One thing I’ll mention before getting to the meat of this post is that in discussion with Garrett since 2004, he’s been toying with the idea of writing a book about his experiences on Voyager. Nobody else from the cast has done that yet and with renewed interest in Trek following the reboot, he’s got a built-in audience. So, if you happen to run into him at a convention, let him know you’re interested.
Click here if you haven’t read Part 1.
Now, onto Part 2 of the interview!
KA: I think I came up with a theory as to what Rick Berman’s problem might have been with you. I think he was jealous that, in 1997, you were chosen as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in People Magazine and he wasn’t. How did you find out about that?
GW: It was very weird. The only hook that people were interested in during the first couple of seasons was the first woman captain, so Janeway got the brunt of every single interview or major magazine piece. Everything was her…all about her. Bob Picardo would be utilized once in a while because people consider him the breakout character on the show. But, I remember how ridiculous it was. The day I fired my third publicist was just after I found out that both Kate Mulgrew and Bob Picardo were guests on Jon Stewart’s first talk show on MTV. And I said “What the hell? Why aren’t Jennifer Lien and myself on that. Why would they have Kate and Bob? Who’s going to be watching MTV going ‘Yeah, I want to watch my uncle and my aunt?’” So at that point, I thought “This is ridiculous. I’m wasting my money on a publicist.”
Maybe three of four days later, I get a call from somebody at UPN’s publicity department going “Garrett, they want you for People Magazine. They want you for the 50 Most Beautiful People. How did you do this?” I had no idea. I didn’t even have a publicist anymore and it just happened. And then I got another call. “E-Channel wants to do the 20 Coolest Bachelors and you’ve been picked as one of the 20.” It was sort of like the week where I got 5 commercials, only this time I got two major pieces of publicity.
I dug a little further and found out that somebody had been in the audience when I was on stage at a Starcon event in Denver, Colorado. There were probably about 3,000 people there, so it was a pretty big turnout. Everyone could see what was going on and I remember that was probably one of my best stage presentations ever. Everything flowed into everything else and there were funny things that happened along the way. For instance, I was wearing an Armani suit on stage and I hadn’t zipped up my zipper. People had been waving at me and my girlfriend was in the audience, so she had seen it, and they were trying to get my attention. I finally talked to somebody about 20 minutes into it and they told me “You have to zip up your zipper.” I’m like “Oh, my God.” (laughing) And, of course, I didn’t hide it. I told the audience everything and they just started cracking up, but even mishaps like that just fed into everything.
When I got off stage, Armin Shimerman was sitting there because he was going on after me, and he told me “Oh, my God. You were unbelievable! How am I going to follow that? You blew them away.” It turns out that somebody in that audience had some connection with People Magazine and called their people at People and said “Listen, there’s this kid…why not him?” And boom, it happened. In the history of Trek, it’s just me and Patrick Stewart. You know, that’s pretty good company to be in who have made the 50 Most Beautiful People.
KA: Have you had any specific ideas about revisiting Voyager at some point, like writing a book? They have a series of novels and you could really turn some heads if you wrote The Humorously Erotic Adventures of Ensign Harry Kim.
GW: (laughing) You know, I haven’t really thought about writing anything in terms of Voyager stories. I have thought about maybe doing voiceover for other Voyager books that are out there. Tim Russ does those and he was mentioning at some convention we were both at how much he hated it, how difficult it was because you have to do all these difference voices. Everything he was complaining about is like gold to me. I was like “What? Do different voices? Oh, my God!” That’s my dream job.
Few and select people have been able to do impersonations throughout the run of Voyager. There was an episode where Dwight Schultz impersonates the captain and as Murphy’s Law would have it, I was there that day just squirming in my body going “Why aren’t I doing this?” And then there was the day the Doc and Seven switch bodies. Seven of Nine gets to imitate Picardo and, of course, I’m there in all those scenes biting my tongue going (imitating Robert Picardo) “Noooo…I’m the real Bob Picardo, not you.” So, I was waiting to get my chance and it never happened. I would think that doing audio book voiceover would be good. Better yet, I’d rather write the Voyager film. That would probably be my main attraction.
KA: Is there going to be a Voyager film?
GW: I had a conversation with Anthony Montgomery on Enterprise and he tells me “Yeah, well, we’re going to be doing the next film. You know, they’ll probably leave our last episode as a cliffhanger.” And that had always been my recommendation for Voyager. Leave the last episode as the cliffhanger and bring Voyager home in a film. That would have been a smart move.
