Friday, 4 September 2015

From the Collective to the Circuit: Voyager's Manu Intiraymi on Voyager, Producing and More!

Blasting through to the sixth and seventh seasons of Voyager it can be easy to overlook some of the elements that helped evolve the show in its final years.

One of the biggest additions to the ship was Icheb. Originally one of the Borg children discovered in Collective, he would be the only one of that small group of survivors to would remain on the ship and return with it to the Alpha Quadrant (whatever happened to the baby?!).

But actor/producer Manu Intiraymi's (pronounced Inter-aye-may) association with Star Trek doesn't end there and in the last couple of years he's even brought Icheb back for the independent film, Star Trek: Renegades.

"I'd just finished a film called Whatever it Takes," recalled Manu when he spoke to me from Los Angeles shortly before the widespread release of Renegades. "It was a teen comedy with James Franco, Aaron Paul, Shane West and Colin Hanks and then a couple of months later I got the call from my agent to go and read for a part on Voyager. Originally I was reading for the Borg character that dies (First which went to Ryan Spahn) and I didn't get it so I was depressed. They called me and said that I'd actually got the other part of the number two supporting character. I was bummed but I still got to do Star Trek even though it wasn't the bad guy role. It then turned into two years of television because they kept that guy alive and turned him into Icheb."

Whether that was the plan from the start or something that happened along the way is a point Manu still doesn't know to this day. It may well have been they realised that he could be an asset to the show after the Icheb-focused episode Child's Play which took the character back to his homeworld. Not only that but the story revealed how Icheb was linked to the demise of the Borg ship from Collective and also put Manu onscreen alongside sci-fi stalwart Mark Shepherd; "Whether that was a tester episode to see what I could do I don't know," said Manu, "but I do owe thanks to Michael Taylor and Ken Biller as those guys were responsible, as I discovered recently at Las Vegas from Brian Fuller, for creating the character."

"A couple of years ago when we filmed Renegades I went back and watched those last couple of seasons and they were pretty good. I'm very proud of the work I did on that show. It was great opportunity to steal from all those guys (the cast) and learn their acting tricks and camera tricks. There were a lot of really good actors that I was lucky enough and smart enough to get as much knowledge as I could when I had the chance."

Oddly the way in which Manu got the chance to audition for Voyager isn't totally straight-forward. It seems that his first onscreen performance in Senseless alongside Marlon Wayans wasn't the best it could have been. Ron Cerma cast him in that movie and it ended up with the director yelling at Manu with him considering quitting acting and going home depressed. Three years later Ron was getting a pedicure alongside Manu's agent, Julian Lowry-Johnson, who suggested he should see the young actor for the role of Icheb. Ron gave Manu a second chance as his agent got his toe cut in frustration and if not for that, Manu Intiraymi may never have had the opportunity.

Manu's Borg costume was a little different to the standard outfit although it was designed by Bob Blackman. "He had designed an outfit that was half-assimilated (because of the virus Icheb had been carrying which awoke him early). All the way up to my crotch he left the leg open and then on the other side he had holes in the costume for my skin to show. The Borg bodysuits are pretty hard plastics and so anytime I moved where the plastics were and it met my skin it would chafe and slice into my leg or dig into my hip. At the end of the day I would go home and have marks all over me. It was uncomfortable and I threw a fit over the leg piece and said I didn't want to do it, I looked like a dork and would have to hide the open leg every time the camera was on it.

"Brannon Braga had to come down from the main office. He asked what was the problem. I told him that I was this bad-ass Borg with a skinny white leg and he took one look and said "Yeah; I wouldn't want to do that either; tough break man. That's the costume.

"I asked if we could at least put a panty-ho in there so they ended up putting a couple of Borg implants onto a panty-ho that they made me wear to make it look a little less skinny. It was funny because that was enough for me to feel comfortable!"

Manu recalled a lot of experiences on other shows as the guest character where the main cast would treat you as though you weren't there but on Voyager it was different, "Those actors were very welcoming. I felt like a part of the cast immediately. I didn't feel any pressure from the cast and they were all very friendly, enlightened, humble - good people. I got to know them then and I've got to know them even more from doing conventions every now and then. 

