Jennifer Lien in TV Scene

Space Beauty
Jennifer Lien talks about life on and off the set of her hit TV series.

Article by Douglas Snauffer

    Last December, just two weeks before Christmas, actress Jennifer Lien explored a world totally alien to her. One unlike anything she has encountered on her hit television series, Star Trek: Voyager. It was her first out of state science-fiction convention, held in Dayton, Ohio.
    A few days later, back home in Los Angeles, she has finally had time to reflect on the experience. "Wow," she exclaims. "It was like a flood almost, as far as being swept away in the excitement and jubilation that those people had for the show. I didn't expect them to be as open and warm hearted and accepting as they were. And once somebody accepts you like that, it's serious!".
    Fans have indeed taken to Lien. At age 21, she is quickly developing into one of the most popular characters on Voyager, the latest from Paramount Pictures' enduring Star Trek franchise. Her character Kes is a member of the Ocampa, a race of beings who's life span is only nine years. Aboard Voyager, Kes serves as a medical aide to the ship's holographic doctor and is romantically involved with the vessel's alien cook. Lien loves the character, whose emotional and mental development is a running theme on the show, and admits they have a lot in common in terms of viewing life.
    "I'm very happy I'm playing a character who's youthful, open minded, and a member of a new species," she says. "It's incredible because anything can happen. Developing the foundations of a brand new race is pretty exciting to me. We're obviously working within the realm of make believe, but it offers the opportunity to really use your imagination. It's pretty cool."
What traits does Lien share with Kes? "If I can, I try to stay as far away from needles as possible," she laughs, "and I don't help anybody cook in real life, either, because I'm not very good at it. But we do share similarities. Mostly, I think we both want to learn. We all do, or at least I hope that's the case, because there has to be something to keep us alive. And at some point, we have to venture into exploring new things, whether it's a TV show or the mail the guy gives us everyday."
When she auditioned for the role, she admits to being naive concerning Star Trek and the world she was about to entertain. She had watch The Next Generation, but not on a regular basis, and was totally blown away by what she found herself a part of. "I'm just beginning to become aware of the phenomenon," she confesses. "I'm not all that sure that I was even semi-aware of what Star Trek was at the time. Which I guess was good, because there was no anxiety involved. It was fun and exciting."
She's happy that fans have welcomed her into their universe, and she's determined to live up to the legacy. She may have discovered back at the Dayton convention. "When I wasn't able to answer a question or provide someone with a very complete answer, I really felt bad," she reveals. "I told myself that I was going to have to get better at this if I wanted to continue doing it. When you go out of town to an event like that it takes a lot of work. I traveled to two different states in two days. It was a lot of traveling and it was pretty cold. But it was complete fun, there were no drawbacks to any of it."

Her involvement with the show has taught her a lot about budgeting her time since her work schedule on Voyager tends to throw her days into turmoil. "You have no idea," she sighs. "Sometimes you have a general outline of when you're going to work and they actually follow it. Sometimes things happen and they have to rearrange it. It varies and makes it awfully difficult to structure your personal life.
There are nine cast members on Voyager. I always think there's ten, but I can't remember the tenth one," she smiles. "Sometimes they have to develop a certain character, so that individual gets a lot more airtime in a certain show. I find that when I'm not featured I may work just a couple of days or I may not work at all. And then the days when they decide I'm very much involved in the story, I'm working six or seven days straight. It's been pretty light lately, which is a blessing. And a curse...because I don't like having all that free time."
When she's not working, she tries to spend her down time constructively. "My inclination isn't to go out and shop or do whatever," she insists. "I like to read, paint, and study. I'm at a point in my life where I have this driving force where I want to learn and to experience things. Sometimes I get a little upset because things don't seem to be moving fast enough. On my days off I never seem to get around to the things I really want to accomplish. I've realized, though, that I need to slow down a bit. If I'm not getting immediate gratification in a certain area where I would like it, I'm learning to become more patient and to give things time."
Lien was born and raised in Illinois, "the baby," she laughs, with one older brother and an older sister. At age 12 she began appearing in local stage plays. "I always loved doing it," she claims. "I always found it fascinating. When I was little I used to create characters when I was playing. Being actively involved in drama in grade school and junior high kept the ambition alive."
Her acting pursuit may have come as quite a surprise to anyone who knew her as a young child. "When I was younger I was very, very shy, until I got my double digits. Then I started joking around and having fun. You know, just being a teenager and being all the things a teenager can be - which included being rebellious and moody a lot. Sometimes I was wilder than others, but I was always determined and motivated, and that helped me along."

