An Interview with Elizabeth Dennehy, Part III: Modern Trek
Having famously originated the role of Commander Shelby in The Next Generation’s “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter, Elizabeth Dennehy returned to Star Trek over thirty years later — as now-Admiral Shelby — in the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Picard, “Võx”. I recently enjoyed interviewing Dennehy about her modern Star Trek appearances, including an unspeaking Lower Decks cameo by then-Captain Shelby, who was subsequently given the first name “Elizabeth” when she appeared in Star Trek: Picard. “I guess they decided my name was good enough,” the actress notes, before adding, “Maybe they thought that I had a first name, but I never had a first name in the original Next Gen script.”
Shelby’s brief non-speaking Lower Decks appearance was in the episode “An Embarrassment Of Dooplers”. She appeared as a background character.
In order to use her likeness for the animated show, Elizabeth Dennehy’s permission was sought. “My agent called me and asked if they could use my likeness, told me the price, and I said yes, of course,” she remembers. “They paid me one fee for the use of my likeness.”
Preparing for Picard
Dennehy’s return to Star Trek in Picard was foreshadowed by an odd coincidence. In November 2021 — at the height of the COVID pandemic — she and her husband attended a convention, Destination Star Trek in London, along with John Billingsley. “I met the Borg Queen, Alice Krige, on this convention,” Dennehy recalls, “and I was like, ‘Oh, we need to take a selfie.’ And I tweeted the selfie.” Dennehy’s post went viral. “It was a big deal, and I came home from the convention on a Monday morning. Tuesday morning, my agent called and they said, ‘They’re checking your availability for Picard.’ It’s so bizarre, because I asked about it and it was just a coincidence, but how crazy is that?! It was so crazy, the timing of that.”
For Star Trek: Picard, Dennehy got sent her lines — including a long speech, which was about twenty-five lines long — later that month. “Thank God I got it in November, so I had months to learn it and knew it cold. I knew it inside and out. Knew it like my name. I was really intimidated, but I felt so much more confident in my character and so happy to be asked back.”
Comparing Picard to The Next Generation
Elizabeth Dennehy found that the experience of filming her role for Star Trek: Picard was totally unlike when she had appeared in “The Best of Both Worlds”. She remarks, “Could not have been more different! Totally different world! Oh my God, the money that has gone into Picard! But the thing that was the most overwhelming was the unbelievable technology. In thirty years, it was completely different. The set was dazzling! My costume was unbelievable! I had all these fittings, tailor-made suit. Gorgeous, beautiful. So flattering, so comfortable. No more the spandex jumpsuit that felt like you were wearing a giant wedgie. Those days are over. So, could not have been more different — night and day.”
One way in which filming on Picard differed was that the COVID pandemic was meanwhile in effect. “It was only me; there was nobody else on the set,” Dennehy says. “We filmed it in February of ’22, when everybody was being tested every day and you had to e-mail your test results, with the date written on it and your name, so there was no way you could cheat. I couldn’t use an old test. Masked, cleared the set. At that time, they would shoot people one at a time. There was no interaction. It was still six feet apart. I mean, cast your mind back to what February 2022 was like, two years ago. Totally different! Every time I went in for a wardrobe fitting, I had to be tested. Temperature at the door, fully masked, so much social isolation.”
Performing for Picard
While filming her lengthy speech, Elizabeth Dennehy got a sense of the extremely advanced technology which Star Trek production now uses. “I was on the set and I had this speech,” she reflects, “and while we’re doing the scene, Terry Matalas — the showrunner, who was directing the episode — said to me, ‘Okay, while you’re doing the speech, a camera that’s…. Can you see it?’ It was like a football field away; this massive stage! The camera was a speck in the distance. It was on a cherry picker — a forklift kind of thing that you would elongate, like on an elevator, for you to pick cherries, apples, or other things from. ‘The camera is going to come closer and closer and closer to you while you‘re doing the speech and then zoom past your face.’ And I was like, ‘Okay,’ and oh my God, he was not kidding. This camera was gigantic! It was like… Imagine the largest-screen desktop computer you can imagine. I’m doing the speech and, all of a sudden, this massive arm came from many yards away and zoomed right past my face. So, thank God they warned me, because it was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life!”
Although Dennehy’s footage for Picard was filmed as one scene, parts from it were edited into various moments in “Võx”. She was pleased with how her Picard appearance turned out, saying, “I really enjoyed my stuff on Picard.” That said, Dennehy also has a minor complaint. “I wish that I had had scenes with other people,” she laments, “but like I said, for so many reasons, I could not do that. I wish to God there was a way that I could have filmed me walking up the stairs and onto the deck of this enormous ship with all the lights and buzzing and the extras on Picard. I saw Marina and LeVar in the makeup trailer, and I did see Jonathan, because he’s a producer on the show, so he was there. I wish I’d gotten to see Patrick, but everybody was lovely.”
Elizabeth Dennehy has high hopes for the future, including convention appearances. “I wish I was invited to do more,” she admits. “I wish I was invited to do the cruise. Bring it on!”
Dennehy is also hopeful that Shelby survived being shot by a pair of Borg-assimilated Starfleet officers in “Võx”. The actress jokes that she would want to do the show just because of health insurance. She then clarifies that she would seriously be interested in returning to Star Trek, commenting, “I would love to do Shelby again on a new series. I think that she should be the star of the next Star Trek show. I think it should be a spin-off and Shelby should be on it. I think there’s more story to tell. If they’re going to keep going with the Borg, you got to have Shelby, right? I think there should be a spin-off starring me, Michelle Forbes, and Rosalind Chao. It would definitely be really fun to explore more with Shelby.”
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.