Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) 

From  the Galileo 7 III convention in Berlin

Photos & transcript: Erich Habich 1999

 Introduction

 

Star Trek is a very small part of a very large idea.  But most importantly it is you who complete the thought and therefore without you none of this would mean anything.  So you deserve at least for these 7 years all of my gratitude and you all deserve, please, in my presence, a great round of applause.

What I've been doing since Deep Space Nine is trying to recover after seven years of playing Captain Sisko. For those of you who don't know, I commuted from West Coast to East Coast for all that time.  I got a little jet lagged for real. 

I've done also more music, which is what I actually am: a musician.  So much more music: I sang an opera in April called Tanja.  It was about Patty Hearst, a very peculiar story.  I'm probably getting ready to direct in Canada.  And I'm going to do some techno soon - in spring of 2000.  And what else?  Mostly I'm going to soccer matches.  I'm watching my younger son play.

 

A small boy holding some papers is brought to the stage by his mother:

click for close-up (45577 bytes)Avery:
"Oh, hello there little fellow!"

The small boy speaks in German which Avery doesn't understand (Translation):
"I've painted something for you.  Let me show you. That's you there. I'm six years old."

Avery: "Where were you when we needed you? We needed you in the show."

 

click for close-up (62678 bytes)"This here is my mama."

"Thank you so much!   Where is mum?  Where is she?  Here she comes!  That's exactly what I'm talking about.  You complete the thought.  Oh, you wrote me a note, too?   Oh, goodness.  I will take all of these home."

click for close-up (52056 bytes)

 


"Can I have a hug, please?
If I ever wondered why I've done all of this, now I know..."

 

 

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 Questions regarding the TV series "Spencer" and "Hawk"

 
It seems that the Captain Sisko character changes more and more from episode to episode into the "Hawk" character.  Did you like that character so much that you pushed it into the Sisko character?

No.  I will tell you this:  that in the Spencer series I made it all up.  So, if there is any moving closer, as suppose it moved closer to my created center during the seven years.  

Interesting story about Spencer:
during the pilot we were in the Boston Gardens, looking at the Boston Celtic stadium during a live game.
Chuck Thomas who was the rifle man was in the scene.

I had three words to say: "Yeah, I do."
So, the cameras were hidden, the game was going on live and the producer was on the other side of the arena.  So we rehearsed the scene.  It comes to my line, I lean over and say: "Yeah, Cain, I do."  This Cain was Chuck Thomas name.

"CUT!", the producer comes from the other side of the arena, walks all the way up around.  He was sitting behind the Celtics benches.  He says: "That was terrific.  Everything was just wonderful.  But Avery, listen, your character would never say that. 

"Would say what?"

"Your character would never say the persons name and 'I do.'   Other than that it's just terrific.   Alright, let's roll again.", he got up and walked all the way back to the other side.  Then we hear it, from a speaker hidden behind the seat: "Okay. Action!"

The scene goes on, it's time for my line.  I lean over and say: "Yeah, Dick, I do."

"Cut!", he gets up, walks all the way back over during the game.  Now we had to get this footage because it's a live game.  That's the whole point of the shot. 

He comes back.   "That's really extraordinary.  Robert, you are wonderful, Chuck you are wonderful, Avery is terrific.  But! you can't say that."

"Say what?"

"You can't say his name in the scene."  I say "Oh!  Alright."

"But other than that it's terrific.", he goes back all the way back around to where he sits.

Okay. "Action!"

It's time for my line and I lean over and say: "Yeah, amen, I do."

From that moment forward I made everything up.  I didn't alter the story, I didn't change his direction the plot was headed.  But I made it all up on camera.  And what they didn't want they put on the cutting room floor.  I say that to answer that question again: moving closer to 'Hawk'...

Hawk was my creation.  Even though Robert Parker wrote the novel I made it all up.  I'm the first 'incarnation' of Hawk.

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 How much of Avery Brooks is in Sisko?


I can answer the question of whether life beats art: it does.  That the words, the 'Sisko', the uniform, the Star Trek universe mean nothing unless there is something going on inside.  And what I do, as I'm sure many thousands, millions of other people do:  I come to work and do in what I believe inside of me. 

