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OFF-CENTERPIECE : Familiar Ears, but We Need a Mind Meld to Place the Face

When Kim Cattrall was approached to play a Vulcan lieutenant opposite the redoubtable Mr. Spock in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” she demurred, for a trio of reasons. The last one wasn’t so hot, she wasn’t exactly sure what this one was all about and sequels weren’t her bag.

Cattrall pulled a U-turn when she learned that Nicholas Meyer, who directed the second and arguably the best Trek flick, would be navigating the Enterprise on its final voyage.

“I liked ‘Star Trek II’ a lot and that did it,” says the British-born star of such films as “Mannequin” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” She had met Meyer on “Volunteers,” a stinker he directed in 1985, and had long fancied the thought of eventually working with him.

Meyer apparently harbored a mutual desire toward the graduate of NYC’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

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“Who is this woman who is so great and always so different every time,” Meyer recalls wondering to himself when asked of Cattrall. “She’s such a chameleon, that she keeps disappearing into her roles.”

Quick was Cattrall to display her chameleon-like ways in the role of Vulcan Lt. Valeris, the pivotal member in the Enterprise’s volatile quest for universal peace. Once Meyer recommended she meet with executive producer Leonard Nimoy, Spock himself, to secure the part, she decided to shave her sideburns (a Vulcan no-no) and even arrange bangs to cover her forehead.

Some of the regulars, including Nimoy, were not thrilled with her look.

“The challenge for me, more than anything else, was to go into a situation that was so molded and set and be an individual. To be fresh. To be new,” Cattrall says, defending her decision to punk up the character. She went so far as to even loosely name her character after a Greek goddess . . . with Meyer’s approval, of course.

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But “Leonard told me that he didn’t like it,” says Cattrall, who got on famously with Nimoy on virtually all other topics. “They wanted me to have the regulation sideburns. So I called Leonard and said, ‘You don’t like the look?’ And he said ‘No. I think it’s a little extreme, and I’m not sure that it’s right.’ ”

So Cattrall showed up soon before principal photography with the sideburns back and the more traditional Vulcan coiffure. But this is Hollywood, after all, and those who originally rejected Cattrall’s idea decided they wanted it back so that’s how she looks in the film.

Appearances are nice, but far more satisfying to our subject was the Vulcan mind-meld scene in which Mr. Spock desperately attempts to get deep into Valeris’ thoughts. Director Meyer chose to be unobtrusive during this critical moment. He circumvented the annoying interruptions caused by multiple-camera setups by enlisting a Steadicam to silently hover around the actors while they played out their agony.

Cattrall remembers it vividly.

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“You could put anything that you wanted on it: pleasure, pain, sexual, mental. Was it a brain drain? Was it more than that? Because no one had ever seen two Vulcans do it.

“But for me it’s between pleasure and pain, and that’s how it felt doing it. It does feel orgasmic in some way, and it was like a wave when he was touching my head and then more and more and more and I’m trying so hard to control it. And in the end when I scream, people just don’t know what to say.”

It’s a shame Vulcans aren’t allowed to have the occasional cigarette.


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