a magnificent instrument in your voice.

Michael Dorn:

Thank you. Thank you, yeah.

Steve Cuden:

It’s a gorgeous voice. So they’re going to want to exploit it to the best in their thinking.

Michael Dorn:

In their thinking. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Right. So do you have a preference? Do you prefer to work on camera? Do you prefer to work just voiceover stuff or is just the job, the job?

Michael Dorn:

I prefer on camera.

Steve Cuden:

On camera.

Michael Dorn:

For those two things, on camera. And I got to say the last job that I did that I was just tickled pink about was Castle, and I played a psychiatrist to Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion, and talk about professional, they both were just amazing, amazing to work for. And the scenes were amazing. And they knew their lines, and they knew their stuff. And they were there on time. All that stuff we talked about. And it made it a pleasurable experience. I did I think six episodes, five or six.

Steve Cuden:

And that was just fun to do, then.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, it was just. And it was a psychiatrist, so the role was interesting. And the words were interesting, and-

Steve Cuden:

That helps you as an actor, doesn’t it? When those words are interesting to play.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah. Well, actually what it does is it liberates you from thinking about the words, they just come.

Steve Cuden:

That makes sense, because they flow naturally.

Michael Dorn:

They flow naturally, you don’t have to try to work and figure out how to say it, and it was beautiful. It was really something.

Steve Cuden:

All right. So I’m curious about your philosophy toward auditioning, because I know the listeners who are going to listen in, some of them are trying to figure out how to start their careers. What is your philosophy toward auditioning? How do you approach it?

Michael Dorn:

The first thing is to get the lines. To me, that’s the first thing, is to know the words, if you have an opportunity. Know it inside and out, so you don’t have to think about it. And then the next thing is to put it in context, what is it going to be? Are you in an office, are you in this? And just sort of lay out the scene in your head.

Steve Cuden:

To develop a character going in.

Michael Dorn:

No, not develop a character, basically they’re going to give you the character stuff later, is what I think. You have to kind of have a performance, and it doesn’t matter about how close the character is to this character, you have to just have a performance, where whatever you do they go, “Okay, I can see that in my movie, or I can see that scene in my TV show.” And so you have to have a performance, is what I think.

Steve Cuden:

And do you tend to take a tact? In other words, do you say, “I’m going to come in this certain way in my attitude as I play it.”? Or are you trying to be natural about it without thinking about it?

Michael Dorn:

No, I come in as the character.

Steve Cuden:

As the character.

Michael Dorn:

As the character.

Steve Cuden:

So it’s a tactic to play it a certain way?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah, definitely. But the tactic is less about how to play it, and the tactic is more about how you audition. You see what I mean?

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely.

Michael Dorn:

There was a guy, I didn’t direct this episode, but LeVar directed, and I was shadowing LeVar. And this guy named Alan Graf, who was in police academy movies with the big gun.

Steve Cuden:

Yes.

Michael Dorn:

He came in for a role as a Klingon. And he walks in, and the producers kind of wanted to kibitz with him a little bit, kind of, “Hey,” and he just went, “No, no, stop. And let’s do the scene.” And it stopped everybody, like, “Okay,” and he did the scene, he was wonderful, of course, and he got the job. And that’s not the character, that’s his process of auditioning. And that’s my process too. If somebody says something to me like, “Oh, Michael, I really love your work.” I’ll say thank you, and go on in. They’re like, “Do you have any questions?” “No.” And you go on and do your thing.

Steve Cuden:

Okay, so that leads me to sort of the next part of that, which is, sets are notoriously distracting places. There’s lots going on, people moving and talking and people yelling and screaming and blah, blah, blah, there’s a lot of activity. What do you do to zone that out? Are you able to? What do you do to stay in focus? Do you have a process for that?

Michael Dorn:

Not even a process, no. Depending on where you are in your career, that’s just stuff that goes on. It’s when they say action is where you have to be at the time. If people are really doing naughty things, you know what I mean? If they’re trying to distract you, or they’re… Then yeah, but usually the stuff that goes on is just noise around you, like white noise. The camera operator is yelling and screaming, €¦the this, the this€¦€ I mean, they’re all doing stuff. You’re just kind of going, “Okay, well, I’m waiting.” But there’s —

Steve Cuden:

Are you thinking about your lines?