KA: And speaking of films, any idea when the film you starred in, Hundred Percent, is going to be released on DVD? With titles like Better Luck Tomorrow already released, I’m be surprised that Hundred Percent isn’t.
GW: It probably never will. The difference between Better Luck Tomorrow and Hundred Percent is Hundred Percent is almost entirely fictional whereas Better Luck Tomorrow does have a basis in truth. There was a true case with a kid…I think maybe Korean…in Orange County, California was part of a computer equipment stealing ring. I guess this kid decided he wanted out or something like that or something went wrong and he ended up dying and they buried him in the backyard of another kid’s house. That’s real life and kind of what happened. Hundred Percent is purely from the mind of Eric Koyanagi, who wrote and directed it.
Different problems happened with that film in the beginning, mainly with casting. If you don’t cast right, it’s not going to happen. The three main characters are Troy–my character–Isaac and Slim Kim. Troy was an up-and-coming actor trying to make it, Slim Kim is a dreadlocked Rastafarian kind of slacker and then Isaac was a guy who worked in a Bohemian coffee shop. The character of Isaac was cast with Jason Scott Lee who decided to drop out the day before principal photography began, so they needed a last minute fill-in. Who do they get? They get Dustin Nguyen from 21 Jump Street.
Now here’s the problem. Hundred Percent refers to 100% Asian American, so all these characters are completely Americanized. Dustin, being an immigrant at the age of 7 or 8, still has a tinge of Vietnamese accent and he also has that complex where immigrants kind of mumble their words, which translates into habit later on in life. English isn’t their first language and they’re afraid of not getting it right. Dustin speaks perfectly good English, only he still has a habit of mumbling. Now, the character is written to have a half inch crew cut, skater shoes and wear gold hoop earrings in both ears. Well, Dustin gets in and he’s like “Okay, I’m not going to cut my hair. I did it before and I look way too young.” He still had his same kind of outdated 21 Jump Street locks from the 1980s. So, Dustin didn’t want to cut his hair, didn’t want to go with the wardrobe that they wanted to give him and didn’t want to wear skater tennis shoes. He wanted to wear his own wardrobe and motorcycle boots, which threw his own stamp onto it and was wrong for the whole role.
There were problems like that right from the beginning, which, in my eyes, weakened the project. Still, we completed it, but after all was said and done, they were short on some money for music rights and ended up just shelving it. The producers who produced it were first time producers and I think they bit off more than they could chew. It got to the point where, probably a year after the film festival circuit, I had a meeting with the producers and they were like “Well, we can’t really do anything else with the film right now, so maybe you want to look into distributing it. We’re going to offer it to you. Why don’t you buy the film off of us for $200,000?” I sat there and I said “You know what? You guys are the ones who screwed everything up from the beginning and now you’re asking me to clean up your mess? I don’t think so.” That was the end of it. It will never again see the light of day, I guess.
KA: Post-Voyager, you unfortunately missed out on a part in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, but you did do Pinata (aka Survival Island).
GW: Yeah… (laughing) Pinata is what killed my Almost Famous role. I mean, Almost Famous was in the palm of my hand. I auditioned for it and the casting director said “Look, your audition is alright, but you are what we’re looking for. I know that Cameron, when he sees you and talks to you…you’re going to get this. Let’s set up this meeting.” We went through literally four or five canceled meetings. Finally, I said “Where is he?” “Oh, he’s in San Diego location scouting.” “Look, I will fly you and me down to San Diego, okay? On my tab…and let’s meet him. Coffee shop, whatever.” “No, we don’t have to do that. I don’t want to put you out. Let’s just try to reschedule one more time. How about Saturday?” “I’m filming Pinata, but I only have one scene, one line, first scene of the day. My call time’s at 10am. I should be done by noon.” She thinks about it. “Well, let’s make it for 5 o’clock then, as late as possible.” I said “I’ll only agree with you if you promise that he’s already going to be in the office. In case something happens where the schedule runs over, I don’t want Cameron driving out from wherever his home is to go to the production office and end up having to drive back home.” “Oh, no problem. He’ll already be there.”
