September 1st 2017 marks a very special anniversary for me – two, if I’m being honest. It’s ten years to the day since I attended my very first convention (the London Film and Comic Con at Earls Court) but more importantly than that – it’s ten years since I first met at said convention one of my favorite actors and favorite people, Nana Visitor.
Nana is perhaps best known for playing Major Kira Nerys on Star Trek Deep Space Nine between 1993 and 1999, but that’s just one of the many highlights of a forty-year stage and screen career that has encompassed everything from sitcoms and soap operas to a long run on Broadway playing Roxie Hart in Chicago. If you’re only familiar with her from Star Trek I really would recommend you take the time to look up some of her other work. There’s a lot out there to choose from, but highlights would include her regular role as Jean Ritter on Wildfire, the recurring role of Madam X on Dark Angel, memorable guest spots on Battlestar Galactica, Night Court and Doogie Howser MD, and the female lead in the hugely entertaining superhero TV pilot The Spirit. Youtube is very much your friend when it comes to locating some of these, and there you will also find countless videos of her convention appearances, interviews and even clips from her stage work. It isn’t unusual for Nana to make appearances in web-series and online films these days either, and one of her more recent projects was playing the deliciously malicious dance teacher Xan in the web-series Full Out.
I was ten years old when Deep Space Nine first aired on BBC2 in 1995. I had only been watching Star Trek for a few months by then, joining The Next Generation midway through its fifth season while catching repeats of the original series whenever I could. When the trailers for DS9 came along (see the first one below at 0.54) I was really excited. As much as I was enjoying the other series here was a chance to be on board with a show right from the start, to not have to wonder about references to things I’d missed from several years ago. Not only that but the show looked like a huge change from previous Treks.
And it was, and it was brilliant. I could fill a whole series of articles with reasons as to why Deep Space Nine is not only the best incarnation of Star Trek but one of the best television dramas of all time – but that’s not the point of this article.
Deep Space Nine opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t previously been aware of or thought about, and one of those was the way female characters were used or presented in media. Up until this point (again, please keep in mind I was only ten years old) I was mostly used to seeing female characters in supporting roles to the men, but on Deep Space Nine it was a very different story. Kira was like nothing I had ever seen before (aside from Michelle Forbes’ short-lived but superb run on The Next Generation as Ensign Ro) and I instantly found her the most fascinating character on the show. She was strong, but not invulnerable. Brave, but not fearless. Sexual, but not sexualised. She was flawed, often deeply so, but prepared to learn from her mistakes and always deeply loyal to her friends. Best of all, at least to my young mind, she was always at the heart of the action and always ready to do what was right no matter the odds. Kira was a hero, but more than that – she was my hero. I had had favorite characters on other shows before, but Kira was one of the first that I felt was genuinely something to aspire to.
Even today, all these years later, Kira is still my favorite fictional character in any medium. She was so well-written that it’s difficult to imagine any actress not producing something great with that role, but Nana wasn’t just great – she was superb, and one of the many reasons for that is that she invested so much in the character. She freely admits to phoning producer Ira Steven Behr with her concerns or ideas, or even getting into blazing arguments if she felt the scripts threatened to take Kira in a direction she felt wasn’t true to the character. When you hear Nana talking about Kira she isn’t looking back on a role she played many years ago – she’s talking about a real person who’s off living a real life somewhere far away. In an industry where success can be fleeting and a job can be brief that level of commitment and ongoing strength of belief so many years later is both truly impressive and deeply touching.
It’s kind of an open secret that I really wanted to be an actor, and always will, and one of the many reasons for that was the quality of the performances I was seeing every week on Deep Space Nine. I wanted to be even a fraction as good as those people. This show was so overflowing with great actors among its vast regular and recurring cast that’s almost impossible to pick one favorite, but I am still very much in awe of everything Nana brought to the role of Kira. There’s never a moment where she’s giving it anything less than her best, even in episodes where she only gets a line or two; she’s constantly reacting, constantly observing, constantly processing everything that’s going on around her. This is a woman who can break your heart with a single look, no dialogue necessary at all, and who possesses one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen. Deep Space Nine was a show that was blessed with so many experienced actors working at the top of their game, but even among all that talent Nana was a true standout and my appreciation of her performance has only increased over the years. When I began seeking out her other TV and film work it was great (though not a huge surprise) to discover she brought just as much skill and talent to all her roles as she did to Kira.
