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Chakotay's Choice

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Star Trek: The Official Monthly Magazine #38, April 1998

Sue Schneider meets the man recently voted 'Sexiest Man in Star Trek' by readers of Star Trek Monthly magazine, and finds out how life is treating Robert Beltran

So what does Robert Beltran think about being bestowed the honour of 'Sexiest Man in Star Trek'?

"There's nothing to think about really," says the talented actor. "It's their opinion, not mine, but it's certainly nice that people think that!"

Acclaimed actor Robert Beltran has a long list of film and televsion credits to his name. One of his earliest roles was in the cult film 'Eating Raoul' in 1982, and he has since gone on to appear in such films as 'Bugsy', 'Slamdance' and 'Kiss Me A Killer', as well as to guest star in well-known television series such as 'Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman', 'Miami Vice' and 'Murder, She Wrote'. The actor, who was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, loves the many facets of acting and the challenges of the craft he has chosen as his career.

Star Trek fans know and love Beltran for his role in 'Star Trek:Voyager' as Captain Kathryn Janeway's trusted number one, Commander Chakotay.

"My responsibilities as the first officer are to make sure that the captain's orders are followed," Beltran explains. "When the captain leaves the bridge she delegates responsibility to the person that she designates at that time to take over the bridge. So that means," he adds with a laugh, "That when I take control of the bridge then officially I'm sort of the captain!"

Chakotay, being both a Native American Indian and a former member of the Maquis, has always had the potential to be a very intriguing character, and this is something which has always appealed to Beltran. Over the three and a half seasons that Star Trek: Voyager has been running, the actor has been able to bring out the intrigue within the character and allow the fans to get to know him better. We have seen that he does in fact have many sides to him. While at times he can be a stern leader, especially when someone crosses his path, deep down he has a very caring nature.

"What I particularly like about him is that he's loyal and that he's someone you can count on," says Beltran.

One thing that Beltran does not like, however, is the uniforms the cast have to wear.

"I don't like the way they look," he explains. "I don't like the way they fit. I just don't like them."

As one of the chief characters in Star Trek: Voyager, Chakotay has been the central focus of a number of episodes of the series, including such recent outings as season four's, 'Nemesis', in which the ship's First Officer is stranded on a planet in the grip of a terrible war, or the outstanding season three episode, 'Unity', which introduced the Borg to Star Trek: Voyager for the first time. This is one episode which Robert Beltran remembers with fondness, as is 'Tattoo', which focuses on the character's native heritage.

"I don't really have a favourite episode from this year," the actor notes of the current season of the series. "I really don't. I can't even look at it objectively anymore."

Nevertheless, Beltran enjoys his work on Star Trek, and finds himself continuously challenged by the role of Chakotay.

"Stuff happens on Star Trek that is just amazing," he enthuses, "that is beyond the comprehension of Human beings. To me the challenge is always trying to make it believable, because I certainly don't believe any of it! But that doesn't impinge on my ability to play this role.

"I think that the writing and the acting in all departments are subject to good moments and subject to not so good moments, as with any other show. It's not just the writing that suffers here and there, it's the acting too. It's the crew, the lighting, the photography. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody falls short once in a while.

"Some episodes are enjoyable and some of them are not," Beltran continues earnestly. "What makes it fun is the camaraderie of our acting relationship, of our crew and our cast. But most of the time going to work.... I mean, doing the actual episode, can be very tedious, because the very act of making a television series in a one hour format it very, very difficult, and involves long hours. The experiences on each show they vary from episode to episode are not very different, but the challenges are pretty constant. You always have to react to some amazing thing that has happened ... like some weird alien race or some new invisible alien.""

One of Beltran's major qualms about the series is that there is very little action for those characters who are not part of the central storyline of the episode they are working on.

"The Bridge stuff is basically techno-babble. Star Trek is mostly talk and probably five per cent action."

But when the cast are not talking technobable, it is character interaction which is one of the most interesting elements of Star Trek, and this is something which the creators of Star Trek: Voyager have given focus to in recent series. A deeper relationship between Chakotay and his captain has been hinted at for some time now, but what readers want to know is, will Chakotay and Janeway ever become involved? Many fans feel that the episode in which the two were stranded together on a planet, 'Resolutions', gave Chakotay the perfect opportunity to admit his true feelings to Janeway. But Beltran doesn't agree.

"Chakotay is definitely not like that. That's just too obvious. He's not the macho 'go-out-and-get-it' type when stuck in a situation like that. If he was, he would have just made a move on her. But that's not Chakotay."

Perhaps this is why he was voted 'Sexiest Man in Star Trek', because Chakotay is a gentleman.

"I really have no idea what's going to happen," he continues on the subject of the evolving relationship between Chakotay and Janeway. "It seems to me as if it's just one long tease, but I don't know. If I were to call [the writers] and ask them what they were going to do, they might give me some indication, but I don't think they have decided where they are going to go with it yet.

The last time I talked to Kate Mulgrew, she said that she would like to see the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay deepen, but not in a sexual way. Beltran agrees.