Michael Dorn:

At that point, no, I’ve got my lines, I know what my lines are.

Steve Cuden:

Got it.

Michael Dorn:

What you’re looking at, I mean, what I do is the rehearsal is the first part of that sort of process for me.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

Because I’m seeing what the other actor is doing. I’m looking at what they’re doing, how they’re approaching the scene, blah, blah, blah. And it’s sort of like a tennis match, you just sort of go, “Okay, they hit it over here, I’m going to go over there and they hit it, I’m going to drop shot it. Okay, then they…” Or if it’s a really interesting give and take, then you’re just lobbing it back and forth until you get that opening, and then you could take a moment or whatever the case. You’re not trying to defeat the other actor, but you’re playing with them.

Steve Cuden:

Well, obviously, it wouldn’t be good if you were defeating the other actor, that would turn out to be dangerous for the show.

Michael Dorn:

Let me tell you something, it happens a lot.

Steve Cuden:

Where people are trying to kick the butt out of another actor.

Michael Dorn:

Totally.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Dorn:

I mean, really trying to screw up the scene for their own benefit.

Steve Cuden:

Wow.

Michael Dorn:

I mean, I did a movie, not going to say the actor, not going to say the movie.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

But I did a movie where I was supposed to run to this guy who was dying and blood’s all over the place, and the director says, “Okay, Michael, you run over there, you stand over him, and you do this with the blood. And then you look at that. And then there’s a moment where the guys are coming to arrest him, and you stand up, and the guy looks at you, you look at him, and…” There was an actor on his own volition ran over there, didn’t shove me physically, but kind of got in my way and he looked at the blood. And then when the guy comes up and I’m supposed to stand up and look at him, he stood up in front of me.

Steve Cuden:

Oh.

Michael Dorn:

I just looked at him, and I said, “Well, first of all, what are you doing?” Well, I, you know… Anyway, we had a little moment, not a big moment. But what he did was he ruined the scene, and they didn’t use it, because it didn’t make any sense. And there have been times where people go to an undermining class, I think, at some point, and they really try to undermine your performance, so then the camera has to look at them.

Steve Cuden:

I think that’s usually either insecurity or despair, or both, they’re desperate to be on camera, or they’re very insecure about who they are, so they have to prove it somehow.

Michael Dorn:

Or they’re dicks. I don’t know.

Steve Cuden:

Well, that may be the ultimate answer is they’re just flat out dicks. Yeah. Well, Hollywood’s filled with all kinds of people. I mean, I don’t have to tell you.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. So luckily, that hasn’t happened a lot, but it does happen, and this is for all other actors, you have to say something, you have to say, “Don’t do that. Please, don’t do that.” And they’re going to get defensive about it. You say, “No, no, just please don’t do that.”

Steve Cuden:

So you-

Michael Dorn:

And then if that doesn’t work, then you have to go to the director and say, “Look, this is a problem we’re having, is there anything that we can do?”

Steve Cuden:

I was going to say you’ve been on the other side of the camera where you’re the director, now you have to deal with whatever those problems are.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Cuden:

Did you enjoy your time in the director’s chair?

Michael Dorn:

I love directing.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah?

Michael Dorn:

I absolutely love it. Absolutely.

Steve Cuden:

Would you say all your years as an actor made you a greater director than you might have otherwise been?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, no question. No question. When you’re on the other side, and an actor says something that kind of drives people crazy, you kind of go, “Oh, I know exactly where they’re coming from.”

Steve Cuden:

[Laughter]

Michael Dorn:

I mean, there has been so many times when I was directing where people have come up, and, “Oh, he’s doing this and he’s doing that, and I want to…” I say, “Okay, wait a minute, what do you need?” “Well, I need my tricorder to be a little more this,” and I go to the prop guy, “Can you do that?” And he goes, “Yes.” “Okay, well then do that.” And they both walk away, and it’s fine. Or I worked on a show and the lead actress was a very, sort of, not temperamental, is not the word for it, because she was very sweet. But she just kind of had her own thing. She showed up when she wanted to, and if she didn’t like the scene, she left. And we figured this scene out, and somebody had kind of messed up with the staging, and the actress is coming to do the scene. And I go, “Oh, this is wrong. The staging is wrong.” They go, “Oh, God, yeah, you’re going to have to tell her,” they were all frightened, and she comes up and I go, “You know what? We screwed up here. We got the staging wrong. It’ll take us about 10 minutes. Can you give us 10 minutes?”