"I worked with Kate, Jeri and (Robert) Picardo a lot and Ethan (Phillips) for The Haunting of Deck Twelve and every other character at least once but the only person I only had one scene with was Robert Beltran. Over the last couple of years I've got to know him very well. He's one of the most respectful, funny, welcoming guys around. Now we're working on a project together. I've worked on three things with Tim Russ, I'm trying to get Ethan and Robert into a new movie I'm doing. They were all very kind to me and I don't have anything negative to say about them."

It's been almost two years since Renegades was filmed and Manu found it difficult to slip back into the character of Icheb which was down to how the project had evolved. "The screenplay that I read and thought was great and in which Icheb was a main character, had a lot of dialogue and a lot of scenes which were CG heavy was axed and they had to re-write."

While he was working on Unbelievable!!!!! which has a Star Trek-laden cast in itself, Manu spoke with Tim Russ only to discover that Renegades had undergone some drastic changes with the removal of Icheb which meant that Manu would be playing another character. 

"I got annoyed because I'd spent the previous year promoting it and then I got written back into the movie but whoever wrote him back in didn't seem to know the character because the dialogue wasn't like him. Icheb in Voyager was a genius, he had a big vocabulary and he spoke in a certain way and I remember there were lines in Renegades that would never come out of his mouth or if they did they would be much more creative! I kept fighting against it and would speak to Tim (Russ) who was directing and say "Look what Icheb's about to say in this scene - he wouldn't say that would he?"

"Tim would take a look at the line and say "No man, he wouldn't" and then we'd try and rewrite what he would say and if we couldn't come up with anything then I would just say nothing and drop the line. Even though Icheb is in the film quite a bit he's become a much more silent character. He's not the character we've got to know. If they do another I hope that they let Icheb speak some more and find out a bit about the man he's become because we don't learn a lot in Renegades except that he's been altered by Section 31.

"I'm very proud of Renegades and I do hope they do another. It'll be good to find out what happened to Icheb and why. He certainly looks cool in Renegades and I enjoyed making it!"

Talking of Star Trek (which we always like to do on here, surprisingly), we had to ask how the Icheb actor had found the recent Las Vegas convention; "It was amazing! It was a really nice show. The fans were great and I got to see so many fans, showrunners and writers that I'd not seen in so long. The panels were good and I got reconnected with Brannon Braga, bumped into Brian Fuller, saw friends and family and talked about developing The Circuit."

We'll come to that project in a bit as there's even more on his plate at the moment. You may recall from a while back that he's also involved with 5th Passenger and on this project, as a producer for the third time.

Written by Morgan Lariah and Scott Baker, it's the story of a group of characters stuck together on a lifepod with something sinister in there with them. The big thing that Manu brought to the table here was the cast, calling in stalwarts from the sci-fi sphere including Armin Shimerman, Tim Russ, Marina Sirtis and Hana Hatae among others.

"It was a blessing to get Armin," explained Manu as the part had been recast twice with Ethan Phillips then Robert Picardo in the role, "He brings something to the character that Ethan or Robert might not have done. Originally the character was a talky guy but over the rewrites his lines began to go away as he's a supporting character but Armin is such a good actor that even when he's in a scene not saying anything you're still focused on him. He brought this great subtle silence to his scenes."

"I think this film has a chance to be great," said Manu; "We have 70 minutes cut, we have a lot of digital effects to wait for and we probably won't be out until some time late next year but the film looks really good!

"We have to make sure that it's perfect. We shot a film for a little bit of money that looks like a big budget film and my terror going into it was that we were making a B-movie because we didn't have enough money. About a week in I knew we were shooting a really good movie and now the last thing we need to do is to raise the extra money and don't release it before each and every visual effect looks as good as the rest of the film."

So what has made 5th Passenger just so good an experience to work on? "Everything came together;" said Manu, "All the guys involved aren't getting paid what they're used to and with that usually one department (makeup, special effects, wardrobe, art, actors...) doesn't bring their best work and it only makes one thing to make a movie bad. In this case everyone brought their A-game. We had three guys building sets that were literally ready an hour before we were using them. I remember the roof for the lower half of our spaceship was up minutes before we moved the cameras over there. It was a miracle movie in so many ways - I didn't think it was going to get made for a few years and then we found these ship sets and we could go in and get the right to shoot on and redesign from an art design perspective.

