Over 25 years ago, actor Aron Eisenberg first tried on the prosthetic makeup and teeth that would transform him into the Ferengi “Nog,” an illiterate, petty thief and nephew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s resident bar owner “Quark” (Armin Shimerman).
Over the 7 years of the TV series, Nog evolved like few characters in Star Trek ever have; ending the show as a decorated and honorable Starfleet officer. The character of Nog continues to this day, in the free online gaming experience, Star Trek Online. And Deep Space Nine itself is arguably more popular now than during its original run, with available streaming on both Netflix and CBS All Access.
Eisenberg is also active on social media, and he was asked by Voyager alumni Garrett Wang (“Ensign Harry Kim” of Star Trek: Voyager) to help launch a webcast series called The Alpha Quadrant, which discusses Star Trek (and other science fiction shows) from a unique insider perspective, along with fascinating guests such as former costars Nana Visitor (“Major Kira Nerys”) and Armin Shimerman, whom Eisenberg credits as a mentor during the run of the show.
He is also passionate about organ donation, which he credits to saving his life, well as affordable access to medical care for everyone; having received a second kidney transplant through a GoFundMe campaign only a few years ago.
Eisenberg is also engaged to actress Malissa Longo, his costar in the independently-funded sci-fi film series, Renegades.
I finally had a chance to talk with Aron Eisenberg at the annual Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, and I found him to be honest, affable, and with a ready wit (he made me laugh quite a few times, I won’t lie). After a couple of previous attempts during the very busy convention, we finally had an opportunity for a sit-down interview at his table:
Q: The arc of Nog in Deep Space Nine (DS9) is arguably the most dramatic in all of Star Trek. Nog goes from illiterate petty thief to decorated Starfleet officer. When you first got the role, did you have any feeling or inkling that it could develop so meaningfully, or were you as surprised as the audience?
AE: Uh yeah, zero. Zero idea. As a matter of fact, when I first got the show, it was just a recurring guest star, and I didn’t even know if I’d get past the first episode. Because they’d never talk to me and say, ‘hey man, we got a whole story arc going for you for seven years.’ Nothing.
I remember having lunch with Ira (writer/producer Ira Steven Behr) but I think that was more of a lunch for him to kind of get to know me, to get to understand me a little bit. To write for the character. And I didn’t realize that at the time, to be honest with you. I didn’t. So I had no idea where it was going, and when I’d got the script for “Heart of Stone” (when Nog gets a letter of recommendation to get into Starfleet Academy), I thought I was done. I thought I was off the show. I was actually quite scared, I thought,”Aw, come on…this is such a great character and now I’m done.” And as an actor, you want jobs and that kind of stuff too; in addition to playing great characters.
(Producer) Rick Berman actually pulled me into his office, because he’d heard me kinda crying about it. And he actually called me up. I get this note (saying) ‘Mr. Berman wants to see you in his office’, and I’m like (gasps aloud). It’s like getting called into the principal’s office, you know? So I go up there and he sits me down, and he sits on his desk, crosses his legs and says, “Listen, we love you, we love your work, you’re not off the show. Alright?” It was kinda like, ‘stop whining!’ I went (meekly) ‘okay.’ I went back, and he was right. Armin (Armin Shimerman, who played “Quark”) said something to me also; he said, “Aron look. You’re now part of the solution. You’re gonna work a lot more than you did before.” And he was right, because Armin is a wise Ferengi.
Q: Kind of a mentor.
AE: Yes! Absolutely. Absolutely a mentor.
Q: Working under the heavy Ferengi prosthetics and teeth no doubt hampered your ability to hear the other actor’s cues, as well as hinder your own speech. What sort of acting skills did you use or develop to compensate for this?
AE: The English word, “Huh?! Huuuh? What?”
Um… well, to be honest, when a scene begins, everybody on the stage has to go silent. Because any sound can be picked up, and then they have to redo the audio… it’s really bad, so you know, “rolling, rolling.” That means everybody stop what you’re doing, stand still. So in that sense, hearing isn’t lost. Now, where it would or could affect us, would be more if the director were further away, or even not in eyesight, and is asking us to do something? We won’t hear that.
A lot of times Armin would actually remind directors to remember that we can’t hear too well, so speak louder or come to us, and tell us what you need. But it was never a problem, because remember a crew, a cast…we’re all one team. So we all work together, and we had a great crew. So they would even say, “Hey, these guys (the Ferengi actors) can’t hear you.” Because new directors would come on the show, right? And they’d be like, ‘ah, I didn’t even think about that.”
It’s all a matter of working together and making sure that we inform each other of what our capabilities are, you know. Communication, my friend! Something that our administration is lacking.
Q: Nog loses a leg in “The Siege of AR-558” and his period of emotional adjustment was followed up in “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Did you do any sort of research with disabled military veterans, or did you draw upon something else for inspiration?
AE: I didn’t. I drew on my own life experiences. But to be honest, I never looked at it as ‘ooh, what’s it like for a military person to go through loss like that, and fear.’ I never thought of it like that once. What I thought about was, what’s it like for Nog to go through loss and fear of his own mortality? What I really looked at is, what is Nog going through? Not what a military person is going through, what Nog is going through? For me, what I felt Nog was going through…because they never said, ‘Nog is dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).’ Honestly, I’m glad they never said that, because then I might’ve labeled it rather than gotten to the heart of what he was dealing with.
