This weekend (Oct 20 – 21) the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo will give fans the opportunity to meet and listen to some of the most familiar actors from sci-fi/fantasy film and television. One of the guests we are delighted to welcome is the iconic Nichelle Nichols, who is best known for her role in the original Star Trek television series as Lt. Uhura. Her career spans numerous fields, as she has worked as a singer, dancer, producer, writer, and with NASA to recruit the first women and minority astronauts to the space program. WHERE Edmonton recently interviewed the very talented Ms. Nichols, who was completely charming, funny, and absolutely fantastic to talk to:
WHERE Edmonton (W): You will be involved in a panel discussion on Sunday. Do you know what sorts of topics or content fans/audiences can expect to hear discussed?
Nichelle Nichols (N): I never know! It always changes according to the location and people . . . fans can ask questions, though I have an outline for the presentation. I adjust according to the schedule, which makes it rather interesting because then it’s not “now we say this and now we say that…” [laughs].
W: How does it feel to a part of the continuing Star Trek phenomenon, and how does it make you feel that, so many years after the show aired, old and new fans are still interested in the show and its iconic characters?
N: In every sense of the way it’s an honour to have so many — I hate to use the word fans — people who care about what you have done. That’s all I can say. You would think I’d have an answer after all these years [laughs] but… our lives continue [after Star Trek] and [the cast] is always doing something new. There are questions that I still find difficult to answer. Well, not difficult but surprising. [The present] is a new time continuum, and we’re always changing, but [Star Trek] is something we will always be a part of.
W: Do you meet people who want to meet you for your character (Lt. Uhura) rather than as an actress?
N: I think it’s usually both because once the fandom is interested in you . . . I’m delighted to find that they are interested in so much more [than my Star Trek character Lt. Uhura]. As time goes on there is much that has happened to me and it’s great that they are interested in that. It’s grown from [people asking] “what do I like” and “what do I like to eat” [laughs] to asking about things that have happened in my life beyond being an actress. For example, NASA called on me to recruit the first minority astronauts [Here, Ms. Nichols elaborated on her career with NASA how she worked to help select the first female and the first African-American astronauts]. It’s an accomplishment that is huge in my brain… and I can’t believe that I dared to take it on… that I was arrogant enough to take it on [laughs]! I succeeded in a way that it changed the face of NASA forever. It produced the first woman, and the first minority in the space program, of both men and women, and now [the space program] attracted people who always were qualified for it, and were now attracted to this incredible opportunity. I asked why it was necessary to categorize women and minorities; we’re just people. But it was nice that others asked how they could help bring awareness to the program, because I had helped them get their role in the space program. And these were people who weren’t in these categories [women or minority] but were just better able to understand the qualifications for the space program, because of the work I had done. The final analysis is that it’s not about gender or race categories. [W: So, you would say that it’s about being qualified.] Yes. It’s about being talented and qualified.
W: You are such an iconic actress, notably for breaking timely race and gender boundaries on television. Are there any contemporary characters and/or actresses on TV now that you think are doing an especially good job of breaking stereotypes?
N: I’m excited about being in different projects at different times. Some women might have a specific reason for taking a certain role on TV. For me, it’s just about being creative. I’m always involved in productions one way or another; regardless of the global meaning of what I do. It’s different when you think “what does this production mean to me?” or “what does it mean globally?” It’s a matter of scale… it’s two different things of the same thing.
W: So it’s not about choosing roles with the intention of having that character mean something or do something that might be perceived as “groundbreaking”.
N: Yes. What I do is just about creativity and being creative, and if it has a global impact or importance that’s an unrelated effect.
W: You have so much experience and training, from acting to dancing and singing to working with NASA. What sorts of projects are interesting to you going forward?
N: Well, I’m an actor and a writer and a producer… and I do my one-woman show, but it’s too small to say what it is! But I’m always involved in how I best create and relate. I’m always involved in something. I’m simply doing. It always involves the creative art and the human condition. Having said that, you’re making me think! There’s always something more to do in this life. I always have something in production. Now I have [the film] Omaha Street… I can’t talk much about it but it’s going to be a great film. I’m co-producer and director of the film, not the lead star, but the development of it is as exciting as the production of it. It’s an exciting project and a fulfilling one at the same time. That’s what I look for. It’s great to be in multiple roles. My partner on the project, Gilbert Bell, brought me into it and I’m glad to be working on it. I’m very excited about it, but I can’t talk much about it yet.
W: You’re quite active on Twitter and have a large following as well! How do you like to use social media and do you feel it is important to use social media to engage your fan base?
N: Not fan base; I’d say family. After all this, that anybody even cares is a surprise but they really, really, really care! [Social media] captures me, I guess; when I say that it captures me I mean that it captures the deepest part of me. The real me. [W: Like an intimate insight into your life?] Yes! [Twitter] is a means of validity, showing that what you care about and put fourth and endorse is meaningful not just to me but to other people . . . [When people engage with you on Twitter] you know what you’re saying is something important, it’s something worthy, and this gives it a worldly element. You know that it’s something more than you might mean or know it to be. [W: It gives it a sort of… global aspect.] Yes, exactly. As long as there are people who feel the same way and come fourth to me, then I am bound to continue [with Twitter].
W: What is something you’ve tweeted, or an issue you’ve been tweeting about, that has gotten a good response from your fans or followers?
N: Oh! My work with NASA. I was very involved with NASA many moons ago [laughs] when we recruited the first minority astronaut… now there’s the Mars Rover looming overhead and we’re all part of it.With this project it’s not about women or minorities or non-minorities… whatever those mean. It’s a dream that we all had and didn’t know it was for us; that we could all be a part of this exploration. It is a dream little children can have… they can look at the sky and think “I can do that, too”. It’s their glory and their future. It has this global aspect to it, again.
W: We look very forward to having you here in Edmonton this weekend for the Comic and Entertainment Expo!
N: Oh, thank-you; I am looking forward to it because it’s one of my favourite cities.
Ms. Nichols’ panel, “Spotlight on Nichelle Nichols”, is on Sunday, October 21 at 3 pm and is included with general admission. Autographs $40; Photo Op $45; visit www.edmontonexpo.com for scheduled autograph and photo times.