"I think it might pose more problems than are really good for the show [if they were to get together]", he states. "I think that they should be separate identities and not be fused together in a sexual kind of way."

Another interesting relationship is that between Chakotay and Tuvok. There has always been a certain tension between the two officers, and the last time we talked to Timm Russ (in issue 33) he stated that Chakotay was always, 'in his face'!

"I think all that stuff is dead weight," Beltran states with a hearty laugh. "Tuvok's actions have shown me that he is a team player, and if he still distrusts me then he obviously hasn't learned anything about Chakotay. All of our regular characters are team players and that's been established. We are working together. Any conflicts come from personality clashes. The main thing between Tuvok and I is that he is so logical. Logic is his guiding line, and Chakotay is a little bit more esoteric."

The arrival of new recruit Seven of Nine (Played by Jeri Ryan) in the episode 'Scorpion', part II has meant more character conflict for Chakotay, not only between him and the drone, but also between him and his captain, as in the episode he cannot condone his captain's decision to form an alliance with the Borg. But what does Robert Beltran think about the addition of Jeri Ryan to the crew and the media and fan attention both the new character, and the show have received as a result of her joining the cast?

"It's working well," Beltran affirms. "I like the character. I like [Jeri Ryan]. I don't know if it is down to Jeri or whether the show is naturally doing well by itself, but judging from the reaction of a lot of people I know outside Star Trek, I would say she has helped boost ratings. I don't really know, but I do think that the show is going to improve in the ratings this year, anyway."

One thing Beltran is adamant about is that Star Trek: Voyager has lived up to the standard set by its predecessors. "I think Star Trek: Voyager is as good as any of the other Star Trek shows.... absolutely," he affirms. "Our cast is as good as any other ensemble. It's just a matter of whether you like Patrick Stewart or Kate Mulgrew or William Shatner or Avery Brooks. I guess they had never done what they did with Jennifer Lien [during season four] in another show, though replaced a regular in mid-season. Also, a female running the ship rather than a man is definitely different, but a captain in the military is in charge whether they are male or female."

One side of Chakotay that has not been delved into in recent episodes is the mysticism of his character. The people in his culture have an animal guide who they turn to at times of need. This religious side of the character was examined in early episodes such as, 'The Cloud' and 'Cathexis', but the writers have not developed Chakotay's spirituality in recent episodes.

"I don't think his spirituality is very defined," Beltran comments. "We know that Chakotay has his medicine bundle and that he will eventually be able to mentally leave his body and go to a different dimension on a subconscious level. And we also know that he is able to converse with his dead father.

"When you don't have definition to that sort of spiritual mysticism," Beltran continues, "you can't use it that much. You can only use it as it pertains to a certain episode. If they need me to go and talk to my dead father, then they'll use that. Or if they need me to enter my dreams in order to take care of a problem or a dream alien or something like that, which is in an episode coming up later this season, then you deal with that."

Beltran refuses to elaborate further on the late season four spisode he has hinted at.

The actor does feel, however, that his mysticism makes Chakotay different from most of the other characters on Star Trek.

"How many people run around with a medicine bundle and consult with their dead father?" he asks, laughing. "Plus, we also know that the tattoo on his forehead sets him apart."

But what is Chakotay's religion? Where do his beliefs come from? What tribe is he from?

"He doesn't worship God," Beltran confirms. "So far we haven't seen him worshipping different Gods. A few Indian tribes that I know of, have medicine bundles. I know the Navajo Indians carry their own individual medicine pouch and it's basically a talisman to good energy or good aura the energy around you. I think that the religious stuff is sort of based superficially on fact and research, and then [the creators] take it wherever they need to go".

One upcoming episode of Star Trek: Voyager, as detailed in our last issue, sees the crew of the USS Voyager stuck in a simulation of the Second World War on the Holodeck. Beltran is wary about giving away too much about this two-part episode, 'The Killing Game', however.

"We're stuck in World War II and that's all I can tell you about it," the actor laughs.

Not being a science fiction fan and having never really watched Star Trek before playing Chakotay, Beltran was at first taken aback by the fan reaction to the show and it's popularity, but this is something which he has now become accustomed to.

"I'm no longer surprised" he laughs. "So many different kinds of people watch the show, that I'm not surprised when someone walks up to me. Still, I would never have had any idea that most of the people who approach me watch the show."

"Star Trek has such a wide spectrum of emotional appeal," Beltran states. "With this show, we delve into the conscious and the subconscious, different dimensions, different races of people. We try to project ourselves into the future. There is just so much imaginary content in the show which connects with Human beings and their ideas. On a show like Star Trek, you can be transported to the old West. You can be transported to Leonardo Da Vinci's workshop the possibilities are endless. I think that is why it appeals to such a wide variety of people."

And of course, it is also because of characters like Chakotay that Star Trek appeals to such a wide variety of people. We can only hope that Star Trek's sexiest actor will stay in the Star Trek universe for many years to come.

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Transcribed by Jane Hodges


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