Michael Dorn:

She goes, “Oh, okay.” She turns and walked away. And another time there was an actress that said, “Michael, I don’t have a process. I just do it and that’s it. I don’t have to think about it. That’s it. It’s just a process. That’s all I…” I go, “Really?” “Yes.” And there’s a scene and she comes up to me, and we were taping, it was that day or like an hour before taping, and she goes, “Michael, I thought about the scene and I tried it and I’m not going to do it that way.” I go, “Really?” She goes, “Yeah, I’m not going to do it.” I said, “Okay.” And I walked away. And when it came time to tape in front of a live audience, she does the scene the way that we had talked about. And I went up to her afterwards and said, “Thank you.” And I gave her a big hug. Because I’ve said those things. I’ve never said I’m not going to do it, but I’ve said, “I don’t understand that. I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is that? Why am I here? Why am I standing here?”

Steve Cuden:

Sure. Actors are sometimes fearful people and some of it’s just fear, and they’re trying to deflect it in some way.

Michael Dorn:

And I’ve worked with many directors that allow you to be fearful.

Steve Cuden:

Interesting.

Michael Dorn:

Or you say, “You know what, I want to try something.” And the director instead of going, “No, don’t do it. Just do it the way it’s…” Most of the really, really wonderful directors will say, “Okay, show me.”

Steve Cuden:

That is the way, is let the actors show you the way, is correct.

Michael Dorn:

If you say, “No,” then have a reason for it, and the actors will go, “Okay.” This one actor, some actors hate it when I say this is, is that some actors will have the scene done and it’s good. In fact, there was a one guy, Bill Sadler, he’s just a fabulous actor. He said, “Michael, can I do it again?” And I go, “Well, that was wonderful.” He says, “Yeah, I really want to do it again.” I said, “Is it going to be better?” And he goes, “Yes,” and I go, “Okay. Let’s do it again.” Some actors don’t like that. But it’s just the way to kind of go, “I get it.” So yeah, to make a long story short, yeah, I’m glad that I acted all this time before I directed.

Steve Cuden:

The acting was important for you to become a better director, even though, as we talked about way early on, you started out thinking you were going to be a director when you went to school. So ultimately, you did direct and you had the training for it by the time you got to be a director.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly. Exactly.

Steve Cuden:

And did you enjoy the notion of that you are in the middle of everything, that all roads lead to you?

Michael Dorn:

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s the problem solver that I just love doing.

Steve Cuden:

Problem solver.

Michael Dorn:

Absolutely.

Steve Cuden:

So I’m curious, notoriously you are also a pilot, and is that a problem solving issue too when you’re a pilot and you’re up in the air?

Michael Dorn:

Yes, when things go bad. Yeah. But most of the time, no. Pilot, basically, airplanes are very simple machines, they do what they’re supposed to do, and that’s it. The problem comes in when-

Steve Cuden:

When they don’t do what they’re supposed to do.

Michael Dorn:

… when they don’t do it, and then you have to find a place to land in the middle of a field or something. Or the engine quits and you’re 10 miles from an airport. Okay. But for the most part, directing, it’s problem solving 24 hours a day. I mean, every minute, there’s something that you need to do. Actors coming to you kind of going, “I don’t understand that. Why are we doing this? Why is she walking?” I mean, it’s constant. It’s constant. And I absolutely love that. Absolutely.

Steve Cuden:

So in other words, you are a problem solver, which means that you’ve always been a problem solver.

Michael Dorn:

Yes. Yes.

Steve Cuden:

It’s in your nature.

Michael Dorn:

It’s in my nature. Yeah.

Steve Cuden:

So therefore it’s a perfect job.

