Marina Sirtis shot to fame as Deanna Troi the half human counsellor aboard the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek – The Next Generation. Born and bred a Londoner Marina beat 10,000 other actresses to get the part, but while she was in Hollywood filming (not to mention flying round the Galaxy), she missed the great love of her life, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, known to soccer fans as “Spurs”. I heard that She was coming over to England to film an episode of the long running BBC medical drama Holby City and thought this would make a great magazine feature, if I could get her to Spurs stadium at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. She was staying in Twickenham, which is about as far across London as it’s possible to be from Tottenham and still be in the city, but we picked her up and went off to do the shoot. We eventually got there, took her into the directors box to do the pictures and the interview, which was good, but I wish I had recorded the conversation in the car…… But maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t. It was a great afternoon and it produced some superb pictures and words.
For the technical I was shooting on there then new Nikon D3 with their 14-24 and 24-70 2.8 Nano Coated zooms.The interview was great so I thought it would be good to reproduce it here too.
Obviously you are a Londoner, and from Haringay. How did a girl from North London get to fly round the universe?
“Well I had gone over to LA really just to put my toes in the water and I had gone over for 3 months. Within 5 days of getting there, I got a job on a cop show so that basically funded another 3 months and I started auditioning for this mad “Star Trek” show and I did the final audition, didn’t hear anything – I did 6 auditions over 6 weeks – final audition – didn’t hear anything, was literally getting my suitcase down off the wardrobe to start packing to leave and the phone rang on the day I was leaving to come back to England, to say that I had got the job. My visa ran out the next day, so from then on, I was an illegal immigrant and Paramount had to rush around trying to get me sorted so I wouldn’t get deported.
I asked her if it was true that , originally she was down to play the Security Officer. “Well she was auditioning for my part and I was auditioning for her part. The only reason I would have wanted to play the Security Officer was that I would have been Wolf’s boss and Michael Dorn is my best friend in America and it would have driven him mad if I had have been his boss!!! But actually, I really liked, my character. To me it was more of a challenge to play Troi, because she is so unlike Marina, I am bolshy, I am loud, obnoxious, you know, a mad football fan, and Troi was so cerebral and kind of together and perfect, it was actually a real challenge to do that for 7 years and not let Marina, that loud, obnoxious person through, whereas I think if I had played Tarha Yar, she was more feisty that I think it would have been much easier to play”.
But I understand as a dyed in the wool Spurs fan, you were missing your football, I was told you used to have tapes of Spurs matches sent out to you.
“I did. Before the Fox Soccer Channel came on, I would have people – I don’t know whether it is legal or not, but they would tape “Match of the Day” and send it to me. I know, but now we have Fox Soccer Channel and I subscribe to Setanta, so I get to see Spurs virtually every week”. “I think it was the World Cup that actually got me into football when we won it in 1966 and then after that, I was a Spurs Fan. I went to Tottenham High School for Girls – an all girls school. To be honest, Spurs were the nearest boys!!! and we used to come up at the lunchtime and have lunch and hang around outside to see if we could catch a glimpse of the players.
One of the places for the real die hard fans to congregate at White Hart Lane was an upper tier known as “The Shelf” so I asked Where you were a Shelf girl?
“I started out in the Park Lane end and I moved onto the Shelf and I used to come every Saturday, but you may say “They don’t play home every Saturday”, and that’s true. I used to come and watch the reserves every other Saturday and in the morning sometimes on Saturday we would go and watch the youth team when they used to play at Cheshunt, so I wore blue and white stripes.
Do you still have a London connection these days, Is your family still in London?
“No. Actuallly my parents are both passed away now, but my brother is actually living in Greece and has lived in Greece for over 20 years, so he ended up playing football over there – the pride of my life – and he stayed.
Well you talked about having Fox Soccer Channel. Are Sports a large part of your life in the States?
“Huge. I actually feel sorry for my husband because I love to watch sports. My husband does sports. He does those extreme sports – apart from Golf – he plays Golf almost every day, but he also surfs and he snowboards in the winter and he hang glides, which I think is absolutely terrifying. But I like to watch sports and come the FA Cup, he is always delighted. He always thinks it is the last match of the season and then he’ll have his wife back but then I say “don’t get excited darling, because the FrenchOpen starts in 2 weeks and I’ll be sitting in front of theTV watching the tennis – consequently, I have someone else clean my house” .
Going back to Pre-Trek. Marina was in “Wicked Lady” with Faye Dunaway and you were in two Michael Winner Films. What was Michael Winner like to work with?
“Can I plead the fifth on this”? Well he’s not the easiest person to work for and I did have some very uncomfortable times in both those films. I was young, you know, the chance when you are starting out to be in a big feature film, especially “Wicked Lady”, I mean to be in a film with Faye Dunaway and Alan Bates and John Gielgud, I mean, I probably would have paid Michael to be in that film, you know, but I should have just done that one and walked away – let’s just leave it at that, and not done the second one.
P: OK so, your previous roles have seen nudity, Interspecies relationships, Intergalactic love affairs – is it an insight into your personality?
