“I’m So Humbled” Michele Specht Talks Star Trek ContinuesApril 7, 2015
One of the mainstays in science fiction, Star Trek once again made itself relevant with Star Trek Continues, a YouTube web series that unofficially continues on where the original series left off after three seasons. I had a chance to talk to Michele Specht, who plays Dr. Elise McKennah on the show about the popularity of Star Trek, what it’s like to be part of that universe and the ups and downs in the life of an actor.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or was it more like a happy accident?
Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to get up on the stage for as long as I can remember. I still remember my very first performance in kindergarten: we sang a song about the Stegosaurus and I put myself right out smack dab in front – singing as loud as I could. And I still remember the words. I threaten to sing it, loudly, at anyone who upsets me. It usually works.
Do you consider your time with the sketch comedy group Another Showcase Showdown a time when you learned the most about acting or is this a profession where you continue to learn with each part or role you play?
I wouldn’t consider my time doing sketch comedy the period in which I learned the most about acting as a whole, but I did learn the most about the genre I feel most naturally suited for and that is comedy. Creating so many original characters and doing tons of live shows over 8 years can’t help but hone your comedic skills pretty damn well and I love doing it! But as far as developing my acting skills overall, thankfully this profession is very much like life every role is an opportunity to learn more and grow in your both scope and ability.
Acting is typically glamorized by the media and yet it is hard work and harder still to make a living at. What have been the most difficult challenges for you in the acting business?
Holy crap! That’s a deep one… certainly financial instability is a huge emotional and practical obstacle for many actors. There’s really no way to predict whether or not you’re going to make ends meet solely based on your acting work and even when you’re able to reach a certain level, there’s no guarantee you’ll stay there. I’ve been lucky enough to make a living at it for a number of years within my career but certainly not consistently. When my sketch comedy group was hired to create/produce/star in an original sitcom for VH1 (“I Hate My 30’s”), I thought “This is it! We’ve made it!” I got to spend an entire season starring in a TV show with my best friends and then had a number of years after doing really well in feature films and TV guest appearances. But I still find work unpredictable, almost as it was when I first began! I think the big question each actor must answer for themselves is “What does ‘success’ truly mean for me?” If you are looking solely for fame and financial riches to equal success, you will be pretty damn miserable. I don’t think any human being can remain emotionally stable in this business if they put all their eggs into this one basket. You have to find meaning and purpose and fulfillment outside of the business itself – being of service, creating your own projects for yourself and your friends, doing projects that you’re passionate about without expectation of any return these are the ways I personally have found to avoid those pitfalls.
So how did you come to play Dr. Elise McKennah in Star Trek Continues?
Luck. Pure, blind, right place/right time blessed nerd luck. I’ve known the show’s creator Vic Mignogna for nine years now and he has wanted to do this show for over six of those years! He was involved in a number of different Trek fan productions before creating Star Trek Continues himself. And every time he came back from appearing in an episode, or directing an episode for a different Trek production – he would say “Man, I’d really like a shot at doing this whole thing differently.” It took him a few years, and a few false starts to find exactly what he was looking for: TOS fans who were as passionate as he was about re-creating and continuing the Original series with meticulous attention to detail, but who also happen to be amazingly gifted and experienced production professionals. I was lucky enough to be here when that happened and lucky enough to be offered the role of McKennah when the show was in still in the planning stages!
Were you a fan of Star Trek before you took the role? Did that help you in your preparation for the part?
Heck yes, I was a Trek fan! I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan in general – especially Trek. But – I have to come clean: my first Trek love was in fact TNG. I grew up on it, and I still freaking love it! It wasn’t until later in my young adulthood that I saw the entire series of TOS – and have grown to love and appreciate it equally. And I think it is this understanding of TOS as it truly is, with the trifecta of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy at its center, that made the addition of a new character into this well beloved and established universe so incredibly daunting. But I think it IS our great love and respect for original Trek that has given us a very healthy humility when approaching the addition of Dr. McKennah and it is with great care and respect that she be added as a contributing voice, one helping to bring the TOS into it’s fourth and fifth seasons.
What has the reaction been to the show?
The reaction to Star Trek Continues has been overwhelmingly positive! The only reason we have been able to continue to create episodes is because people have shown us so much love, encouragement, and financial support! The only word I can use to describe it is “overwhelming”. I am so humbled and honored that so many true Trek fans out there enjoy what we’re doing, share us with their friends, and help us to continue making it. All of us on Star Trek Continues feel so blessed to be a part of something so much greater than ourselves, we are bringing to life the childhood dreams of so many people who grew up on TOS, making episodes that feel as if they were simply lost in time, and we are just discovering them now. It is nothing short of magic!
How do you approach the role when you know so many fans already have certain expectations of what both the show should look like and how the characters should behave? Was there added pressure on you and the other actors because of this?
All of the actors on our show approach producing Star Trek Continues using 2 key words: Love, and respect. Everyone who works on this show is not only a production professional, but a huge TOS fan and we are devoted to re-creating and continuing Mr. Roddenberry’s vision for this show. Bearing that in mind, it was incredibly daunting and humbling when preparing to add Dr. McKenna within those perimeters. For me, I looked back to Mr. Roddenberry’s first character that echoed a role like Dr. McKenna, Sally Kellerman’s character, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, in the second pilot of TOS, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. In my mind, Dr. Dehner was the seed that would later grow into the much fuller characters of Deanna Troi and Dr. Crusher… So when approaching Dr. McKennah, to me she is the bridge between Dr. Dehner and Deanna Troi. We approached her addition very carefully as if she was the first real exploration for such a character within the TOS universe. And with the praise, support, and awards we’ve received from fans , production professionals, and especially Gene’s own son Rod Roddenberry , I think we going to pretty dang good job!
You’ve also done some voice acting during your career. What has that experience been like and how hard did you find it to do, especially in the beginning?
I have been lucky enough to do some wonderful roles in lots of very cool voice acting gigs, animated movies, cartoon series, and video games. But to be honest, I find it incredibly difficult, much more difficult than being in front of a camera or on the stage. Voiceover is this bizarre mix of both technical ability, and immense creativity and you have to expertly combine those two skill sets while standing in a tiny closet, all alone, with huge headphones on, hearing every little click and smack your mouth makes. It is much more difficult to create a believable and lifelike character when limited to such specific technical boundaries. It is much easier to be interacting with another person on the stage or in front of the camera creating something very organic, it’s a much more free flowing experience. I love all of the voice acting I’ve been able to do but if I am to confess, it makes me incredibly anxious! I don’t feel nearly as confident at it as I do in many other forms of live performance.
What else do you have going on besides Star Trek Continues and is there something in particular you want to do as an actor that you have not done yet?
I do have a few very exciting things coming up in video game work, and more especially in the realm of original sci-fi projects! But I’m not allowed to talk about any of them yet! I will tell you what I am most excited about beyond Star Trek Continues: get to know Space Opera Studios. Look them up, read what they’re about, and keep your eyes and ears open for what they’re doing… These are some incredibly talented and experienced Sci-Fi royalty folks, doing some very exciting things in the world of original sci-fi. I am very happy to be associated with them, and VERY excited for all that they are doing!