Interview with actor Manu IntiraymiJune 26, 2016
Struck by the acting bug at an early age, Manu Intiraymi has worked in television, movies and theater and gained worldwide recognition with his recurring role as Icheb on Star Trek: Voyager. Recently, we had a chance to talk to Manu about the world of acting, being part of the world of Star Trek and the very interesting projects that he has coming up.
You became interested in acting at a pretty young age? What is it that caught your eye and what keeps you interested to this day?
Manu: Initially I remember the moment when I was watching Peter Pan at a community theater and they probably had horribly, dangerously rigged flying wires that the actors used to fly around the stage, and I remember being four years old and being astounded by it and wanting to be up there with them doing that, so I started doing community theater as a child and begging my parents to move to Los Angeles because I figured out at some point that this is where movies are made and they never did. So, when I turned seventeen I went out there and what keeps me doing it now as an older man is I really, really like movies that rock me, that just completely effect my heart and rip it out with whatever it may be, whether it’s beauty or the strength in humanity or the weakness in humanity or any film that says something true about the human spirit and I personally think there is a lack of empathy in the human being in our DNA. I think a film can be so powerful because you can walk into a movie theater and watch somebody else’s life experience that may have absolutely nothing to do with your own but then you walk out of that theater feeling empathetic for that person, feeling for that person and it might have been the type of person you would have spit on before but now because of that film, you feel a connection in some way and I act for that. I act for the chance to be involved in something that connects us as human beings and makes us realize we need to look at each other in the eye more often and rarely does that chance come along but when you get to do a movie like that it’s worth the wait.
Was there ever a time that you thought you might not make it as an actor and if so, did you have any sort of back of career in mind?
Manu: All the time, all the time. I never know when my next jobs going to be. I’m not the kind of actor who has sixteen things lined up however, things have been good for me lately. I’ve been able to jump from one job to another and I have a few others lined up but yeah, you never know when you’re next gig is going come around and there are moments in a working actors career, like myself, where I’ll go through, well there was a time that I didn’t work for a whole year so yeah, that panic button set in but no, I never had a backup plan, it’s basically been do or die. I have enough passion for acting that basically if the whole thing fell apart I’d probably be a troubadour, I’d run around and do street theater and street plays to pay for my food.
Obviously, the role of Icheb on Star Trek: Voyager had a huge impact on your career. Can you tell me a bit about the audition for that role and what were your first days on set like?
Manu: It’s funny, people ask me that thinking it’s different with Star Trek but the audition was the same as it was with most auditions. You have an agent, he sends you a part via email, you audition up to four times, for producers, directors and network executives, depending on the role and if they know you from anything else and then hopefully you get the part. Now saying that, I can’t speak for anyone else, but it always feels like every job I get there’s some sort of magic going on to how I got it, strange coincidences. For example with Star Trek, the very first job that I ever got was a movie called Senseless with Marlon Wayans and David Spade and the casting director on that film was Ron Serma and the director was a woman named Penelope Spheeris. So I went in to shoot that movie and I was absolutely awful, the director yelled at me, we did thirty takes, I was nervous and I was terrible and I almost quit acting because I didn’t think I could do it. Two years later my agent and that casting director, who gave me my first job and was casting the role of Icheb on Star Trek, they were sitting in a salon together getting a pedicure and the casting director Ron started talking to my agent about this role of Icheb and my agent said, well you have to read my actor Manu for the role, and Ron had heard the reports from set of Senseless that I was awful so he said no way and my agent got pissed and he moved his foot, and this is an absolute true story, the lady that was doing his feet cut his foot and my agent was so pissed off he said see, I even cut my goddamn foot, you’re going to see my fucking actor and Ron was like fine, if you cut your foot I’ll see him, and it turns out they saw me and I got the role, all thanks to that weird encounter in the salon. My agent had to actually bleed for me to get the role.
As an actor, what challenged you in the role of Icheb and how did you approach playing the character as he evolved on Star Trek: Voyager?
Manu: I remember being young and sort of an ego maniac, I thought I was super cool, and when he originally became Icheb after being removed from the Borg collective, I didn’t like the writing for him, I thought he was just a whiny brat and I thought wow, this is going to be a really lame character to play and I remember being kind of bummed out that I got the role, I thought I was just going to be the dorky kid, then they wrote that episode ‘Child’s Play’ and everything changed. I think it was sort of like Brannon Braga’s and Rick Berman’s test episode to see if that character could be interesting and to see if I was a good enough actor to make him interesting and they wrote a really good episode and from that point on the writing got really, really good. There was structure, there was story to him, it was basically the story they have told a couple of times, the Borg Hugh actually found his humanity in one episode and then Seven of Nine did it with the Captain and I did it with Seven of Nine and so I approached it probably much the same way they did, which was who am I now that I’ve lost my identity and what it is to be human. Not only that, but he was just becoming a man so I thought of Seven as my mother which helped, because then all of the sexual tension went off the set because Jeri Ryan is so beautiful.
Since you brought up Jeri Ryan, what was it like working with her and did the two of spend any time off screen working lines or scenes together?
