The Geomancer


Stoning the Cast

I was just reading the latest in the AV Club's excellent reviews of Star Trek: The Series Without a Subtitle, and something occurred to me: old TV shows had a tremendous advantage over modern ones in casting aliens. One of the episodes under review is "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" in which the great Ted ("Lurch") Cassidy plays, not just an alien, not just an android, not just an alien android, but a murderous alien android with an Oedipal complex. He gets lots of good moments in the episode (maybe the best being one in which he demolishes Asimov's Three Laws in about three terrifying seconds). I don't agree with Zack Handlen (the AV Club reviewer) about Cassidy's costume in this episode: one wouldn't expect an ancient android built by nonhumans to be running around in blue jeans or a tuxedo. Another culture's clothes ought to look odd to us: if it were right, it'd be wrong.

But, really, the point I set out to make is: Cassidy makes this role work because he doesn't look or sound like anyone else on the set. (He's the tall guy in this old photo. Anyone who's heard his deep resonant voice isn't likely to forget it--see/hear a multitude of examples at YouTube.) His special effect was who he was.

Likewise, the original Andorian on Star Trek was played by Reggie Nalder. He's quite plausible because, even without makeup, he exuded a certain inhuman malignant intelligence.

Character actors of this sort are a dying breed in modern Hollywood (if they aren't utterly extinct), and there is an oppressive sameness to modern casts. Everyone is about the same height. Everyone is about the same age. Everyone sounds very similar.

The result isn't necessarily bad casting, but it can easily become boring casting. If I ran the zoo were in charge of rebooting the Star Trek franchise, I'd be trying represent a wider cross-section of humanity... and I'd be trying to find some actors who can maybe project a little alienness even before they go into makeup (or the CGI equivalent).


  1. Great point. In a similar vein, I felt like between them, Leonard Nimoy and Mark Lenard defined the "look" of what Vulcans are. When TNG had Vulans on, they often cast stiff white guys that looked like sticks-in-the-mud but lacked an essential "Vulcan-ness." I think Hugo Weaving, David Bowie and Martin Landau could all have played Vulcans successfully. I think Zachary Quinto *does* have the look (and is the best cast of all the new cast by a wide margin.)

  2. Anonymous3:42 PM

    I think Nimoy and Leonard were able to portray Vulcans as beings of great contemplative intelligence, and all those still white guy stock Vulcans couldn't pull that off.


  3. this dovetails with Neal Stephenson's thought on "science fiction famous"