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SPINER,BRENT : Star Trek Insurrection

He was voted King of the Nerds at high school, but Star Trek's favourite humanoid, Data, managed to make the leap from musical theatre to the USS Enterprise, in one fell swoop. PAUL FISCHER was given an audience with His Nerdic Majesty.

Brent Spiner, the nineties' favourite android was born and raised in Houston, Texas. His father died of kidney failure when Spiner was only ten months old, and he and his older brother, Ron, were raised by their mother and her next husband. Spiner attended high school with brothers and future actors Dennis and Randy Quaid. While there, Spiner was voted Nerd King to Randy's Nerd Prince one year. "Yeah, that was a dubious distinction, but a distinction, nonetheless," Spiner responds when probed on this dark secret from his youth. "And I think I've lived up to it throughout the rest of my life."

"they say talent is sexy, but they're wrong"

The title, he said, was bestowed on him because he was indeed a nerd. "When I was at high school, I had that unfortunate look that success has changed altogether. It's a funny thing about success - they say talent is sexy, but they're wrong." As for pal Randy Quaid being voted Nerd Prince, quips the altogether human Spiner, "he's still jealous that he wasn't made King, and he's harboured a grudge against me ever since."

They were educated at Houston's Bellaire High School, where the three future Thespians came under the sway of drama coach and mentor Cecil Pickett. "He was one of those teachers whom one dreams of having, that is a life-changing experience. He took the drama teaching very seriously, and it was closer to doing professional theatre than professional theatre. I've opened in five Broadway shows, and never was an opening night as exciting as it was when I was in high school, because we knew we had something good, and that it was going to be a big surprise for everyone. On Broadway, you never know what you're going to have."

"I had a multitude of bills to pay"

In 1987, Spiner went up for a role as a Pinocchio-like android with a boundless fascination for human emotions in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry's follow-up series to the ever-popular cult TV classic Star Trek. Ironically, Spiner was never much of a sci-fi fan, and his sole motivation for doing Next Generation "was that I had a multitude of bills to pay. I owed some money at the time, and I honestly thought it couldn't possibly be a success, so it seemed a perfect situation."

Next Generation got off to a choppy start, despite a capable crew commanded by Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and infinitely better special effects than the original Star Trek. But the critics were unanimous in their praise of Spiner's inspired androidisms; the impish actor inhabited the role of Data so ingeniously that he was soon receiving the lion's share of fan mail. The one-year gig that Spiner envisaged dissipated by the end of the first season, and it was clear that Star Trek: The Next Generation had surpassed the popularity of the original series, and showed no signs of losing steam. Spiner's busy schedule on the set - twelve to seventeen hours a day, six days a week - allowed precious little time for other projects, but he managed appearances in the feature Miss Firecracker and in the TV movie Crazy From the Heart. In 1991, backed by an eighty-piece orchestra, he cut a tongue-in-cheek album of pop standards called Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back.

"Data has explored just about every facet of the human condition possible"

In 1994, at the height of its popularity, Paramount cancelled the series due to cost considerations, and in order to shift the focus of the franchise to filmmaking efforts. Spiner reprised the ever-lovable Data for the feature Star Trek: Generations, the following year. In that film, an "emotions chip" is implanted in Data's positronic neural net, affording the android a full range of human senses and feelings. Spiner's Data continued his foray into his newfound bells-and-whistles virtual humanity (including some kissy-face action with the Borg Queen) in the $45-million 1996 sequel Star Trek: First Contact, and is now back, and buffoonish, in this year's Star Trek: Insurrection.

Data has changed considerably since his debut in the series. "To begin with, he's got much older. Gene Rodenberry suggested early on that the character would, as time went on, grow closer and closer to being human, and finally at the end of the day he would be as human as he possibly could, and still not. We've stayed on that, and he's explored just about every facet of the human condition possible, which has also created a wonderful character for me to play."

"Stop and smell the roses"

This latest Star Trek deals with a small planetary society able to remain ageless; Spiner agrees that "in a sense this is the most philosophical of the films. I think this movie is a little simpler than First Contact, which I saw as being a very political film. This latest one is more of a morality tale. There's a nice irony in this picture which I think has to do with appreciating the simpler things in life, and that irony has to do with it taking place within the most technical and technological of all series: Star Trek. In the midst of this technical sci-fi and technical gadgets, we're saying: Stop and smell the roses, and appreciate the real things in life."

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