"The fans were amazing. We knew we had to shoot the ship within a certain time-frame and we had three weeks to raise the funds so I called all the actors, we threw up a last minute Kickstarter and the fans donated $82,000 which was a miracle. Thank you to every one of them. Matching funds and getting more money meant we could get it all filmed in 17 days rather than three separate shoots. I'm really proud of everyone who worked on it but I don't think I could ever recreate all those miracles that happened to bring it all together!"

The movie Unbelievable is also due to come out with a 50-something cast list of sci-fi actors. A farce, it's cost $3 million dollars and Manu has yet to see the finished product; "It's going to be a funny and weird film. If it's terribly bad it might get to the point it's good!"

Now the big thing that is coming in 2016 is The Circuit. "I'm putting together this project which is ten different stories about ten different genres that have happened over the last 50 years of Star Trek/sci-fi/pop culture conventions. Five stories based on absolute fiction and five based on a true story. The first 12 minutes will be a thriller then that will end and the camera will follow someone and the genre will twist and suddenly you'll be watching a romance and that will end and you'll be in a noire film then a horror and then maybe a sci-fi epic. What's neat about it is that we want to tell the ten best stories that have happened in 50 years of this phenomenon of the convention.

"There's so many stories that happen behind the scenes that the fans don't get to see and that they need to know about. There's ten different directors, ten different writers and a single cinematographer to keep a certain look. All these stories will intertwine so it's one movie. Usually in an anthology film you would fade to black after ten minutes, a title card comes up but in this one we're going to switch genres instead.

"So far we have Walter Koenig, Tim Russ, Armin Shimerman, Gary Graham, JG Herzler, Robert O'Reilly, Vaughn Armstrong, Gigi Edgley (Farscape), Corin Nemec (Stargate) and probably Ethan Phillips and Robert Picardo (if they like what I write!), Robert Beltran, Nana Visitor, Terry Farrell, Bernard Wells (Mad Max: The Road Warrior), Doug Jones (Hellboy), Hana Hatae, Jerry Doyle (Babylon 5) and more!" (that is one HELL of a list)

Once this gets opened up next year, Manu is looking for five of these stories to come from the fanbase because these aren't just the actors' stories. "I was standing on the stage at the closing ceremony for Fedcon last year and looking out thinking 'look at all those stories! All these people are living lives and there must be some great stories out there. I know the stories I've heard over 15 years of going to conventions so I have lots to share but I know the fans must have them too. 

"We will be opening it for direct submissions from the fans and they will be story editor and work alongside our writers to get it right. Whoever that story is about be it them or their friends will then get played by famous actors if their piece is picked. It may be the first time that the fans and the actors will be involved directly and creatively in the making of a film. It's a really fun thing and I hope people get behind it. The first Indiegogo campaign should go live in April next year."

So to finish I had to ask - what was Manu's biggest moment from his association with Star Trek in the last 15 years?

"When I got the episode Imperfection I thought it was so well written and said so much about human kind's ability to do brave things and sacrifice oneself for friends and family. I called my mother and cried that I was finally going to get to do something that counts. I put everything I had into making sure that episode came off right. When you do TV it's different to doing theatre because you don't see if you've affected someone anywhere. The main reason that I act is because once in a while you get a chance to do a story that really affects people on a deep emotional level and vicariously through another human being's experience something that is important to us all.

"Then a year later I was in Germany at my first convention (Fedcon). I didn't know what a Q&A was and someone handed me a microphone and said that I had to go on stage and talk for a couple of hours. I went out and started talking. It was the first Q&A I did, it was also the best Q&A I ever did. I really connected with the audience in a way I've never had since. 

"About halfway through a man stood up and said that he wanted to thank me for the episode Imperfection because his cousin, who was standing next to him, had a kidney operation he was going through and they had watched that episode. It had given them the courage to believe that he was going to get a kidney, believe that he was going to be OK and it helped them get through that experience. They just wanted to thank me and the guy was in tears. It was powerful to the point where I just started crying with that individual and said thank you. That was the whole point to give everything you have to get more empathy and love if you can. I'm most thankful for that moment."

The show also gave Manu two great years of working with great actors, telling great stories but also gave him the opportunity to see the world, get cultured "...and most importantly meet fans. There's no other show in the world that I could have done which would have given me that."

You can follow Manu on Facebook, on Twitter as @manuintiraymi or on Istagram as @manuintiraymi - do it now!

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