Well, 10, 11, noon, 1…haven’t even started filming yet. Two o’clock, three…I figure “Alright, it’s only one stinking line. If I can get out by 4, I’m good. Four o’clock rolls by, still haven’t started. I called her at 4 and she goes off on me. “What the hell? What do you mean you can’t make it? Cameron’s already left his house, which I’m told is more than an hour away from the production office…” “You told me he was already going to be there!” So now she goes “Whatever. We’ll talk to you later.” That was it. They found somebody else. I’ve seen that movie…that guy was the weakest link in the whole film, the guy who played the boss. This is something that, no matter how old I am, I’m still going to get riled up over it when I tell that story.
KA: If it’s any consolation, your name was the selling point for some of my friends and I when we watched Pinata on DVD.
GW: There’s a lot of people in that thing; Jamie Pressly and Nick Brendon.
KA: Was it a decent experience for you?
GW: Not at all. (laughing) It was horrible. It was out in the middle of nowhere and… Pinata is such a sore subject in my eyes because I really lost out on something that would have meant something to me. Almost Famous would have been a great segue. I’ve always been a huge fan of Cameron Crow and it was apparently never meant to be.
KA: Let’s change gears. An observation that inevitably comes up is something you discussed earlier about your high school days; your Asian heritage. Do you notice a difference between how someone who doesn’t know you and may pass you on a street looks at you versus someone who does know you, like a fan? By that, I mean do they see a man who happens to be of Asian heritage or do they see only the minority?
GW: Well, let’s just preface it again by saying that I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee at a time when there were so few Asians in that town. And as cosmopolitan as Memphis is, it’s still part of the South and everyone knows, if you want to find blatant in-your-face racism, go to the South. It’s there, but then there are racist people everywhere. If you’re in California walking around, like Asians or Black people or Latinos, they’re not going to say it. They’ll think it, but if you go to the South and they don’t like you, they’ll tell you. It’s right out in the open and they’re up front about it. That really kind of molded how I interacted with people, how I perceived people around me and how I perceived their perceptions of me. I was always looking over my back. Anytime anyone looked at me too long, I never thought they were looking at me because they thought I was attractive or they thought they knew me. My first assumption was “Okay, that’s a racist bastard right there. He’s thinking negative thoughts about me.” Immediately. To the point where I’d give him a hard stare back.
A funny thing happened with getting on Voyager. There were a couple of times when someone was staring me and I was about to go “What the… What are you looking at?” and then they’d come over tell me “I just want to say what a great job you’re doing on Star Trek.” I’m like “Oops!” Thank goodness I didn’t say anything. At that point, it was almost like being on Star Trek and having that notoriety was actually in a sense a form of therapy. It really was because I had to check myself. Anytime someone stared at me too long, there’s a good chance they watched the show. So it actually kind of eased my feelings and fears of every single non-Asian being this racist individual. It kind of smoothed things over a little bit.
KA: I remember the first time I ever went to Hong Kong with my partner and having little kids on the subway tugging on their parents’ sleeves and pointing at me. It was incredibly unnerving.
GW: You were on the receiving end and it was probably the first time you ever felt like that.
KA: But I’m glad I had that experience because it certainly puts things into perspective.
GW: Oh, yeah. I had a girlfriend once who I was trying to explain it to. “You know, you’re never going to understand what it’s like to have someone throw racial epithets at you because you’re Caucasian.” She told me “Well, I understand. I know what you’re talking about.” And not until one day when we went to 7-11 to get something and there was some guy who was in a wheelchair, like a bum, asking for money and he was with somebody else who was homeless. I think he was probably in the Vietnam War is my guess and this guy just started going off on me and she was there to feel it. After we got in the car, she looked at me and said “I feel like I’m going to throw up.” I’m like “Well, look at this! You weren’t even the direct recipient. You were next to me and felt it.” So she knew what was going on at that point.
These days, living out here (L.A.), the only true racism I’ve experienced, believe it or not, has been from immigrants from the Middle East.
GW: Oh, yeah. Specifically, Iranian or the way they’ll say it, the more euphemistic way of saying it, ‘Persian.’ “You know what? You’re not Persian. The Persian Empire is long gone. Refer to yourself as what you are. You’re from Iran.” It’s just the attitude. I remember one guy telling me to go back to where I came from. I looked at him and said “Listen, you’re telling me that in your heavily accented English? Please.” One time I was at a Taco Bell standing in line for five minutes and these two Middle Eastern guys walk in. They step right in front of me and the girl behind the counter looks up. “May I take your order?” And I say out loud “Oh, so I guess lines don’t count for anything anymore? I was next.” The guy looks at me and asks “You want to die?” I’m like “What? Do I want to die? Oh, okay. Let’s just see you kill me over the fact that you’re the asshole who cut into the line. I’ve been waiting 5 minutes before you even showed up here and you’re going to tell me that I’m going to die for that? Oh, yeah. You’re really bold.”
