Zenkaikon 2013: John de Lancie Q&A Panel Report
John de Lancie came to Zenkaikon 2013 and shared a number of interesting stories from his life and career. Among many of his roles are “Q” from various Star Trek series, Colonel Frank Simmons from Stargate SG-1 and most recently the voice of Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. de Lancie was a very gregarious guest throughout the Q&A session on Saturday, answering every question with humor, even if it was pretty obvious that he had been asked that same question numerous times before. Just for the record, he’s “Not Q”. Also, he is not immortal and is very unlikely to ever reprise the role in at any point as he does not resemble the character very much anymore. He would also not play a “bathroom character” in a moment of misunderstanding when asked if he would be interested in playing a background character in the new movies. He doesn’t see it being very likely that he would be a part of them at any point. Additionally he is also out of acting for the next 4 months as he is about to start sailing across the Pacific Ocean. de Lancie takes his sailing seriously enough than when asked if he would prefer to go to the past or the future, he said he would much prefer to go to the past to see the discovery of Tahiti by Europeans as he loves reading the accounts of the ship’s captains, where as he thinks he would find the future to be disappointing.
de Lancie was a good sport about answering questions from his career on Star Trek as well as other ventures, including relating the story about the night he ended up performing completely naked because the jock strap he was originally wearing for the scene messed up the shot. While Q is the role he’s most well-known for overall, de Lancie said that doesn’t actually have a favorite role. He has enjoyed his work on Breaking Bad as well as Star Trek, My Little Pony, Legend, and a large number of other roles as well as his classical music work and the work he did with Leonard Nimoy on vocally recording classical sci-fi. He also doesn’t keep much in the way of memorabilia from the things he has been involved with a beyond a couple of scripts and other tidbits, as he doesn’t want his house to look like a museum to himself. He has really enjoyed being a part of the Assassin’s Creed III video game as it has given him something else he can talk to his sons about, though the recording did involve having a helmet over his head the whole time for the mo-cap work, and a lot of Advil.
Early on in his career, like many other actors, he got roles that he didn’t really feel comfortable with and he did occasionally turn down work, even when it turned out to be really good when he saw the production later. He was called in for a role that turned out to be more misogynistically violent than he was comfortable with, so he ended up turning it down despite a rewrite, and it turned out to have been a really good scene. He said that about 80% of the roles he has played over the years have been roles that he wasn’t comfortable with but grew into over time as he played them. When asked for advice on becoming a better stage and voice actor, de Lancie recommended starting with the community theater route to get your feet wet before even attempting to become a professional, because when you’re a professional, you have to be able to actually make a living at acting.
When asked about the difference between acting with your voice and acting live on stage or screen, de Lancie said that when acting with your voice you have to be able to imagine everything that you are doing. Your voice is like a garden hose, he said, so if you don’t have a big enough hose you can’t carry enough water, a.k.a. emotion, to do the role. Improv skills are also important. During one episode of Star Trek he and another actor were confronted with what turned out to be a badly written scene, so they ended up making it up as they went with hand gestures to try and make the scene work, and it turned out really well. Also, his favorite captain to work with was Picard, as they played off of each other very well.
The middle of his panel was a long story of how he became an actor. Starting in the 5th grade he transferred to a small private school after an experiment in learning resulted in half of his original class, including himself, being unable to read. de Lancie also had dyslexia, compounding his problems. He ended up in a class with a very dynamic teacher who encouraged the whole class to take roles in school productions. de Lancie ended up playing Hal in Henry V at the end of spring semester, and the production ended up being seen by Mathew Black, the editor of The Pelican Shakespeare, who encouraged de Lancie’s family to let him be an actor. As it turned out, acting was the only thing de Lancie thought he was good at, so after thinking it over that summer he started reading more and more out loud to himself, especially a lot of poetry, to work on his ability to read. Over the course of his schooling he actually got so many detentions that he would regularly stay after school to deal with it, and in the process he would steal books from the school library to decorate his room. Due to his dyslexia the writing would start to swim, though no one knew what dyslexia was at the time, so the poetry that he stole ended up being the easiest thing to read. de Lancie also worked a lot with his teacher on training his voice, yelling across the football field to de Lancie to help him understand what was being said so de Lancie could spell it. de Lancie also used his relationship with his girlfriend at the time, someone he actually still knows, to push himself to read more. He made sure that he did 30 minutes of reading aloud with her before they would go out and do anything.
The end of the panel was taken up by de Lancie’s story about how he ended up going to Juilliard and some anecdotes about his first professional auditions. He prefaced it by referring to his upcoming sail trip as something that he had never done before, much like a lot of his acting. After finishing his schooling, de Lancie eventually ended up in San Francisco to do some auditions at the age of 24 for The Old Globe Shakespeare Theater Company on a Sunday. He rented a room in the same building as the audition and spent all of Saturday working up his audition, and noticed another set of auditions with a huge line going on in the same place. After he finished working up his audition he walked by the room with the long line and it was empty, with only one older gentleman sitting in it. de Lancie ended up asking the man for an audition despite not having an appointment, and after giving the man his full workup, the man asked de Lancie to sing a couple of renditions of “Happy Birthday,” including “to his dead dog” and “to himself at a birthday party for himself that no one else came to.” As it turned out, the person he was auditioning for was in charge of admissions of Juilliard and offered to let de Lancie come to the school, potentially with a good scholarship a living expenses covered. de Lancie ended up turning down the offer initially as he was really not interested in going back to school.
About a month later, after not getting the job in San Diego, his parents got a call from Juilliard as de Lancie had given the school his parents’ phone number, and a couple weeks after that call de Lancie ended up “back-assing” his way into Juilliard. Even before his formal schooling de Lancie was going on a lot of auditions by “blitz auditioning,” hitting up every audition he found in Backstage magazine in an exercise to make himself better at auditioning. This was in New York City, so a lot of the auditions took place in hotel rooms, and it turns out one of the auditions he landed in was for an X-rated film, unbeknownst to him as he had barely read the write-up before putting his name in. He backed out of that one very quickly. de Lancie ended his panel with the naked Q story I mentioned earlier.