My Secret Life as a Klingon (Part Two)

So, there's a second trip out to Hollywood, this time in order to try on the actual costumes, to make sure that they fit. And I got to wander around through the costume racks, taking note of references to a Cantina sequence and a Vulcan Tea Ceremony, among other things. I overheard the people working there chatting about what color lingerie the blue-skinned Orion girl should wear for the movie. (Pink really would have been a bad choice!) And I got fit for my costume. Now, by this point, I was starting to get a little anxious about how I am going to pull off a Klingon part when the other Klingons were a good foot taller than me, sometimes more, and most of them naturally had much broader builds. I was going to be the scrawniest Klingon in the Galaxy. They kept reassuring me that they would build me up through the padded costume, though I am fully aware that they are going to be using padded costumes for the other guys too, so we were locked into an armour race that I was never going to win.

That said, the costume they gave me was breathtaking. They had designed helmets for the extras to wear which have built in head-bumps so that they wouldn't have to spend hours in a make-up chair with each of us. I had a floor length great coat made out of a rubbery material designed to look like elephant skin or some alien equivalent. I have big shiny black boots.

Once I put all of this on and looked in the mirror, I felt Klingon down to the souls of my feet.

But there was one small problem: the pants they gave me were way too baggy and kept sliding down. There's a reason why I always wear suspenders and it's only partially a fashion statement. They took my measurements again and then promise me that they will take up the pants more so this won't be a problem on the set. After all, this is the whole reason why I've flown out to LA just to do a costume fitting and am about to fly back to teach class the following morning.

A week later, I met the other cast and crew of the film on the piers at Long Beach for what was going to be an all night long shoot at the secret location they have transformed into a Klingon prison compound. There was an army of us sitting there, waiting, eating the best array of junk food I've ever seen, and trying to cope with what promises to be a "hurry up and wait" kind of evening. There was a minor crisis when the casting director comes around to ask us to take off our jewelry and I realize that there's no way I can take off my wedding ring. It's not that I wasn't willing but after almost 30 years of marriage, my finger has grown around it, and it would take a jeweler's saw to cut it off me. Luckily, just as they were about to throw me off the set, I remembered that my character is supposed to be wearing heavy black gloves and so no one will ever see my ring finger, and they let it pass.

We were led back to the make-up tent, where I spent about half an hour in the chair, as they blacken the bottom part of my face and add a bristle goatee on top of my already scraggly looking beard. From here, we were supposed to wear robes and hoods so that the spoilers who were camped out around the location can't take our pictures. Once we got into costumes and make-up, we began to separate ourselves off by our races: the Klingons start to hang out with the Klingons, the Romulans with the Romulans, and then there are all of the other prisoners who represent an array of classic Trek races, including a guy in a really spectacular costume as a Salt Vampire.

Once everyone is in make-up, costume, and robe, we all wereloaded onto a bus and driven some distance away. As we steped off the bus, I set eyes on the set for the first time -- there were cameras on cranes and huge lighting units; there were synthetic boulders and giant fans blowing across the set; and there were massive fire pits in the ground which erupted into flames as the crew test the equipment. It's about this point that it occurs to me that Klingons are not known for their designer eye-wear and that I am very nearsighted. This was going to be the first and last chance I was going to get to see the set in focus. A few minutes later, someone circulated through and asked those of us who are visually impaired to remove our glasses.

You can ask me if J.J. Abrams was on the set that night and I couldn't tell you because I never saw him. I did hear the amplified voice of someone who was directing the scene coming down from on high. I never met the man, though people kept saying that I really should see if I could meet him, if he had specifically asked for me in the movie. It was clear some of the other extras in the scene were there because they had been hardcore fans of the series. Some bragged that they had also done extra work for Battlestar, Star Wars, and even Doctor Who, so some of these fans get around. By this point, there were persistent rumors that I speak fluent Klingon. I do not. I barely speak English and have no gift for foreign languages. And even before I get into conversations with anyone, they are already calling me "the Professor." I suppose that being a professor isn't something I do: it's who I am. In any case, it seemed that when people heard I had written a book on Star Trek, the only mental image they had was that I had written a book on the Klingon language.

