Star Trek 50th anniversary: Worf wasn’t a wuss thanks to Michael Dorn

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As part of CNET’s coverage of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I talked to a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek’s inclusive message to whether they really could speak Klingon. 

By Ian Sherr

When Michael Dorn was getting ready for his role as Worf on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the showrunners barely told him anything about his character.

Well, that’s not entirely true. He did get one hint from Gene Roddenberry, the former airline pilot who dreamed up Star Trek. “Gene just said, ‘Make the character your own,'” Dorn said.

Worf was born to a warrior race of aliens called Klingons. They routinely went to war with the United Federation of Planets, the organization upon whose Enterprise starship the show took place. Now, Worf was going to be a member of the crew.

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Dorn as Worf. It may look simple, but that forehead took hours to put on. / CBS

Dorn though it would make sense a Klingon would find it hard to be accepted.

So, while watching his colleagues act out scenes without him, Dorn noticed the camaraderie developing among the characters. He decided to do something different — make Worf an outcast.

Dorn took many subtle actions to make Worf feel out of place. For the character’s voice, he spoke in lower tones and in a more deliberate way. He also made Worf seem more anxious to go to battle than the rest of the crew, always the first to warn that an alien wasn’t trustworthy or that they should be ready to fire on a likely adversary.

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The result was that Worf was a commanding presence. But Dorn was worried it wouldn’t last. The security officer he played was routinely beat up by aliens invading the ship. Soon, he believed, the audience wouldn’t trust that Worf was a capable warrior.

Roddenberry reassured him the scenes weren’t meant to make Worf look weak, but rather to make the invading aliens look strong. Still, Dorn protested. So they found a compromise. Worf would use sword-like weapons in battle, making him seem more capable and harder to defeat.

After some research, Dorn and the show’s visual-effects producer, Dan Curry, invented the bat’leth, a double-sided scimitar-like weapon. They also created a form of Klingon martial arts with which to use this new weapon in battle.

The bat’leth has since become one of the most iconic pieces of Star Trek lore.

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