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Lust In Space

Captain Picard Meets His Love Match in "Star Trek: Insurrection"

"Star Trek: Insurrection." Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Donna Murphy, F. Murray Abraham and Anthony Zerbe. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Written by Michael Pillar. Produced by Rick Berman. A Paramount release. Opens Dec. 11.

Pointy ears. "Beam me up, Scotty." That insane fight music. Warp Nine. None of these things say "Star Trek" more than that green-skinned girl asking Captain James T. Kirk "What is this thing called 'kiss'?" Sure, the Prime Directive and tests of the mettle of humanity by superior alien species are also integral to the mythos. But ultimately, the Enterprise's exploits have always been an excuse for its crew to find some intergalactic lovin'. Kirk was a space-age lothario, making it with every humanoid species he encountered-even the disembodied intelligence of a female scientist once fell for him (or at least used him for his body). Spock, too, on occasion got to be a cosmic Casanova of sorts, particularly during pon farr (Vulcans' seven-year itch); in the presence of lust-inciting, spore-shooting alien foliage; and when his evil alter-dimensional doppelganger showed up and started getting grabby with the ladies (wait-that was Kirk too! The masher!). On "The Next Generation," you could cut the sexual tension between Commander Will Riker and Ship's Counselor Deanna Troi with a phaser, and even android Data confided-and demonstrated-to security chief Tasha Yar on the very first episode of the series that he is "fully functional"; furthermore, the randy robot was last seen being salaciously seduced by the Borg Queen. Unfortunately, Captain Jean-Luc Picard has usually been too busy reading Shakespeare in his ready room to engage in interstellar nookie very often.

But in "Star Trek: Insurrection," the ninth film in the undyingly popular and profitable franchise (the last eight have grossed a total of $642 million domestically), love springs eternal on a planet whose atmosphere induces Fountain of Youth-type effects. Picard falls for Anij (Donna Murphy), one of the planet's leaders. "Anij looks 35, but she's actually 350," says producer Rick Berman, who oversaw development of the "Next Generation" series with "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry. "[She has a] great sense of being centered and being wise and being very patient. But at the same time, she has a slightly feisty quality to her. She's stubborn, and there's a certain passion and magic to her."

Patrick Stewart, who plays the cerebral, authoritative Picard, says of the chemistry between his alter-ego and Anij, "He is interested in her strong character right away. But there's something more than her just being a tough woman on this planet. There's something which is challenging and direct about her. He is also struck by her beauty immediately, and by the openness of her nature.

"I watched the film last week for the first time, and I got a sense of him being interested right away, which has not happened with the good Captain before."

Doesn't it seem somewhat patronizing that a woman would have to live several centuries in order to gain enough wisdom to be the perfect match for Picard? Berman notes that "it is all taken with a playful wink whenever it's brought up." Stewart comments, "Any woman has to compete with the Enterprise, so it's a tough challenge."

When she was cast as Anij, Donna Murphy says she told a friend that she would be playing Picard's love interest, to which he replied, "Oh yeah-the Perfect Woman." "And I went, 'Oh, Jesus! Terrific!'," she recounts. "I felt flattered, and just a little pressured," she laughs. "But she's a very interesting character. She's one of the leaders of this race of people who are very zen-like in their existence. She's very much about embracing the moment, stepping inside a moment, and has a very uncluttered approach to living her life." To attain that perspective, Murphy says she studied with a meditation and yoga teacher, and read Eastern writings about spirituality.

Says Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander Will Riker as well as directing the film (as he did in "Star Trek: First Contact"), "There's an interesting theme that, in the great tradition of 'Star Trek,' placed in the 24th century, is addressing something that couldn't be more apt to probably your life and my life and most of the people that we know, which is to slow down, take a breather, smell the roses, take a break. Our lives are complicated and full and cluttered, and there's too much on your plate, there aren't enough hours in the day."

That's not to say that Picard et al. don't get to kick some evil alien butt. "There's a wonderful villain played by F. Murray Abraham, and a potentially even more dangerous villain played by Anthony Zerbe," says Frakes. "It's the most romantic of all the 'Star Trek' pictures, but at the same time it's very action packed," says Berman. "We've got beautiful sequences up in the High Sierras, and it's got some spooky stuff in it. It's a very satisfying story that deals with very lofty principles, as all 'Star Trek' films do. But it does it in a way that has just the right amount of action, humor and romance." Adds Frakes, "There are certain expectations that we dare not stray too far from. I think it's right that we push the envelope, but you don't want to do a 'Star Trek' movie without that action sequence. You don't want to do a 'Star Trek' movie where the heroes are liars or malcontents. "It's still in the action/adventure genre that everyone has come to count on from 'Star Trek,' but with more of a return to the 'Star Trek IV' kind of gestalt, with some comedy peppered through it, and a love story, and the classic defense of the little man, of the Prime Directive."