Also, it inspired me to make this;
Flash forward to 2007. I had kind of drifted out of love a little with Star Trek after Deep Space Nine ended in 1999, partly because of the lacklustre shows and films that were being produced around that time and partly from simple Trek overload. A few years away from the franchise served to revitalize my interest when the DVD releases began in the early 2000s, so I decided to pick up a few of the Deep Space Nine sets to see if the break would help me find a new appreciation for Star Trek. It did, but not only that – I was still just as impressed by Nana’s work as I had been the first time I saw it, if not more so. Kira-heavy episodes like Necessary Evil, Second Skin, The Darkness and the Light and of course Duet were still my favorites, even though I knew the stories inside out already, and Nana’s performance still engaged me just as it had a decade earlier.
It was soon after this that I began to take notice of conventions, which were up until that point a ‘would be nice one day’ kind of vague impossibility. Now that I had a job however I could afford to go, but it wasn’t until Nana was announced for the 2007 LFCC that I really decided I had to go. She had been scheduled for the previous year’s show and then cancelled due to filming commitments, so I didn’t want to miss my chance; if I only ever got to meet just one person from all the shows that I was a fan of, it had to be Nana.
Unlike several other guests that I’ve met at conventions and been able to build up relationships with (I hesitate to call them friendships because it’s not my place to make that call until they do), I had heard a lot about how nice Nana is before I met her. Like, a lot. Now-defunct fansites like The Visitor Space and Nanavision were full of stories of fans who had met her and had wonderful experiences with her. Even so, I was totally unprepared for how it went in reality.
Even after all these years it’s a really daunting prospect, walking up to a guest’s signing table. Partly because it’s not really a natural interaction as such, this is a created moment, and partly because I’m so nervous and anxious all the time anyway and oh God I really don’t want any of these people to think of me as some kind of loon please God don’t let this be a disaster. Usually it goes okay, but rarely is it anything truly spectacular; you pay your money for a autograph, maybe a desk photo, a quick word or two, and that’s basically it. It comes a little easier to me now, a decade on, but at first it was a real struggle. In that brief moment though you can usually get a fair idea of what that person is really like; there are some who clearly don’t want to be there, true, but most guests seem to appreciate contact with their fans.
Nana doesn’t operate like that. Oh, she appreciates her fans alright, but she greets everybody as if they’re an old friend whether she’s met them before or not. That was the first surprise; she was instantly able to bypass all my nervousness and anxiety by being so approachable and so down-to-Earth. Up until this point I’d found myself rushing away from the other guests; I got an autograph and then legged it, all “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” At least, that was how I felt. My nerves were drowning the things I wanted to say and no real words would come – at least, not in an order that made any sort of sense.
I really wanted to make the effort to talk to Nana properly though, because I wanted to try to get across something of what her work meant to me, and her warm welcome helped with that enormously. A sly wink and a conspiratorial “How you doin’?” was her response when I asked how she was, and then I explained that it was the first convention I’d been to and that she was the first Star Trek guest I’d ever met. She took my hand and said that it was an honor…and by God she really did mean it. For the rest of that weekend, every time I walked past her signing table, she seemed to be treating everyone who met her the same way; constantly smiling, constantly welcoming, constantly engaged. Even at the end of the weekend, when most of the other guests were clearly tired and ready to call it a day, she was still 110% energized.
I was so very impressed by her, and it gave me a very strong motivation to keep attending conventions – because I wanted to feel that kind of joy again. I wanted to see if I could find any other person who was even half as nice as she was – and as many of you know I’ve succeeded several times! It’s a rare thing, but I try to hold on to it wherever I find it, hence the multiple return visits!
It would be a few years before I got to see Nana again, but she was always top of my list if the chance ever came up to meet a guest for a second time and in 2011 I traveled five hours to Bournemouth for SFBall 17. I only spent a day at the event; most of the main activities seem to take place during the evening parties and that’s not really my scene, especially when I’m on my own. Really I was just there to see Nana, but the daytime schedule of the Ball means that the guests are very often hidden away unless they’re on stage or signing and so I was left with a lot of spare time on my hands. If I’d been there with friends for the full weekend it might have been different, but nevertheless I was determined to make the best of it. The day started with a Nana photoshoot that…I’m definitely not showing, because I look so awful in it!
