ECCC | John de Lancie Talks ‘Star Trek,’ ‘My Little Pony’ and Brony Phenomenon
John de Lancie, the fan-favorite character actor best known for playing the enigmatic Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the villainous Discord on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, riveted the audience at Emerald City Comicon with stories about acting, Bronies and going naked on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
“I’m going to answer all the questions you can possibly give me,” the actor said when he walked on stage,” so make sure you’re thinking of these questions now.”
A girl asked de Lancie what was it’s like to be the only voice actor for the game Quantum Conundrum. He replied, “Really boring. It’s really boring to do some of those things because you end up saying the same things 15 different times in 15 different ways and it goes on for three or four days like that. So around 1 o’clock I think to myself, ‘I’m going have a big bourbon around 4.’”
Someone wanted to know how de Lancie became a co-producer on the Kickstarter-funded Brony documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.
De Lancie began by recalling how he landed the role of Discord on My Little Pony. “I got a call from my agent saying you have an offer to voice a cartoon by the name of [mumbling] My Little Pony,” he said. “And that’s pretty much what went in my ear. So I asked him the three questions that actors always ask. I need to see the script, when and how much, which were legitimate questions. So they sent me the script, and I only read about three pages of the script and I went, ‘This is really well-written, and yes.’ I worked that night a couple of hours on it, went to the studio and knocked it out in a couple of hours, never to be thought of again, because voice acting is like that. Four hours of your life you put into something, and it’s just not enough to really grab hold of you. About three months later I was down in my office and I turned on my computer and in my inbox, on my mail, there were maybe 200 or 300 emails. I thought I was being spammed. I read [the initials] MLP and I figured My Little Pony. So I called out to my wife and said, ‘What do you know about My Little Pony?’ She said, ‘It’s a cartoon that you voiced about three months ago. It’s a cartoon for little girls.’ Well, I said, These are not little girls.’”
De Lancie said he was initially reluctant to be part of the Bronies documentary — until he met some Bronies face to face during a trip to Vancouver. They told him they love the how well-written My Little Pony is, and appreciated its themes of kindness and generosity. That’s when he began to understand the Brony phenomenon, which he compared to Star Trek fandom or, as he calls it, “one of the mother lodes of geek culture.”
De Lancie said he saw a report on Fox News that referred to Bronies as “’a bunch of homosexuals who live at home and live off food stamps and disability.’ So I called my friend and said, ‘‘We’re going to do that documentary.”
“I’m not a fan of Fox News,” he said to huge applause. “They do more to pervert the truth in this country than most organizations that I know of.”
De Lancie turned to Kickstarter to fund the project and was able to raise $322,000, well above the original goal of $60,000.
Next, a fan asked whether Q might ever meet the J.J. Abrams Star Trek crew.
“The problem is this: While I might have played an omnipotent being, I was also playing an immortal being,” de Lancie replied, gesturing to his face. “Need I say more?”
A Star Trek Online player asked the actor whether he would be interested in coming into the MMO to voice Q. “Call my agent,” de Lancie quickly he replied.
He revealed to a man in a Starfleet uniform that while it may have appeared as if he were having fun playing Q, it was actually hard work. “I think you had more fun than I did,” de Lancie said. “The look I wanted to give you was that it was great fun. I’m not sure that it was fun for me in the moment. I wanted that to be part of the character and your experience in watching it. I guess I was successful.”
Referring to the Star Trek episode in which Q was naked on the Enterprise bridge, a woman asked if it was really de Lancie’s body. Indeed, it was.
“So I come on to the set and I’m in my little jockstrap and there are two ladders. Across them is a wooden plank,” de Lancie recalled. “I get up there and I’m laying [down]. They’re shooting across me to the guys on the set. We’re already late and I’m concerned. I get into position and we’re sort of talking. It’s not really comfortable, my little jockstrap. I asked what the problem was and they said it was just positioning problems with the camera. ‘We’re really having some problems with the indent of the jockstrap.’ I’m like, Jesus! Everybody who wants to stay, stay. If you want to go, go. Let me tell you something, they shot that real fast.”
Asked which Star Trek episode was his favorite, de Lancie said the series finale “All Good Things,” revealing he had a “secret” in the scene in which he holds the proto-human “goo” in the distant past. In order to “get a little sparkle, a little bit of smile,” he dripped the “goo” all over the face of the camera operator standing below him. “It’s the reason I had a little smile.”
A fan asked about de Lancie’s process for playing Q, a character far removed from humanity. “I played an omnipotent being who was too stupid to know it,” the actor explained, “a god with clay feet. That’s really where my focus went.”
Two preschool-aged girls dressed in pink and blue princess gowns were next at the mic. One asked de Lancie, “What’s your favorite My Little Pony character and why? And tell me the pony’s name so I really understand the pony.”
He invited the girls on stage to ask their question in front of a charmed audience. After being asked again de Lancie replied, “I don’t want to upset you, but Discord is my favorite character. I’m not sure who the other ponies are because I don’t have somebody like you reminding me.”
When the other girl then asked the same question, De Lancie finally admitted to liking Fluttershy the most.
De Lancie revealed to a fan that Discord’s similarities with Q were intentional. “It’s not like I go around trying to imprint all the characters I play with Q,” he said. “I knew that he was a trickster, but I didn’t make the connection. It was only when I met [series developer] Lauren Faust, who actually said to me, ‘We hired you because you played Q!’ It was only then that I saw the true connection that they wanted.”
A young girl asked if it was difficult for de Lancie to sing “Glass of Water” in the My Little Pony episode “Three’s a Crowd.” De Lancie said, “Yes, it was really difficult because I am not a singer. I don’t know how to carry a tune. I had to be taught by my wife.”
A “very passionate Trekkie” asked what de Lancie’s funniest backstage story was. He recalled a scene in the 1983 TV miniseries The Thorn Birds in which his future bride descends a staircase to greet her suitors, De Lancie among them. “[The script] says she looks down and see all of her suitors, including [my character] Alastair,” he said. “It said Alastair looks up and he is smitten with love. I’m like, oh, Christ. How am I going to play ‘smitten with love’? I mean, what does that even mean? Actors hate that type of thing. … So they had spent most of the day getting ready, and I am dreading the fact that sooner or later they’ll say to me, ‘OK, John, we got that shot and now we’re turning on to you.’ What am I going to do? ‘Smitten with love’? What does that mean? So I’m outside and I’m walking around with my hand in my pocket going, ‘What am I going to do?’ and they say, ‘John, we’re ready.’ I needed a secret. So I pulled out my hand and I tore open my pocket. And now. [De Lancie puts his hand in his pocket and pokes his crotch deviously from the inside.] So they say, ‘Action!’ And my hand wandered over. And I looked up. And I was smitten!”
The crowd erupted into the loudest applause of the night.
De Lancie held the last question to an audience vote, telling people to boo or cheer for the question they wanted him to answer. The crowd booed someone asking if de Lancie planned on attending the My Little Pony convention Everfree Northwest in July.
The crowd cheered when de Lancie was asked if the evolution of Q’s character from stuffy and rigid to much more lively and fun in later seasons was his idea. He replied, “When I first started, [director] Corey Allen wanted him very straight. Very straight on. And I don’t tend to play that. I kept on saying that there were opportunities there. And they kept on saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ And I thought that would be the end of it. But then they brought me on a second time and it’s not a pilot and we’re sort of moving. I began to fracture the role a little bit so that there’s a sense of amusement and whimsy as well as being dangerous.”