Another time, back when I was in college, I was out riding a scooter and this one guy in a van, once again Middle Eastern, got pissed off that I was in front of him. He starts flipping me off, tailing me and yelling at me. And so I’m riding away and I actually go slower, just to piss him off. Oh, he went crazy. He gets up next to me “I’m going to run you over. You’re going to be a little, yellow grease spot on my bumper!” Yeah, hello. You think that racism only comes from the majority? Not at all.
KA: Wow. Okay, shifting gears again, what are you currently working on?
GW: Currently not anything to do with Hollywood. Right now I’m working on remodeling a house. I’m still going out on auditions, but they’ve been few and far between for the last three years, less than when I was without Voyager. At this point, I’m really thinking about having to be a little more proactive and try to get something off the ground on my own because it’s just…it’s nuts. You sit there and you wait for the next role to come along and there’s just so few out there right now. It’s kind of an industry-wide drought for actors. Any agent you talk to is going to tell you “Yeah, it’s not that good anymore.”
Not only are there fewer jobs, but the jobs that are available are paying crap. They really are putting it down to the lowest possible amount that they can get away with. We have a number of factors to thank for that; economy, the things that have happened to this country in the last few years disaster-wise, the tech meltdown of 2000 and this absolute explosion in the amount of reality shows that are out there. If you’re talking about saving money or making the most bang for your buck, reality show. It’s so much easier for pre-production and production and actual costs. As evidence, every network and now almost every cable network has them. Bravo Channel has them…even the Golf Channel has reality shows.
KA: They did try the reality film and it didn’t quite work so well.
GW: Thank God that didn’t happen, because if it did, boy… You’d see film going down the tube, too. But film already has. Film went down the tube once the first actor made $15 million and now they’re making… What? $25 million is top pay per film for the “A” list guys? When you get to that point, you get Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Jim Carrey all making $25 million. Well, every major studio movie is going to want to have that one guaranteed $25 million actor in there, so after that, everybody else acting in that film is going to be making squat. That’s why you see all these “film actors” doing TV now. I remember the first big guy to go from film to TV was John Lithgow. Remember when he went to do Third Rock From The Sun? It was like “Wait a minute. Why is he doing TV?” Because he wasn’t making any money anymore. He had to make a living.
KA: A lot of people followed suit, too.
GW: Yeah, a loooot of people followed suit. So now, once again, it’s become such a crowded market where everybody’s just trying to elbow each other out just get anything.
KA: I’ve noticed that a number of actors are trying independent films, too. Since there’s no budget for special effects, they have to rely on the stories, which tend to be better than typical Hollywood fare.
GW: Right. For me, I have no problem if it’s independent, a studio picture, if it’s a series…sitcom…I don’t care. I’m not going to be picky about it. If it’s a good project, if it’s a good role, I’m all for it.
KA: Okay, last question. Fans tend to see their favorite actors as larger than life and don’t always get a chance to see below the surface at the person underneath. What would you like your fans to know about you as a person, an Asian American, as a man and as an artist when they think of you?
GW: Well, I would say first and foremost that I’m somebody who is very aware of equality and when it comes to race-relations, that’s something I’ve always been a strong proponent of. I’ve always been somebody who’s looking out for other people who are being downtrodden and trying to make sure they aren’t being taken advantage of…myself too. That’s again coming from my background of being raised in the South. I really want things to be fair. Fairness is most important for me. I know life is not always fair, but you can try to make it as fair as possible.
I’m a person who had a good upbringing. My parents definitely raised me the right way. I know what’s right and what’s wrong and I just think I’m a very, very sensitive and kindhearted individual. (laughing) That’s probably the easiest way to describe me. I like to laugh, I like to make people laugh and I really enjoy entertaining people.
Thank you to Tracy Christian and Maintitle Entertainment for helping me get in touch with Garrett. Also, thank you to Garrett for taking time out of his day to answer these and many other questions!