The Many Faces of Vaughn Armstrong
23 October 2004
I was recently lucky enough to meet up with actor Vaughn Armstrong during his recent visit to England for ‘The Cult TV Festival’ which was held over the weekend of 8 th through to the 11 th October at the Sandbay Holiday Village in Weston-Super-Mare.
Armstrong as many Star Trek fans will know is credited with having portrayed 11 different alien roles during the last 17 years of Star Trek, but he is best known to fans of Star Treks newest Incarnation ‘ Enterprise ‘ as Admiral Forrest. Sci Fi Pulse caught up with the actor during his recent visit to the UK and talked about life the universe and Star Trek.
Vaughn is very proud of the fact that he holds the record for having portrayed the most Alien roles since Star Trek came back onto Television with ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ , however he has never had opportunity to develop any one of these alien roles as part of a Story arc in the same manner that Jeff Combs has with his role of Shran, So I asked him if there was one of his Alien Alter Egos he would’ve liked to have developed over an arc in much the same way that Combs has.
“There are probably four I would liked to have tried that with, one would have been the first Klingon but he died, the first Borg but he died, and he died two weeks after the show, and there would have been the Romulan who actually had a lot of novels written about him so they did kind of carry on his character but it happened before you saw him in my episode ‘Eye Of The Needle’, most of my characters have come to a sad end.”
However Armstrong points out that there is one Alien in his Arsenal that he’d been able portray again, in a manner of Speaking. “Korath, in a way I did get to do that with Korath which is interesting, I don’t know whether you have been to the ride in Vegas, it has a has Korath as a young Klingon a young very angry Klingon.”
To refresh your memory Korath was in Star Trek Voyagers Endgame, and Armstrong immediately points out the difference between the younger and older version. “In that one he was a very old Klingon who had become a member of the High Council thanks to Janeway; I got to do him at a very young age where he was this rash impetuous animal.” Armstrong pointed out that Ron Surma wanted to see a wilder Korath which allowed the actor to let rip with his wilder side. “So when you see him on the ride he is an over acting fool, but when you see him in the episode Endgame, he’s become this sort of crafty old scientist who loves to take these weapons apart and see how he can make them more dangerous and more powerful and he’s an older man. So in a way I got to do that.”
Among many of Vaughn Armstrong’s acting credits is a part in the hit US Military Drama series ‘JAG’ which. So I asked the actor if he had ever worked with Steven Culp who as many know played Major Hayes in Enterprise ‘s 4 th Season, but has a recurring role in JAG as Special Agent Clayton Web. Armstrong unfortunately never got chance to work with Culp, but he did reveal some interesting facts about the JAG set.
“I think I was in two episodes. I was a judge in a court room scene.” In regards to his experience of working on ‘JAG’ Armstrong was not too impressed with the attitude of the shows lead actor David James Elliot.
“He’s a horrible person. He was cruel to the extras and so full of himself he threatened to walk off the set. However the lady [Catherine Bell] was one of the nicest ladies that I’ve ever met, she would tap David’s shoulder and say, ‘you know there are other people who have to work now can you calm down a little bit’. She was quite wonderful where as he was so difficult for everyone to get a long with.”
Getting onto the subject of Admiral Forrest and Enterprise, Armstrong revealed that the Father Son type relationship between Archer and Admiral Forrest was part written, and partly due to the onscreen chemistry between himself and Scott Bakula. Armstrong told me how he first approached the onscreen relationship between Forrest and Archer.
“Its the way I saw it from the beginning, I saw him as perhaps a friend of his Fathers who knew the guy that was making this Warp 5 engine and who saw the development of Scott, [Archer] in the Starfleet am the highest ranking officer in Starfleet so I had to have been around for a long time. Yes I saw him as a Father figure from the very beginning I don’t know if that’s how it was conceived or if they developed that accidentally or if they saw that it was how I was trying to portray him, but that’s how its come about and its how I saw it from the beginning.”
In his role the role of Mentor to Jonathon Archer there has been at least one occasion where Forrest has had to reprimand the younger officer. That time came in the episode ‘First Flight’ which is an episode that Vaughn Armstrong is very proud of.
“First Flight where am commodore Forrest I end up having to reprimand him and the Keith Carradine character ‘A.G. Robinson’ as well. I had them standing at a attention in front of me taking them to task doing the old Drill Sergeant it was a lot of fun to do that.”
In the 1970′s Vaughn Armstrong was one of many who wound up serving in the Vietnam war, and although he did not want to go he wound up losing out in the draft lottery and had to do military service. However the actor admitted that his military service had proved useful for him to draw upon whenever he portrays a military role for TV or Film.
“I got to understand how a military man evolves and see them doing their posturing and telling their truths and I got to understand the military a good deal better, understood the need for discipline like I might not have had I not been in the service.”
The actor has been involved with Star Trek Enterprise now on and off for four years and describes the mood of the cast as more secure with their respective roles, but other than that the mood has not really altered that much since day one.