For example: If I came to work every day thinking about the fact that Star Trek was as important a popular phenomena as there ever has been in the history of the World, then I couldn't go to work at all!   I go to work with what is in my heart.  And with what little I have in my head.  And I spend a nickel to take a chance.  And that's it.

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 How much influence did Avery have over the looks of Sisko?

 
From my point of view almost none.  You see, when I met these people at Star Trek I looked very much like today (although very much younger).  If a writer in my contract said the actor agrees to grow hair on the top of his head and shave his beard, then it was their idea.  Until some two or three years later, whenever it happened, they said: "You know, we'd like to change this look." 

Again, from my point of view, I had very little influence over the look.  But what I said to them in the very beginning was that I could grow hair or shave, but it won't change what's inside of me.

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 Who's idea was it to sing in Badda Bing...


It was the writers idea.  They asked "Avery how would you like to sing in an episode?"

Fortunately, I was alive and well and doing a myriad of things long before Star Trek ever occurred to me.  Even though I grew up living with television (many people have in the world), it certainly wasn't the center of my life.  The fact of the matter is that Ive been a musician, soul.  I grew up playing woodwinds.  I've performed with some of the greatest musicians in the world, a long line of them. 

So, this little ditty in 'Badda Bing, Badda Bang' when I went to the studio to record it, well, first of all let me tell you this: 

The composer called me up and said "We need to talk about keys.  We got to talk about which key to do it in."

I said:  "Well, whatever key you want it to be in."  Anyway, he started to play on the piano over the phone and asked "How is this key?"  I was sitting on my own keyboard and I was playing along with him (but that didn't register, by the way).

Then we got to the studio, they asked me "Do you need the lead sheet, do you need the music?", I said "No, I'm okay."  I could sing this.  Yeah.  So I guess the people were surprised.  That's also the power of television that we sometimes believe that what we see is perhaps the only dimension to a human being.

But it wasn't my idea to sing this song.  Had it been my idea to sing I would have sung something that had a lot more swing.

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Avery, are you a baseball fan in real life?


Well, it's a kind of play on words after all: San Fran-Sisko.  You know like that?
In all of history the greatest ball players have played for San Francisco.   Yeah, I am a baseball fan.  My father played in a semi-pro league.  When I was a child he used to go as a umpire every Sunday.

I don't have a favorite baseball team.   I am a sports fan.  If it's great play then I love it.   Actually every team that I rooted for has lost.  But I love to see great ball.

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 What are your favorite Jazz musicians?


There is a whole long list of them, but one of my favorite albums of all time is Al Jarreau's "Live in Berlin" concert. 

Does anyone know this song from the album?  

One good turn deserves another,
one good deed begets another.

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 Did "Far Beyond The Stars" turn out as expected?


"
Far Beyond The Stars" was a crucial episode defining the spirit of Star Trek.  Since Avery was so much involved in the creation of the episode, if he now looks back on it in hindsight would he say, yes, that it turned out exactly as   envisaged, or is there still something where he says, well if I had the freedom to decide to make this alone, would he have done something different?

I very rarely look back, but I thank you for the question.  "Far Beyond The Stars" was certainly a departure from any of the things that Deep Space Nine had done before.  It was a very ambitious project to shoot in nine days.  Directing it and being in it was exhausting in lots of ways.  I think if I had to do it over again I wouldn't do it on network television.  Because television is still being run by a committee in America. And the you have all these people impacting the fun.  While Star Trek has had more freedom than many other shows I think all the same you are constricted by people impacting the final decisions.  It was an extraordinary thing for Star Trek to do and I had the courage to begin.

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 Mr. Brooks, do you believe in Jesus or God


click for close-up (35981 bytes)We heard that you go to the Baptist Church and would like to know if you use the power of television to tell the people about Jesus Christ.

I use the power of television to invest in the equation of life-saving and life-giving.  The other part that you should know is that there IS a God. 

