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Greg Ellis Talks 'Star Trek'

April 20th, 2009 11:34am EDT
Greg EllisOn the day of this interview Greg Ellis had just learned that his show -- TNT's Eric McCormack, Tom Cavanaugh vehicle, Trust Me -- had been cancelled. Instead of languishing on the demise of his series (in the distance you can hear the sound of about a dozen Trust Me questions being ripped up) we, instead, discussed this upcoming little art-house film he's appearing in, Star Trek. Greg discusses his role as Chief Engineer Olsen -- the man who had the job before a certain Montgomery Scott -- and what it was like working on another small little film, Titanic.

Mike: I've seen every episode of Trust Me and really enjoyed the show. Now that it was not renewed, what do you think went wrong?

Greg: I'm really not sure. From my point of view: I had a great time, the cast was fantastic, the crew -- which is the crew that works on Entourage -- were brilliant, the writers, the producers ... it sounds like a cliché but it's one of the best experiences I've had in the 30 plus years I've been doing what I do. Absolutely brilliant. I think, maybe, some of it may have come down to it being the show being on a network that "Knows Drama," because Trust Me has some comedy in it. It may have done better in a less competitive time, maybe in the summertime. I don't know, it's kind of a mystery because the people that watched it seemed to like it.

Mike: It did have a more lighthearted feel to it but I think that's what made it good.

Greg: It's disappointing knowing what was planned for next season with the storylines. I think the expectation bar was set pretty high with Tom Cavanaugh and with Eric [McCormack] and with Monica [Potter]. I think the network did get behind the show and really wanted the show to work but I just think they felt it never found its audience.

Greg EllisMike: So, last week, that was the last episode? Now, forever, I'm going to be thinking your character, Simon, is the new boss and that's that.

Greg: (Laughs) You and me both! There is a strong feeling of support, I hear, for the show. You hear that often about seemingly good shows that go away too soon. You know there was the whole thing that happened with Friday Night Lights and DirecTV, I hear talk of them getting involved. Who knows?

Mike: Maybe we could start a campaign like they did with Jericho when everyone sent nuts to CBS.

Greg: Yeah, what could they send in?

Mike: Bottles of Rolling Rock? [which were often featured on the show]

Greg: Bottles of Rolling Rock, right (laughs). TNT would probably like that, though. They would get really drunk and then they'd reverse their decision in a mildly drunken state.

Mike: Well, maybe we can start that right now. Anyone reading should send a bottle of Rolling Rock to TNT an we'll get Trust Me back on the air.

Greg: Trust me, it might just work.

Mike: You're in the new Star Trek movie.

Greg: (Laughs) That's the word, yeah.

Mike: You may already know because you were in the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but, do you know what you've gotten yourself into?

Greg: Haven't got a clue but I quite like it, so far. I was not a Star Trek fan, I have to say, growing up. But I was pretty excited to be part of this movie. The premise of the movie, I think, is fantastic and to work with J.J. Abrams is a joy. The highest compliment I can pay is that I would pay to see this movie even if I wasn't in it.

Mike: That's great because it's a very rabid fan base.

Greg: Is it? Not really. It's not like they have conventions and people get dressed up (laughs).

Mike: (Laughs) Maybe they will start having those because of this movie. Maybe they will tack it on to the end of that Trust Me convention coming up soon.

Greg: There you go, now you're talking! Simon Cochran (Greg's character from Trust Me) will start giving classes on how to behave in a group environment (laughs).

Mike: You play Chief Engineer Olsen who is under the command of Captain Pike played by Bruce Greenwood -- who is the Captain before Kirk takes over.

Greg: Bruce Greenwood, yes, who was my chess partner on set.

Mike: And Captain Pike was the Captain of the Enterprise in the original unaired Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," as was Chief Engineer Olsen. Did you ever look around on set and Bruce Greenwood was playing the Captain and think,"Well, this is nice. Why not just shoot the film with all of us in charge? Who needs Kirk and Scotty?"

