The name Marco Rodriguez is one you may not necessarily be familiar with, but when you see his face, he will click immediately. This veteran actor has appeared in over 130 roles on TV & film, not counting his prolific theatre career. You may recognize him from “The Crow”, “Cobra” with Sylvester Stallone, “Eastbound & Down” with Danny McBride, “Million Dollar Baby” with Clint Eastwood, and other roles in “Frasier”, “NYPD Blue”, “High School High”, “Renegade” and many more. If you’re a Star Trek lover, and you likely are if you are reading this, you’d also recognize Marco from his pair of roles as two very different characters in two notable episodes of Star Trek TNG.
Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley in California, Marco wasn’t what you would call a sci-fi fan, and preferred TV shows like “Combat!” and other WWII dramas. His father was a travelling musician, so entertaining was in his blood from the start, going so far as to charge neighbours 25 cents to watch Marco perform on a stage he made in his backyard. He headed to USC to pursue acting as a profession, followed by time at Pasadena City College which led to his first roles on stage. It wasn’t long before he found his way into TV and film, with his first role on-camera being part of a James Coburn film called “The Baltimore Bullet”.
The one appearance many Trek fans might be curious about was his brief stint in “TJ Hooker” in the episode “Gang War” (which also featured Star Trek DS9 alumni James Darren). “Shatner was directing that particular episode that I was in,” Marco explained in an interview with the Trek Untold podcast, “And of course, I had some scenes with him as well.”
“I really enjoyed working with William Shatner. He actually had seen the play “Zoot Suit” that I was in. And it may have had something to do with him actually casting me in this particular part. He was he was actually thrilled that I was doing this TJ hooker episode. Because he had seen this show… and he loved it. He loved this particular character and the character I played in this [episode] was somewhat similar to that.”
“[Shatner] was a good director. He was very precise… And being that he had quite a history in television, I’m sure that this is what made him the type of Director he was. He was very precise, had marked out where we were supposed to go. And really, you know, wanted us to stick to the marks and to the direction that he would give us… I think the episode came out really, really nice.”
Fast forward to 1988, when Marco is cast in the first season Star Trek TNG episode “The Arsenal of Freedom“, playing a holographic Captain Paul Rice – a machination of the war-faring technology on this planet of the week. His mission, retrieve information from Commander Riker about the Enterprise-D, the first of several shows of force by the ominous salesperson played by Vincent Schiavelli.
When Marco auditioned for the role, he was unaware it was for the new Star Trek show since it had not aired yet.
“In fact, as I hear some of the original people that were involved with the original Star Trek, we’re not too high on it, yet. They didn’t want to really associate themselves with it yet. Until, you know, it had a track record and had some success.”
“I got to know Jonathan Frakes while I was on there, in fact, our dressing rooms were near each other. And so he got to talking to me about the new Star Trek and he was really high on it. And of course, he’s a regular so he was really, really enthusiastic about being a regular on something like that, and was looking forward to a long run, which they weren’t sure what was going to happen with it. As it turned out, it ran for seven years.”
“Based on the conversations I had with those that were around [on set], Frakes seemed to be the most excited and enthused and serious about this opportunity that he had. In fact, I think he mentioned that Denise Crosby, it was her desire to try and move on to other projects. And Jonathan mentioned to me that he was really kind of befuddled by that because he was excited about doing a series, and a series that potentially could lead to many more seasons. And so he was commenting that he could not understand how anybody would want to leave the series that early. You know, he was just very excited about the opportunity he got.”
Several years later, Marco returned to the TNG set, but this time without a Starfleet uniform. In this second outing, Marco became Glinn Telle in the fourth season episode “The Wounded”. A Colm Meaney centric tale with a guest appearance by the masterful Bob Gunton, this classic is known for being the introduction of the Cardassians into Star Trek lore. The role Marco played was not the original one he auditioned for.
“I auditioned not for the Glinn Telle character, but actually for Marc Alaimo’s part. I was kind of disappointed I didn’t get it, but after I saw the episode, I saw Marc and… he’s a terrific actor. I saw the episode and I thought, you know, he really did a fine job. He did justice to the part and I couldn’t see anybody else playing that part.”
One of the toughest parts about playing the part was the rough makeup process to become a Cardassian.
“It was pretty arduous. They had pieces that they had already designed and were ready to go, all they had to do was adhere or detach them to my face and to my neck. But the process took a couple of hours at least to do as I recall, two or three hours to get that makeup on. It restricted my neck movement quite a bit. I couldn’t really twist my neck very well. It was a pretty long day I remember, after 10 or 12 hours you start to get pretty weary of it.”
A perennial professional, Marco didn’t let the heavy makeup and long hours affect his performance in a negative way.
“Whatever restrictions you feel, with any part, whatever you’re challenged with, I try to integrate that into the character itself. And not let it become an impediment, but rather let it become an asset.”
“I think the character himself showed [that frustration] as well, and what he was doing his frustration and being caught, you know, he was doing his job. He’s trying to get information like a computer and gets caught. The entire trajectory of that episode was there was still quite a bit of friction between these two groups of people. And so I think that feeling… I made it part of that character, with the restrictions that I felt with being restricted and restrained by the enemy.”
Marco has one other surprising Star Trek footnote in his career, as I learned he was one of the finalists for the role of Chakotay when Star Trek: Voyager was originally being cast. Robert Beltran ultimately won the part, but it’s always interesting to think about what could have been if Marco ended up as that character.
Check out the full interview with Marco Rodriguez to learn more about his past, more stories from his Star Trek roles, and a whole lot more about some other highlights from his great career!
Watch The Newest Trek Untold Video Below
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Trek Untold is a weekly podcast series that chats with character actors, stunt performers, behind-the-scenes crew and other people who are the contributors of the Star Trek universe whose names aren’t in the opening credits of the shows. Follow Trek Untold on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more about upcoming episodes, which are released every Thursday on all major audio platforms, and Sunday on Youtube in video form.