The Inverse Interview
'Star Trek: Next Gen' star has an amazing idea for a new spinoff
“I know it’s gonna piss off people. I didn’t worry about it.”
Jemal Countess/WireImage/Getty Images
Could James Bond play Jean-Luc Picard?
In the imagination of Brent Spiner — the actor famous for his role as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation — the answer is yes. In this hypothetical miniseries, all his beloved TNG actors would be recast, not as their Trek characters, but instead, as themselves.
“I'm already thinking Daniel Craig plays Patrick,” Spiner says.
It seems like he’s joking, but he’s actually not. Thanks to his new novel Fan Fiction, Spiner has woven an alternate version of the 1990s, a place where he and his fellow TNG pals are fictional characters.
Ahead of the publication of his hilarious and slickly intelligent new book, Inverse went deep with Spiner about the thin line between fantasy and reality, the pleasures of writing a fake version of himself, and why he doesn’t trust people who don’t like slapstick comedy.
From St. Martin’s Press, Spiner’s debut novel, Fan Fiction, tells the story of a 30-something actor named “Brent Spiner,” who is suddenly thrust into global stardom all because he’s playing a loveable android on a TV series called Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991.
Yes, all of those details check out with reality in our universe, but instead of writing “some dry memoir,” Spiner opted instead to use the real events of 1991 and mold it into a full-on darkly comedic funhouse mirror. It results in a murder-mystery caper equal parts Coen Brothers and Charlie Kaufman. Spiner cites the meta-fictional of the films Adaptation and Being John Malkovich as some of his stylistic inspiration.
“It’s not really me,” Spiner says with a wry smile. “It’s a heightened-for-comedic-effect version of me. I don't think I took myself as seriously as this guy takes himself. But it was fun to take myself back in time a little bit and be that guy again as opposed to the guy I am now. Which, by the way, if I were writing myself now, it wouldn’t be any more realistic. It's the style of the piece that can tell you more about who I am than anything in the book.”
The story of Fan Fiction follows a “Brent Spiner” fearful for his life when he starts receiving fan mail from someone claiming to be “Lal,” Data’s (deceased) daughter on The Next Generation. This crazed fan version of Lal wants to hurt him, which sends Brent into the kind of neurotic fit that might remind you of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld. He calls the FBI. He hides at the home of Jonathan Frakes. He drops quaaludes while driving at night. He worries if twin sisters — one an FBI agent, the other a freelance bodyguard — are actually the same person.
The comedy in the book is as dark as it comes, but Spiner said he was much more interested in this kind of story than doing something that would only please Star Trek fans. In fact, because Lal is such a beloved character on TNG, Spiner knows that some of this stuff might rub certain fans the wrong way. But he insists that the message of the book isn’t a negative one about any kind of fandom, least of all Trek fans.
“I know it's going to piss off people,” Spiner says. “But I think it will amuse a lot of people, too. And that's really what I wanted to do; entertain people,” Spiner explains. “I didn’t want to write about my less-than-interesting life. I wanted to give them a piece of entertainment. So, I didn’t worry about it. That is sort of the way I see things — in a darkly comic sort of way.”
For hardcore Star Trek people, Spiner is aware of the power that Data has had on the world, and in the pages of Fan Fiction, you will find the proof. When Brent attends Gene Roddenberry’s memorial service toward the end, he writes warmly of his love of silent comedians from a bygone age of old Hollywood, like Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel.
“I stop in front of Stan’s and Buster’s gravesites for at least twenty minutes each,” Spiner writes. “Just smiling, my way of thanking them for all the joy they’ve given me.”
Later in the same scene, Brent encounters two Star Trek fans, who, like him, are on their way to Roddenberry’s memorial service. After the fans thank him and promise to keep the hopeful Trek flame alive, Spiner writes, “I appreciate their dedication to something bigger than them, and certainly bigger than me.”
Yes, Brent Spiner is having a good time with fandom and dark comedy in this book, but he’s also writing about why fans are basically good.
“It wasn’t until this book that I discussed [publicly] my own fandom. My love of Old Hollywood. My love of the silent comedians.” Spiner explains. “When I say in the book I don't trust people who don't like Laurel and Hardy, I really don’t. I wouldn't want to know somebody who doesn't appreciate Laurel and Hardy, or Buster Keaton or Chaplin. But I think we’re all fans. We're the invisible masses who support and appreciate and put people on pedestals and in some cases, knock them off pedestals as well.”
Clearly, the good memories of nice fans and his supportive co-stars seem to be true, but what else is real in this book? Was Brent Spiner really stalked in 1991? How much of the events of this book really happened?
“A lot of it happened. But, it didn’t happen like that,” Spiner says. “That’s why I say it’s inspired by true events. There were a lot of ‘stalking incidents.’ And by the way, I may have taken a quaalude back then. The creative license part is that I only took one.”
So, what’s next? Spiner says he seriously hopes that Fan Fiction could be turned into a “miniseries,” and like The Crown, take artistic liberties of casting all the Next Generation actors to make them age-appropriate for the 1990s again. This is where Spiner’s pitch for Daniel Craig to play Patrick Stewart comes into play. When you consider this is basically a comedy, he’s probably onto something.
“I think it would be great if it was a series,” Spiner says. “I like this metafictional world. And I like being Brent Spiner as a lead character. I got to do things I’ve never done.”
Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events is available now from all major booksellers.