Unfortunately I’m also visible in all my terrible just-got-out-of-bed-look glory on the convention DVD, asking Nana questions at her panel. We won’t go there.
After Nana’s panel in the morning the only other thing I had planned for the day was the autograph session in the afternoon. I made sure to leave visiting her signing table until just before I left because I had a plan, one that I was sure was very likely to backfire – and if it did I wanted to make a quick exit. I really wanted to explain to her how much her kindness back in 2007 had meant to me, and from somewhere I did summon up the courage to do so. Up until this point I hadn’t really expressed my feelings in quite this way before (not specifically about her, I mean about anything, ever), not in person like this, but it was really important to me that she understood. It probably came out as a jumble of disconnected thoughts and I was still quite prepared to scarper in case it all went wrong – but much to my surprise and great relief she not only listened, she actually appreciated it.
She then leapt to her feet and threw her arms around me in a big, before giving me a kiss on each cheek and whispering “You are so welcome, sweetie!”.
Because that’s her through and through.
“Wow, she’s really nice, isn’t she?” observed a fellow attendee as we left the room.
I nodded, several times. “She kissed me!” I managed to stammer, before heading for the exit in a daze.
I left that con with such a big smile on my face.
I was smiling all the way back to London.
I was still smiling two hours later when standing on a bridge over the Thames, looking out at London all lit up at night.
I treasure that moment with her, and so many others, more than I can say.
In the years since then I’ve been lucky enough to meet Nana four more times; twice in 2012, once in 2013 (on my birthday, no less!), and lastly in 2015. (Yes, I know she was in the U.K. earlier this year – during the first weekend that I’ve been out of the country in fifteen years! Sigh.) On every occasion she’s been as charming, friendly and welcoming as she was during those first meetings, and I’ve always tried to let her know how much that means to me. I’ve also been lucky enough to hear her take part in a panel at every event I’ve seen her at – usually with others, but occasionally on her own – and she’s just as warm and engaging on stage as she is off. She’s so charismatic, so entertaining, and just a little bit bonkers (all the best people are, you know.), especially when she’s appearing alongside her fellow DS9 castmates.
Our most recent meeting, at the 2015 Cardiff Comic Con, was particularly special for me because with the release of Terrahawks volume 1 back in April I now had something to talk about and show her if she asked what I’d been up to – and she did. Even though she had never heard of the show (not that I was expecting her to) she showed genuine interest in what I was doing, asking questions and offering advice and just being so sweet about the whole thing. When she actually said “I’m so proud of you!”…well, it really did make me so very happy to hear someone whose work I’ve admired for so long say those words.
Why I wanted to write this and what I feel I owe Nana for, aside from the countless hours of entertainment she’s given and providing an invaluable role model for my formative years, is the way in which she was my window into the convention world. She was basically the one who met me at the door and made me feel welcome, and while there are several other guests that have been just as nice to me and that I have had more regular contact with over the years Nana was the very first to show me that kindness. I cannot put a price on that. Without her I may not have had the courage to come back again, to keep coming back and eventually to build those other friendships. So many great things have come out of my convention-going, and if not for her generosity of spirit I may never have experienced any of them. Those trips have been a very important part of my life over the last decade, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that Nana played a huge part in making that possible.
Nana, if you’re looking in, thank you.
The best thing about all this is that I know she didn’t treat me any differently in that first meeting than she would have anyone else – this is literally how she behaves with everybody. Unbelievably nice is her default mode. I’ve seen several people, ranging from ardent Kira fans to Kira haters (yes, apparently such people do exist!) to Trek fans who really only wanted Nana’s autograph for their collection go up to meet her and come away from that meeting saying how impressed they were and how lovely she was.
So that’s my ten years of Nana. Technically it’s really been twenty-two years, as her work touched my life long before I ever had the chance to meet her, but the last decade has brought me so much as a direct result of her kindness that I felt I had to celebrate it. It would have been so gutting if she hadn’t been as nice as I’d heard she was during that first meeting back in 2007, but I had no reason to hope for anything more than a quick chat and a photo or two. That that meeting has led to so many more lovely moments over the next ten years is just extraordinary. I’ll always look forward to any new projects she has in the works, but more importantly I always want to make the most of any chance I have to meet up with this gem of a lady.
She’s an utterly terrific actress and a genuinely wonderful person. What’s not to love?