Brent Spiner

I had a fantastic teacher in high school. I had one of those guys you dream of having, who molds your life and inspires you to go in a particular direction, and he was quite brilliant. His name was Cecil Pickett, and a lot of the kids from my high-school drama class are in professional show business and have done quite well.

A couple of years ago, I went to see a production of Wicked in San Francisco with a friend of mine, one that Patty Duke was in, and he said, “Do you want to meet her?” And I said, “Yeah!” And I went backstage, and she walked out of her dressing room, looked at me, and said, “I know you.” And I went, “Well, uh, yeah, I was in My Sweet Charlie.” And she said, “Yeah! You were the guy in the car on the road!” And I was. It was amazing.

Gian Luigi Polidoro and his girlfriend had written this script, it was an American comedy, and they decided I was the guy to play the part. I was young, they offered me the lead in the film, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” And I’m telling you, there is a movie waiting to be made about the making of a movie like that, particularly at that time in New York. I mean, we shot all over the streets of New York without permits. We would literally grab a shot and run. But Rent Control… I think the total cost was $100,000, and to this director’s credit, I think it looks like $200,000.

I wanted to look right. I remember a review – a very positive one – in The New York Times that said I was so good in the role [Earl Mills] that I “even managed to overcome a terrible red wig.” I wanted to write her and tell her about the agony I’d gone through with the perm, but I thought better of it.

Like, she had a caterer, she had wardrobe people, she had two makeup artists… I mean, we have makeup and we have wardrobe, but Felicia [Day] was, like, on it. She had two cameras operating, sets, extras everywhere. It was unbelievable. I don’t know what her budget was or is, but she had sponsors for her show, and we don’t have a sponsor yet, so basically, the difference is, our moms make our costumes.

It really was not that difficult a process, because I was playing [Data from Star Trek] something that doesn’t exist. So it was really based on… Imagination was the key element in that, and whatever I could think of, I could do, because there was no precedent for it. It wasn’t like someone was going to say, “Well, an android would never do that.” They didn’t know!

It was kind of an amazing class. I went to the Strasberg Institute in New York for a little while after I got there, and I’ve never seen anybody who was in any of my classes there ever again. I mean, that’s not to say they didn’t become somebody. I’m not sure. I mean, Sam Jackson could’ve been in my class, for all I remember.

So it was a really pleasant surprise when [Independence Day] turned out to be a successful film. I don’t know if you’ve heard that they’re going to be re-releasing it next Fourth of July in 3-D. I’ve actually only seen it once, and it was in Hawaii, in a little theater in Oahu shortly after it was released. But Roland Emmerich is a really smart guy, and he makes really fun movies to watch.

I had no idea I was part of what was going to be a big mega-hit. I thought I was doing a B sci-fi movie [Independence Day]. And, actually, it was Jeff Goldblum who looked at me one day and said, “You know, I think this is going to be really something.” And I said, “Well, I hope you’re right.” And sure enough, it turned out to be.

Dr. Okun. Who’s named after a special-effects guy named Jeff Okun, who had done Stargate for Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who did Independence Day. But “Brakish” just came up one day when Jeff Goldblum and I were improvising, and he told me his character’s name and I told him mine.