“I can’t say that the mood has changed on the set. Their all getting a little more secure with their roles now and its becoming more of a day to day job but their very happy to be in each others presence and happy to have the jobs so they know what they’ve got now they weren’t sure what they had then. I mean the actors understand that it’s a life changing event and they didn’t really know that necessarily then and now it’s finally coming to them. So they’re treating it with a greater respect somehow and there also never sure if it’s going to do another year. So where they might have had great enthusiasm in the beginning, now they have a great dedication.”
In regards to the 5th Star Trek cast, Armstrong says that there is generally a happy feeling about the set, which has not always been necessarily the case on other TV shows which he has worked on.
“They all seem to be very pleased to be in each others company, they make no bones about enjoying the work and everybody’s happy to be there and that hasn’t been the case on all the shows that have been involved in.”
When looking at Vaughn Armstrong’s listing on the internet movie data base you will likely come across two credits for musical composition, when I broach this subject with Vaughn he had to put the record straight.
“I don’t get that,” he says while wearing a bemused expression on his face. “I never did it; I don’t know who put that there. I have never put a thing on the internet movie data base I don’t know who puts that stuff on there but they got it wrong.”
Among his many credits for Star Trek Armstrong has voiced various roles on Star Trek PC Games, and revealed that in many ways it can be more fun for him as an actor to record those roles for the various games.
“You’ve got the script right in front of you and all you’ve got to do is change your voice.” The fun part for the actor is the fact that he gets to play around more on his characterisations for the games. “You don’t have to ever memorise a line all you have to do is find a voice for the character and you don’t get the script until you turn up on the day most of the time, so you sit there and kind of fool around with it with the director until you find the one you like. It’s the easiest of work really, because the only character you have to come up with is vocal. You don’t have to be seen at all.”
For some time now there has been a rumour going around that Admiral Forrest will be killed off in the three part episode ‘Borderland’. I asked the actor if there was any truth to the rumour, but as ever he was keeping tight lipped not wanting to spoil it for fans of the show.
“I think that you’re just going to have to wait and see, I don’t think that I can tell you the answer to that, because it’s a personal question.” He laughs. “I will say that if I knew I wouldn’t tell you.” The actor did reveal that, “He is in the fourth season, have done two episodes in the fourth season, but you know I don’t know, people live and die and so do characters so you’ll just have to watch and see. I do know that I have been promised other characters in the fourth season too so we’re going to bump that list up a little bit which is good because I hope to do 100 before I die and its took me 15 years to do 11 so I’ve got to hurry.”
One of the questions that you can get away with asking most actors is whether there is a dream role that they would like to portray, whether it is a person who has inspired them or made some form of impression on their life, or one character that you would love to play. I asked this Vaughn and got quite an extensive list.
“Well, now that’s a question have had put differently to the way have had put to me before. A lot of people have inspired me, but the role I would like to play would be the lead in a western, but if I were playing a person who inspired me? I’d like to do my Father perhaps because he had a very hard yet simple and dedicated life, he would be an interesting role to play. Ah who else? Eisenhower might be fun and am getting to the age where I could do that. A friend of mine wrote a play the other day about Boris Karloff, I read a play that he did, I would love to do that its about the competition between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, those two had a real competition going on and that would be a fun thing to play. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin would be great people to play… Superman, Alexander the great.”
As to none related Star Trek projects, at present Armstrong has no acting project on the horizon which suits him fine due to his enthusiasm for his music. So when I asked about none related Trek projects the answer was.
“My ukulele and my band, strangely enough I find more joy in that than I have found in any project in recent times. I’m just having a great time making this music and if I could make a living at that I would give up acting in a second right now. Because have been an actor now for almost 40 years, you know and I love it, but it’s no longer new. Music for me to make music is new and I’m thrilled to be having the opportunities I have right now. I’m booked in five cities with my band next year… there paying us a ridiculous amount of money to do it, and if I could do that for a living, I would that’s what I would do.”
For those interested Vaughn Armstrong does have a CD of his music which is aptly titled ‘The Enterprise Blues’ he is also working on recording an album with his band which involves several people who are familiar names from the Star Trek universe. The CD along with other merchandise to do with Vaughn Armstrong will be available on his website www.theadmiralsclub.com which will be launching later on this month.
“You can also find information about the CD on Ebluesband@aol.com , but yes I will be selling it on either of those websites.”
It was a fun filled half hour speaking in person with Vaughn Armstrong who was entertaining and fun to spend time with. Thanks go out to several people for helping me set this interview up. First my friend Mark Withal who actually managed to get Vaughn interested in attending the Cult TV festival which is a yearly celebration of Cult Television shows which entertains while simultaneously raising money for UNICEF.
I would also like to thank Vaughn Armstrong’s web mistress Diana Ford for her help, and last but not least Vaughn Armstrong himself for being such a fun person to talk with about all manner of subjects.