As part of CNET’s coverage of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I talked with a dozen cast members from across the franchise about everything from Star Trek’s inclusive message to how it feels to be a sex symbol to nerds.
By Ian Sherr
Jeri Ryan didn’t want the role at first.
The then up-and-comer was trying to kickstart her career after earning a theater degree and winning the Miss Illinois beauty pageant (she later competed in Miss America, coming in fourth place).
“I wasn’t remotely interested in science fiction,” Ryan said of her pre-Star Trek days. Sure, she’d watched some episodes of the original series. But she’d also heard the shows had a history of stymieing some actor’s careers.
Then Ryan read about her character, Seven of Nine, a human kidnapped as a young girl by a cybernetic race known as the Borg. She then spends decades participating in the atrocious “assimilation” of other species before she’s snatched back by the Voyager crew. Aboard the ship, she begins to rediscover her humanity.
One audition scene involved her sharing with her eventual love interest memories of laughing during her pre-Borg childhood.
“It showed so much potential for the character,” said Ryan, now 48. “It was beautifully written.”
After she joined “Star Trek: Voyager” in the middle of its 1995-2001 run, ratings shot up more than 60 percent. It may have been her compelling storyline, but it might also have had something to do with her skin-tight uniform. She wasn’t bothered.
“The character herself was the complete opposite of a sexual character,” she said. “It was the antithesis of what this character was aware of.”
Anyone who’s followed Ryan knows she wasn’t pigeonholed. Within a month of “Voyager” ending, she had a part as a lawyer-turned-teacher on “Boston Public,” a drama about inner-city schools. She’s since become a prolific TV actor, with roles in “Bosch,” “Body of Proof,” “Leverage,” “Major Crimes” and “Helix.” (Some of her co-stars are having quite a good run as well.)
“It gave me a career,” Ryan said of Star Trek. And that’s why she attends Trek conventions, to thank fans for making it all possible.