Q who? John de Lancie, that’s who, talking about Star Trek, turning magazines upside down and My Little Pony
John de Lancie is one of the most recognisable faces, and voices, in genre fiction. Best known as the quixotic, and apparently omnipotent, Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation he’s also had memorable appearances on shows ranging from Stargate SG1 to Breaking Bad as well as running his own audio production company with Leonard Nimoy and performing voiceover work, most recently as Discord, a villain in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. De Lancie is in the UK in October for the vast Destination: Star Trek event and Alasdair Stuart spoke to him about that, being Q, My Little Pony and his plans for the future.
SFX: You’re coming to London for the Destination Star Trek event in October. Do you have any plans for the event?
John de Lancie: “I’m working on a documentary about Bronies [male My Little Pony fans] at the moment so for me it’s an opportunity for a publicity run for that. Whilst it’s always good to get together and talk about other shows, for me, it’s going to be a publicity run for that show. And because we’ve been doing this for such a long time there’s a social niche to it; so if someone wants to come and talk to me about a movie, and someone else wants to come talk to me about a TV show, it’s an easy reach for them to come over and see me…”
You’re best known in genre circles for your work as Q, and one of the things that really struck me about the character was how incredibly theatrical he was. There’s an air of Mephistopheles to the character and how he goads Picard, so I was curious how much of that emerged from the writing or the way your performances bounced off one another?
“A lot of the time you find that elements of a character are brought out by the actors playing them. Patrick’s involvement added, dare I say it, a Shakespearean quality so that helped in bouncing off him. I do think it was a character that was very involved in big philosophical issues; after all the Q are essentially Gods and it helped to bring a focus to all of that.”
The character’s also unusual in that he’s appeared in three incarnations of the show. Do you think he worked as well on Voyager as he did on Next Generation?
“You’re getting within sight of an episode where, whilst a lot of people liked it, I don’t think was a particularly sensible one and seemed to pander a little too much to the comedic elements. The over reaching questions were, if I recall, whether I loved Vash or she loved me and I didn’t think it was particularly successful.”
Q has a fascinating narrative throughline in Next Generation with him softening to humanity as the years went on. I was curious how you felt the character changed as you portrayed him.
“The way you can see what an actor brings to a role is you turn the sound off. Everything else becomes subtext, the wink and the nod, and the attitude and all that kind of stuff is a little easier to see with the sound off. It’s the same as if you want to see make up, you pick up Cosmopolitan or Vogue magazine and you turn it upside down. Then you can see the highlights, see the texture, etc and when you turn it back, you see it in context again.
“When I started, I had, frankly, a much more textured version of the character than the director Cory Allen, wanted. There were a lot of incidents where he’d go, ‘No you’ve got to get really angry here!’ and it became, ‘Well I’m not really feeling anything here. They wouldn’t really upset me.’ (chuckles) Why would I be upset? It’d be like being upset with an ant!
“Then I had the opportunity to come back a second time and began to be given the opportunity to make things more interesting, which is where the keen sense of humour came from, and that he’s sort of an omnipotent being but occasionally stupid anyway. He’s God with clay feet. That was the challenge, to always make sure that there what was being said was juxtaposed by some other, deeper reality.”
Are you done with Q? Would you like to do more with him?
Well, the show’s been over for many years, and whilst we still talk about it’s very much on the backburner. It’s all academic.
Discord, the character John de Lancie voices in My Little Pony
You’re a very eloquent defender of the Brony fan community and you’re active in putting together a documentary about it. How’s that going?
“The documentary is going very well. I’ve never made one before, and we actually just shot a bunch last night and got some very good stuff. But the actual putting together of a documentary is just excruciatingly time-consuming; a bazillion little decisions. I’m involved in all that but we have editors that are working on different prints of it. I’m the executive producer so I’d say I’m very involved but; much more on the artsy fartsy side of things… And Lauren Faust, who created My Little Pony, is repeatedly checking in with us, weekly, if not almost daily. It’s going quite well.
“When I came into Star Trek on the Next Generation I began to learn more and more about the first generation of Star Trek, and about the fans campaign to keep it on air, interestingly not unlike the situation Lauren Faust found herself in some time ago. I was also fascinated by how, as a society, the fans treated women, and the fact they got together to talk about it in living rooms and restaurants and start letter writing campaigns. So I saw the parallels.
“And then the next thing is I saw them being… ridiculed.
“In the best way, I’m presenting a mirror, nothing more, and the Bronies’ responses have been great. Just great. Which isn’t to say I’m a fan of the show – I’m not really a fan of any show – but I am a fan of the people willing to stand up to the jeers society may throw their way. So I wanted to be a support to them.”
What does the future hold you?
Well I do little concert narrations so I have a couple of those to do at my office. This documentary is really a major part of my time and so I’m giving me till the first of the month and stepping back onto the circuit to promote. So that’s what I’m doing right now.