 

 


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The difference between fact and fiction


Star Trek has been doing for thirty years and counting this extraordinary allegorical thing, this way of talking about the worlds ills and the worlds joys.  The worlds ills we cannot always solve in real life.  Even armed with that knowledge it is equally important to understand the difference between fact and fiction.  The answers to our life's lie in the living of it and not on television.

When I did a man called "Hawk" I was in Washington DC.  And a woman lawyer came to me one day on the street while we were shooting.  She says "How can you do this thing?"  She had worked with violent juvenile offenders.  A terrible affliction of mankind it is.  She said "How can you in all conscience do this thing?  You are promoting violence."  And when I'm trying to turn this stuff around with this children I make the case not to escape the question.  And I say this:  If we cannot teach our children the value of life, let alone the difference between terrible fiction and reality and truth, then we are in worse shape than we really know.

The most important thing it seems to me is to value life and to pass that value on to succeeding generations.  If you don't like what's on television, turn it off.  If you don't like what is there in fiction don't beat it.  And then I get off that train on the spot. 

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 Slow your role, a question of Race?


Have there been times when there were things in the script which were out of character for Sisko, and if so, did Avery  voice his concern?

click for close-up (18784 bytes)I have to say it, I did it all the time.  And they said "Well, but that's what we wrote."

The prepositions were important.  If, and, but, all those things.  Articles.  It was astounding to me that this itty bitsy little things, the connective tissue of words, were important.  That is not to say that the writers haven't done excellent work.  I think that all of us learned something about each other. 

One day I said in a line "Oh hoho!   Slow your role!"
They turned to me and said "Well, that's not written.  That sounds too twentieth century.  'Slow your role' is too contemporary."

What they really meant that it sounds too much like brown and urban and American.  Which even in my country which I dearly love is a fault, and even in Star Trek. 

When Cassidy and Sisko were married they chose this middle name for Cassidy which looked like a character that the comedian Martin Lawrence would have invented.  I said "Wait a minute!  Why did you pick that name?  They went on to tell me that it had some deep African origin.  And that a friend researched it etc. etc. until they remembered who they were talking to.   That is to say that among other things I was born brown of African descent.   But more importantly that I had studied.  So I know what I am talking about.  

Moreover to get back to the point: 'Slow your role' is too contemporary.  But I venture to say, virtually in every script that I'm aware of you hear 'What's up?'.  Is that a 24th century expression?  Even though we may very well be saying it in the 24th century, my point is that you can't have it all ways, but, they decided to have it their way.  I think the attention they have given to detail in Star Trek, the tight grip that they had was a measure of its great success.   But it is also a reflection of Hollywood in particular.  Hollywood's inability to look at the world as the world is. 

There are many voices in this world and I don't just mean the brown voices.  Hollywood doesn't look like that and it doesn't sound like that yet.  And I don't think it ever will in my lifetime.  Perhaps that will change but it's important to know that I held my ground when it came to the discussion of culture. 

I held my ground when I would say things and they would tell me 'Avery, let's say the line like a role.'  What I could not do is to make it up in Spencer or Hawk.  I suppose I could have, but I wonder why I chose not to do that.  Because it didn't matter what the words were.  But they were running a very tight ship.  I think the fact that they had somebody who was brown and American and male meant more to them than it meant to me. 

Immediately the questions came from the people of my country "You are now a role model.  How does that feel?"   I must tell you folks, I was born this way.  I was taught to take responsibility for my accent.  That's all I know.  Playing a brown commander, playing an African-American person, I don't know how to do that.  I am one. 

I think we learned something about each other.  What that is I don't know.  Maybe as time passes we all gain some better understanding.  I do mean the Star Trek folk and I.  It was not all the time a very easy thing to do, to tell you the truth.

As a matter of fact, so just that you know, sometimes I couldn't get on the lot because my name wasn't even on the call sheet.   And sometimes I couldn't get off the lot.  My car had to be searched and all such things:  "What  do you have in there?  A run-about?"   But that's the truth.  Really the truth.  We Americans have a long way to go with a lot of things but particularly with the question of race. 

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