Michael Dorn:

And like I said, when I got to this one show in New York, first thing I did was I asked the assistant director, I said, “Okay, how am I going to get into trouble? What is the worst thing that could happen in this shoot?” She goes, “If you run out of time,” and I go, “Okay, I want you to help me not run out of time.” And she goes, “Okay, no problem.” And I think also if you’re honest with everybody, that goes a long way, a very long way. We had a scene where there was a stunt, everybody got doused with water, I said to everybody, I said, “Look, we’d like to do it again.” Because the producer said, “Hey, can we do it?” I said, “We’d like to do it again. We have it and we’ll make it work, but if you guys can do it again. Great. If not, no problem.” And that was the truth. And they all said, “Okay, we’ll do it again.” And that’s a process. I mean, actors will do it. If you’re honest with actors, with me, I’ll do anything you want me to do.

Steve Cuden:

I think that that’s not only super smart, it’s true for so many businesses.

Michael Dorn:

So many businesses.

Steve Cuden:

If you’re just honest with people, it goes a long way, but as soon as you start trying to twist, it’s that old phrase, oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive, you know?

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. Well, I know, and you could see, as an actor, if you ask a director, “Why am I doing this at this point?” And you see their eyes, their eyes are going, he’s blinking, and they’re going back and forth. He’s trying to figure out how to say it so that you will do what he wants. And at that point, he’s lost me. It’s like, I’m sorry, I’m gone now. Obviously, you don’t know.

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, a director really needs to walk on a set pretty much knowing exactly what they’re going to do. Yeah?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah. And-

Steve Cuden:

It’s not a guessing game.

Michael Dorn:

This one movie I did, the director, I said, “Look, shouldn’t we be doing this? Or how am I going to?” And he looked at the script, he’d just stare at it, like, talk to me, say something. I really, really need to have something. You could see it. And he’d stare at it for like two minutes. And you kind of go, “Okay.”

Steve Cuden:

That doesn’t engender confidence in the actors, does it?

Michael Dorn:

No, no.

Steve Cuden:

No. In all of your many years of experience, you’ve already told us a bunch of really great stories, but can you share with us a story that’s either quirky, weird, strange, oddball, or maybe just plain funny from all the things you’ve been through?

Michael Dorn:

Interestingly enough, my friends on Next Generation would always ask me when there was a movie that had a predominantly African American cast, and they would say, “Michael, why weren’t you in that movie?” And I go, “Because I’m not considered black.”

Steve Cuden:

What?

Michael Dorn:

And so they came up with this thing where, “They could save money on credits, and just say, starring not Michael Dorn, and everybody else.” But the story is, there was a TV show called, I’ll never forget it, Morning Maggie with Ellen Greene. And I went in to read for one of the leads, and this character is a, I guess I forgot what he was, either a manager of the station or something like that. Anyway, a colleague, and I walk in and I read, I was doing very well at that time. Like I said, with Bryan Reise and acting, so I walk in and did a very nice job. And you’ve never heard the accolades. First of all, “Michael, when you walked in, you were that character. We couldn’t believe. I mean, you are the image that we had of that character,” and I go, “That’s great.” “And your reading, I mean, it was the best. And then when you read, it just solidified and they were just up, you’re going to the network, which is a big deal.” So maybe a day later or something like that, they said, “Okay. You’re going to the network at 10 o’clock on Friday morning.” “Great.” So I get a call at like nine o’clock Friday morning, and my manager says, “Michael, you’re going to laugh at this.” I go, “Really? What?” He said, “Well, you’re not going in for the network.” I go, “Why not?” She goes, “Well, because they just don’t think you’re right.” And I went, “Well, that makes no sense.” Because the producers and the casting director said all of this stuff, and she was privy to this. She goes, “Well, this is the funny part. They said you’re not black enough.” And I went-

Steve Cuden:

That’s crazy.

Michael Dorn:

… “I’m not black enough.” And I said, “Okay,” and I hung up the phone, and I didn’t answer it for three days. I literally ignored the business for three days. And my manager… And these were those days when you had the phone machine that you could hear people when they-

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

… when they call. And, “Michael, hi. This is Maryann, give me a call.” Next day, “Michael, you’ve got to call me. Please call me,” and I’m sitting there in my little apartment reading the magazine or reading a paper, not even thinking about them. And finally, three days later, I answered the phone. But I was incensed. And to tell a black person that they’re not black, you kind of go, “Really?” It was one of those things where I wasn’t ready to get out of the business, but it was a moment where I went, “Okay, you’re going to have to put up with this.” And so —

 

Steve Cuden:

If you were ready to get out of the business, that would have been the push over the edge.