“The nudity – well gosh – you know, I think there’s a guarantee that when you are young and you have to pay the rent and you have to take your togs off for a part because you need the money, it’s almost a guarantee that somewhere down the line, you are going to get some amount of success and it’s going to come back and bite you in the bum. It’s like a given, isn’t it. To be honest, I would not do it now, but it wouldn’t be age appropriate to do it now and who wants to see my tired old skin anyway, but in those days, I didn’t really have a problem with it. You know, I was in my early 20s, I looked pretty good. I mean I used to go topless on the beach and thought what was the big deal. In America, of course, they are much more puritanical than we are. It means much more over there. That’s why they all have bottom’s doubles, you know, ridiculous, but basically it was never an issue for me. It was an issue for my mum – she was mortified, obviously, but what can you do”?
Do you think the Deanna Troi character has limited your potential as an actress as you were so well known as her.
“You know what, people tend to say things about “Star Trek” like “Once you have done “Star Trek”, you become type cast and you can’t do anything else. I don’t think that’s exclusive to “Star Trek”. I think that whenever you do a successful TV series, when that series is over, there will be a lean period, unless you hit with something else right away, there will be a lean period and that goes for “”Star Trek””, that goes for “Cheers”, that goes, for I was thinking last night, “Mad About You”, all the shows, huge shows “Friends”, you know a couple of them have gone on to do other things and succeed and a lot of them have dropped off the radar and that’s because it’s cyclical, you know, it will come around again and I did have a lean time afterwards, partly also because I was too choosy about what I was going to do next. If I hadn’t have been quite so “picky”, I think I did myself a disservice, but it’s a double edged sword, Paul. On the one hand, yes, you are typecast to a certain exent. On the other hand, however, you have name recognition, which of course, we all know is half the battle in this business when you don’t have to explain to people who you are”.
You also did “Star Gate”. Does this mean you liked Science Fiction?
“You know, I’m always so flattered when people offer me a job – “You want me? Really?”, and also when you do another sci-fi show, when you have been on “Next Gen” because really “Next Gen” was the most successfuly science fiction show of all time, whenever you go and do someone else’s show, they treat you like you are the Queen, they really do, they treat you like visiting royalty and so they spoil you and make a fuss of you and it’s lovely. And I just like to work, actually. I’m a bit like Patrick. Patrick’s like that. He’s just a workaholic. He hates to not work and I’m a bit like that, so if I’ve been sitting around for a month or two and someone says “Do you want to do “Star Gate”, I go “Yes!”, you know.”
P: You have worked with some of the best known actors and actresses in the world. Who is the easiest to work with and who was the toughest, would you say?
“Well, I think Faye was the toughest to work with, you know, we don’t hang out with each other, but I know Faye, I have worked with Faye and I see her around in LA. She’s a perfectionist. I’ll give you an example. I was doing our camera dialogue for her and one of the grips came and stood in front of me with a light board and I just literally had to stand on tip toe to look over his shoulder for her eye line and because I was 2 to 3 inches higher, she stopped the shot and said “My eyeline has changed because Marina is not in the same place.” So she knows what she wants. She is very very professional, very much “This is what I want”, I think she virtually lights herself, you know, she virtually tells the lighting people what she wants. So that, to me, was something I had never seen before, you know, I was just one of those actresses who shows up, hits her mark and tries not to bump into the furniture!!! and I just saw this whole other experience of what it is like to be a star. And she does have an aura, and you didn’t really feel you could go and have a cup of tea with her, really.
Did you learn from her?
“Yes. The people I learned from – I learned from Faye and when I did “Sherlock Holmes”, I used to go in, even on my days off to watch Jeremy Brett. I learned so much from Jeremy. And then of course, I learned a lot from Patrick – I didn’t have to go in on my days’ off, because I saw him enough when I was working, but with Patrick, he was not going to be in anything that was rubbish. He has this standard. I know a lot of his friends in England, I think, were saying “Oh my goodness, Royal Shakespeare, and now he’s doing “Star Trek”,” So I think he had a point to prove that you could do a Sci Fi show and it could be good and it could be of a standard of any good TV drama and so it’s like a trickle down effect. If the star of the show is only going to be excellent, then the rest of you are going to be excellent as well, so I learned a lot from him. He said to me once, “Marina, if you want to be treated like a star, you have to act like a star”, which was a little dig at me, because I always wanted to be best friends with everyone and for every one to like me. I was always cooking for people and making them muffins and stuff. You know, “ you don’t have to do that, they like you anyway”.”
So who was the easiest person to work with?