At the urging of one of her literature teachers, Lien joined a local theater group and began taking drama classes. She continued to define her skills on stage in such plays as "Othello", "The Tempest", "Androcles and the Lion" and "Showboat". Eventually she landed an agent who began to send her on professional auditions. That led to an industrial film for Amurol Chewing Gum and then, at age 16 in 1991, to a role on the NBC daytime drama Another World, which took her to New York. The part lasted for a year and a half, after which Lien took on a less desirable role----that of a struggling actress.
"Struggling? Well I try not to think about it that way," she says. "After the soap opera, I was in New York for a while on my own without anything. And there, yeah, I was pretty much struggling. I was asking myself. 'Gee, do I really want to do this? I'm still young, I can go to college and be a whatever.' And then I just said. 'Screw it, yeah, I will do this.' After that I didn't really look at it as struggling anymore. Not having any money wasn't really a big deal. When I was doing plays in high school I waitressed so that I could have my car, go on auditions and do all the different things I needed to do. I've been fortunate in being able to save enough money to where I could concentrate only on my acting when I wasn't working. It was kind of like an art form trying to balance my finances and pursue my acting at the same time."
In 1993, she won a role on the ABC sitcom The Phenom and moved to Los Angeles. The series ran only one season, but Lien remained in California and soon afterward landed her job on Voyager.
If it proves to anywhere as popular and long lasting as The Next Generation, Lien's days of struggling may be long gone. "You think?" she asks. "I suppose I really haven't recognized it on the surface. I do know that I'm able to do more things. It's nice because I'm able to give more to people. I can send flowers more often, or take someone out to lunch. And do little things for people that I wasn't able to do when I wasn't working. It's not week to week anymore."
Fortunately, a mature attitude seems to be keeping her grounded despite her ascension into a higher tax bracket. "It comes with a certain responsibility to kind if educate yourself and to become responsible about your money and the way you chose to live your lifestyle," she offers. "I'm really too young to buy a boat, a house, and a car. I don't know if I want to live here forever. I know I want to act forever, but I don't know if I want to live in Los Angeles that long."

She insists she hasn't been overwhelmed by the attention that her role has presented her. Actually, doing interviews is the only type of attention, per se, that she really chooses to partake in (beyond the occasional convention). "I don't get recognized or hounded by people," she says. "probably because I don't look all that much like Kes when I'm not working. My hair is different, I don't have those ears on my head, and my skin isn't that shade. I can pretty much do whatever I want with a great deal of, if not total, animosity. I don't get a lot of attention, and that's fine."
And how does she feel about doing interviews? Does she find is awkward that part of her job description includes answering personal questions posed by a total stranger? "It used to be unsettling," she says. "But I'm more comfortable with it now. I don't think it's any more peculiar than a person wanting to ask me questions about my life. I think it's actually kind of cool that you people can sit down with somebody, not knowing anything about them, and ask pretty intense questions about their life. That connection doesn't happen very often. The fact that it does happen in this particular line of work is good."
Lien has a computer but is far from being a hacker. She has friends who go on-line, but she herself has only visited an on-line chat area once. She hasn't yet ventured onto a Star Trek WEB sight. "I've stayed away from that because I'm a little nervous. I share the love of technology and communications through computers, but reading about myself would be pretty weird. How would you feel if you went into the computer and there was a huge section about you and people you didn't know were talking about you? But regardless of what they're saying, I do think it's very flattering thing, and eventually I guess I'll get up the courage to give it a try."
Informed that some on-line admirers feel that Kes should drop her current romantic interest, Neelix, in favor of the ships holographic doctor, Lien is stunned. "Really? That's interesting. I don't know, I guess the fact that the Doctor's a hologram would present a lot of room for creativity in regards to carrying on a relationship. But I wonder why they prefer that over Neelix?"
She's equally perplexed that many consider her one of the sexiest woman on any Star Trek program: "Whoa. That's weird. You know, I feel goofy. I don't feel sexy. I don't feel like a sex person. That's something I'll have to give some thought to."
It's only one of the many things the young actress is contemplating in her life these days. But unlike her Ocampa character, Jennifer Lien has a lot of years to figure it out.


Text from TV Scene - Issue #1 - Spring 1996 - Pages 16-18
Article used without permission.