Spotlight: Jennifer Lien Returns as Kes
Special to STAR TREK.COM

By Manny Patel Jr.

    Back in the spring of 1997, as filming wound down for the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager, Jennifer Lien shot what appeared to be her final scenes as Kes. The character then embarked on a journey to explore her unique existence as an evolved life form. Now, after three years Jennifer returns to don the ears and the alien tunic once more, reprising her role as the enigmatic Ocampan. It is February 2000, and with Star Trek: Voyager now in its sixth season Kes marks her return in the episode "Fury."

During her three-year hiatus, Jennifer had not returned to Paramount Pictures until January this year. So, the logical place to start was to find out what she had been up to in the interim. "Well, I've taken classes, I've been in a movie and I did some voice work and I've traveled." A succinct response, but to elaborate further Jennifer starred in the films "American History X," alongside Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and "SLC Punk," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year. She also appeared in a short film called "The Hoofboy," directed by Will Keenan in October 1998. Her vocal talents were used in the Men in Black animated series and in "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride," alongside Matthew Broderick, Neve Campbell and Andy Dick. So, the 25-year-old actress has certainly been keeping busy.

Jennifer admitted that it was very exciting to come back and commented on how she dealt with returning to a show that she used to appear on a weekly basis. "Things pretty much still seem the same here," she commented. "It just feels like [I've been gone] a day. It doesn't feel like any time has passed, whereas in my own personal life, time has passed and I can definitely feel that." Because of all the projects that Jennifer has been involved with, it's not surprising that she feels a great deal has happened to her in the last few years.

While the surroundings at Paramount may still be the same, what of her work colleagues? Starting with the production side, Jennifer said, "Some of the people have come and gone, but overall it's still the same." During her absence, Executive Producer Jeri Taylor left the show and became an Executive Consultant with Co-Creator Michael Piller. Ms. Taylor's successor is Brannon Braga, who has been involved with Star Trek: Voyager since its first season. Another big change was the addition of cast member Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine.

How did Jennifer's fellow cast members react to Jennifer's return? "Well, I've changed in the last three years, and other people who are still here that I knew back then have changed considerably too. So I'd imagine naturally they'd be changed if I were to come back in three more years." Prior to filming "Fury," the last time that Jennifer saw most of her shipmates was briefly at Robert Beltran's (Chakotay) Galaxy Ball at the end of October last year.

Jennifer did notice changes in the cast and the way they perform on set. "I think they're a lot happier. I think that they're happier with their characters and it's easier for them to do what they do." Jennifer also realized that the actors had a much deeper understanding of how to play their characters after playing them for six years.

On returning to the show, Jennifer was concerned how Kes would be brought back. Executive Producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga came up with a story line that brought the character back, but with a different angle. It was the task of staff writers Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor to write the teleplay from the story idea. Jennifer was adamant that the fate of Kes was handled with great care, so some of the plot line was changed. "I had a discussion with the writers about the original script and we all came to a conclusion that we were happy with," she states with a sigh of relief!

One thing Jennifer wanted to avoid was to come back as the same Kes that viewers were used to. "Bringing back the character in a unique way was what I wanted from the start," she explains. "I didn't want Kes to be completely Kes." If the character came back to the show as the same person as when she left, there would be no impact. In the case of "Fury," the impact is there from the start beginning with Kes' dramatic first scene. "It's pretty cool how I make my entrance. I make a lot of noise!" Although this statement seems to contradict the character of the innocent Kes from earlier seasons, Jennifer reminds us that Kes left with a bang back in season four's "The Gift"!

Without giving too much away, the episode has elements of time travel and deals with the fact that Kes is now a mature, seven year-old Ocampan. Jennifer played the character as she appeared in the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager as well as the "Old Kes." There is even a scene where a "Young Kes" and "Old Kes" are in the same shot. To accomplish this, Jennifer needed a clone. "There's a wonderful woman by the name of Amy Kate. And she has done a really great job. I really loved working with her on this. She's a lot of fun." When Amy Kate wore the Kes outfit, the resemblance was uncanny.

In order to play the part of the Old Kes, Jennifer had to boldly go where many a cast member of Star Trek had gone before; the make up trailer. In addition to her regular make up, Jennifer had to have some extra pieces added to make her look extremely elderly. How did she feel about these new prosthetics? "They're great!" she says with enthusiasm. "They're a lot of fun. I don't how else to say it. I mean it's really cool to be able to wear them. The make up artists are incredibly gifted," she said, singing the praises of Michael Westmore and his team. "It enhances the appearance of the character and adds to the story line. So, I'm enjoying it," then changes her tone to add, "but I only have one more day."

As for her regular makeup, (her latex ears that gave Kes her Ocampan look) Jennifer has this to say, "My ears? I can't say that I'll miss them!" After wearing them for over three years, it was a relief to finally let them go. "When I first got them, I found it hard to hear what people were saying." However, over the years Jennifer finally became accustom to the pair.

Another distinguishing characteristic that Kes had was her wardrobe of futuristic tunics. "There is one new one," Jennifer recalls. "No, actually there are two new ones," she says correcting herself. The first outfit is the one for the Old Kes. With the hair and the makeup, Jennifer resembles a fairy tale sorceress with a cape. The second outfit is a bright tunic for her young counterpart, similar to the ones Kes wore in the first two seasons, designed by Rob Blackman.

So with the episode nearly in the can, does Jennifer have any thoughts on the result of her character's actions? "Well, I think the character has changed [by] the end of the episode. She realizes that it's not cool to do what she did," she says once again trying not to give away too much of the plot. So what does she think about future appearances for Kes in Star Trek: Voyager and beyond? "I think that it just keeps the opportunity open to explore [my] character, in case they need the diversion in some way." Jennifer recounts that her mother has always joked about having a spin off show about "The Adventures of Kes! "She thinks that it would be a great success!"

Regarding any serious involvement with future Star Trek: Voyager episodes, Lien remains philosophical. "I don't know," she says. "I'm not really worried about it." At the moment Jennifer has a lot on her plate. She has several projects that she is interested in and has a few travel commitments. In fact immediately after "Fury" wrapped, Jennifer and her mother, Delores, were off to England.

With Star Trek: Voyager reaching the end of its sixth season and with only one more year to go, would Jennifer want to do something similar to what Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) did and reprise her role for the final episode? After a long pause, Jennifer tackles this issue and says with complete honesty, "Well, once again I don't know. I never know where I'll be or what I'm going to be doing at that point in time," she says. "However I do know that the show will grow. The show is going to grow without the character that I portrayed on it. So wherever it happens to be toward the culmination of the show, it will be at a point where [my character] may not be necessary or required. In that case the character won't be an important part of the story and therefore will not be needed. So yes, I could see not doing it. I could see not being asked back. I could also see that maybe there's a potential. Who knows?

"It's not a typical job," she states, "It's an honor. There's a difference. It was very nice of them to ask me back."

So, whether or not Jennifer Lien is asked by the producers of Star Trek: Voyager to return to play Kes may not be the important thing. It's the way that she is brought back that is important to her. "Fury" gives Jennifer a chance to explore the character she created and take Kes to new frontiers, and at the same give the viewers one heck of a ride.

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