Bruce Horak Isn’t Finished with Star Trek
Hemmer, We Hardly Knew Ye
“Humans waste so much life worrying about death. The Aenar believe the end only comes once you have fulfilled your purpose. It provides meaning. I-I like that.” – Hemmer
“So, what was your purpose? ” – Uhura
“To fix what is broken.” – Hemmer (SNW: “Memento Mori”)
Thursday, 30 June 2022, was a challenging day for newly minted Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW) fans. Only nine episodes into this breakout hit series and we have already formed deep relationships with many of the USS Enterprise crew. In this week’s penultimate episode (“All Those Who Wander”), we shockingly lost new fan-favorite character and Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Hemmer. I recently spoke with Bruce Horak, the actor who brought warmth to the icy Aenar.
“But captain, my sacrifice will save the lives of those I care most about. For me, there is no other choice.”
As many of you may have wondered, yes, Horak knew from the beginning about this character’s fate. “Very much so,” he admits. “From basically the first audition they told me what Hemmer was going to be like, kind of a curmudgeon character who is going to eventually soften over the season, and that he is actually going to sacrifice himself, which is going to leave an indelible mark especially on Uhura…”
So, while Horak knew his fate, he had no idea how that fate would play out. Any fan understands the trepidation of receiving a Tasha Yar death, a death without meaning. About reading the script, Horak says, “I was so relieved. It was just so cool. And I really wanted a cool death… It just leapt off the page. It was beautiful and heroic, and it tied up his life’s philosophy and built his connection with Uhura. To me, it was completely satisfying. Heartbreaking. But a good death should be heartbreaking… I felt so sad. I’m sure I went into a bit of denial, which has lasted almost a year now. I’m sure, as it airs, I’ll be asking, ‘Are you sure you still want to do this?’” In seriousness, though, he added, “Today has been great, since I have finally been able to share this secret with the world, and I can finally begin coming to terms with the loss of Hemmer.”
Uhura: “I never told Hemmer, but he reminded me a lot of my dad. Always pushing me to see things from a new perspective. Do better, be better.”
Horak grew up with Star Trek. He was raised in a house where, as he says, “I have a memory of attending a comic-convention with my father and him pulling me away from a table of Star Trek action figures and a model of the Enterprise. He was a comic fan, a cartoonist, and a teacher. He wrote his master’s thesis on creating a Science Fiction course for high school students. So, anytime Star Trek was on, it was required viewing.”
“Of course, the people you care about are going to cause you pain, it will hurt, but the love it yields will far outweigh the sorrow.”
With his knowledge of Star Trek and fan culture, Horak was also aware of the pressures that come from introducing a new character to a vociferous fandom. “I think the hardest part of this has been relaxing,” he laughs. “And not worrying so much about ‘this is permanent, this is canon, every fan is going to pick it apart…’ All of that pressure I really felt early on. But as soon as I got on the set, as I got into the prosthetics and walked out there… everyone is just at the top of their game. When you’re surrounded by that incredible skill, then relaxing became so easy. I didn’t have to worry about bumping into things, or my eyeline, because there was always somebody there and on it. I just got to be ‘the guy’.”
“Maybe I can get us out of here with the help of some powerful magic called ‘science’!”
When Horak first encountered Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), the character made him think a lot about the power of technology to not only level the playing field, but to expand it. You see, like his character, Horak is legally blind. “I started out on a typewriter and now I’m navigating the world with my headphones. It’s pretty extraordinary.”
Hemmer was written as a visually impaired character and the producers wanted to audition blind and visually impaired actors to play the role. After performing and painting for the past twenty-five years, Horak was delighted: “I immediately got excited by that. It was look, oh look, there’s a door opening for me. And the fact that he has these superhuman powers is really exciting for an actor to play, and of course, the prosthetics, which I adore. I love looking into the mirror and watching myself disappear. To not even recognize myself, that was so cool!”
“Perhaps it is your differences which drew you together.”
When pressed to take some credit for the character’s popularity, Horak begins to laugh wistfully. “God, he was so much fun to play!” Only appearing in five episodes, Hemmer attracted us because he wasn’t arrogant, he was simply right. He wasn’t cold. He was calculated. We have grown to love and appreciate Hemmer for who he is. “I’m talking to people all over the world, suddenly. And people are reaching out to talk about not only the character, but the representation that he is bringing.”
“I want to leave you with one last piece of advice. Open yourself. Make a home for yourself amongst others, and you will find joy more often than sadness.”
In “All Those Who Wander”, the writers ensured that we received small details, which made Hemmer’s sacrifice even more poignant. “We were able to build a character over the course of just five episodes, and I just thought, ‘Wow, what skill; from the writers to the directors, to the production team, we’ve managed to put together what I think is a really beautiful, terrifying episode.’
“Being invited into this family is an honor. It has been the highlight of my life, for sure.” Despite having implied to Wil Wheaton on this week’s edition of The Ready Room that Hemmer won’t return after this first season, Horak concludes our interview by excitedly declaring, “And I am thrilled to say that the Star Trek career of Bruce Horak is not over!”
2 thoughts on “Bruce Horak Isn’t Finished with Star Trek”
Hi,John! Really liked your interview/article. It was very interesting to get the actor’s perspective on the short development of his character. Write-On!!!
Leave to star trek writers – to kill off a wonderful character like Yar and Hemmer – But this Character of Hemmer would have been a perfect match for Spock/McCoy antagonism And to See an Enar in Starfleet was a Joy. The blind Hemmer was could have stayed a few seasons and taught Scotty a few things. – that would have been a wonderful intro to Scotty. Miss You very much in just the first episode without you.