Terry Farrell Reflects on Her Career and ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’

Terry Farrell Interview - Looking Back at Her Career

In 1992 when Terry Farrell was offered the part of Jadzia Dax – her most famous role – on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, she sobbed tears of joy. “Everything about how (the creators) described Dax – she lived many lifetimes, she was a science officer, she was a strong female character – all of those things were incredibly appealing about her, especially being in the Star Trek universe,” recalled Farrell, who got her start as a fashion model before switching to acting. “It’s as close to a solid job you can get in Hollywood as an actor. All of that was incredibly appealing and very nerve-wracking and exciting. I lost 10 lbs. between the week I read the first time and the last time out of excitement and nerves. I hardly slept at all. When I got it, I burst into tears, I was so excited.”

DS9 – which spun off Star Trek: The Next Generation – centered around the titular space station under the command of Capt. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). Formerly called Terok Nor, which was occupied by the Cardassians, the station was renamed DS9 when Starfleet was given joint control of it by the Bajoran Provisional Government. DS9 orbited the planet Bajor and the newly-discovered Bajoran wormhole that was the entryway to the Gamma Quadrant and where the Bajorans believed the Prophets – their gods – lived.

“I love Avery Brooks. During my first scene, I was so incredibly intimated by him… I couldn’t top him because he’s so intense. I went up to him on a lighting break and pulled him aside. I had to appeal to his gentler side. I explained to him that I was 28, I wouldn’t be able to top him, and if he could help me out a little bit so it wouldn’t be so much more glaringly obvious that he was more powerful than I was. He softened and opened up. It was the beginning of a really, nice straight-forward relationship. I really liked working with him very much. I’m so happy that I got enough courage up to say, ‘Hey, can you please help me?’” Farrell remembered, laughing.

DS9 was much darker in tone than other Trek shows, focusing on the many aspects of war with the Dominion, a plot that became the series’ overall story arc in later seasons. In fact, DS9’s darker themes polarized long-time Trekkies as they felt it was contrary to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an optimistic, utopian future.

“I like it when it’s dark,” said Farrell. “It makes it more interesting because there’s so much we don’t know, so it’s nice to have some mystery and depth.”

Dax was a Trill, an alien living in complete symbiosis with a long-lived creature called a symbiont. The two share a single, conscious mind and Dax retains the memories and experiences of the symbiont’s prior hosts. To research the role, Farrell studied Buddhism and Taoism.

“Paramount hired (acting coach) Ivana Chubbuck to come in and help me with my part. She was very instrumental in helping me to start dissecting the scripts in what direction I wanted to go and what I wanted to be clear about in each scene,” recalled Farrell. “It was great for me because it created an opportunity with this amazing acting teacher. Anyone who gets to study with Ivana Chubbuck is a very lucky person.”

A formidable warrior in her own right, Dax meets Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn), the Klingon officer from TNG who joined the DS9 cast in Season 4. The two fall in love and eventually get married, but their happiness is short-lived as Dax is murdered by villain Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo) at the end of Season 6.

Farrell loved the Worf/Dax relationship because it represented interracial marriages. “It was handled gracefully and crossed barriers,” she said. “(Dorn and I) were friends. Before we did a scene, we were like, ‘Let’s see if we can make something happen here.’ I don’t know if (the creators) let us think we had something to do with it, but we felt like we did. I really, really liked working with Michael. We had a really good friendship and a strong, honest, working relationship. We earned it. It took both of us to be honest and straightforward.”

Her all-time favorite episode is Season 4’s “Rejoined” where Dax reunites with the wife of a former male host named Dr. Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson). In Trill society, it is forbidden for joined individuals like Dax to have relationships with people from their prior lives. If they do, they are exiled and their symbionts are precluded from joining with other hosts when the current host dies, eventually dying itself.

“For my character, it made most sense since it was already explained I’ve been a man and woman several times. Gender wasn’t the issue. For the worm/symbiont, it was a matter of the being it was embodied in. When they approached me about it, it felt quite natural and a giant opportunity to support and be there for people who need people to stand up for them,” she said.

Throughout the episode, Dax and Lenara struggle with their feelings for one another and they passionately kiss. Dax wants to be with Lenara, but both know it’s not allowed and Lenara leaves at the end, much to their sorrow.

“You love who you love; it doesn’t matter what the package is. You come in like this yet you can tell it in a story where that’s not the story; the story we’re talking about is her getting reacquainted with somebody she’s not even supposed to be reconnecting with,” explained Farrell. “We addressed it without addressing it. I thought it was well-written. I love so much that Avery directed it. Susanna is a wonderful actress and a joy to work with; I was so lucky to get to work with her. And it was a beautiful story. I’m really proud of it.”

“Rejoined” was a very controversial episode because it depicted two women in a same-sex relationship and featured one of television’s first lesbian kisses. Per the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine companion, this episode received more mail and telephone calls than any other episode in all the seven seasons of the series. The calls were overwhelmingly negative. However, the letters were overwhelmingly positive.

“Today, I still get a lot of people thanking me for that, that it gave them strength, and that it made them feel like they weren’t alone, it inspired them to be themselves – all the things I was hoping it would do. Not only me, but all the people involved with the show,” said Farrell.

Armin Shimerman, who played Quark, has fond memories of working with her.

“Terry was one of the joys of doing DS9. I didn’t work with her that often, but when I did I looked forward to her effervescent joy of life. She never holds back. She’s the genuine article. 
She laughed all the time and if ever there was a set that needed that, it was DS9. It’s not that we didn’t have a good time, but that we came to work. She made long days go by quickly by making everyone feel as though they were essential to her,” said Shimerman. “I have never shared with anyone that I thought Quark had a crush on Dax. So scenes alone with her at the bar as we shared secrets were like diamonds to me. Rare and valuable.”

At the end of Season 6, Farrell’s contract was up and she chose not to renew it. She stated that DS9 executive producer/co-creator Rick Berman, who succeeded Roddenberry as head of the Trek franchise, gave her a take-it-or-leave-it offer. However, Farrell wanted to negotiate, but Berman wouldn’t compromise. She pointed it out that it wasn’t about her wanting more money – not at all. She wanted to scale back on her role because she was burned out.

“I knew they wouldn’t say you don’t have to show up until 9 a.m. – although that would’ve been delicious, no more 4 a.m. wakeups,” she said. “However, I did suggest in the wake of that I could be recurring… not be in every episode. Rick wouldn’t have any of that. It was basically, ‘Here’s the offer. If you want it, sign it. If you don’t, it’s really been nice working with you.’ I went with ‘It’s really been nice working with you’ – I added that because it really sounds nicer. I don’t think Rick was thinking that at all. That was unfortunate.”

Farrell continued: “After Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager) and I were on the cover of TV Guide, I got a call to come in and audition for a Jerry Seinfeld show. I couldn’t even go in and audition for it because Rick wouldn’t let me out for the week. It’s a week! It’s five days! How many people are on DS9? There’s a lot. I could be in 10 episodes and could still do voiceovers on comp. The truth is there’s many episodes where all of us had very little to do because other people were starring in them, including recurring guest-stars like (Andrew J.Robinson, who played Garak) who should’ve just been a regular. With that combined, knowing that other actors – and no harm to them; it’s great that they got the deal where they could go out and do stuff – but knowing that was possible, it wasn’t being made possible for me. I was only asking for five days, not five weeks.”

Farrell stated she was grateful to play Dax for six seasons, but after all that time, she believed the higher powers should have at least listened to what she had to say. After deciding not to renew her contract and return to DS9, she became the female lead on the CBS sitcom Becker for four seasons. Farrell played Reggie Kostas, the foil and love interest of Ted Danson’s John Becker, a cynical doctor.

“It was not a surprise (she left DS9). All of us knew she was in the midst of negotiations. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised when Terry stuck to her guns, but I was,” said Shimerman. “When the negotiations were concluded and we were told Terry was moving on, there was a big hole in our ensemble and in our hearts. We had spent six good years as a unit and her leaving was as bitter as an amputation. Up to that moment, I thought the unit was inseparable. The good news was that with her job on Becker, it was easy enough to see her. I’m sure I turned heads many times on that set when Quark came to visit with Dax.”

Being on a half-hour sitcom was quite an adjustment for Farrell after being on an hour-long space opera, despite having guest-appearances on The Cosby Show and Family Ties to her credit. Everything was so new to her, such as the pacing of a sitcom and having a studio audience. In fact, she believes there were more line changes on Becker than DS9.

Unfortunately, by the end of Season 4 when she was really hitting her stride and finally feeling comfortable in Reggie’s skin, the Becker creators let her go and replaced her with Nancy Travis to take the series in a different direction. To this day, Farrell’s still not 100 percent sure why this happened, especially why the creators would want to go in a different direction when Becker was a Top 10 show.

“You’d have to ask (Paramount) specifically, but I don’t think they would be specific,” said Farrell.

Farrell and her Becker co-stars – Hattie Winston, Shawnee Smith, Alex Désert, and Saverio Guerra – staged a protest over their salaries by refusing to show up for work. The five actors had expected a pay raise after Season 3 but didn’t receive one. They filed a lawsuit against Paramount for breach of contract. The suit was eventually settled and the five returned to work.

“I think it was because earlier in Season 4, Paramount had made a promise to us – not Ted, but the other actors – and didn’t follow through. I suggested that we all stand up for ourselves, so I was the leader of all this. I have a feeling the reason why they let me go was because of that,” she said. “This was my second round with Paramount (which owns Trek) or their second experience with me. I’m sure they recognized what happened with DS9 that I was not gonna let this happen… and be complacent. I would guess that would be why.”

More than a decade passed when Farrell reunited with DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr at a convention. This was the first time they had a chance to really talk prior to her departure from DS9 in 1998. According to Farrell, for the first time, Behr heard it straight from her lips why she didn’t renew her contract.

“I thought poor Ira was gonna projectile vomit when I told him. He was just so shocked. He’s like, ‘We could’ve done that.’ I thought ‘Oh, man.’ It made me feel so much better because I’d carrying this around – ‘Nobody wanted to fight for me. Really?’ – I just couldn’t believe that. Ira was like, ‘We loved writing for you. We had so much to do that next season. Why wouldn’t we not want you back?’ I thought I could only talk to Rick. Whatever he said, that was it,” explained Farrell.

There’s no bitterness on her part, however.

“The silver lining was it really worked out,” she said. “For me, I thought it was an important thing to fight for because Rick wasn’t willing to let me have a voice. I just couldn’t see who Dax helped me become and not stick up for myself.”

After Becker, Farrell appeared in several tele-films, her last role being 2003’s Code 11-14. Since then, she’s retired from acting to be a full-time parent and raise her family outside of Hollywood. She’s very happy in her role as a mother. Someday, she would like to return to acting but has no plans for that at the moment. Right now, her attention is devoted to her family, although she still appears at conventions all over the nation.

“I don’t mind people remembering me for any of my characters. Some people think of me as Joey (from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth) or Liz from Family Ties. It doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “I’m totally honored they liked what it was I did and it totally entertained them and made me feel good about themselves or made them think or feel inspired. I’m just so honored that I got to be a part of a group that told a story that made people feel like they were a part of something positive. I’m totally honored they liked whatever it was I did… Hopefully, this isn’t the end. And if it, it’s been a helluva ride!”