Like the young Ocampa she plays on Star Trek: Voyager, Jennifer Lien is on a journey of discovery.
Article by Ian Spelling
Jennifer Lien, sitting in her trailer and sporting a makeup, blond wig and costume that transform her into the young Ocampa, Kes, takes a long, very human drag on a cigarette and buries herself deep in thought. Star Trek: Voyager has been on the air for nearly two years now, and the 21-year-old actress is searching for the right words to describe her feelings on the subject. To say the least, Lien tends to think before she speaks.
The seconds pass slowly, and then she talks. "It's hard to believe that we've been at this for almost two years, but it's even harder to believe that it has been such a great year-and-a-half. As an actress, it has been a tremendous experience for me to play Kes," explains Lien, her blue eyes trained directly on her interviewer. "The liberty that I am given, and the room I am given to do what I want to do, has been great. Everybody here - the cast, the crew, the producers - are all very giving. There's an incredible atmosphere here. I never expected it to be quite so open and supportive as it has been. It would be very easy for me to take it all for granted, that's how wonderful it is. Really, it's very cool."
An Innocent Alien
Kes, of course, is the girl friend of Neelix (Ethan Phillips). When the series began, most fans wondered how Lien's character might be integrated into the show's action. After all, Kes brought no discernible skills to the U.S.S. Voyager and she was a one-year-old alien with a life span of nine years. As the series began to find its footing, Kes was explored through such first season episodes as the "Caretaker" pilot, "Time and Again", "Phage", "The Cloud" and "Jetrel". While Kes' moments in those episodes mostly delved into her relationship with Neelix, and touched on her growing empathic abilities, they also set stage for Kes to serve as the taciturn holographic Doctor's (Robert Picardo) assistant in Sickbay, which further launched an as-yet-undeveloped Kes-Neelix-Doctor jealousy triangle.
The second season of Voyager also provided Lien with some interesting moments. In "Projections," the Doctor awoke, only to look into the eyes of his wife, the very much human Kes Zimmerman. "Elogium" focused almost exclusively on Kes, who found herself prematurely experiencing an Ocampa female's one and only period of fertility. The situation prompted a terrified Neelix to seriously consider the pros and cons of fatherhood and, at the same time, brought Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Kes closer, in a mother-daughter way. "Parturition" introduced an unexpected twist in that Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) confessed to Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) his attraction to Kes, which precipitated a confrontation between the impatient Neelix and Paris that was essentially resolved by teaming them on a dangerous Away Team mission. In "Cold Fire", Tuvok (Tim Russ) guided Kes in an effort to help her hone her mental powers, which had apparently been vastly underestimated.
"I'm really pleased with the way writers have revealed layers of the character. She has taken on certain responsibilities on the ship. Kes is becoming an integral part of Sickbay, working with the Doctor to develop her medical skills", she notes. "She's taking on strengths as a character. We've gotten to see what her particular species, the Ocampa, goes through. We've seen the writers explore some of her mental powers, and I would be interested in seeing more of that. We've gotten a feel for the Ocampa's ideological aspects. The writers have also done a great job with Kes and Neelix and their relationship. They haven't made it burn out. The relationship is something that can keep going and keep growing."
When it's pointed out to Lien that perhaps the Paris/Kes angle has been burned out and the viewers seem to enjoy watching the growing affections between Kes and the Doctor, whose rough edges she sought to smooth, the actress smiles. "I don't know if they've burned out the Kes and Paris relationship, but it's definitely not something that can run for years. Also, Neelix is a very complex character, so to just play out that Neelix/Paris [hating each other] angle wouldn't do the character justice. It would not do Paris justice, either," she argues. "I don't think that they've played that out or overdone it. When we started the show, everyone thought the triangle would be Kes, the Doctor and Neelix, so the writers did something a little different right there, which I liked. That's a good thing to do".
"They could still go back to the Doctor. I would like to see that. I would also like to see Kes' relationships with all of the other characters. There hadn't been an in-depth exploration of Kes' relationship with people like B'Elanna Torres [Roxann Biggs-Dawson] and Harry Kim. That will all come in time."
An Innocent Actress
Asked to select the Voyager episodes that worked best for her, Lien explains that there are any number of shows that she appreciated, but she specifically names two outings, one that's no surprise whatsoever and the other that's a bit of a shock. The obvious one is "Elogium." And what's the shock? It's the convoluted "Twisted," one of the series' most maligned shows, in which the Voyager was literally twisted like a crushed tin can by one of Trek's inexplicable spatial anomalies. "I liked 'Twisted' because it was very special FX-oriented. I wasn't a big part of it, so it was interesting for me to see the dynamics of it - the script, the sets, the FX - all producing this illusion," she says. "'Elogium' was wonderful. It was a great storyline for Kes and it definitely took me to a different place as an actress. I like being presented with a challenge like the one that show presented. I loved my moments with Kate. She's incredible.
"I was working on a scene in Sickbay the other day with Kate and Bob Picardo, and they - they know what they're doing. They're both such good actors. I thought, 'Oh, God, I'm so lucky to be here!' I didn't say anything to them because - I don't know why I didn't say anything. It's probably just not the kind of thing you say to people. I was seeing talent, experience and wisdom in action, inventiveness and creativity happening in front of me. It's a good job I have."
Thus far, it seems, fans are finding as much inventiveness and creativity in Lien's portrayal of Kes as the actress herself finds in Mulgrew and Picardo's work. Lien receives a great deal of fan mail and has guested at several Trek/SF conventions, and she relies on those outlets for feedback from Trekkers. "The conventions are something within themselves, a unique world. It's a very different experience in that I can talk to other people involved in the world of Star Trek, like authors and actors form other Star Trek shows. I also get to meet people from other SF shows, because they tend to have guests from other series at the conventions I attend," she explains. "The fans love the conventions, love meeting the people involved in their favorite shows. That makes you want to give them everything you can."
"I try to tell them what's going on, share my laughter and tell them about the wonderful experience I've been having on Voyager. The feedback is just so positive. The fans seem to really like the show, and that's good. If they have any negative feedback, they give it to me, too, which it fine. They're usually pretty respectful, and they come up with things that are very interesting - positive and negative - and I get sucked into it."
Chances are that Lien will be hearing from the fans for the next several years as Star Trek: Voyager continues its trek on the airwaves. Lien herself, however, isn't one for peering too far into the future. "I can look a day, a week, maybe a month or two down the road, but that's about it. I've become very fond of the people I work with here on the show. It's very, very hard for me to think about three, four or five years from now, where we'll be then, because that means this will all eventually come to an end. All things in life come to an end, so I have to take it day by day," she concludes. "There's no reason why I wouldn't want to be here for the next few years, or however long we do it. I'm still learning and I love the people. I just try to go with the flow. Many people gave me that piece of advice: Go with the flow. And I took it because it made a lot of sense."
Suddenly, there's a knock at the trailer door. It's a production staffer informing the actress that she's needed right away on the soundstage. The interview finished, Jennifer Lien steps out of her trailer and heads to the set, ready once again to go with the flow.
Text from Starlog - Issue #227 - June 1996 - Pages 41-43
Article used without permission.