For Gates McFadden, meeting the crowds at Comiccon is about conquering fear
May 10, 2017
Article taken from Ottawa Citizen.
While she’s best known for her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gates McFadden is actually far more accomplished than many of her fans realize.
The 68-year-old ginger-haired actress, who will be making an appearance at Ottawa Comiccon this weekend, may be attracting the attention of Star Trek fans, but she actually has an extensive background in the theatre and dance. She has taught at prestigious schools including the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Temple University, the Stella Academy in Hamburg and the University of Southern California, among many others.
Also worth highlighting is that Star Trek isn’t the only iconic franchise that McFadden has been involved with over the years. Early on in her career, she worked with Muppet creator Jim Henson as a choreographer on projects coming out of his “Creature Shop”. She was involved in choreography for The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, the 1986 film that starred the late David Bowie.
“That was a year of my life. I really spent time on that film,” she said, adding that a recently released documentary on the making of the movie has thrust her involvement in its creation into the spotlight. “There was a documentary that had footage, and in the background there’s me with no makeup and messy hair, it’s like the opposite of preparing for a shoot, and people were like, ‘Is that (Gates McFadden)?’ ”
She said the sudden revelation from the documentary has surprised her as the convention crowds have begun to change from simply being a contingent of diehard Trekkies to include fan’s of Henson’s works.
“I had no idea of what kind of impact that film had on people’s lives,” she said.
While she has been on the convention circuit in recent years, meeting with fans who are eager to applaud her work as Dr. Crusher, McFadden admits that taking the step to attend the conventions wasn’t an easy one. Early in her career, she had an incident in which she was stalked by a disturbed individual. That experience kept her away from the spotlight that many of her co-stars have enjoyed for years.
“I was the last person in our group to go to conventions,” she said. “I was kind of scared of the fans.”
McFadden said she worked up to a realization that she wanted to face the fans in the way her peers had for decades. She attended the 2014 edition of New York Comiccon and was overwhelmed by the support of Trekkies who lined up to greet her.
“There were so many people who lined up who wanted to be scientists, or who liked the strong female character,” she said, adding that many people come to meet her with stories about how her work had an impact on their life. “I’ve been blown away by how resilient some people are. I’ve had people who watched the show while they were in hospital. I’ve had someone in their 30s start crying when they met me.”
McFadden was approached by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry to play the role of Crusher. The part was meant to represent a progressive, forward-looking role where a single mother was cast as a senior officer on a starship. In the previous version of the series, the starship’s senior medical officer was Leonard “Bones” McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley. Bones was a key character in the original series. The casting of McFadden allowed Roddenberry to continue to push the envelope on what was socially acceptable. In Star Trek the original series, he insisted on casting Nichelle Nichols in the important role of Lieutenant Commander Nyota Uhura, becoming one of the first women of colour to appear in a regular network TV series who was not portraying a servant.
“Gene said very clearly to me, ‘she is a very high-ranking officer’ and ‘she has the ability to tell the captain that he is not medically fit to continue in his duties,” said McFadden.
“There are so many single parents in this country. I think it was all really terrific.”
The actress considers herself lucky to have been associated with such a positive role for so long. She said she now looks forward to attending the conventions when she can because it allows her to connect with fans, hear about their experiences and then use that feedback to create new art in her role at the Atwater Village Theatre Collective, a four-theatre complex in Los Angelesthat provides space for plays, dance and other artistic endeavours. McFadden served as artistic director at the facility for five years before stepping back to a less active role. She is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the facility.