Ah, yes, that troublesome Prime Directive, Starfleet's immovable mandate of conduct that so frequently forces its more noble commanders to risk their careers and possibly their lives to go against it for the greater good. Says Stewart, "In this movie, the Captain is forced into a situation where he has to make a choice-either to obey orders, or to act according to his conscience. If he follows his principles, then he's going to be acting alone. And that moment of decision and why it's made in the film is something which really illustrates 'Star Trek' for me."

The story also allows the cast to put a different spin on their roles-the youth-inducing atmosphere of the planet they're visiting affects each of the Enterprise's crew members differently. "Picard and Riker and Worf and Troi and Geordi and Data all got to have a lot of fun with it," says Berman. "I think they all enjoyed having the characters twisted a little bit from their normal stature. When you play the same character for 11, 12 years as these actors have, you grow a great affinity toward that character, but you constantly want to do things that are new with it." Frakes cites "Commander Worf's return to Klingon puberty" as a highlight. "We have some fun moments," says Stewart. "We spent a long time discussing how each member of the crew should be affected by the peculiar radiation of this world. And it was difficult for the Captain to know quite what to do. And so we found little details of things that indicate that this is a man who in many respects is feeling younger! I think they're all rather nice. But I don't want to talk about them, because I don't want to give them away!"

As a director, Frakes feels he benefits from having been a colleague and friend to his cast for over a decade. "There's a shorthand that naturally comes into play," he notes. "There's a total lack of respect that we all share for each other," he adds with a laugh. "And that pays off!" The convivial atmosphere also allows the actors to be open with suggestions for the film. "As an actor, I felt there were times when I had good ideas, especially about the character I was playing," Frakes says. And I know that nobody knows, for example, Data better than Brent. And if he has an idea, there are a lot of times that that idea is going to be a good one. And if I hadn't thought of it, I'm happy to take it, embrace it and incorporate it. That's how directors look good! Steal the good stuff!"

Murphy says she was "a little nervous" at first at the prospect of being the odd man out on the set. "I thought I was going to feel like the new kid stepping into my freshman year in high school, because these guys have been together and been having a good time together for years, and are part of this whole world I know so little about. But they were very welcoming. And while shooting these films seems to be like a reunion of sorts for them, they seemed very happy to have some new blood as well! Also, I was served well by the fact that my character is an outsider, too, to their world."

But not for long-come December 11, Murphy too will be a part of the "Star Trek" mythology. "I don't think I really know what I've stepped into yet. There were moments on the set when some of the other cast members would tease me and say, 'Oh Murphy doesn't know! She doesn't have a clue! Her life is never going to be the same!'" She's already had a nasty brush with a jealous Jean-Luc fanatic: "There was a woman who I encountered who made it very clear that her attitude toward me was, 'Well, why you?!' And I found myself actually trying to answer that question. And I realized that there was nothing that I could says that could possibly make me, or any other human being, worthy in her eyes of being in that position. And then I just thought, 'Oh my god, this is really silly.' So I stepped away. I can't get wrapped up in all that silliness."

Up next for Murphy (when she's not dodging rabid Picard fans or getting wrapped up in silliness) is New Line's thriller "The Astronaut's Wife," in which she stars with Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp; Frakes will be directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Total Recall 2," and is developing projects for his production company, Goepp Circle; and Patrick Stewart is currently in New York rehearsing for a play called "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan." Berman has a five-year deal with Paramount, under which he plans to branch out into different genres-"After 11 years of 'Star Trek,' just the thought of doing a project with somebody who could wear sneakers and jeans and drive a car is a dream to me." But he's still very much enjoying his role with "Star Trek," including his involvement with the current "Trek" TV series "Deep Space 9" and "Voyager." "I've been sort of given stewardship of something that continues to make people think and make families discuss things and to turn things a little bit on their ear so they can be looked at in a slightly different way. "The world of 'Star Trek' has become a part of the world culture in many ways. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't know what 'beam me up' meant, or didn't know what a Klingon was. Without sounding corny, it's a great honor to be able to oversee something that means so much to so many people."

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