Trivia question: who actually piloted the U.S.S. Voyager home to Earth? Well, in case the huge picture of the man on this page hasn't given it away, the answer is Commander Chakotay, who took over the helm when Tom ran off to see his ickle baby in sickbay. The road home was a long one for the ship's first officer, and mimicking his character's journey, it's not been an easy ride for actor Robert Beltran either, as David Bassom finds out.
Robert Beltran knows that time is a great healer. In the year since he shot his final scene as Commander Chakotay, Beltran has quickly come to terms with anydisappointments, frustrations and niggles her experienced while working on the closing seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. And with the passage of time, he's gained something of a new appreciation for his time in the Delta Quadrant.
"I'm able to look back on it a lot more fondly than I did when I immediately stopped," reveals Beltran with typical candour. "I was fed up with it by the end. I think you could say it was almost like a post-traumatic experience I was going through when I left the show, because the last three years were very hard for me to take. But I can honestly say now it's been a year that a lot of those ill feelings have dissipated.
"I don't think there's any really negative aspects of having been on Voyager," he notes. "I don't see any negative stuff, except for the fact that I wish the material had been a little bit more challenging in the last few years."
Speaking to STAR TREK Monthly during a visit to London, Beltran is clearly at ease over his Star Trek experience and is willing to discuss his seven year tour of duty aboard the U.S.S. Voyager. But at the same time, the charming, friendly and refreshingly honest Los Angeles-based actor maintains his long-stated beliefs that as a show ST: Voy was good, but the writing lost its way a little during the closing three seasons, and ultimately prevented the series from fulfilling its true potential.
"I hate to beat on these poor people, but I thought the quality of the writing slipped," he recalls. "Some people think I was only complaining about my character being under-utilised, but that was the least of my concerns. My complaints were always the quality of the writing and that a lot of the characters were being short-changed. Tuvok was certainly short-changed ; Ensign Kim was always short-changed.
"When Jeri Ryan came on [as Seven of Nine] the show was really focused on her. But you can do that without having to sacrifice the other characters. And I thought they just sacrificed some of us, so they could write endless episodes of Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway having the same argument over and over - 'I want you to do it this way...' 'I won't!' 'You will!' 'I won't!' 'You will!' 'I won't! Ok, Captain you were right.' End of episode. That went on for ages while the rest of us were just going, "Captain, shields are down to 40 per cent!"
One aspect of the show that Beltran would like to have seen exploited more
was the initial friction between the U.S.S. Voyager's Starfleet
crewmembers and their rebellious Maquis shipmates, who were led by Chakotay.
"They just kind of tossed the Maquis thing away, almost too soon. Because if
you don't have conflict in a series among human beings, what do you have? You
have conflict between all the people on the spaceship and some strange aliens,
who are most of the time one-dimensional.... They never really pursued some of
the more interesting aliens like the Vidiians, who were collecting body parts.
That could have been really interesting."
Beltran believes that Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine and the Doctor's dominance of the show and the early resolution of the Starfleet- Maquis clash sorely restricted Chakotay's development in the series' later years. And he readily admits that he had hoped for far greater exploration of Chakotay's background, personal life and relationships before ST: VOY's end.
"I think there was a lot of unexplored stuff that would have been fun and challenging as an actor to get into, because I think there was a really interesting character there," he explains. "I really enjoyed going to work and playing my character for a while, and I thought the writers were coming up with some very interesting stuff - mostly when [ST:VOY co-creators/executive producers] Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller were there. They were older and they had more life experience as people and as writers. Their concept of Chakotay had a little more breadth and more depth than the writers they brought in later, who were pretty young guys.
"But Jeri Taylor, Michael Piller and Ken Biller - who was just a writer at that time- brought some really terrific stuff to my character. So I was happy going to work."
That said, of course, Beltran is well aware that his character became the envy of Star Trek viewers across the galaxy when Chakotay was romantically linked with Seven of Nine in ST: VOY's closing adventure, Endgame. "I have two theories about that," he reveals. "One of them is that, because Jeri Ryan and [writer/executive producer] Brannon Braga were going out together, and the fact that Chakotay never really had a romantic interest, I challenged Brannon through Jeri to get our characters together. I said, 'Jeri, I know there's no way that we'll ever get a scene together where we kiss, because Brannon would never allow that.' She laughed and said, 'I'm gonna tell him you said that.' and I said, ' Yeah, you do that.' So I think that was his way of saying, 'You think I'm jealous?' you know.
"The other thing is, I think it would have been very interesting to
naturally develop that relationship. It's just too bad they just sort of threw
it together at the end."
While Beltran makes no secret of his specific reservations about ST: VOY, he has few other complaints about the show and he's quick to outline the many aspects of the gig he did enjoy.
"I always liked my colleagues, it was always fun working with them," he recalls. "A lot of the fans are really terrific and they've really helped me out with my charitable ventures, like the Galaxy Ball. They've been very supportive. And I do like some of the writing. I liked certain episodes like Nemesis, In The Flesh, The Fight and Unforgettable, and even some where I was not the focus of the episode. Certain scenes were fun to do.
"So the good outweighs the bad," he states firmly. "It always has - which is one of the reasons why I stuck with the show."
In the time since ST:VOY completed its seven-year run, Beltran has been keeping himself busy exploring new frontiers away from the Star Trek universe. "The past year has been great," he says. "I've been able to pursue other interests for a while and travel. I've just finished a little film in Texas just before I came over.
"There was a time immediately after Voyager when I was just sort of brain-dead and was not anxious to do any kind of work. One of the great things about working seven years on a show, where you get a weekly pay cheque and a nice salary, is it allows you the luxury to say no to projects that you would normally have to take if you were scratching around for money. So, I have the luxury now of just doing the stuff I want to do.
"The exciting thing now is that I'm on the next phase of my career," he
notes. "I've finished Voyager, and casting people and producers in Los
Angeles are now meeting me again and going, 'Oh, yeah, we remember you.' "
Career-wise, Robert Beltran says he's planning to pursue more stage work in the immediate future, but is also open to signing up for another regular role in a TV series - provided he "really liked the character and the premise of the show." As for the prospects of further adventures in the Star Trek universe, Beltran declares that he would definitely consider reprising the role of Chakotay if the opportunity ever arose.
"For a time, I felt they would never use me again, just as a punishment for
being a bad boy," he admits, referring to his reputation for publicly
criticising the show. "I was willing to live with that. I did have a career
before Star Trek and I think I'll do fine if I never do Star
Trek again. But I'm not set against it. If they wanted to bring Chakotay
back in a movie or something, I would seriously consider it, because I think
there's still a character there and a lot of potential."
Transcribed & graphics scanned/arranged by Gill
Hoyle for The Chakotay Files
If you'd like to take something for a webpage, please help yourself, but a link back to The Chakotay Files would be much appreciated :)