She may live in LA now but actor Marina Sirtis is definitely one of our own. As they say, “You can take the girl out of East London but…”
Catapulted to fame as Counselor – and later, Commander Deanna Troi on the telly series Star Trek: The Next Generation and now debuting on the West End Stage in the lead as Marianne in Dark Sublime Marina tells LoveEast about the play and how she forged a successful acting career against all the odds.
The play is a story about an encounter between a fan and the Sci-Fi actor he hero-worships and explores a variety of relationships, from intergenerational friendship to hero worship and a lot in between. Written by Michael Dennis, Dark Sublime is “a love-letter to British sci-fi television – those that make it and those that adore it.”
So, how did this lovely East London lass end up on the silver screen – and now, the West End stage?
Born in Hackney to Greek parents and raised in Harringay – which is in the borough of Haringey, let’s be clear – it seems that Marina was destined to be an actor. She tells us that from the age of three she held court by standing on a bus seat and belting out Que Sera Sera, much to the passengers’ delight and, possibly, her mother’s chagrin. That innate confidence has stood her in good stead, as her impressive acting career attests.
Marina says that television was a haven while growing up in what she says was “a not so happy home”, and that from a young age she drempt of becoming an actor. A serendipitous conversation with her A Level History teacher changed everything; after commenting that she wanted to be an actor, the teacher asked, ‘how are you going to do that?’ To which Marina replied, “I don’t know.” A month later she was given a stack of prospectus’ for all sorts of drama schools with the instruction, “apply to all of them!” Marina’s parents were not at all keen on a career in Drama and, independently minded that she is, she applied without telling them and was accepted to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
While still attending the Guildhall, she was cast as Ophelia in Hamlet, at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing, and from there landed roles in a variety of films and television shows including Minder, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and Death Wish 3 as well as a role in The Kinks‘ Rock and Roll Cities video. Eventually she moved to Los Angeles where it all cracked open.
“Gene Rodenberry had wanted me to audition because he had just seen Aliens and wanted a Latina looking character similar to Vasquez. Although I’m of Greek origin, I have a look that can fit into a variety of ethnicities. So I originally auditioned for the part of Lt. Macha Hernandez, the Security Chief, and Denise Crosby was to be Troi. Gene then turned it upside down and Denise became Lt Tasha Yar and I became Counsellor Troi.”
“I was literally packing my suitcase to come back to London as my visa was expiring, when I got the call offering me the role of Troi – it was absolutely insane; had it been a few hours later, I’d have been on a plane.”
Needless to say, her role in Star Trek: The Next Generation quickly shot Marina to fame. The series ran for seven years and, four feature films, based on the series, continued the legacy as well as giving her iron clad acting credentials.
“I am the poster girl for what isn’t supposed to happen.” she says. “I landed my first job within five days of arriving in LA, which is unheard of, and then got taken on for a television series. That’s just not supposed to happen.” But it did.
Now, looking forward to her West End debut, Marina reflects on some of the similarities between her character, Maryanne, and herself. Both are actors whose career was launched in the Sci-Fi genre, and both navigate the often tricky relationship between fan and star. Ophelia is even mentioned at some point in the play, which is ironic, considering she was Marina’s first professional role.
“I relate to this part in so many ways; the fan-star relationship can be tricky, although I’m pretty comfortable dealing with people. I’ve been a special guest at Comic Con several times and that’s a great platform to engage with fans. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also nice to have women come up and tell me that my character Troi was inspirational to them. That role was back in the day when there weren’t many strong, smart female characters. It was pretty forward-thinking at the time, so it feels good to know that a character on TV or in a film has had such a positive impact.”
Marina is looking forward to coming back home for a while; “I really do miss London and I’m excited about performing at Trafalgar Studios in a role that feels like it was made for me. And, being on the West End stage is pretty fantastic.”
WE ASKED, SHE ANSWERED:
Do you prefer working in telly, film or theatre?
I like it all but theatre is my first love. I was classically trained and theatre – that arc of doing things in the right order with a beginning, middle and end is a pleasure. With TV and film you can be doing the last scene first.
Favourite place in East London?
The Hackney Empire – It’s iconic and gives amazing opportunities to local people, especially young people.
Yorkshire or PG Tips?
Ever been to the Dr Who shop in Barking Road?
Yes, I have, actually!
What football club do you support?
I’m a passionate Spurs fan. I got up at 4:30am recently to watch them beat Huddersfield 4 – nil including a great Lucas Moura hat trick. I also have a Spurs tattoo on my left shoulder.
If you could change one thing about our Capital city what would it be?
SouthWest Trains – they are the worst! And lower the fares for public transport. Mayor Kahn are you listening?
Any advice for up-and-coming actors?
Don’t be a child star. Seriously! Get to know yourself and do things you enjoy. Save acting for later and if you still have the passion, then don’t let anyone tell you no.
FOLLOW MARINA ON TWITTER:
GO SEE DARK SUBLIME:
The play is on from the 29th of June through the 3rd of August at Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, SW1A 2DY.
INFO AND TICKETS :
Image courtesy of Trafalgar Studios