As the Starship Enterprise's navigator, Pavel Chekov, Star
Trek actor Walter Koenig gave life to one of Russia's most
famous exports. A Chicago-born son of Russian immigrants,
Koenig began his career with a series of stage productions
and TV guest-spots before landing the role of the Enterprise's
new youth-orientated character in 1967. Post
Koenig has played diverse roles in everything from the sci-fi
to the TV comedy Son
of the Beach,
and during the 1990s he earned a new generation of sci-fi
fans thanks to his portrayal of the Psi Cop Bester in Babylon
Online caught up with Koenig as the special edition of Star
Trek IV: The Voyage Home
was about to be released on DVD...
Online: Why do you think Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
has been the highest grossing of the Star Trek movies
Koenig: I think it's a wonderful film that has cross-population
appeal. It doesn't appeal exclusively to science fiction fans,
but to the general public as well. Anyone can relate to the
film's plot device the fish-out-of water-syndrome, with
people from another time visiting our world and all of its
humorous moments and jeopardy-inducing plot points.
film also makes a socio-political statement. That's very important
and probably made the film more like the television series
than any of the other films we did. There's no question that
it's my favourite Star Trek film.
What was the actual making of the movie like?
Making Star Trek IV was an absolutely delightful experience
and one of the highlights of my involvement with Star Trek.
I had a wonderful time on it. Shooting on the streets of San
Francisco was a lot of fun. And the fact that I had more to
do in the movie certainly added to my enthusiasm. Star
Trek IV stands out in my mind as being among the very
best experiences I've had in this business.
Chekov was always getting injured in the original series,
and he ends up in hospital on Star Trek IV. How did
you feel about that?
Oh I don't care about Chekov getting injured if it means I
have something to do. It beats pushing buttons on my console,
which is what my duties on Star Trek most frequently
were! So the injury thing didn't bother me.
loved the scene where I was being interrogated by the FBI,
I had great fun running across the aircraft carrier and I
loved the scene where Chekov is asking where the "nuclear
vessels" are. All of that was really quite delightful.
The fact that the character fell and got injured was incidental
Is it true that not all of the San Francisco locals Chekov
encounters during his search for "nuclear wessels"
were members of the production?
Some of them were professional extras and some of them were
members of the public who were hired to work in the scene
with the exception of one woman who kinda just blended in.
And she was the one I ended up having the conversation with.
She was not hired [until after the scene had been shot].
was just serendipitous she came along. I guess everyone else
had been instructed to ignore me, but she did not know this
and engaged in this conversation which became quite a fun
How was Leonard Nimoy as Star Trek IV's director, and
in what ways if any was his approach different from his
movie-directing debut, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?
Leonard sort of directed by omission; he would only say something
if he felt it wasn't going correctly. And that happened very
I understood how he worked and stopped looking for praise
and realised the praise was in the silence, I figured I was
doing OK. He was very well organised, he had a very strong
sense of what he wanted and he created a very receptive environment
where you could experiment and try out things, which was all
Going right back to the start of your involvement on the TV
series, what was the appeal of joining the cast of Star
It was a job. The idea of having some semi-regular work was
extraordinarily appealing. The fact that I was playing a Russian
had some merit as well. My regret, then and now, was my father
who was very much a Russian was not alive to see me do this
thing and play this character.
time went on, I learned that Star Trek was a show that
was making some fairly pertinent statements that should be
addressed and were perhaps not being addressed with the same
candour and courage in the rest of television. So I was pleased
to be a part of it.
What was your approach to playing Chekov?
WK: I didn't do a great deal of profound research to play
Chekov. I just sort of went in and did it. Chekov was brash,
cocky and had a sense of humour. Although that's not necessarily
the face I show the world as Walter Koenig, they are certainly
very easily accessible elements of character I can draw upon.
didn't need to do a great deal of preparatory work. I think
it would have been pretentious and self-serving to do so because
there's only so many ways you can say, "Warp Factor 4!"
When you were working on Star Trek, did you have any
idea it was destined to be remembered as one of the most popular
and influential TV shows of all time?
No. I don't think anybody did. I remember when we started
the third season, we were concerned that the show would not
go beyond the third year, if indeed we finished the third
season. The show had been given such a bad timeslot, there
seemed to be something of a defeatist attitude on the part
of the show's personnel.
was quite convinced the show would not be picked up and when
we received that call, I was equally convinced Star Trek
was behind me and would not be a significant part of my life
from then onwards.
Chekov's most recent appearance was in the fifth-season of
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations,
which digitally inserted the Deep Space Nine cast into
footage from the 1967 Star Trek episode The Trouble
with Tribbles. What did you think of that?
I enjoyed watching that show. I thought it was really quite
a lot of fun to see the young Chekov standing next to Colm
Meaney [Chief O'Brien], even though 30 years separated us!
You've been quite vocal over the years about the drawbacks
of being so strongly associated with Star Trek and
the limitations of your role as Chekov. How do you feel about
your involvement with Star Trek today?
I feel exceptionally lucky to have been chosen to be in Star
Trek. I have complained many times over the years that
I don't think my role was a fair reflection of the talent
that notwithstanding, there are well over 90 000 members of
the Screen Actors' Guild and very few get a chance to actually
establish themselves and create a niche no matter how modest
that might be in the business. So I feel very, very lucky
indeed to have been involved with Star Trek all these
Do you still encounter a lot of adulation from Star Trek
fans these days?
I get it at conventions Lord knows, the enthusiasm at conventions
is still as strong and dynamic as ever. The folks are really
wonderful and just so supporting, and that's heart-warming.
less recognised in public these days; I can walk around fairly
anonymously. I think with the passage of time and the distance
between now and the last time we got together to make a Star
Trek movie, my image has at least dimmed somewhat in the
Finally, how's life for Walter Koenig these days?
Life is pretty good. Right now I'm working on two film projects,
Illegal Alien and Heroes, performing in a play
by David Mamet, The Duck Variations, and writing and
directing a short film called Actor. All of that lets
me feel I'm a functioning and contributing member of society
and a member of the craft and that is a very worthwhile
Thank you for your time.
thanks to Frederique Slezak at Paramount's Press Office
Trek IV - Special Edition is available to buy from Paramount
02 June 2003 RRP