|Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko)
From the Galileo 7 III
convention in Berlin
& transcript: © Erich Habich 1999
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:
"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
Avery: "Where were you when
we needed you? We needed you in the show."
"This here is my
"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."
"Can I have a hug, please?
If I ever wondered why I've done all of this, now I know..."
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
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.
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."
"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.
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 was my creation. Even
though Robert Parker wrote the novel I made it all up. I'm the first 'incarnation'
| 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.
| 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.
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 I´ve 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
The composer called me up and
said "We need to talk about keys. We got to talk about which key to do it
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
|Avery, are you a baseball fan in real
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.
| 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?
| 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.
| Mr. Brooks, do you believe in Jesus or
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.
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.
| 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?
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.