Friday, July 05, 2013

Flashback Friday: Speaking with Sarek

(Once upon a time, I had a phone interview with Mark Lenard, the gentleman who played (among many other sci-fi roles) Sarek on the classic Star Trek series and films. He was soft-spoken and self-deprecating, and generous. He sent me three autographed photos (unasked) after the talk. This article appeared on Page 6B of The News Herald on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1995. Lenard died at age 72 on Nov. 22, 1996 of multiple myeloma.)

'Spock's father' energizes Trek-o-Rama
For years, he served the Vulcan race as ambassador to the United Federation of Planets — and served more patriarchal duties as father to Star Trek's beloved Mr. Spock.

Now Ambassador Sarek makes his first official visit to Panama City as Mark Lenard, the actor who first brought Sarek to life more than 25 years ago, headlines today's Trek-O-Rama science fiction convention at the Marina Civic Center.

"Star Trek has been a big part of my life, off and on, ever since," Lenard said in a telephone interview from his New York home. "I can never really get away from it, and I'm always going to conventions and talking about it."

More mundane TV watchers will recognize Lenard's distinctive voice from advertisements for Saab, Maxwell House Coffee, Scope, BP Oil, CNN Crossfire and others. He has appeared in dozens of movies and TV series including The Greatest Story Ever Told, Annie Hall, Gunsmoke, and Planet of the Apes.

Lenard also applied his voice to the reading of Sarek and Federation, two best-selling Trek novels, for recent book-on-tape productions.

"Plus, I teach a class and I'm directing and playing in a film version of an opera — people will be pleased to hear it's a non-singing role," Lenard said. "And I'm writing, so I'm very busy now."

One of his major activities is a touring production of The Boys in Autumn, which guest stars Walter Koenig, another Trek alumnus.

Lenard as Sarek in 'Next Generation'
"We play Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at middle age. Walter plays Tom and I play Huck," Lenard said. "It has great humor. They're two old curmudgeons, and it's quite moving. We've had good reception and we've been at it long enough to get very good at it."

Lenard said there were no plans to have him appear on the current incarnations of Star Trek, although he played Sarek and other alien characters in the original series, the cartoon spinoff, the movies and Next Generation.

The character of Sarek died in the latter series, in a scene in which he was suffering from a brain disease similar to Alzheimer's, in which his mind focuses on memories and unleashes the pent up emotions of a lifetime.

"I enjoyed it, although there was just the one scene," Lenard said. "But it was a little like King Lear, and I played it that way."

In his very first television work after moving to Hollywood, Lenard was cast as the Romulan commander in the classic Trek episode, Balance of Terror, a space adventure fashioned on a submarine warfare plotline. That work led to his casting as Sarek in the episode Journey to Babel, where his performance turned a one-shot character into a fan favorite.

Lenard as Sarek in 'Journey to Babel'
Lenard has definite feelings on the running "which Trek was best" question.

"I recently saw one of the old shows and it's far superior to the others, much more fun," he said. "It was the one about Apollo, and it had a few wrinkles in it that were not the best. But it was a great character show. That's what they did the best."

Lenard has never been a real fan of science fiction, except when it shifted focus from hardware and special effects to character development and emotion. And he never watched Star Trek until he started being invited to science fiction conventions.

"I started watching the show out of self-preservation, because people were asking me all these questions about it," he said.

But Lenard said he was pleased with his Star Trek affiliation.

"It's part of our culture now, and our language," he said. "It's an honest show. It stands for good things. And the theme, 'Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations' is just as applicable today."
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