After 35 years, nine movies and four different television series, "Star Trek" has embarked on a new journey — and a Kelso High graduate is along for the ride.
Connor Trinneer plays the role of Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III on the UPN television series "Enterprise," which premiered last night on cable Channel 12.
"He's a good ol' boy smart-ass," Trinneer said of his character, the chief engineer on the first ship to reach Warp 5. "He's the one who'll call a spade a spade."
Set in the 22nd century, "Enterprise" takes Tucker and his shipmates on humanity's first journey into deep space, a century before the timeline of the original "Star Trek" series.
"It's an awesome experience as an actor, to be able to learn and create at the same time," Trinneer said. "It's all new, we're a prequel, nothing to base it off of but our own human experience."
In the first episode, a Klingon crash-lands on Earth and must be returned to his home world before he dies. To honor his request, Starfleet decides to launch the Enterprise several weeks ahead of schedule, against the advice of the Vulcans.
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Trinneer, who saw the premiere earlier this week, said it's a good show.
"I think people will like this," he said. "I'm extremely critical of myself and what I see, and I like it a lot.
It's fun, it's irreverent. It's nice to be able to see that what I thought was going on in my head and what I was trying to achieve, it worked out."
Trinneer's parents, Michael and Judith Trinneer of Longview, planned to watch Wednesday's premiere at the Kelso Theater Pub because they don't have cable television.
Michael Trinneer said he's very proud of his son, who has worked steadily as an actor but never landed a prime-time series until now.
"He's put in years of hard work. He went every day to auditions, pounding the pavement all the time," the elder Trinneer said. "He was ecstatic when he got the job. He called me and said, 'Guess what, Dad,' with this little-boy chuckle in his voice.
'I'm in my trailer and in my bathrobe and I'm going to go to work really soon.' "
The hiring came after five auditions and 3 1/2 weeks of waiting in what Trinneer called "the most grueling process I've been through."
"They had never met me before," he said. "Once they saw me, they wanted to make damn sure they'd got the right guy. In a word, it was a bitch."
But everything since the audition earlier this year has been fun, he said, and his cast mates are "great." "We're working together all the time, every day," he said. "You get to know each other and you get to be around each other all the time. We've begun to develop relationships. That's great. How often do you get to know somebody really well, the good and the bad — how often does that happen?"
The cast shot the pilot in mid-May and are shooting episode 10 this week at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
The episode that he's getting the most questions about is the one that takes Trinneer's character where no man has gone before: He will be impregnated by an alien.
"All I can tell you is, I really think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch because it's just funny," he said. "No issues to deal with. The pregnancy thing happens — all I can say is it's quite amusing. I really went for 'You're a woman, you're pregnant, and you're emotional.' "
It's scheduled to air Oct. 17. While growing up in Kelso, Trinneer was an athlete, not an actor.
As a wide receiver for the Kelso Hilanders, Trinneer led the Scots in receptions and interceptions during the 1986 season, when Kelso made the AAA semifinals. The only theater exposure he had at Kelso High was a classroom reading of "Our Town."
After graduating in 1987, he attended Pacific Lutheran University on a football scholarship. He came to realize he didn't want to continue playing football, but didn't know what he was going to do instead.
In his junior year, a friend suggested he audition for "A Doll's House."
"I don't know what it was, but something happened," he said of the sensation that came over him at the audition. "I walked out of there and screamed — I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life! And I didn't know what the hell I was doing." Trinneer did as many plays as he could at PLU before graduating in 1992.
He then earned a master's of fine arts degree in acting and directing from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 1995.
"Then I went to New York, did a lot of theater and commercials and did a soap there," he said. He performed off-Broadway, in the Utah Shakespeare Festival and in Boston. He appeared in "Far East" at Lincoln Center and reprised his stage role in a PBS film adaptation.
Trinneer now lives in Los Angeles, where he became active in the Circle X Theater Company and guest-starred in several television series. But that Holy Grail of actors — a steady job in a prime-time series — eluded him until now.
"It's what you shoot for," he said. "There's a gazillion of us out here. It's thrilling to get a show, and on top of that getting a show that has some kind of guarantee of getting on the air."
The original "Star Trek" series ran three years and the three spinoffs ran seven years each. "Enterprise" cast members feel lucky to have signed seven-year contracts.
"If it works out that way, I have no problem with it," Trinneer said.
Before getting the job, "I was comfortable with the knowledge that I may never own a house as an actor," he said. "Financial stability may never be part of my life. I was fine with that. That's different now."
But despite the thrill, he keeps himself grounded.
"All I'm really doing is a job. I'm an actor," he said. "I got a fantastic gig with the great fortune of having the opportunity to do it day in and day out as opposed to a commercial that goes for 11 days. I get the opportunity and the luxury to open up my toolbox and pull out some of the tools that I've learned."
One of those tools might be directing, he hopes. Several members of other "Trek" casts have directed episodes of their own series and others.
"Oh god yeah, to have the opportunity to have that put in front of you and work with people that you know — they're very open to that," he said.
Unfortunately one of the tradeoffs of success — especially in a "Trek" franchise — is loss of anonymity.
Trinneer said he recently typed his name in an Internet search engine and got 800 hits. He said there's no way he can feel ready for the fan onslaught.
"Of course not, there's no way to get my mind around it," he said. "I don't know what to expect. I'm a really private person. I don't want to lose my private time completely.
I will keep a hold of that. Everything in moderation. There's going to be a balance to this, and things will start to settle."
And have veterans of the other shows offered advice?
"They've basically said, 'You know what? Enjoy the ride,' " he said. "So I'm just enjoying the ride."
Other cast members: — Scott Bakula, best known for his five-year role as Dr. Sam Beckett in the television drama "Quantum Leap," plays Captain Jonathan Archer in "Enterprise." Paramount describes Archer as a "physical, bold personality." Bakula says the captain is "healthy and available."
— Jolene Blalock plays Subcommander T'Pol, a Vulcan assigned to the ship to oversee humanity's progress. She not only doesn't like how emotional humans are, she hates the way they smell when they get excited. Blalock starred as Medea in the recent NBC miniseries "Jason and the Argonauts."
— John Billingsley, a 20-year stage veteran who founded Seattle's Book-It Repertory Theater, plays Dr. Phlox, an "exotic alien" of unnamed species. Phlox fills Sickbay with bizarre medical instruments and alien remedies.
— Linda Park plays Ensign Hoshi Sato, the communications officer and an expert in alien linguistics — a necessary skill before the invention of a Universal Translator that makes all aliens speak English. Park has a role in "Jurassic Park III."
— Anthony Montgomery plays Ensign Joe Mayweather, the helmsman. Mayweather was born in deep space and raised on cargo ships. Montgomery had a recurring role as George Austin on last year's WB series "Popular."
— Dominic Keating is Lt. Malcolm Reed, a "spit and polish, by the book" munitions expert who invents the first hand phasers. He's very proper and British, and quite shy around women. Keating has done a lot of science fiction television, including "Poltergeist: The Legacy" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."