(Interview originally conducted in 1998, to coincide with the release by Titan Books of ‘Warped Factors’)
WITH ‘Warped Factors’, ‘Star Trek’ legend Walter Koenig has released as hilariously, unforgettably honest an autobiography as we’re likely to see from a bona fide TV icon.
Koenig, alias the perenially put-upun Pavel Chekov, delivers a wealth of Trek-titbits, certainly, but the real joy of the book is his crisp, often hilarious prose as he picks apart the threads of his unusual life and ever-present neuroses.
“From the start, I thought there were enough funny and unusual stories in my life to make for a good read,” says the wry Mr Koenig, before adding with a laugh: “Mind you, I could’ve made a lot more money if I’d done it when I was originally approached, before the market for Star Trek books started drying up…”
Dip into ‘Warped Factors’ and you’ll find that this is typical Koenig. The book is full of tales you can’t believe he’s prepared to share – but you’re glad he did. Like his early experiences with girls, the bizarre series of nervous tics he fostered as an adolescent and his ever-present self-doubt. The trick is that, thanks to a keen wit and natural writing talent (Koenig has already published one novel, and has been writing for TV since the 70s) it’s so much more than Just Another Star Trek Book. But wasn’t it a tough task recreating his youth in such hilariously vivid detail?
“Not at all,” he smiles. “Those things, for good or bad, are still at the surface. I didn’t have to dig too deep to get at ’em.”
Chekov may not have been the most richly-written of roles, but it turned Walter Koenig, the son of Russian immigrants, into an international star. It also seemingly typecast him irreversibly as the Starship Enterprise’s ever-tortured Russian ensign – at least until J. Michael Straczynski, creator of ‘Babylon Five’, cast him against type as the evil psi-cop Bester.
“I loved playing Bester,”’ enthuses Koenig. “Chekov was just pressing buttons and reading from a console. I was lucky at this time in my life to have a character that was so meaty. I wouldn’t say it changed my life, but I do feel much more like an actor. I can hold my head up a bit more. I have acquitted myself reasonably.
“Of course, one can never deny the advantage of steady work, and Star Trek did provide me with steady work in one form or another for 30 years. I am grateful to it for that, but I do wonder what I could have done otherwise.”
He pauses, clearly pondering the prospect, before continuing: “If Star Trek hadn’t been around, I might not still be working today. It’s a competetive business. There are too many actors and not enough parts. So I feel blessed that, the limitations notwithstanding… the stereotyping and so on… I still manage to have some kind of financial security.”
(Later, when asked about his working schedule, he’ll say: “I’ve been going a little nuts. The inactivity is like a festering sore. Bad things happen when I am not working…” Once a neurotic…)
Koenig, clearly, does not have any glamorous illusions about showbiz in general and the Trek phenomenon in particular. However, he’s proud of the friendships the show helped him forge.
“I made lasting relationships through Star Trek. George Takei (Sulu), Jimmy Doohan (Scotty) and Nichelle Nichols and I have been all over together, and we get along well. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) is a warm…”
There’s another pause. “He has become not necessarily a friend, but a warm and well thought-of acquaintance. We have a nice relationship. DeForest Kelley (Dr McCoy) I always loved.”
And what of William Shatner? No Trek autobiography, never mind interview, is complete without a spot of Shatner-bashing… Indeed, Koenig’s book opens with a brilliantly funny parody of Shatner’s Captain Kirk image.
But Walter Koenig just chuckles. “Ah, Bill’s just Bill…. I’ve come to terms with how I feel about him. I haven’t seen him since the end of ‘96, but I don’t bear him any ill feeling.”