Chase Masterson is best known as Leeta on the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Since the end of the series she has appeared on numerous TV series and Films. She has also launch a burgeoning music career. Masterson will be appearing at this weekend’s Geek Girl Con and I recently spoke to her via email to discuss the Con, her career and women in Film and TV.
POP CULTURE ZOO: I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but you were fantastic as Leeta on Deep Space Nine. Were you surprised at what that role grew into?
CHASE MASTERSON: Thanks for that! I appreciate it. Yes, I was surprised at the entire trajectory of the role. When I auditioned, the Breakdowns said that the role could possibly recur, but there were no guarantees. And I was never under contract, so technically they could have killed me off at any time.
I had initially auditioned for the role of Mardah, who Jake dated in the second season. The producers narrowed their choices down to one other girl and me, but they went with the other girl. So I was excited to audition for & get the role of Leeta. Cut to the 5th Season; Ira Behr then told me that after I didn’t get Mardah, they wrote the role of Leeta for me and auditioned me just to make sure it was right. It’s such an honor to have a role on this amazing show at all, much less to have one written for you. A real blessing.
It was also a lovely surprise when they expanded Leeta to show the kind of compassion and integrity she got to display in standing up for the union in “Bar Association” in the 3rd Season. And further down that path, I was thrilled when Leeta & Bashir ended their relationship, presumably in part because she had a crush on Rom; she left the charming doctor in hopes of being with the underdog kid brother who was only pretty on the inside. Leeta & Bashir were like the Barbie & Ken of Star Trek. Leeta and Rom were like the Lucy & Ricky. Lots more drama & comedy in that.
In becoming a wife and stepmother in a rather tested, interspecies relationship, Leeta brought of lot of very Trek-like content to DS9, furthering the personification of IDIC and navigating all the complications thereof. So yes, it was all a surprise. And a real treat.
PCZ: You managed to bring a great amount of sexiness to Leeta, while at the same time making her so much more than just someone nice to look at. Was making Leeta multi-dimensional something you pushed for or was that the arc of the character from the beginning?
CM: The writers of DS9 didn’t often take requests on storyline; they’re so rich in ideas, they wouldn’t need to consult the actors, as is further evidenced by the amazing work they’ve each done since. As always, I just went after finding all of Leeta’s nuance by taking clues from what was on the page and filling it with a combination of innocence and her own brand of wisdom. I often like to sit back and watch the reactions of people to certain women’s roles; people tell on themselves when they aren’t able to see beyond the eye-candy exterior. Sure it was fun for sweeps week, but the real candy is in the ethics and principles Leeta had. That’s rare and inspiring. And tasty.
I will take this opportunity to say that I wish that Leeta had been given some more meaty moments. There was – not always, but often – a lightness infused in Leeta’s interactions, even at the deepest and most dramatic moments. How could there not be, when I was with a man with those ears? I’m waiting and working for a more Kira-like role; that’s closer to who Chase really is.
PCZ: How did you become involved in Yesterday Was A Lie?
CM: I originally auditioned for Yesterday Was a Lie off a referral from a producer I met at a party; I didn’t know any of the team. I got the role, and then during our rehearsal period, the producers fell out. I had more experience than many of the cast & crew, so I researched and helped interview 37 producers who each, in succession, turned down the job, saying, “This film can’t be made on this budget. Don’t even try.” I really believed in the project, specifically the writer/director James Kerwin and his vision, so I stepped in and produced the film. I have sole “produced by” credit, and I’m extremely proud of it.
Yesterday Was a Lie is a critically acclaimed sci-fi noir shot in classic black and white for less than $200,000. It was listed in the 10 BEST FILMS ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT (Film Threat), and was released theatrically and on DVD through Entertainment One. Our soundtrack, on which I sing three songs, was released by La-La Land Records which was soon after listed as the Film Music Critics Association Label of the Year. There’s also a graphic novel out through Cloud 9 Comix
One more thing on the film: it’s a challenging film to watch, one that raises more questions than answers. It uses quantum mechanics as a metaphor for human relationships; it’s not for the faint of mind. We got a lot of great reviews, but my favorite is from Pop Matters, which said a lot of nice things and then closed with, “Be warned: it won’t hold your hand.”
CM: To say the least! On the day we recorded the music, my voice was literally almost gone because I was on the phone constantly, negotiating our post production and sound design deals. It was nuts. And scary. To put that much time into a project and have my off-camera moments jeopardize my on-camera moments was completely counter-intuitive. But I did what had to be done, and I’m happy with the results from both sides of the camera. It was terrifying in the moment, but it was extremely empowering in the long run. I guess that’s how things go, eh?
PCZ: Speaking of singing, how are things going with your musical career?
CM: Very well, thank you! Having done three albums which were targeted for the fan market, we’re currently negotiating my first commercial CD release, THRILL OF THE CHASE, which should be available in wide release this fall. And we’re about to announce a very cool, Trek-related music project I’ve been working on with Dennis McCarthy. Stay tuned.
PCZ: Who are some of your musical influences and idols?
CM: I grew up completely enthralled with jazz from the Golden Era; the rich, romantic music of George & Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart, Cole Porter, Harry Mancini and Johnny Mandel permeated our home and my heart during my little-girl years (a far cry from what the rest of the 6th graders in Texas were singing!) I started singing onstage when I was five and did a lot of musicals while I was growing up. Vocally, of course, I love Ella and Billy and Sarah V, as everyone does; but I’ve been inspired by the work of many other phenomenal “girl singers” from that era: the sultry nonchalance and passion of Julie London, the magic of Joannie Sommers, the wistful passion of Anita O’Day, the sassy purity of Kay Starr, and the combination of true grit and elegance of Ms. Lena Horne. And Marilyn Monroe had a gorgeous voice and impeccable delivery. The diversity of these women helped me to realize that there’s stylistic room to breathe in jazz and develop my own style.
PCZ: What is it about Geek Girl Con that made you want to be a guest?
CM: I have always been a girl who loved supporting girls. I just don’t get it when women interact with each other with a sense of jealousy. Again, there’s room for everybody, and women are able to encourage each other in a way men often don’t. Bringing what I can to the table to inspire other women and being inspired by them sounded like a blast, and I’m sure it will be.
CM: I do see women getting more prominent roles, and it’s very encouraging. What’s still very difficult to see, however, is the fact that the industry is losing out by not hiring as many female writers as males; it has never been an equal number, but the percentage has drastically fallen, as detailed in this article by @MoRyan on AOLTV, which features comments by Geek Girl Con attendees @Bergopolis and @JaneEspenson: Sad fact right now is that women have to support each other, not just get to. I’m hoping that one of these days there’ll have to be a Geek Guy Con, so the guys can keep up. =P
PCZ: What advice would you give to women trying to break into film and television, whether it be in front of or behind the camera?
CM: My best advice is the same for women and men: unless you absolutely have to work in this industry, and will never be satisfied unless you do, don’t. It’s simply too difficult a business to be in unless you’ll never be happy anywhere else. So if you can possibly imagine yourself working in any other career, save yourself the heartache and do it.
If your gut tells you that you absolutely have to do any aspect of this business, do it with all your heart. Make the geographical & financial sacrifices, and invest yourself and your resources in gaining what you need to deserve to work in this business. There’s a big difference between skill and talent. Acquiring skill is hard work, but that will test your mettle, build your confidence, and give you a leg up from the others that showed up simply because they love movies or because they were high school Homecoming Queen or have straight teeth.
And most of all, it will give you and the people around you joy.
Tune your listener, so you can learn and take objective criticism. Don’t form a thick skin to the hurtful comments. Sometimes you’re gonna get hurt. It’s not bad to hurt; it’s certainly better than getting hardened. Just take what you can and use it to teach you, and remember that people say all kinds of harsh things for all kinds of reasons, often which have nothing to do with you. That — along with having other aspects of your life that you cherish (especially people) — will make you rejection-proof.
Finally, don’t forget to explore the rest of who you are or who you can become. A creative job well-done is rewarding, but there is work to be done, to help people both far away and in our own cities who are in circumstances too horrible for us to comprehend. If you can combine doing that with your work in this business, definitely do that; the world needs creative solutions to its problems. If you can’t (or even if you can), get out there & get your hands dirty once in a while. It’s good for the planet and good for you.
PCZ: What projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
CM: I’m attached to be in a film version of R.U.R., the classic play by which Blade Runner, Metropolis and other hit films were inspired. I’m partnered with the United Nations on a film adaptation of THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE, a critically acclaimed Harper Collins novel, for which I’ve written the screenplay. I’m also producing it, and I’m very proud of the development so far. We’ll be using the film to raise money and awareness for sanitary water and literacy issues – but it’s an extremely compelling narrative story for mainstream audiences, not a doc. There are also the music projects.
And for 3 1/2 years, I’ve been mentoring men & women coming out of gangs at Homeboy Industries. This place is the last stop for most of them. Many of these are kids who were raised in gangs — and we’re also their first stop. The transformations are astounding; they go from hardened guys & girls who have done as much as 20 years or more in prison to being good parents and co-workers, warm, lovely and productive members of society. Before, they came from rival gangs and would have shot each other on sight; now they’re coming together to form new lives. And all this is happening in Los Angeles, 25 minutes from my house.
Not to be too Yoda, but it’s amazing what you can see if you look, and what you can do when you simply show up. Come to @GeekGirlCon, I’ll tell you more.