Nichelle Nichols remembers ‘Wrath of Khan’ director Nicholas Meyer
Nichelle Nichols, the pioneering “Star Trek” star who died Saturday at the age of 89, was a model of unflinching professionalism as Lieutenant Uhura, never breaking a sweat as she manned the Starship Enterprise’s communications desk.
But for Nicholas Meyer, the director and screenwriter of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’, his favorite on-screen memory of Nichols is a rare moment when Uhura is lost. for the words. In the sixth installment, our heroes attempt to infiltrate Klingon airspace without the use of a universal translator, which would betray them. This leaves Uhura and the rest of the crew poring over Klingon dictionaries in a desperate attempt to hold a conversation with the crew of another ship.
“Nichelle only responds in the most appalling Klingon [dialect], and his face looks so pained and at one point one of them makes a joke in Klingon,” Meyer recalled. “She doesn’t understand, but understands that she’s supposed to find this amusing, so she just laughs heartily and then abruptly cuts the connection. It was just awesome.
Nichols broke barriers as one of the first black women to have a major role on network television. And Nichols understood the impact this type of portrayal had on the public and used his celebrities to increase opportunities for others by working with NASA to recruit various astronauts.
Meyer, who spoke with Variety after the news of Nichols’ death, sees parallels between his work and that of Bill Russell, the NBA legend and civil rights activist, who died on Sunday.
My experience writing and directing “The Wrath of Khan” has been chaotic in many ways. It was only the second film I had made, and I was relatively unfamiliar with everyone from “Star Trek.” What I found remarkable, not just about Nichelle, but the entire cast, was how professional and courteous they were in welcoming a newcomer to this world and teaching me how it worked. and how they worked together.
When “Star Trek” was a TV series, they got used to the idea of different directors, different writers coming in for the different episodes, so they were professionally experienced. They have been incredibly helpful to me. And she was incredibly helpful. I was also writing the script and she would say things like, “That’s not exactly how Uhura would sound here. She gave me her version, then I refined it.
Nichelle told me to keep in mind that Uhura’s professionalism transcends her gender. He is a trained officer who is unfazed. She said: “If you listen to these NASA communications officers, all hell can break loose, but they never betray that in the way they speak. They remain calm.
As for Nichelle, she has always been professional and quick. She knew her lines and she was not shy about making contributions. I remember her giving me a lesson on “Wrath of Khan” and saying, “Look, save my close-ups for the end of the day. This is not the best time to photograph an actress. What did I know? So we returned to the scene first thing in the morning.
Nichelle was versatile in the manner of Leonard Bernstein. Everything she touched, she was good at. She knew how to dance. She knew how to sing. She could act. She was a born storyteller and spoke out fearlessly about things she thought were important, whether they were important things on the stage or cultural and political issues.
I think that meeting Dr. King when he told her to stay on the show, because it was important to so many black viewers, really opened a window for her and shed light on what she was doing. a way she hadn’t already thought long and hard about. But once he made her realize the good that could come from being on “Star Trek,” she ran with it more or less for the rest of her life. She worked a lot with NASA and she knew exactly what she was doing and she was great at helping recruit for them.
When we worked on “Star Trek VI” together, it was a bittersweet experience because it would be the original cast’s last film, and they knew it. But it didn’t really have an impact until we were shooting the last scene of the movie, which was the last day of shooting. It had been psychologically built into the schedule for that day. Well, no one was happy. It was, “I don’t like this line or I don’t like this line. Can we try again?” It wasn’t just Nichelle. Everyone had mixed feelings. These people had interacted with each other for decades and needed to make peace with the hand that fate had given them. success of the series and movies had paid for the children’s houses and braces, but it had also chained them for eternity.They had complicated feelings for each other and for other jobs they might have had. -be wanted to do, but had to refuse or weren’t considered for. They were a family. They didn’t always get along. It could be split up like families tend to But now it was time to say goodbye and saying goodbye is usually harder than expected. Then there was a closing party and they are usually unambiguous celebrations. It was quite complicated. Nobody didn’t know how he must feel. It was something between a wedding and a wake.
When you say someone or something is awesome, you are already implying some kind of uniqueness or specificity. Hell, if awesome was common, we wouldn’t be so excited about it when he showed his face. Think of Bill Russell, whom we also commemorate at this time. It’s the same thing. We talk about greatness and greatness is inimitable, just like Nichelle. And Nichelle and Bill Russell were pioneers. They have been pioneers in the face of the most terrible adversity, which we would like to tell ourselves is a thing of the past, but we know it is not.
I have met two types of people in my life: people who benefited from their experiences and people who were soured by them. Well, Nichelle was never embittered by what she had to deal with. She grew from her experiences and the adversity she had to face.
As told to Brent Lang.