“To be honest, I have got on with everybody, I have never had – Oh, that’s a lie – I had one experience on a film and I’m not going to say who it was because there were drugs involved and I don’t want to get sued, but I did do a film with someone who was basically out partying every night and showing up the next morning, the worse for wear and not knowing his lines and throwing tantrums and things like that, and that was not pleasant, but apart from that, I have never really had a bad experience and I think it is how one presents oneself really. If you go in difficult, then people won’t respond to you in a positive way. But as I said, I love working, it’s the place I want to be when I’m not here and my ‘Star Trek” cast were – we laughed for 7 years – non stop. We had the noisiest set I have ever been on because we were having such a good time. We had a director in the first season who directed 2 shows and refused to ever come back because we were too rowdy and we all got chastised by the producer because this had never happened in the history of Hollywood that a director refused to work with a cast of actors. But we had fun and it was a delight to go to work every day and when you are working 16 to18 hours a day and you are having fun and the proof of the puddiing is that 20 years on, we are all best friends. All the other casts see each other at conventions and what not, but we are all still hanging out together. I went to see Patrick in his first night in Macbeth last week – it was the third time I had seen it. I see Michael Dorn my best friend, and Gates and I are neighbours, I mean, we are all still best friends and that is a testament to how we got on. I mean you don’t come across it very often, do you.
You’re based in LA now. Obviously you miss Spurs. What else do you miss about London?
M: You know what, I miss the British sense of humour. That’s what I miss and again, I’ll give you an example. I love tennis too and I went to Wimbledon a few years ago now, I happened to be in London in the summer and it was when John Redwood had got up to something naughty and the guy with the Evening Standard was outside the ground and I wouldn’t leave until they were turning the lights off, since I was just so happy to be in Wimbledon and we walked out and he was trying to get rid of the last few Standards that he had got, you know, he’s going “Get your papers ‘ere, Redwood’s Deadwood!!” and I just fell over laughing, that Cockney sense of humour, and they just don’t get it in America. Well first of all, they don’t get irony at all. That’s what we learned doing interviews with American press – don’t be funny cos they’ll think you are being serious and you look llike a pillock when you read yourself in the paper.
So where do you see your career going now?
“Oh goodness! Well, I don’t really know. I have had a spate of playing a lot of Middle Eastern women after I did “Crash”, there was a whole slew of Middle Eastern things that I did and I told my agent I don’t want to do any more of those, cos that was all that seemed to be coming in, and to be honest, I was sick of learning Farsi and Arabic and not wanting to get pigeon holed in another area plus I acutally quite like to wear make up when I’m working and when you are playing Middle Eastern, there is no make up and you look like you’re dog’s dinner??????, so I have put an end to that. What I would really like to do is another series. I know a lot of actors say “I just want to do movies”, and “I want to be a movie star”. I actually love doing television. I love playing a part for a long time. I really like having the experience of getting all the bits that you can of that character in different situations, in different moves, you know, in danger, in love you know, you can really, really explore character in TV and I love that. I am also quite a homey person, so I like to know what I’m going to be doing for a little while. Whenyou are young, you can be a gypsy and be all over the world and do a month here and 2 month’s there, but now, I like to be a little more settled and kind of have my life a bit planned out so after the (writer’s) strike, they’re saying there is going to be a pilot season in LA this year so that would be something that I would be hoping for. On the other hand, I watch English Television when I am here, and I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, because America has been very good to me, but really, when we do it well in England, no-one does it as good as us and yeah, I would love to come and do something here, I really, really would. A BBC Costume Drama – you know – I’d pay them to be in it”!!! “I would – I would – we do it so well. No one does it like us and I want to work at the National. That part of me, the old theatre actress, when I left drama school, I had no intention of doing TV and Film, I was going to be the next great classical actress and do all those wonderful parts and there is still a bit of that in me that thinks, well I’m never going to play Juliet, but, maybe I could be – I’ve done Ophelia – maybe I could be Gertrude next time. I’d really love to do some theatre. I won’t do theatre in LA because they don’t understand it, they don’t respect it, they think you are doing a play because you can’t get a movie or a TV show and I don’t want to do it where it is not respected. I would like to do it either on the East Coast and I have done theatre on the East Coast or in London.
You have been in Holby now. I take it you enjoyed it.
M: I did. They were lovely, really lovely. You just don’t get any attitude when you work in England, everyone is just happy to be there, aren’t they. They are normal and I think they were surprised that I was normal too. I think sometimes they think when you have come from Hollywood, you have got the “Hollywood Rot”, and you are just going to be starry and obnoxious and I think they were quite relieved to see that I was just as normal as anybody else really.
Would you be happy to be in a series like that?
M: I’d love to. I can’t do Holby again, but you know, if Eastenders called up……. I do watch all the soaps. I come over for a month and I know more about the story lines in the soaps than any of my friends cos I do – I sit and watch Emmerdale, Eastenders and Corrie. I am a bit like Ian McKellen???? actually. I want to do ….. Corrie would be just …. I’d faint if I got Corrie or Eastenders and do a Panto. I’d feel just like Sir Ian. That’s what he wanted to do and I thought – Yes – that’s what I want to do. I want to do a Panto next Christmas. It would be great.
P: Fantastic. Marina, thank you very much.
Actress Marina Sirtis Star of cult TV show Star Trek – Next Generation and many other films, TV and stage show visits her spiritual home White Hart Lane the ground of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Since her teens Marina has been a major fan of “Spurs” Pictures:- © Paul Stewart
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