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Did Paramount want a British actor to play Ben Sisko in Deep Space Nine?

September 15th, 2017 by Dave Bowling Comments

Deep Space Nine holds a special place in Star Trek fandom. It was so completely different from the other five TV shows that many fans were alienated by it and complained that it ran contrary to Gene Rodenberry’s vision of the future, despite the Trek creator giving the project his blessing shortly before his death.

Bot for those of us who really got into the show, we loved it. The complex plots, shifting allegiances, fantastic cast and supporting characters made it a truly unique experience in the Trek canon. Only Babylon 5 provided a similar experience, hardly surprising when you consider both were set on space stations and B5 creator J Michael Straczynski had previously pitched his concept to Paramount, but that’s a whole other conspiracy theory story.

Part of the experience came from Avery Brooks’s fantastic performance as station commander Benjamin Sisko. It’s almost impossible to see any other actor in the role, but then Star Trek documentary Twitter page TrekDocs posted this last week:

Yep, that is a casting sheet for screen tests for Deep Space Nine roles. At the top is Siddig El Fadil, also known by the stage name Alexander Siddig, who would go on to be cast as resident doctor Julian Bashir. But just below him are three interesting names for the role of Sisko: Keith Allen, Anthony Head and Peter Capaldi. That stand-up comedian, actor and father of Lilly and Alfie Keith Allen was considered is weird enough, but Tony Head and Peter Capaldi?

But not to be outdone, the Twitter page for Deep Space Nine documentary What We Left Behind then ran this:

Yep, these are photos from Capaldi anf Head’s screen tests. Merciful Odin, they look so young! So was it possible that Paramount were keen to have another British actor heading up a Star Trek series after the success of Patrick Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard?

Well, no. Not necessarily. In a recent interview with DS9 producer Ira Steven Behr, website Trek movie asked him about casting the lead actor:

When [co-creator] Michal Piller started his insidious plan to bring me back into the fold – so sitting together at baseball games, when he mentioned it to me, he mentioned to me as an African-American captain. Some people say that is too specific and that it was definitely going to be a brown person, definitely not a Caucasian. They hadn’t necessarily locked in to that person being African-American… I actually have some of the auditions and some were sent in from England from some very good British actors. So they were covering on all fronts, but I think that was all just due diligence. It was always going to be a brown captain.

So it seems that, despite the screen tests, the intention had always been to cast a non-white actor in the lead role. Which is fine really, since I honestly cannot see anyone apart from Brooks in the role. The guy was awesome, and anyone who doesn’t agree needs to go and watch In The Pale Moonlight from season 6: Avery Brooks and Andrew Robinson doing their damnedest to out-thesp each other. It used to be my favourite episode of any TV show ever, until the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special The Day of The Doctor. Where we got our first glimpse of Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Holy crap, the universe is somehow cyclic!

I think I need a lie down…

With thanks to Trek Movie for the interview quote

Dave was born at an early age to parents of both sexes. He has been a self-confessed geek for as long as he can remember, having been raised through the 80s on a steady diet of Doctor Who, Star Trek, Red Dwarf and (sigh) Knight Rider. Throw the usual assortment of Saturday morning cartoons into the mix and we have something quite exceptional: someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of utter tosh; a love of giant robots and spaceships fighting; and the strange desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound while wearing his underpants over his trousers. The death ray is currently in the works and one day you shall all bow to him, his giant space station and fleet of funky orange space shuttles...