Connor Trinneer - Star Trek Fan Favorite Hits the Creation Convention Circuit
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Star Trek Fan Favorite Hits the Creation Convention Circuit
By Brad Balfour
When Connor Trinneer discovered his love of acting while attending Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma – not far from his hometown of Kelso, Washington – he made a life-changing decision. Sports no longer was his focus.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting, he continued his education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree. From there, he debuted in a production of Arcadia with the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, and later performed off-Broadway in several productions, including Hamlet and The Tempest.
But New York wasn't for him. A move to Los Angeles transformed his career opportunities. Before taking on the role of Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker in the fifth Star Trek series, Star Trek: Enterprise, this former Washingtonian appeared on such television series as One Life to Live, ER, Touched by an Angel and Sliders. Following Enterprise, he guested on Numbers, NCIS, Without a Trace, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Closer and Lincoln Heights. But then he hit the sci-fi jackpot by appearing as the recurring character Michael Kenmore on Stargate Atlantis.
Off screen, Trinneer enjoys a fairly normal life, having been married to Ariana Navarre since 2004. They have a young son named Jasper.
Right before Trinneer was to appear at the Creation Convention for Star Trek’s “55-Year Mission Tour” in Edison, NJ (running September 10-12, 2021), we spoke with Trinneer about life on two iconic sci-fi franchises and life in the convention sphere. Doing Star Trek inevitably changes your life in more ways than just having a top-flight acting role. What were the changes involved? For any actor, a show that goes to series on TV is life changing in itself. Add the community of Star Trek to that and that's a whole different thing. Our show started twenty years ago and we're still traveling the world, meeting our fans and connecting with them at conventions. They're incredibly loyal, vocal and supportive. That is probably the single biggest difference. Not just getting a regular show but getting a show that has the worldwide support systems that we do. The actors get a chance to interchange with the writers and the producers and add their own spin to all the characters. Obviously, that was the core success of the shows – William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy interacted and added to their characters going back to the original series. Talk about the ways in which you shaped your character, who he was and who he is. When I got the audition, I only had the pages of the audition. I didn't have a script. I didn't have anything else. It was a good-old-Southern-boy engineer. Then when I got the pilot script, having gotten the job, I realized I was one of the triumvirates in the show. I thought I was going to be the engineer – hey, I'm going to go learn how to surf and work three days a week. No, that was John Billingsley. To me, it seemed as though I was representing what it would feel like for someone to go out [in space] for the very first time – the awe-inspiring nature of it, the uncomfortable situations. In the first three or four episodes of Season One, I got a lot to do. I was told by the writers that pretty quickly they were able to hear my voice when they were writing him. Apparently, that's a really good thing, so they began to write for me. It was always important to me – Southern characters often get this dimwitted element to them, and I refused that. That was just not going to happen. I am not a cowboy in space. I'm a proper engineer. There were a few times when there would be some jokes that got put in Trip's way where he didn't know the answer. I would call them up and say, "Hey, if you want him to be dumb, keep this in. I don't want him to be dumb and I don't think you do either. So let's figure it out." And they would pull it. Every man isn't necessarily an intelligent Everyman, so I guess I helped shape it that way. You have talked about the "triumvirate." How it was alike and similar to the Kirk / Spock / McCoy trio and how much you discussed that triumvirate relationship, how it was similar to the original series and different with Tucker / Archer / T’Pol? The similarities were that definitely there was an association with an original series character. Mine definitely was associated with McCoy, in his sense and mine of the worlds that we were in. To be honest, I don't recall ever talking about it. It just was. One of the differences, too, is that there was a moment – I don't even know what season it was – where it seemed as though Captain Archer and T'Pol were going to be in a relationship. For one reason or another that didn't pan out or they didn't continue to explore that. Then they did that in Season Four definitely with Trip and T'Pol, and by that time it was over. They had a child that didn't make it, and they were really dealing with some kind of serious relationship issues. He left the ship at one point, she went and tried to get married. So definitely there were differences in the romance area. But again, I don't recall it ever being a conversation about how those three characters were going to interact. It just was. There was also a relationship between you and Dominic Keating's character which was a lot like the one in Voyager between Ensign Kim [Garrett Wang] and Lieutenant Paris [Robert Duncan McNeill]. I thought the bond between the two of you enhanced the series.
That was definitely when we shot "Shuttlepod One," which was basically a two-hander. It was a bottle show. A "bottle show" is really economics: they're trying to save money on a show, so they only have one set. That was the beginning of it.
Dominic and I really played well off of each other. He's quite a good actor and we were very good at playing off of one another. The great thing was that we were such different types of people, and that was always really fun to play off of: him not quite getting me and me not quite getting him, but we had a really strong friendship. I found the Xindi idea and the time travel idea fascinating, but I wasn't always sure it was all clearly explained. Did you find any confusion in it yourself? I was pretty excited with the idea in Season Three that we were going to do one particular arc. Most shows have one episode [or a] three-episode arc and we tried to do a whole season, and I thought that was a really interesting attempt. You can't forget that 9/11 happened just at the very beginning of our show, so it painted a hue to everything. I think Season Three was a not-very-veiled attempt at addressing that. I thought it had some home runs and some things that were a little bit less in terms of effectiveness. It's funny because you'll hear the fans: they either love that season or they hate it. There were a number of episodes in the franchise where they were threatened with changing the past, and certainly in the movie when they go back with the whales. It was explored a lot more in depth, I think, through Enterprise. That must offer a challenge even to the actors to intellectually comprehend what is going on. You do want to find a way to connect the dots, definitely. I don't recall really having a lot to do with the time travel, it was mostly Archer and that time travel agent. If it doesn't have a lot to do with you, you're not really paying that close attention. The challenge for me really didn't exist, but I know that Scott would have lots of conversations about how and why this was working or going to work. When you were first offered the opportunity to test for the show, did you do a lot of research, or did you do the research after you got the part? Well, there was no real research to do other than seeing the show. Or the other shows, I should say. Did you dive in? No. I was not not a fan of it, but I didn't watch the other series. I watched the original series growing up, but I didn't watch the other ones. I was coming in straight, just an actor trying to connect with the character. I think that plays in the way that I approached Trip. I didn't have… some would say… the burden of the weight of the other series in the franchise. Expectation of how I was supposed to do something. I just went out and hit my mark, opened my face, and tried to tell the truth. How did this open your mind, before or after you got the part, about science fiction? I think we were on the cusp of science fiction coming out of the basement – I would say science fiction on television. We were right there for the soon-to-be explosion of all of that, so I became very well-versed about it once I was on the show. But it never really had an influence on how I was doing anything. I also had the advantage that we were the first ones out. You did two huge franchises and they're both really fascinating. You have gotten a chance to be part of something so you never have to work another day in your life. You can just attend conventions. [laughs] Yes. It's interesting: I'll be at a Star Trek convention and somebody will walk up and say "Well, do you have any Michael pictures?" and sometimes I have them and sometimes I don't. It's interesting to see which [character] people like more because they are very different characters. I often get asked "Which one did you care for more?" To me they were so different they are hard to compare, but they are two sides of the coin of this particular actor. [In Enterprise] I got to explore so much about the characters, whereas I didn't get the time onscreen to really delve into the character of Michael. I really would have liked to have done that. In fact, you find out more about him when he's not there in episodes. I always wind up saying – and it's true – I was more connected to Trip. But let's be honest: everybody likes playing a bad guy. He wasn't, of course, a purely bad guy. He was acting out of self-defense in a relatively gnarly way, but nonetheless he was coming from a place of self-preservation. But very, very fun to play. The funny thing is that when I finished Enterprise I remember saying to my agent, "I don't think I want to do another sci-fi show just out of the gate. I'd like to stretch my wings a little bit." Then this came up on the breakdowns, and I called him up and I said "Hey listen, I know what I said. Never mind. Can I get a read for this part?" He called casting and five minutes later he called me back and he said "Well, it's yours if you want it." I said "Absolutely." Then I went there and I don't know exactly what their plans were for the character, but I don't believe it was meant to last as long as it did. I could tell about halfway through shooting: they'd walk up and go, "Do you think you want to come back and do some more of this?" I said, "I think that'd be great." These science fiction roles are the career-makers in the best way possible. These roles intellectually challenge the audience and the actor. True. I imagine going from playing Tucker to playing Michael in Stargate Atlantis where you have to wear makeup, you're an alien – forces you to think in a wholly different way about how to act that character. Yeah. In particular, with Michael I would have to get to set four, four-thirty in the morning to begin the makeup process. I'll confess that Michael wasn't quite in me at four-thirty in the morning. The interesting thing was that as the process of applying the makeup was going on, I'd start to see him. It was like the actor working from the outside and starting to see him show up and start to feel those things that were really required to play him. By the time the three-and-a-half, four hours of makeup were completed, I was locked in. How did you get started acting in the first place? Oh, I tripped over it. [laughs] No pun intended. I was playing football in college and had no experience other than a high school roundtable read-through of Our Town. It never dawned on me that I had any interest in it. As many stories go, I met a girl at a party. I was expressing that I wasn't really happy playing ball anymore. I wanted to find something else to do. She said "Well, why don't you audition for a play?" I said why? She said "I don't know. Just something about you. I think you'd be good at it." There happened to be a student production of "Lone Star" [and] "Laundry and Bourbon" that was being produced. I said I would audition. "Will you be there?" She said yeah. I said okay. I went home for Thanksgiving weekend and took the play with me. My mother had done these plays in high school and we worked on it. I didn't know what I was doing. I literally didn't know what I was doing. I went to the audition and I said to myself, "Well, just listen. Listen to what they're saying, and then respond as best you can." If things don't get in your way for acting, that's the best environment to be in. It immediately became clear to me that this is something that I could do. I quit football the next day and just became an actor. The coaches were like, "You're what?" I said, "Yeah, I think I'm going to be an actor." I just went into it 100% from that point forward. Did a couple of years at school, undergrad, acting. I got classically trained in grad school, and really thought that I was going to live my life in the theater happily. I realized after a couple of years in New York that I wasn't a New Yorker. I was a West Coast kid. Then I realized that the people I was seeing getting Off-Broadway and Broadway roles had a resume that included film and TV. At the time, the only thing shooting in New York was Law & Order. So I moved to LA to see if I could get something going. Sure enough, I did, and never left. With Trip Tucker, he had to retain what it was like to be a human on planet Earth before going into space and what it's like to be a person in space. That made the whole show so different from anything else. Yeah, you've got to live in the context that you're operating in. Nobody ever opens their mouth without needing to. You have to find a reason on the page as to why you're doing it. That's universal – in Shakespeare, Pirandello, TV, soap operas and movies. That's your job: to bring a character to life. Another way to bring a character to life is how you relate to the other characters, coming from the imagined world that you've lived. Having done the show, do you think that there is still a camaraderie or a community among the cast that goes on? Oh, absolutely. Not only with the cast, but with all the actors in the franchise when we get to see each other. We all know each other and we'll go have dinner together. Dominic and I are very, very good friends. We see each other a fair amount and we talk all the time. Even with those that I don't get to see all the time – we were in Vegas [last month], and John [Billingsley] and Anthony [Montgomery] were there and we went out to lunch. It's like when you have an old friend that has moved away. Then you see them after several months or maybe a year and you reconnect with them. You fall back into that same rapport with one another. We do that very easily. Now do you have any favorite science fiction – outside of your own work – that you are a fan of? It's funny how science fiction has really opened up. I watched the first season of The Terror – a ship gets stranded in the 19th century looking for the Arctic route, and there is this unnamed beast that keeps showing up. I would consider that somewhat science fiction. I thought that was an extraordinary season of television. It was fantastic. I was a fan of Heroes. I like [Star Trek:] Discovery. I thought Supernatural was fun. I have a friend on that. I thought X-Files was extraordinary. Just like anything, some of it is good, some of it is not. I gravitate to things that are really high quality. I am a fan of the genre and try to support it as best I can. What I am watching now that I love is Ted Lasso. Also, you did Stargate: Origins, the web series they made into a film. The character you played was so [different] – you wouldn't even know it was you. Right. It's my Teddy Roosevelt. Do you find, going to conventions, people confuse you with the character? [Society] used to make fun of people at conventions, but now there's a much healthier respect for that. Creation Con has evolved in many ways to become a game changer for some series. How do you think that experience has evolved for you? You've been doing it for twenty years now. Occasionally someone will come up and just want to call me Trip and I'll be like "Hey man" – or "ma'am" or whoever it is – "I'm Connor." There's never any real confusion about who I am. I've also done these enough times where I've seen people over and over again. Wherever I'm at, if you're a fan of Star Trek and you're that kind of fan who goes to conventions, we've probably met. Some of the most extraordinary exchanges I've had, where a young person will walk up to me and say "I'm an engineer. I'm an engineer because of you." The pride I take in that – that I have inspired someone to be the real thing has always been something that I'm very, very proud of. There have been times when people have walked up to me and said "I was going through a very dark time, and one of the only things that got me through was that I was waiting until the next episode of the show. You guys collectively helped bring me through that." And somebody talking about how they used to watch the show with one of their parents who passed away and how it allows them to revisit the connection they had with them when they watched the show. All those things. They're really extraordinary, and I take a lot of pride and I am honored to have represented something that has helped someone. Where do you see yourself going? Producing? Directing? Writing? Creating a series for yourself? More science fiction? Or returning to the new Stargate? At the end of the day, I'm a workaday actor. I have written something, but I don't think writing is the strength in my wheelhouse. I don't know. I know that there has been talk that they're going to do a series about Section 31 [Star Trek]. My character at the end of Enterprise – they wrote a book after that that involved me and that would be interesting to explore. I don't know anything about the production or whether or not it's actually happening, but that would be fun. I've got a movie that's going to premiere in November that I shot several months ago. Then I had a small part in Spielberg's next movie, and that's about as far as I can go with that one. And I'm starting another project in November. Otherwise, I audition for stuff. Some things I get, some things I don't.
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