They moved us out on the set and gave us our positions. We weren't told very much about what's happening in the scene. Everything is on a need-to-know basis. All we know is that we are Klingons who are guarding prisoners and that things are falling from the sky and exploding all around us. We were told that if we really got into our characters, we'd have a much stronger chance of ending up on screen in the final film, and there was a roving camera just trying to grab expressive closeups. We got no instruction on how to hold our weapons and as I look around, its clear that there's not exactly trained consistency in things like whether guards hold the gun barrel pointing down or up. Some of the guys had military training and we consult with them trying to at least understand human practices in this regard. I don't think I realized before how much extras really are improvising, creating their own characters, with very limited attention from the production staff. I find myself much more attentive watching extras in the backgrounds of shots having gone through this experience. But many of us had real fear that nit-picking fan boys were going to nail us for not holding our weapons the Klingon way!

And then they start staging a range of different vignettes -- at one point, I am trying to keep a group of increasingly unruly prisoners at bay using a disrupter rifle; at another point, I am on guard duty looking out over the prison complex. The most spectacular moment came when I was handed a torch (which are heavier than they look!) and told to lead a group across the compound as the wind blows down upon us and things are blowing up on other sides. Of course, being near sighted, I can't see more than a few feet ahead of me, so the group was zig-zagging like crazy as I try to avoid getting myself blown to bits or running into the blades of the giant fans. There was a real look of terror on my face for those sequences! I know I caused more than a little frustration for the assistant director who is trying to stage this little scene.

And, oh yes, my pants kept sliding lower and lower down my butt: at first, it was hip hop style but in one scene, I had to grab my waist to keep my pants from sliding off altogether. I suppose that the Klingon army like other military organizations is indifferent to matching guards with the right size uniforms. Periodically throughout the evening, I had to have a costume girl try yet again to stitch up the costume so it didn't slide off me. But they never seemed to fully solve the issue.

By this point, between my clumsiness with the guns, my near-sightedness, my slight size, and my baggy pants, I am starting to think of myself much more as a comic than a heroic figure. I am K'henry the Hapless! Fear my fumbles!

As the evening went along, everything starts to become more and more casual. The Salt Vampire is letting us feel his rubby tentacles and everyone seems to want to hold my disrupter. If at first we sorted ourselves by race, we start to just collapse in the green room between takes, indifferent to whoever is sitting next to us. If at first we take everything too seriously, a row of Klingons started singing "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story or doing the "Crank Dat Soulja Boy" dance.

At one point, they planted me on a rock to wait for instructions and forgot about me in the fog of war. I ended up dozing off in the wee hours of the morning and woke up vaguely disoriented, sitting in a Klingon prison compound, holding a disrupter in my hands.

At another point, they lined us all up in various action poses for photographs and we started to joke that we were posing for the action figures, and indeed, the set up reminded me of those little green army guys I played with as a kid.

Somehow, we all managed to stay more or less awake through the night, though I gradually started to feel a level of exhaustion I hadn't felt in decades. They loaded us on the buses, collected our costumes, and sent us along the way.

No, I didn't meet any members of the cast, though I did see some of the Romulans characters with tatooed faces and so I am starting to wonder if one of them was Nero. No, I never met J.J. Abrams. And No, I don't have any photographs of myself dressed as a Klingon. They didn't allow any cameras on the set because they didn't want any of us leaking images prematurely to the media.

I had been telling friends that I had played one of the classic alien races in the film: some imagined a Vulcan, some suggested a Ferengi, but for months, there were no reference to Klingons in the build up to the movie, there was no Klingon footage in the previews, and I got really anxious. I knew from the beginning that as an extra in a scene which involved more than 60 extras, my odds of ending up on screen were pretty small, and I had to keep lowering expectations from the students and staffs who imagined something bigger. I figured that once we had some footage of Klingons, I could start to tell people, but I didn't want to be the blogger who spilled the beans. Eventually, Abrams announced through the blogosphere that he was going to cut the Klingon sequence from the film: "There was a big Klingon subplot in this and we actually ended up having to pull it out because it confused the story in a way that I thought was very cool but unnecessary. So we have these beautiful designs that we're going to have to wait and do elsewhere I guess."

I've read various reasons for his decision, having to do with trying to streamline the character motivations, trying to avoid confusion about the current relationship between Klingons and the Federation for those viewers who only know some of the later Treks where the Klingons are our friends, and having to do with keeping the opening of the film crisp and taunt. It's pretty clear from the dialogue included more or less where the Klingon sequence would have gone. And I'm personally hoping we get to see this footage as a DVD extra.

My biggest disappointment is that we probably will never see Klingon action figures for this film. I had fantasies of getting a figurine of a Klingon in a floor-length elephantine coat holding either a torch or a disruptor.

So, now you have it, the saga of K'Henry the Hapless, the most scrawny Klingon in the Galaxy, and how he ended up on the cutting room floor.