Walter Koenig explores a new frontier in InAlienable

by Mark Burger

The world knows Walter Koenig as Pavel Chekov, the resourceful, Russian-born helmsman of the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek” and seven of its bigscreen voyages, as well as the vicious Bester on another small-screen sciencefiction favorite, “Babylon 5.”

Now, with the release of InAlienable from Anchor Bay Entertainment (see DVD review, page 34), Koenig returns to the genre for which he is best known — not just as an actor, but also as executive producer and screenwriter. It’s a project he’s stuck with for the better part of a decade, one he was determined to make, and one he’s proud of.

Although InAlienable is squarely science-fiction, Koenig is not necessarily an aficionado of the genre.

“Not really,” he admits. “I read Ray Bradbury when I was a kid, but I had no abiding passion for it.”

Of course, because of the worldwide cultural impact of “Star Trek,” “it shaped the rest of my life, and identified me very strongly in that genre — by circumstance, if for no other reason,” he says.

The majority of “Star Trek” fans are probably unaware that Koenig is a prolific stage actor, stage director and writer (his TV credits include “James at 15,” “Family” and the animated version of “Star Trek”).

“By no means am I limited in my perspective or appreciation of films,” he says, noting that one of his recent favorites was the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man (“a remarkable film,” he says).

InAlienable stars Richard Hatch as Eric Norris, a middle-aged scientist still reeling from the tragic deaths of his wife and son in an automobile accident. When Norris is unwittingly exposed to an alien virus, he discovers that he is pregnant(!) with an offspring that is half-human and half-… something else.

The film tackles the right-to-life controversy and the legal issue of child custody (even if the child in question is an alien), as well as racism and xenophobia — all within the sci-fi framework.

After being detained by the government, Norris decides to fight for custody of his most unusual child, setting into motion a media firestorm.

Koenig had written InAlienable more than a decade ago as a possible feature, with himself in the role of Norris. “Ten years ago, I could have fooled myself into believing I could’ve played it,” he jokes.

After a few false starts — “it took that trajectory, as so many projects do,” Koenig says, the financing was ultimately secured. For a time, Koenig considered directing it.

“I did think at several junctures that I might,” he says. “I know I could do a journeyman job. I’m very comfortable directing theater, not so much behind the camera.”

So he turned to Robert Dyke, with whom he worked on the 1989 sci-fi thriller Moontrap. Dyke had experience dealing with special effects, knew how to maximize time and budget, and enjoys the genre. He had, Koenig says, “a consistent amount of feeling for the project.”

In casting the film, Koenig called upon some old friends and co-stars, many of whom also well-known for their sci-fi and fantasy credits, including Hatch (the original “Battlestar: Galactica”), Courtney Peldon (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine“), Marina Sirtis (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Richard Herd (“V”), Gary Graham (“Alien Nation”), Alan Ruck (Star Trek: Generations), Jeff Rector (Revamped), Jay Acovone (“Stargate SG-1”) and Erick Avari (“Heroes,” “Stargate SG-1”).

Koenig plays the unctuous and antagonistic Dr. Frederick Shilling, who harbors a long-standing grudge against Norris. When Norris’ condition becomes an international (perhaps inter-galactic?) media circus, Shilling uses it to his advantage. Only late in the game does he reveal the reasons for his intense dislike of Norris.

Before deciding on this role, Koenig toyed with the idea of playing the eccentric but crafty lawyer, Howard Ellis. “In retrospect, I might have had a great deal of fun playing the lawyer — which, I have to admit, Erick Avari so brilliantly played — but I love comedy and I think maybe I could’ve brought something to it.”

Other members of the cast were found closer to home … in fact, at home: Actress wife Judy Levitt plays the judge presiding over the case, son Andrew

(himself a filmmaker as well as an actor) plays a political extremist, and daughter Danielle (an actress and writer for the hit Style Network series “The Dish”) appears as a nightclub comedienne.

Danielle was eight months’ pregnant when she filmed her scene, an amusing irony not lost on Koenig, and she welcomed son Oliver shortly after filming wrapped. This is Koenig’s first grandchild, and he senses another actor in the family.

“Oh, absolutely!” boasts the proud grandpa. “He is intuitively and innately and inherently a performer.”

Koenig does work the convention circuit from time to time, as well as teaching acting “from time to time. I enjoy it in spurts.”

Actually, he quips, “I seem enjoy to it most when I’m not doing it. You always get a couple of dilettantes in the class who sort of spoil it for you.”

With InAlienable, Koenig hopes that audiences will enjoy the allegory and metaphors that reflect current cultural trends — cornerstones of science-fiction — as well as the performances. The best science-fiction, as in any genre, enlightens as well as entertains.

“You go a lifetime talking about making films — and I’ve got a dresser full of scripts, all brilliant screenplays and Academy Award winners,” he says with a laugh, “but at this point, when something I’ve written does come to fruition, it’s extraordinarily satisfying. I’m so proud of this group of people.”