Greg: (Long laugh) Well, maybe if this movie does well and they do another one it could be the pre-prequel. Where we actually go further back in time and we delve into Olsen and Pike's childhood. No, actually never had that thought (laughs).

Mike: I think we have another campaign to start.

Greg: Exactly, let's pull up our sleeves and get to it.

Mike: Is Olsen still the Chief Engineer when Kirk takes over?

Greg: I can't answer that. He might be ... he might well be. There are some things I can tell you and some things I can't.

Mike: What was it like working with J.J. Abrams?

Greg: Amazing. He's super smart and he is one of those visionary directors. I know it sounds like I'm gushing but he really is a visionary.

Mike: I've started to learn the code. If you didn't like working with him -- and Adam Carolla always says this -- you would say, "J.J.? Well ... J.J. is just J.J."

Greg: Another one is, "Oh J.J. ... he's so interesting." Whenever I hear 'interesting' that's code for 'no good.' And if I've said in any past interview or future interview that anyone's interesting, I apologize (laughs).

Mike: Are you going to have an action figure?

Greg: I have no idea, that would be really nice. There's a big action sequence when myself Kirk [and Sulu] -- Chris Pine and John Choo -- we skydive down to a Romulan orbiter platform and they were talking about maybe doing an action figure of those in our space flight suits.

Mike: Is that the scene we see in the trailer?

Greg: I think so, yeah, with the, "Woo hoo!" Crazy sequence.

Mike: That may have answered this question but what was your favorite on set?

Greg: Wow (pauses) when I first met Chris Pine and we were chatting while we did some testing while hanging from wires to film the skydiving sequence. I was hanging on a wire and I heard someone shout in a northern English accent and I looked down and thought, "this is bizarre,

I'm at Paramount, there shouldn't be anyone from northern England." And it was Chris Pine and he did this flawless York accent. I came down from the wire and he told me he was at Leeds University for a year. It was amazing, he has an amazing ear.

Filming that same sequence... there was one day filming with J.J. and I was standing on mirrors that were facing the sky. He was shaking the camera on this platform -- and my then three-year-old [son], he was watching the sequence -- and I got hoisted up on the wire. My wife was a bit nervous that [my son] might say something [during filming]. And he actually did say something, he nudged J.J. and pointed up and said, "That's my daddy up there!" I'm actually proud he didn't shout it out too loud and just reiterated to J.J. who I was.

Mike: This is the last thing: You were in the most successful movie of all time, correct?

Greg: Titanic, yeah.

Mike: What was that experience like? Because before it was released there were all these stories that it was going to be a disaster and it was way over budget. Was that in the air at all on the set? That it wasn't going to turn out well?

Greg: I auditioned in Mexico [with two others] ... after a couple of days we went on set. The movie had been [filming] for three or four months. We knew it was over budget, the pressures, two studios, etc. etc. James Cameron told us what the scene was and each one of us would do the scene with Kate Winslet. They discussed and came over and told me I got the role. Half an hour later I'm on the set and it's a scene in the rain. I've got an umbrella, a clipboard and a pen and I'm taking the names of the survivors.

[After detailed instructions for the scene] I hear, "Action." I walk up to Kate Winslet and I hear this mariachi band start to play in the distance. I'm thinking that this is not right, I'm on the RMS Carpathia?! The music is getting louder and James Cameron says, "Cut." He says to the first [assistant director] Josh McLaglen, "What's going on Josh, what's going on!" The music is getting louder and louder and this eight piece mariachi band walks on set and burst into "Happy Birthday." It was Josh's birthday, Cameron had planned the whole thing. I had no idea and went from complete terror to complete relief. And that was my first night on set. The rest of my evening was spent huddle around a fire with Kate Winslet, who was a delight, swapping stories about England ... People were waiting to see James Cameron fall flat on his face. That movie did all right, though, didn't it?

There may be some footage on some 'making of' DVD somewhere of some poor Carpathia steward looking like he's world is about to end (laughs).

Mike: And someday that steward will be on the Starship Enterprise.

Greg: Exactly!

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
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