I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Nana Visitor, Major Kira Nerys of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame, while I was at Star Trek: Las Vegas. I couldn’t wait to talk to her about the importance of Kira, her own feminist perspective, and ask her some fun questions we don’t usually hear asked. Read onward for some serious Nana Visitor wisdom!
Note that my questions are in bold, and Nana’s answers follow. Don’t forget to chat with her on Twitter and tell her how much you enjoyed the interview!
|Nana during her DS9 reunion panel, photo courtesy of the lovely Marina Kravchuk|
Kira is the first true feminist icon of Star Trek. According to scholarship (I wrote my women’s studies capstone on women in Trek), Kira has the most feminist agency. Which means she has the most control over her fate – just a step above Captain Janeway because of her successful romantic relationships. I wanted to ask your thoughts on that, and what part of the production team you attribute that to – writers, producers, a little bit of you in there…or were the 90s, with Buffy and Scully as Kira’s contemporaries, just ripe for it?
I think it was a mixture of everybody, but certainly I came in with an edgy take on Kira and I give them credit for saying “yes, we’ll go with that.” Also, you have to think of the times. I was called for the first two years not a feminist, but a bitch, by people in the Trek world and even in my close proximity. And it took just understanding the long thought to not fall into nerves and go ok, wait a minute, I’m going to soften this so its more palatable. Because I’ve never believed that characters need to be liked. They need to be truthful.
And now the anti-hero is so popular, like Walter White on Breaking Bad or most of the Game of Thrones characters.
Right! Plus this was up my alley. I grew up in a school in NYC that was a leading feminist school at the time. Nightingale Bamford in Manhattan. And we were taught that we had as much a voice as everybody else. When I graduated I was shocked to find out that not everyone thought that!
I went to an all-girls high school so I definitely think that our confidence was built.
Yes, and then it was a shock to go into the real world, certainly for me in 1975 when I graduated. It was shocking, and to go into a very male-oriented world of TV and film was another shock. And Star Trek certainly had a way to go in terms of a feminist ideal, I think.
Even today, for the convention, there are 101 celebrities present, but only 9 women who were show regulars or who appeared in more than one episode.
That’s amazing! Incredible.
Kira has these well-developed friendships with both men and women, and I think that’s really important. One of my fave episodes is “Necessary Evil” where you have that flashback with Odo. The whole arc with Odo, some people will say they love the romance and some will say, they should have stayed great friends. What about her let her do that, do you think, move so easily among the crew? Not everyone could do that.
I think her life – it’s a very humble place to be, whether you call her a freedom fighter or a terrorist. I think that, although I didn’t have a word for it then – I don’t think we had a word for it then – Major Kira has PTSD. She was not treated for it and it is severe. And a lot of her evolution is from gaining trust and realizing that life is safe again to a certain degree.
That leads into my next question about DS9 being applicable today. I feel that most people know someone associated with the Iraq war, and DS9 is a show about wartime.
My son is a marine and was in Afghanistan, and he came back with PTSD and I recognize it, it is easy to see the importance of DS9 right there.
When DS9 was on the air, it was an era of relative peace in the world. Now we have the Arab Spring, the ongoing Middle East conflicts, and so much additional turmoil. Do you find DS9 even more relevant in that sense of war?
I do think it is, and I have seen, even from my small perspective when I see who is watching DS9 on Netflix, it seems to be experiencing a bit of a rebirth. It’s got so much important stuff in there.
My husband didn’t watch it until later, he’s a sci-fi fan but he hadn’t seen DS9 until much later. It’s now his favorite Star Trek, and he views it as a political thriller, with those wonderful rich layers of the politics of the war and of Bajor especially.
I do think it was ahead of its time in many ways.
If Kira were written today, do you think she’d be different, the same, what kind of changes would she have in her character?
I think it would be really difficult to write a terrorist as a main character and be able to view her the way we were able to.
I definitely view her as a freedom fighter, I don’t see her as a terrorist in light of how awful the Cardassians are.
Yes, but who’s right! It depends what side you are on, that is the tricky part of her, the gray area of her. She did do questionable things and I’m sure had regrets and was damaged from her desire to have freedom for Bajor. It would be tricky to write her now, which is great that it was done then and is still being seen.
|Me with Nana (wearing her neck brace after recent surgery!). Thanks to Jarrah Hodge for a great photo!|
Let’s shift gears here – I’d like to ask you about upcoming work you are part of, or any passion projects or charities you are part of that you’d like to tell fans about right now.
Number one, I’d like to tell people how amazing the Wounded Warrior Project truly is. Buster, my son, was nine years old during 9/11. Sometimes I look back and think, did he become a soldier because I basically was one, on the show for 7 years? But it really was 9/11 that turned a lot of children into people who wanted to be part of the solution. We were living in NYC at the time. He’s now at Wounded Wwarriors and they do amazing work. So if you want to talk about a worthwhile charity, that’s it. I definitely can speak to it firsthand, their great work for these guys.
I’ve done some movies as well, but my big passion project is the play I wrote. And it started off from just wanting to work with Rene (Auberjonois) again, and he’s turned into the most wonderful critic. I send him my latest version of the play and he gives me amazing notes. I wrote it for him, I’m not sure either one of us will ever do it, but it will be produced.
What is the size of cast?
It’s a two-hander, just me and him!
I love the theater, I go often in NYC!
Do you? Did you see Hamilton?
I have not seen Hamilton, I did just see Finding Neverland with some out-of-town friends and it was great.
Go see Hamilton, it’s a game changer, I know everyone is saying that but you must go. It opened last night, I believe, and I’m sure the reviews were amazing, but it is a game-changer for American theater.
I also blog about travel. I was in Paris, Bruges, and Amsterdam in May, which I really enjoyed, and I wanted to ask you where your favorite places to travel are – cuisine, museums, art, that sort of thing.
One of the most wonderful places – it’s hard to go to a place that doesn’t have an H&M – so when I travel I really love to feel like I’m in a different environment. I have to say that Marrakech was my favorite place. Because you go through the souk, and you’re forced to get a guide because they attack you when you come out into the street, so you need a guide. The other guides are after you so you get a guide first, so the other guides leave you be. And to walk through these dark, huge tall walls and you don’t know where you’re going or whether you’re going to be murdered or find a wonderful carpet, you don’t know which it is – that was one of the most magical places. And the food there is crazy good. Crazy good!
I want to go to Istanbul as well, it sounds perfect and romantic. But Marrakech. Go to La Mamounia and go to the bar that is all tufted leather. It is a tiny little bar, and the entire bar – walls, ceiling, everything – is tufted leather and it is gorgeous. That’s my travel tip!
I also write about geek girl fashion – there are finally more options for geek ladies besides converting men’s clothes. So are you into fashion at all and if so, what brands do you like and which brands do you think about doing good things for women’s positive body image.
I don’t know of anyone who isn’t taking that into consideration now. I think everyone is being forced to take into consideration body image. If you look at Vogue, yes, it is pretty much all the same still, but does anyone pay attention to that anymore? I live in midtown Manhattan so you can’t get any closer to the center of it. I don’t see anyone, including me, who is trying regularly to look like they stepped out of Vogue. Certainly, I’d say fashion for me is influenced by where I’m living. And right now I’m in NYC and it’s a little bit scary. We have a homeless problem whether the mayor wants to admit it or not, it’s bad. So I’m getting back – and its almost an unconscious thing – I’m getting back to my Lara Croft look a little more, I’m wearing my combat books a little more often.
Combat books and sneakers are very in, especially in Paris! I was shocked that Parisian women were in almost exclusively sneakers.
Absolutely! Its come back, it was in fashion when I was Kira, I never stopped, but its come back in a big way. There are combat boots covered in roses now and that’s cool with me! (Me too, Nana!)
|Nana as Major Kira in a Deep Space 9 promo photo|
This next question relates to what we touched on earlier regarding women in the industry. I’ve seen many women in media and popular culture really calling out the sexism in the industry and demanding their worth. They’re bringing issues of anti-feminism and sexism to the fore. I wanted to know if you had any experiences with that you’d like to share.
I was a raging feminist at 17 and I had to learn to back off and learn to, sadly, keep quiet. And by telling me that, older generations were probably trying to protect us from potential hurt, and that is why most people feel diminished – as a result of other people’s fears. It’s other people’s fears that stop us from the things that we want to do. The minute that we say what our desire is and they go, oh no, that can’t happen is because of their fear.
I’ve had that happen, where I’ve been told in not so many words, that I’m being too assertive, that I’m being too demanding or too feminist, basically. By friends and family, there isn’t a limit on it.
I got away with a lot of it, in LA even, because that was part of my character for seven years, so people kind of expected it from me. And it was like, oh God no, she’s just a pain. And that’s what hard for you too, even now. LA especially is tough for it, it really is. It was so tough for me that when people asked, where do you live, and I was in LA, I’d say “I own a house in LA” but I wouldn’t say “I live in LA.” Manhattan is easier, that I can do.
I know what you mean, it’s a very selfie-oriented, curated online presence.
Whether you want to be curated or not, its like you’re forced to!
It’s hard as a blogger too! I don’t want to doctor my images or give this false representation of myself. I think its important to present how something really looks. You can tweak the light, the sharpness, that kind of thing, but I like to show it the way it really is.
I agree, I really agree. In terms of women, too.
Definitely! So right!
One silly question to end on. Cake or pie?
Ok, can I comment? (yes, obvs) If it’s a cake that I’ve made – because I like wet cake, I don’t like dry cake with frosting made out of shortening. If its that kind of cake, pie for sure. But if we’re talking about cake I’ve made? Cake. I owned a bakery for a while, so my cake.
|This looks like cake Nana would approve of!|
Thank you ever so much to Nana for such a fun, dynamic interview. I’m hoping her play goes into production and us East Coast fans will get to see her in NYC soon! Once again, don’t forget to tweet Nana or myself, and let us know where you fall in the great cake/pie debate. I asked Terry Farrell and Marina Sirtis their preference as well, and those interviews are coming soon. Stick around!