Michael Dorn:

That would have been it. Yeah. But the thing is that you go, “Okay, look, this is not the whole business, you’ve had a nice career, things are going well,” it’s a, what do you call it? An aberration.

Steve Cuden:

And have you ever experienced that since?

Michael Dorn:

Not that. Not that. I can’t think of another time. I mean, that stood out, but no. There’s been a lot of shows that I haven’t been able to get into, and I think that they probably, after that part of our lives, I think that they probably are a little less prone, not prone, a little less willing to make those statements. You know what I mean? They’re not going to say that out loud.

Steve Cuden:

Well, they shouldn’t be saying it or thinking it at all.

Michael Dorn:

No. Well, that was a moment, that was pretty crazy.

Steve Cuden:

I assume you haven’t experienced too much prejudice that you’re aware of in your career? Certainly, probably not after you did years on Star Trek?

Michael Dorn:

Oh, I think that people say things. As liberal as our business likes to believe we are, people have said things that are racist. And you kind of go, “Well, do I want to pop him in his mouth? Or am I going to let it go?” You’re just kind of, “Okay,” it could be a lot worse than it is, and so you just kind of go, “Okay, that’s fine.”

Steve Cuden:

You’re able to deal with it in some way.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah.

Steve Cuden:

It’s not causing you to think about leaving the business again?

Michael Dorn:

No, no, because the overwhelming experience that I’ve had with people in general in this business has been extraordinary. From the minute I got in the business, it’s overwhelmingly been a positive experience. So if somebody comes up, you kind of go, it’s like if you get a bad review, if somebody says, they’re watching a movie or the TV show, blah, blah, Michael Dorn, you kind of go, “Well, he doesn’t like me, but a million other people do.” Who are you going to listen to?

Steve Cuden:

You can stand in any museum in the world and look at the greatest artwork in the world, and some people won’t like it, so.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah, totally. You kind of go, “I don’t get it.” And our business is a very subjective, it’s not objective, so.

Steve Cuden:

Totally subjective. Well, it’s an art form.

Michael Dorn:

It is.

Steve Cuden:

There’s a business to it-

Michael Dorn:

It is. It is an art form.

Steve Cuden:

… but it’s an art form at the end of the day, and it is totally subjective. Okay, so last question for you today. Do you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you can lend to those that are maybe starting out, or maybe are in the business a little bit, but trying to get to the next level? Something solid for them to take away.

Michael Dorn:

Let me preface that, the business has changed immensely in the last, God, 15 years, where there are so many shows, and so many platforms, and so many ways to get in the business or to be in the business, and there are so many roles. If I was going to give any piece of advice, it would be to be ready. Whatever you want to do in the business, whatever it is, but if you’re acting, be ready for that moment. Which means go to school, take acting classes if you can, so that you’re called upon, it’s not something that’s, “Oh, my God, I’ve got an audition and I better be ready.” You’re ready for it. And before, in the old days, it was like, go to school, because that’s the only thing, go to school, do plays, and get ready. But these days, it’s really just to be ready, to think of it as a job and just be ready to leap in at any moment.

Steve Cuden:

That’s very, very wise and valuable. And you think back to Thomas Jefferson who, I think it was Thomas Jefferson if I have the right quote, he said that luck favors the prepared mind.

Michael Dorn:

Exactly.

Steve Cuden:

And so you have to make your own luck. But what you’re saying is absolutely true. The way that you make your own luck is by being prepared to jump when the moment presents itself.

Michael Dorn:

For a lot of reasons, like for instance, there was a job I got many years ago where I went in and read and they said, “You know Michael, wonderful reading, but we’re just going to go for this other guy. We’ll call you later, okay?” And you go, “Okay,” and you leave, and the guy screwed up really bad and they called me. So that is luck. Bad luck for him. Good luck for you.

Steve Cuden:

Sure.

Michael Dorn:

But I was ready for that moment. And when you get the knock, you have to be ready, whatever you want to call it, if it’s luck, if it’s karma, or whatever you want to call it, you just have to be ready for that moment.

Steve Cuden:

Because when those moments pass and you don’t take advantage of them, you’re finished on those.