Q: It might’ve seemed more gimmicky than authentic.
AE: Yeah, and that’s a trap for an actor. You want to play the honesty. You want to play the truth of whatever it is your character is going through. And you want to know what (Nog) was going through? Fear. Fear of moving forward. I felt he hit a wall, and was like, “Oh my god. I don’t know what to do anymore. I have no idea what I want to do anymore. I might die. I don’t know if I can make that choice. I’m not a good Ferengi. I don’t know what to do.”
So fear of moving forward kept him in the same space, and rather than deal with that, it’s easier to go hide. And that’s how I really saw it. And I think that’s really the core of what people may be going through at times…I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t want to say what somebody else is going through. That’s a part of PTSD; it’s something that keeps bringing you back, right? It won’t let go, and that fear is crippling; and that’s painful. There are many variations and manifestations of PTSD.
I also tapped into my own experiences of life and death with my own transplant, kidney dialysis, and the things I’ve been though in my life; which is what most actors do, we connect to things that have made the people that we are, and to try to let that come out.
Q: The role of “Captain” Nog, congratulations by the way…
AE: I’m waiting for Captain Picard to call me!
Q: He (Patrick Stewart) was just here (at the convention) yesterday.
The role of Captain Nog continues in (the free online game) “Star Trek Online” with the expansion pack for “Victory is Life.” What are the challenges or liberations in playing the character in CGI (computer graphics imagery), without the heavy makeup prosthetics?
AE: I think the difficulty in playing Captain Nog on Star Trek Online is my desire to be as true to the character as possible. When all the prosthetics are on, and the teeth lock in, it’s like, “Ah, there it is… there’s Nog.” And so, my concern in doing (STO) the first time, this was the second time I did it, was would I sound and feel like Nog to the fans that are playing the game? That was the most important thing to me. In the first run, where I played Nog on STO, I got wonderful comments like, “Oh my god, there’s Nog!” So I succeeded the first time, and I believe I succeeded the second time as well.
Fortunately I have my teeth…
Q: You wear the teeth when you perform the role online?
Q: That reminds me of what Kim Hunter (“Zira” from the original “Planet of the Apes” films) once said when she was doing post-production looping (dialogue replacement) for the “Apes” films; that she had to wear the prosthetic jaws to do the role…
AE: Yes. Because the prosthetic teeth alter the way we speak. So, for me, the teeth that I put in force me to o-ver ar-tic-u-late my words.
Q: Hew-mon instead of human.
AE: Yeah, absolutely. Then (jokingly) I put a little bit more Scottish in there…no, I don’t put Scottish in there. But the Scots, they talk from the back of the mouth! Sometimes I try my English accent; (attempts English accent) “Come on”…okay, that’s a horrible English accent, that’s what makes it funny. Richard Bass (?), if you actually listen to this, bring me out as an actor who’s really really bad at accents.
Q: You realize that I have to transcribe this? * laughs *
AE: Good luck! You wanted the interview. Have fun… * laughs*
Q: What was the origin of “The Alpha Quadrant”, the video webcast you do with “Star Trek: Voyager” alum Garrett Wang (“Ensign Harry Kim”) and Big Brother winner Dick Donato (aka “Evel Dick”)?
AE: Well, uh…that’s Garrett. Garrett wanted to do that, and asked me to join. I uh, don’t know if he’s always happy about that choice… so I would have to send you over to Garrett, and then ask him, “What was your inspiration to bring Aron Eisenberg on The Alpha Quadrant, and do you think that was a good decision? That’s the question you need to ask Garrett.
Q: * laughs *
AE: So it was really Garrett’s idea, and he asked if I wanted to be a part of it. That’s exactly it, he actually gave me a call and asked if I wanted to be a part of this. I don’t think he thought I was as opinionated as I am, and uh…
Q: I follow you on Twitter; I know better.
AE: Garrett follows me, but I think he had me on ‘mute.’ So I’ll send you over to Garrett for that one, and let me know what he says for a followup.
Q: Did you ever think that, 25 years later, Deep Space Nine would continue to resonate as it has with newer generations of fans who are discovering it for the first time, and do your kids watch the show?
AE: Well, first of all, my kids do not watch the show at all! * laughs * They could care less. Although my youngest son’s friend’s girlfriend is a fan of the show. So she was like, “Oh, that’s Nog!” So, that’s kinda cool. I gave her a picture for her birthday and that was kinda sweet.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think our show would grow to the popularity it is now, based on the popularity it had when we were on. We weren’t very popular, we were like the black sheep of the family. But technology changed that a lot. I knew DVDs would go out, and people would watch it, and it might get a little bit of a stirring, “Oh, I love DS9,” I would get that through the years, and I do think it’s even more popular now because of Netflix, and there’s also a channel that plays Star Trek nonstop or something. H…something. People keep telling me, I don’t know what it is.
But I think the fact that people can binge-watch it has brought more appreciation for the show that it didn’t have back when it aired, because back then if you missed an episode, you might miss a part of the story. Especially after season three. So I didn’t think that, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the love that DS9 receives from the fans more so now than it did before.
And with the (crowdfunded DS9) documentary coming out (Adam Nimoy’s “What We Left Behind,” targeted for release later this year), I think that’s going to be fantastic.