Brent Spiner (Data!) on Independence Day: Resurgence and 50 Years of Star Trek


The acclaimed character actor opens up about his turns in the ‘Independence Day’ sequel and Cinemax’s ‘Outcast,’ as well as how the geek inherited the earth. “>

For 20 years, Independence Day fans thought Brent Spiners manic hippie scientist Dr. Brakish Okun was dead.

And for good reason. In his last scene in Roland Emmerichs 1996 sci-fi disasterpiece, Okun is seen pressed against the glass of an autopsy chamber in his underground laboratory, a gleaming alien tentacle wrapped around his throat. Releaseme he wheezes, now a living mouthpiece for the captured aliens commands.

When the glass breaks and Okun falls to the floor unconscious, Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) checks his pulse and Okun is never seen againor at least, not until the debut of this weekends mega-sequel Independence Day: Resurgence.

How is Okun alive again? Spiner says its simple: he never died in the first place. The films original script included a line declaring the mad scientists death, but Emmerich and screenwriter Dean Devlin cut the line from the final film, leaving the door open for Okuns miraculous return.

Roland and [screenwriter] Dean had talked about it before and said that if they did another film, that Dr. Okun was not dead and they could bring him back, Spiner says. So I was kind of counting on it all these years.

Spiner reunites in the sequel with a handful of high-profile co-stars from the original, including Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch, and Bill Pullman, who delivered the indelible St. Crispins day speech still invoked by tipsy uncles at Fourth of July barbecues every year. Will Smith is notably absent from the sequel but Spiner is hung up on another ex-cast member who didnt return: Im still a little disappointed that Harry Connick Jr. didnt make it back, but I got over that really quickly, he jokes.

The 67-year-old actor is phoning from Denver, just before wading into the citys local Comic-Con, to talk two major career milestones: the 20th anniversary of Independence Day and the 50th of the franchise hes still most closely associated with: Star Trek.

But before we dive into the legacy and sex appeal (really) of Lieutenant Commander Data, the endearingly guileless android Spiner played for seven years in Star Trek: The Next Generation, he politely interrupts our interview to ask an urgent question. He needs to know if Meatloaf is OK.

The Grammy winner collapsed onstage at a concert in Canada the night before our conversation. Im ashamed to say, but I was on the New York Post online, Spiner explains, and one of the headlinesnot the big headline, but the one up in the cornersaid Meat Loaf Dies After Collapsing Onstage. And I looked it up online everywhere else, I couldnt find anything that said he had died. So Im hoping that was just a Mark Twain moment for him

I do a quick Google search and assure him that the latest Meatloaf news is more reassuring: hes recovering well after the collapse.

Oh, Spiner laughs. Thats different than dying. Just like Dr. Okun! People thought he died, but no, he did not.

What was it like working with the old Independence Day cast again?

Oh it was great. It was a treat that not many people get. I felt really lucky to be coming back and working with these same people that are all terrific and just as much fun as they could possibly be. I love working with Roland. Hes got unbelievable energy and enthusiasm and it never flags and thats great to be around.

Do you have favorite memories of shooting the original?

My favorite memory of the original really was when I realized they were gonna let me do what I wanted to do and not only that, but encourage it and enhance it. I remember when I first read the original script, Dr. Okun was just a regular doctor who worked in Area 51. And for some reason, inspiration hit meit doesnt happen very often, at least not to me, but occasionally it does and that was one of those incidents where I thought, Hey, I wonder if I can go in another direction with this and turn him into sort of an old hippie whos been underground too long.

When I first went in and read for the part, I read it that way. Dean Devlin put it on tape, showed it to Roland and by that afternoon I had the part. When I went in with Roland for the first time, I said, Hey, can I have long hair? And he picked up the phone and ordered a wig. That was a great experience for me, to be able to take something that jumped at my imagination and add it to what they had imagined and turn it into reality. And here I am 20 years later doing it again! Thats a huge gift to be able to do that.

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Well I think of me as a comedic actor too, in general. Not that I havent done serious work but this has very little humor and its really dark. It comes from the recesses of [Walking Dead creator] Robert Kirkmans soul. Which is interesting because Robert is a very light, very fun, positive guy. But deep down inside of him, he pulls this stuff out. Im enjoying playing this mysterious, dark character. Until about episode five, I am just a real mystery. Im just looking and sizing up the situation before I make my move. And so its fun to do that, its been really fun for me to tap into the dark side of myself.

So we wont know what hes up to until episode five. How much did you know about him when you began shooting?

Very little. (Laughs.) Honestly. It was almost like improv because Im discovering the character at the same time you are, really. It gets clearer and clearer as the season goes on, but really I was not called upon to play anything more than sort of enigmatic mystery in the first three or four episodes. But then it does develop very quickly after that.

Its also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek this year. Youve said before that when you first auditioned for Data, you took the gig mainly to get out of debt and that you didnt really think another Star Trek could work after the William Shatner-led original.

Obviously I was wrong thinking this was not gonna last. But looking at it now, 50 years of it, you have to give it credit. Its a really important American epic. Maybe the great American epic, really. Because what else has gone half a century and shows no signs of lagging? Theres a new film coming out in August and theyve got a new series thats going [next year] on CBS. Id like to see Star Trek go on for all our lives, frankly.

Your web series Fresh Hell, in which you played a post-fame version of yourself, never got a conclusion. I know youre averse to turning to Kickstarter, but why?

It was a project of love. There were three of us involved in itHarry Hannigan, Chris Ellis and myselfbut I just feel odd about asking the public to give me money to do what I want to do. If I were broke, I could understand it and I could say, Hey, I dont have any money, could you guys help me out? But the truth is I just dont get that whole trend of I need your money because I dont want to spend mine. There are some projects on Kickstarter that have been very worthwhile, like Reading Rainbow, which Lavar [Burton] did. It got a huge response because everyone recognized how worthwhile it was. But in general, it just didnt feel right for me.

That being said, I still want to do it. I still want to do more Fresh Hell. But I want to do it on television, full-out. I need Netflix or Hulu or someone to produce it. They may as well.

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