Manu: No, we didn’t. Working with Jeri was great, she’s a really good actress and a really giving actor. We didn’t ever, from what I remember, rehearse off camera. I mean the way that most shows run is you rehearse in your trailer, they call you in for rehearsal, you do your blocking rehearsal and then while they light the scene you go back to your trailer and just work on your lines yourself and then you come back and shoot it. It sort of becomes a competition between the actors in who did their scene better, bringing their characters to life. I know some actors will work together to make a scene better but Jeri and I never did and I think it was a good thing because we were so comfortable with each other on set together and she was fun, intuitive, funny and just a pro. She gives you so much with her eyes and the way she moves and speaks, you can’t help but get sucked into the scene with her.
Now your role as Icheb has continued with Star Trek: Renegades. Can you tell me a bit about what Renegades is all about?
Manu: Sure. Icheb’s role in Renegades is he got back to Earth and it takes place twelve years after Voyager got home. He then joined a program that he thought was going to help those who had been assimilated by the Borg but what he ended up joining was a program by Section 31, where they were looking for people who had been assimilated by the Borg to test out new weapons that Section 31 had stolen from the Borg and want to put them in Borg bodies, basically making assassins out of people. So basically Icheb was taken advantage of and made into this weapon that he never wanted to be so he quit Starflleet and left Earth and went out and ended up on this ship that was basically full of criminals, running around the galaxy and getting in trouble. They’re good people but they end up breaking the rules every now and again. Renegades is basically the story of all of these people on this ship called the Icarus and Starfleet is basically blackmailing the crew, having something on everyone on the ship and they use this crew to do missions that they can’t do themselves.
The other project I wanted to ask you about was The Circuit. The description for this show is wonderful, a multi-genre anthology feature. Can you explain what this means, because that quote alone seems like a small victory for the project all on its own.
Manu: Yeah, thank you. The Circuit is a project that is probably fifteen years in the making in my mind. I started going to conventions when I was twenty two, the second year I was on the show, and I’ve seen so many surreal things happen behind the scenes at conventions and I spent time thinking about what Star Trek, sci-fi and pop culture conventions really are that I had to make a movie about it. A year ago, I was thinking as I started to make the show ok, let’s show the fans what’s behind the curtain, let’s show the fans what really goes on at these things that they don’t get to see. So I thought what would be even cooler is if I told ten stories, all in different genres which is just what a convention has, so why not do ten different stories that celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of conventions that take place in the past, present or future of a pop culture convention and each one is directed by a different person. I think it’s going to be really, really fun. We’ve opened the screenplay submissions to the fans, we have five scripts written that are just fantastic but what we’ve told the fans is you pick the genres, write one to twenty pages whether it’s a screenplay or short story, submit a paragraph summary and you’ll be able to come and work on the set. I didn’t want to make a fan film but I wanted to make a professional film with actors and writers and Hollywood professionals, camera men and directors, that the fans got to be a big part of. We’re going to pick one fan for each department, art department, visual effects, etc, to come in and intern or, if they submit their resume and they’re good enough to not only intern but to get the gig, we’re going to make the most fan collaborative professional anthology film in the history of Hollywood.
You’ve worked in TV, theatre and movies. Do you have a specific medium that enjoy working in more than any other?
Manu: Film, without a doubt. Television is getting a whole lot better because of Netflix and Amazon, it’s becoming film quality television in some cases but inherently I don’t like working in television as much as film because a lot of times you are just selling the products that the show is pushing to the public. There are so many shows out there that they just want you to say the lines and get out of there so they can go to commercial, keep you hooked while the plots are just kind of an afterthought. Film tends to have just a better quality to the art and even the greatest shows sometime are very formulaic, they stick with a formula and use it over and over again and it hooks the viewer. Film to me is all the greatest arts put together at once. You can’t name an art that hasn’t been in film and really, people don’t realize just how difficult it is to make a good film.
What is it that you think continues to make Star Trek both popular and relevant as it enters its 50th anniversary?
Manu: The simple answer is, there’s nothing that isn’t cool about spaceships, space travel, aliens, exploring space, heroes and villains. I think way back in the beginning, that’s what Star Trek banked on, we hadn’t seen this before, we’d seen some sci-fi in the movies so that never gets boring. The stories are limitless as they are not bound to Earth, so you have almost and endless supply of ideas to tap into. What I think keeps it relevant and alive is the genius of what Roddenberry did with it and how it continued to be used, is with sci-fi you can tell stories about relevant issues today and hide them under a sci-fi metaphor. They also found magic with the original Star Trek crew and the actors that played them. You can’t help but love all those characters and if you remember, it wasn’t too long ago that people thought Star Trek was dead and buried. Then the new movies came out and whether you love or hate them, they went back to the beginning, to that original core of characters to help bring the franchise back to life.
So we talked about Star Trek: Renegades and The Circuit, what other projects do you have coming up?
Manu: Well right now, I’m going to work on a film called Literally, Right Before Aaron, I have another film called Tales from the Green Fairy coming out, a movie called 5th Passenger that I produced, which is a sci-fi movie with Tim Russ, Armin Shimerman and Marina Sirtis and that should be ready by the end of the year and Benjamin Troubles, which has been doing the film festival circuit and should be available on all the digital downloads and Netflix soon. But mostly I want to tell people to check out The Circuit because that’s what I’m going to be doing for the next year and a half at least, making and financing that project.
I want to thank Manu for taking the time to talk with us.
For more information on his upcoming projects, please check out the links below: