Earlier this week Jolene Blalock, who portrays Enterprise’s Vulcan Science Officer, Sub-commander T’Pol, answered questions at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press junket in Pasadena, California. What follows are highlights from this “informal session” with journalists.
QUESTION: When you finally saw yourself on screen in Enterprise, what were your thoughts?
JOLENE BLALOCK: Sitting down to that big screen [at the premiere], I sat down and my acting coach sat to my left and he just turned to me, and I was just, you know, gritting teeth. He said to me, “Let it go. Just let it go.” What’s done is done, and you can’t sit there and critique and say, “Oh God, and, oh God.” Just let it go and let it be what it is. So that’s what I did before it aired. I [then] watched it as an observer, and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it. I was so impressed with what they did with all those effects. I could see where all the money went. They did such an amazing job, and it was thrilling to watch everyone else’s parts because you’re there for your scenes, but once it comes together for the scenes that you weren’t in and you see this whole piece of work come together, yeah, it was great. It was great to see.
Q: Jolene, the fans have accepted the show. Have you had enough feedback from them to find out what they’re liking about it?
JB: I haven’t. Because from the beginning, you’re going, “Oh, God, I pray to God they’re going to enjoy this, that they’re going to love this.” It’s frightening because not only do you have a younger cast, they’re showing a bit of skin here and there, doing something more contemporary than what they’ve done before. Are [the fans] going to accept it? Are they going to like it? What are they not going to like? Being the first Vulcan, I was scared to death. I mean, Spock – the man who birthed the Vulcan, having to step into those shoes. What can I do to live up to that? How can I carry that torch or step into those shoes? So I was frightened at that. But a lot of hard work, and I thank God that they have accepted it.
I have heard that they [fans] don’t like the theme song. But we had a young child come in on set one day. He was from the Make a Wish Foundation and his name was Z. And he sang that song word-for-word. After that, I was sold.
Q: Did you have any contact with Leonard Nimoy in terms of getting into character?
JB: I don’t know, but can you set that up for me? I would love to. I would love to meet him. I mean, if I had one question to ask him, it would be, “How does it feel to live forever?”
Q: Can you talk a bit more about the technique that you use in playing a character that’s so restrained and confined and really lacking in a lot of things?
JB: Well, technique, that would be showing the little man behind Oz, right? Not that it’s that great. It’s something that we have in all of us. Whenever we find we are confronted or in extreme situations we want to lash out in anger, we want to cry or just show these extreme emotions that we feel. Sometimes we actually do the opposite and we don’t do anything. We just shut down. We completely close and shut down. So that’s basically what’s going on. Because in the history of Vulcans, they are actually very volatile species. And it was actually to the detriment of the race. So over time, in order to preserve the rest, they found meditation and through meditation, they could control and suppress these emotions that were destroying them. So it’s not that they’re not having these emotions. They do occur. But that’s the importance of meditation, to keep everything in control for their own preservation. Otherwise, they’ll self-destruct.
Q: Do you have an opinion as to how your Enterprise compares with all the previous versions of Enterprise? The ship itself, I mean.
JB: Actually, my first impression walking onto the set and seeing that bridge — it is what you would imagine it would be 150 years from now. It’s very realistic what they did and compared to the other shows they look like hotel lobbies. They’re very nice, very clean carpets, wood paneling. It’s like a BMW or Rolls Royce, and ours is sort of like a Hummer.
Q: After filming 19 episodes, what do you like and what do you dislike about your character?
JB: I don’t know that I dislike anything so much except she can’t smile. I hate that. But she’s been a lot of fun to develop. She’s been constantly changing. The thing that I love — and this has to do with the writers and namely Brannon Braga — each episode has had an arc, where she begins somewhere and ends somewhere else. And I love that. So it always gives her a place to go and a place to experience change.
Q: How do you get in that mindset of not smiling?
JB: More than even a mindset. Going through hair and makeup and putting on this uniform and putting on the prosthetics, I’m really hard-pressed to find Jolene. Once that’s all on it’s less a state of mind. It’s more an embodiment.
Q: Are you finding you’re working different ways with different other actors/characters as the relationships become more defined?
JB: Yes. I see relationships between each character forming, and yet, I’m still the odd one out. But yet, there’s building. There’s a beginning of that loyalty that was in the original Star Trek between Bones and Kirk and Spock. And that’s one thing that I love that they’re doing is that they’re not coming in with that loyalty. They’re showing that loyalty progress and how that came to be.
Q: What about the relationship between you and Trip? Because it seemed in the pilot, in the first couple of episodes, there might be –
JB: Some animosity or some sexual tension?
JB: You know what, I think they’re just kind of tossing me around when it comes to that. They’re making sure that I hit everyone.
Q: Literally or physically?
JB: Yes and yes.
Q: Because you have such a great smile and because Star Trek sets are known to be sometimes [filled with] pranksterism, is there a quest now to try to get you to break out of character?
JB: Not really while we are shooting. You don’t really go there. But during rehearsals, they’ll do that. I remember Scott and I were filming a scene in one of the new episodes that’s going to be airing, and we call it the “Love Shack” scene because we’re tied up back-to-back. We’ve got to work our way stomach-to-stomach. And then the gag is we fall down. And obviously we can’t move. Once we fell down, during rehearsal, the whole crew put on “Love Shack” from the B52’s. And everybody is gathering going, “Love Shack.” And we can’t move because we’re tied together going, “That’s really nice, you know.” So we call it the “circle of truth.” It all comes back around.
Q: Do you ever feel with the character that you’re sort of like the mother’s scolding the children?
JB: Well, I think it’s a love-hate relationship with me. I think everybody is beginning to become a little more comfortable with me and my presence. And I think, what started to happen is it started to get really predictable. Of course I’m going to pipe up. Of course I’m going to suck the air out of the situation and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. There’s protocol to follow.” But they’ve started to mix it up a bit so it’s not so predictable. So she’s going indirectly to get her way rather than so directly. Because obviously she found out that it doesn’t work, that he’s not going to listen anyway.
Q: Was theater a way of exercising your humor?
JB: Yes, it was. I remember when I first started in 6th grade, the drama class was the place that you threw all the geeks because it was a very small school. Our drama teacher was our history teacher as well. And basically, for the kids who couldn’t be cheerleaders and couldn’t [do] extracurricular activities — track or whatever — just throw them in drama. They’ll work something out there. I found in drama that I could do things and not have to wonder why I’m doing it, because it’s there on the page and I can create this character and I don’t have to question why is she doing this and is it okay.
Q: When will you start doing conventions? And will you be ready for them, for everything that comes with it?
JB: I have asked [castmates] questions. I’m like, “So what was it like? What did you do?” All Dominic can say is, “Well, it’s like being the best man at a wedding.” And I’m like, “Well, I’m never going to be best man.” That doesn’t help me. I don’t know. I haven’t given it an entire amount of thought. The only thought I give it is like, “Oh, my God. What would I do on stage for half an hour just me?”
Q: Do you want to see your character explored, like a backstory of your character explored in a two or three episode arc?
JB: Well, it would be very interesting if they did something like that. But the backstory exists whether it’s addressed or not — the backstory I’ve created myself, along with what’s been established. In my opinion, I think the story should always go forward. It can always touch on what’s been, it can always flashback to what’s been, but I think the story should continue to go forward. But as far as backstory, it does exist and affects everything that goes forward.
Q: Do they expect the actors to be immersed in Star Trek methodology?
JB: I don’t think it’s required and I don’t think it’s expected. When I signed on for this, they never asked me if I liked Star Trek or if I liked or followed it. It just happens to be a bonus, I guess, because I loved Star Trek growing up, the original.
Q: Have you been motivated to look at any of the other [Star Trek] shows or are you just focused on this show?
JB: I did. I have. It made me extremely curious because, for myself, I would like to know where they went and what the differences are between what they want now or what they’re doing now and what they’ve already done. So I started watching Voyager, [but] I still haven’t watched Deep Space Nine. I didn’t feel I needed to. But I enjoyed Voyager. Very dark, though. It was very dark. Very serious. So I came to appreciate the humor that they’re putting in this. And then there’s the original, which I got.
Q: With all the characters that you’ve seen as you’ve watched the other shows, which character has fascinated you the most?
JB: I guess it would be the holographic doctor. Wanting to be real, but always in the control of others. That was always very interesting to me.
Q: Is it that quality that fascinates you, the control, or that he can just vaporize into thin air?
JB: No. No. On the episodes that I saw, he wanted to stick around, but it was someone else’s call to say, “We don’t want you around.” So that was very sad to me that he wanted to be real, but couldn’t.
Q: Dream episode. If you could write a plot line for T’Pol, what would you like to see her do?
JB: I would actually bring in her father. And I would have something … that side of the Vulcan darkness.