Interview with Sleepy Klingon actor David Orange
“A SLEEPY KLINGON dozes before his scanners. A bottle in front of him tells the story.” — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country screenplay
Although he appeared only in a short scene from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, David Orange’s iconic “Sleepy Klingon” has become a fan favourite character. David is an experienced theatre and television actor who has co-starred on Broadway twice and featured in nearly 300 television commercials. Recently, I was fortunate to correspond with David as we deep dived into his experience of filming the final movie to feature the original crew, as well as discussing his thoughts on the past and future of the Star Trek franchise.
WarpFactorTrek: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, David. How familiar with Star Trek were you before landing the part of “Sleepy Klingon”?
Did you have to audition for director Nicholas Meyer and, if so, how was that experience?
For my audition, I did a forceful monologue scene from the play, went back to NYC, and a week or so later, I got the news they wanted me for the part. So, back out west I went.
Were you given any backstory for your character or did you create one yourself?
I kind of winged the part of the Sleepy Klingon, leaning toward playing him somewhat comical/buffonerish/semi-dimwitted, and it appeared to work. I’ve often been told by fans that it’s one of their favorite scenes in all the Star Trek films, because it finally showed a Klingon not so tough and grunting but with a softer comical side, to show that some had good senses of humor.
For your scene, you had to learn a completely new language. Did you have a dialect coach or were you given some latitude with your interpretation?
Yes, I had to learn my lines in the Klingon language and worked with the gentleman who created the language — a professor in Washington D.C., I believe. He coached me via telephone calls.
How long did your make-up take to apply?
Two hours putting it on, forty-five minutes taking it off.
Can you remember if the set you acted on was built specifically for your scene, or was it a redress of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey bridge?
Yes, my “Outpost in Deep Space” was built for my scene on a sound stage at Paramount Studios.
It looks like your filming took place across one day (Tuesday 9 April 1991). Can you talk us through the day?
It was the first day of filming for the movie, so the behind-the-camera men were curious. Nick Meyer seemed to like my take on the role, as did Leonard Nimoy, who was there viewing for a couple of hours. I believe he was Associate Producer.
Spock just kept studying me, not saying much, until he approached me to say, “Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it.” I breathed a sigh of relief on that favorable answer of his.
Since I was supposed to be on a lonely outpost in deep space, along with a big lug of a Klingon — Clay Hodges, a former boxer who beat George Foreman twice before they turned pro — I mentioned to Nimoy that the job as a Klingon outer-space guard would, no doubt, be lonely. And he replied, “I wonder what your character would be thinking, looking at all those stars and planets in deep space.”
And I answered, “I wonder what that planet way out there, called Earth, would be like if I could travel there.” I proceeded to tell him in synopsis of a story perculating in my mind.
And he said, “Sounds interesting. You should put it down on paper, get it going and start polishing it.”
And so, many years later, the story became crystal clear to me. It is a TV pilot drama/comedy called Beamed Down.
Did you manage to meet any other cast members and, if so, do you have any particular recollections?
Outside of Leonard Nimoy, I met the model/actress Iman, who also showed up on my set, to show Nick Meyers the alluring eye lens she would be wearing.
Iman was shy but asked if she could come to the commissary with me and Clay for lunch. We had a nice time, and she was a little nervous about all the speaking lines she had to memorize, not being a full-blown actress but a model. She did a great acting job in the film.
Can you tell us any more about that lunchtime visit to the commissary?
When the two Klingons — myself at 6’3.5″ tall and Clay Hodges at 6’5 — walked into the lunch commissary of Paramount in full attire, with nestled between us the lovely “Iman” — portraying chameloid Martia, wearing her cat-eyes contact lenses — the fifty or so people eating there were in stunned silence at the deep-space residents. Everyone moved out of the way and even made room for a table for us, as I spoke some guttural Klingon to them in thanks.
How does it feel to have had a part in the last adventure of the original Star Trek crew?
I really didn’t know at the time that it would be the last round-up for this stellar original cast. A lot of fans ask me the same question, and many feel the original cast is irreplaceable.
With it being fashionable currently to bring back “legacy” characters in current Star Trek TV shows, how would you feel about reprising “Sleepy Klingon”?
Oh, yeah, heck yeah! It was a hoot playing Sleepy Klingon (who should have been the Drunken Klingon, but Klingons can hold their booze, so Sleepy it is). Sleepy Klingon was a one-shot deal, so I am not among the Star Trek stable of troupe actors, regulars on their various shows or running parts on the film franchise. Nevertheless, fans at sci-fi conventions and my book-selling appearances ask when Sleepy Klingon will return, saying they miss his offbeat persona.
Moving away from Star Trek, you’ve had two novels published. Are you planning on writing any more?
I write five or six hours a day and have two screenplays, two TV pilots, and a novel I have to find a home for.
Looking through the upcoming projects on your website, the most exciting for Star Trek fans would probably be Lash-Man. Can you tell us a little more about that?
The story I told Leonard Nimoy is now called Beamed Down and is fully fleshed out. I now am about to begin the arduous task of getting a Hollywood/NYC producer interested in the project.
A lot of your work contains sci-fi overtones. Is this the genre you feel most comfortable exploring?
Not really. I’ve written an Amish-themed love story that involves baseball as a backdrop.
Another TV pilot I’ve just finished is a half-hour one called Necropolis. In that story, the spirits of the dead at a vast Brooklyn cemetery miraculously save Walt — a quirky, introverted man, who’d been pronounced dead and buried. Unaware of being given a second life for a reason, he returns with sensations neither seen nor heard by the living. An entertaining cast of ghostly phantoms guide him to a gifted, rebellious young lady assassin on the run. He meets her in the cemetery, where she’s mourning her dead hitman husband. She and oddball Walt are destined to band together as an intrepid crime-fighting duo, to help clean up the bad guys from New York City.
Is there a genre/role you would like to explore or a role you would like to play?
Although I am acting much less, writing much more, I recently did a live stage play in Hollywood, Florida, playing the one-man-show character George Merck. He was the first pharmaceutical giant of the ’50s, the one who started it all — the biggie before Pfizer and all the others. Merck would be an interesting character for film, played by me or by many other fine actors, because he truly put peoples’ health first and pharma making money a distant second, a combination hard-to-find these days.
Lastly, are there any other projects you are working on that you would like to discuss?
I have a movie script optioned by Movicorp, Century City, and it’s in development. It’s a very funny romcom that touches on some weighty issues. Also, I’m working in partnership with a Japanese producer who likes two other of my projects and is pitching them as films.
Thank you, David, for such an interesting interview and for sharing your recollections with myself and our readers.
Jamie Flint has been a Star Trek fan since he was four years old and caught the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on television. He quickly devoured the other movies and TV episodes and can fondly remember being the youngest person in the cinema watching Generations.
Thirty years later, you’ll find him watching all the series — both new and old — with his little family. Oh, and he is a big defender of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier!