Jennifer Lien
Nine Year Wonder

Article by Steven Eramo

    The first glimpse viewers have of Star Trek: Voyager's resident Ocampa, Kes, is that of a frightened and abused young woman. Having been captured by the brutal Kazon Sect the Ogla, she is treated more like a slave then a sentient being. After the Voyager crew rescues her from a life of indentured servitude Kes joins them in their travels across the vast, and sometimes perilous, Delta Quadrant. Also along for the duration of the voyage is actress Jennifer Lien, who plays the wide-eyed, beautiful and elfinlike Ocampa.
    "I auditioned for the role a few times, and they presented me with the opportunity to bacome a part of the cast", says Lien modestly when asked how she first became involved in the series. "Star Trek has always been a widely respected television show and I was definitely interested in being part of something of such quality. When I read the pilot script it became obvious to me that kes is a well-rounded character with a lot of potential."

Fulfilled Promise
    In Star Trek: Voyager's pilot episode, Caretaker, the ship's first Delta Quadrant passenger Neelix (Ethan Phillips) leads the Starfleet and Maquis crews to a planet where he believes their lost comrades to be. This is in part actually a ploy to use Voyager's technology and weapons to rescue Kes. After they materialize in the transporter room, everyone is surprised when neelix turns to her and says, "My dearest, didn't I promise I'd save you?"
    Although her character struggles through various ordeals in this adventure, the actress remembers her work in the episode as being quite enjoyable. "It was really overwhelming but at the same time wonderful", says Lien. "I was very happy and excited to be a part of the whole thing. I had a good time filming the episode and felt very comfortable in front of the cameras."
    Caretaker not only gives the viewers the opportunity to observe the Ocampa's use of their telepathic abilities but also reveals that each member of the species lives for a maximum of nine years. The fact that Kes is only a year old when she comes aboard Voyager opens up all sorts of possibilities to explore the character's childlike, inquisitive nature and her voracious appetite for learning.
    "I describe the character as young, curious, kind, sincere and strong", explains Lien. "Kes has gone from this wide-eyed newcomer to someone who's developed certain skills and a position on Voyager. She feels much more at ease intermingling with the rest of the crew and has really become part of the workings of the ship."

Valuable and Indispensable
    Since joining up with Voyager's crew Kes has proved herself to be a valuable and indispensable member of the team. Along with setting up and maintaining the ship's hydroponics garden, she acts as unofficial nurse for its holographic doctor (Robert Picardo). Instead of dwelling upon her unique lifespan, writers have chosen instead to expand upon the unusual background and talents of her species.
    In the second-season episode Elogium the ship discovers a swarm of red, wormlike, Space-dwelling beings. Their presence adversely affects Kes's reproductive system and her body prematurely readies itself for conception. Since Ocampan females can concieve only once in their lives, both Kes and Neelix must decide if they are ready to become parents. This particular story gives Lien some strong and poignant scenes in which to exercise her acting talents.
    "I think the progress that they made as far as delving into the procreation process of the Ocampan species and what goes on inside Kes's mind and body is great. It really took my character to a different level. The writing and interaction with various members of the crew were both very productive and informative as far as finding out more about Kes and her people."

    "I also liked Cold Fire. It presents Kes with a temptation and then leaves the decision up to the character as to whether or not to give in to it. I feel that this is good because it displays another side of Kes which is her confidence in being able to choose a path for her life."
    "We've just finished shooting a wonderful episode involving a clown [The Thaw]. I believe it was either written by Michael Piller or he came up with the idea for the plot. The general consensus among the cast is that it's a strong, thought-provoking and funny story with a very orginal concept. It's just an incredible episode and one that I personally like."

Developing Relationships
    Throughout Star Trek: Voyager's first and second seasons, the show's creators Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor have carefully developed realationships among all of the show's main characters. This type of on-screen interaction not only provides for dramatic, affectionate, humorous and sometimes romantic encounters but has also helped to strengthen and define each character. For Kes, her main associations have been with her doting and sometimes jealous companion neelix, the stoic yet caring holographic doctor and the rakish but good-hearted Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill).
    "Neelix and Kes share a very strong bond", says Lien. "This comes not only from things they have shared in the past but also from both joining Voyager at the same time. While neither of them is Starfleet they are quickly accepted as productive and contributing members of the crew."
    "With Tom Paris I think it started out as being a possible triangle among Meelix, Tom and Kes", continues the actress. "The writers sort of explored the possibility of someone else besides Neelix being interested in Kes in a romantic or personal way. They kind of bring it to a head, though, in Parturtition, where Tom says to Neelix, 'Look, I might have had those feelings for Kes but I don't now. I realize that she's yours.' At that point Tom is pretty much eliminated as any potential love interest for Kes."
    "As for the Doctor, I think he and Kes have a strong friendship. He teaches her a lot and she teaches him a lot, so, the friendship and caring for each other grow."
    The same respect and admiration which Kes has for everyone she serves with aboard Voyager are also evident with Lien when the actress talks about working with her fellow cast members. She feels very fortunate to have been given the chance to work with such a gifted and professional group of actors.
    "I like each and every one of them. I think they're all tremendous. They all have a sense of humour, they're all talented, intelligent and very giving. How often does that happen? I don't know - maybe it happens a lot, but I know that it's happening with me and I'm very happy about it", she laughs, "so, I try to sort of protect and appreciate it. I could go on and on but it's just going to sound kind of gooey and sugary. I don't know how else to say it except that I'm really lucky."

Bubblegum Twins
    An Illinois native, Lien has been interested in acting since she was a child. As a teenager she worked on stage in such productions as Othello and The Tempest. She first appeared in front of he camera playing twins in an industrial film for bubblegum. "It was like doing what I would do in plays but instead I was doing it in front of the camera, so, it was no problem", she recalls. "I didn't know the difference from what I should and shouldn't do on film. I did what I did and that was that. It ended up being a lot of fun.
    The actress made her television début in an episode of the short-lived Oprah Winfrey drama series Brewster Place. In 1990 she relocated to New York City and was cast as the misfit orphan Hannah on the popular Soap Opera Another World. In addition to working on a comedy album by Saturday Night Live's Adam Sandler, Lien also provided the voice behind a B-movie actress in an episode of the animated television series The Critic.
    Before beginning work as Kes on Star Trek: Voyager Lien spent a year on the ABC television comedy series Phenom. "That was a fun show to work on", she recalls. "It was filmed in front of a live audience, so, it was a much different format the Star Trek."

    Having worked on the stage as well as in television, is there one role which the actress has found perticularly difficult or challenging? "I don't know if there's really been a difficult one", she answers. "I think everything has its challenging aspects. I try not to focus on the difficulties. I just work to get past them, learn to become stronger from them or eliminate them all together. Certain aspects of the job take a lot of patience but it would be like that with any job regardless of what I did."
    "I look at something and tend to pick out the positives from it. I think that Star Trek has been very rewarding in a lot of different ways. I've been able to explore a character for a long period of time, work with great people and involved in a terrific show and have a lot of fun while doing it."
    Lien is prepared to reach for the stars when it comes to looking towards the future and working in television, films and on stage. "I would really like to do all three. I know I can", she says confidently. Unlike that of character, "It's a long life, so, I'm not worried about it."

Text from TV Zone - Special #23 - December 1996 - Pages 18-21
Article used without permission.