Michael Dorn:

Oh, yeah. But the worst part is that, not so much, I got to tell you, there’s another story. There was a chance I was going to do an L.A. Law, my manager knew the producer director on that show. And I went in, and I screwed up the reading. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t up to my standards. And I still know that scene to this day, and that was 1988. I still know that scene to this day.

Steve Cuden:

Well, we sometimes have a terrible tendencies. I know I do, we always have a terrible tendency sometimes to remember something bad that happens, but we don’t remember always the good things. And you should try to be the opposite, you should try to remember all the good things and forget the bad.

Michael Dorn:

Well, the point is that as an actor, you don’t really get that many chances. Some do.

Steve Cuden:

Exactly.

Michael Dorn:

So oh, my God, you’ve got… Or else you could end up like me, which is knowing that… And it’s all of a mind. I don’t want to use the word, but it’s a mind, you know what, because you’re going, “Oh, my God, if I had done that right, I could have had an L.A. Law, and I could have been… And David Kelley would have had me for others.” I mean, just the whole thing, which is ridiculous. It doesn’t really have any€¦

Steve Cuden:

Yeah, I think if you’re, I’m a little bit of a fatalist, if you’re supposed to have that role, you’re going to get that role. If you’re not, you’re probably not. So therefore, it’s not going to be your part to play.

Michael Dorn:

And also maybe it wasn’t even that, maybe they said, “Yeah, we like him but he’s not right for this.” Maybe I didn’t do so bad, but they just wanted to go in another direction. You never know.

Steve Cuden:

Well, correct me if I’m wrong, getting parts is a numbers game, the more often you get in front of casting directors, the better your chances get at getting cast.

Michael Dorn:

And there’s something else that, if I could just inject this last little bit-

Steve Cuden:

Absolutely.

Michael Dorn:

… is for actors, spiritual well-being is when I was directing, 90% of the time, the actor that was right for the role didn’t get the role.

Steve Cuden:

Really?

Michael Dorn:

90% of the time, because there was a lot of other reasons why, over and over again. Sometimes, yes, but 90% of the time, no. There was one show I did where they asked me, the producers, “And so what do you think?” And I named off all the people, and they went, “No,” and they let me have one out of, I guess, three roles or something like that. And the one role that I chose, this couple were beautiful, wonderful, they got it down. Boom! Professional. The other three roles that they chose were just pains in the ass, but they had their reasons for it. And it had nothing to do with the actor.

Steve Cuden:

Well, isn’t that instructive? That you might not get a part but that part, there may have been a reason that you had no control over what’s what.

Michael Dorn:

No control. There was a guy, this one show that I did, they wanted a Jim Carrey type. So they had two comedians come in, one black, one white. The black guy was hilarious, and we all looked at each other and went, “This guy, we got to hire this guy.” But the writer said, “I wanted a Jim Carrey type.” So we had to go with this guy that was the Jim Carrey type. But the other guy we said, “We’re going to hire him later for something else.”

Steve Cuden:

You remembered him.

Michael Dorn:

Yeah. So those are the things, and so I guess my point is, you can’t take it personal. You go in-

Steve Cuden:

Really, that’s for sure.

Michael Dorn:

… and really do the best you can and you leave and let it go. Because that’s it. So that’s the thing that got me when I was directing, was I’m going, “Who’d you like Michael?” “Oh, she’s perfect.” “No, we’re not going to go with her.” “What do you mean? Why are we not going to go with her? What about her?” And I go, “Well, she’s terrible.” “That’s who we’re going to go with.” And she was terrible. And she wasn’t really… We had to re-shoot stuff. And of course, I got blamed. You just have to let it go. Just go in, do the best you can, and say goodbye, thank you, and go have a drink.

Steve Cuden:

Well, Michael, this has been fantastic and-

Michael Dorn:

Oh, I€¦

Steve Cuden:

… so much brilliant advice for people who are trying to have something like a career in a very difficult and challenging business-

Michael Dorn:

Very difficult business.

Steve Cuden:

… that is Hollywood. And I can’t thank you enough for coming on the show today. It’s just been fantastic.

Michael Dorn:

It’s my pleasure. Thank you for allowing me to be verbose.

Steve Cuden:

Oh, I love it that you were verbose. So I appreciate it.

Michael Dorn:

Okay, great. Okay.

Steve Cuden:

And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to give us a rating or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden. And may all your stories be unforgettable.