Educating [Geeks] Goes to FanFest 2015 – Spotlight on Denise Crosby

Whew! 2015 is over and 2016 is well underway. Now that the holidays are behind us, I finally sat down to share my thoughts about Phoenix FanFest 2015. I attended on Saturday, which gave me the opportunity to see Denise Crosby’s panel. I remember her from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I was excited for a chance to hear from the actor behind Tasha Yar.

She told us all about Star TrekDeep Impact, The Walking Dead, and her plans for a new Trekkies documentary.

Denise Crosby speaks at Fan Fest 2015. Photo courtesy D. Levin, Phoenix Comicon.

She told us that after filming the episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” she came up with the idea for the character Sela.  When she pitched the idea to Rick Berman, he liked the concept enough to run with it, with only a few changes to the part. She explained that Sela was inspired in part by Mary McDonnell’s character Stands with a Fist from Dances with Wolves.  I also found it interesting that she has played three generations of Yar women within the Star Trek universe.

An audience member asked about her experience as a guest star for seasons four and five on The Walking Dead. She told us it was unlike anything she’d worked on before and it all sounded a bit hectic, but exciting. Her audition had nothing to do with The Walking Dead, and then when she got the part, they gave her little information about the role. She also told us how traveling to set can be a wild adventure. Fans of the show will stand on the freeway overlooking the set to try to catch glimpses of the cast as they arrive. While driving to the set, Melissa McBride kept pushing Denise’s head down telling her to duck and hide from the people trying to spy. In all, she said that the cast was lovely to work with and that Andrew Lincoln sets the tone for the show. He told her, “This is what we call a no assholes zone. You can’t be a jerk and work on The Walking Dead.”

Denise TWD

Denise Crosby as Mary in The Walking Dead. Photo via Wetpaint

Denise said that what she likes the most about The Walking Dead are the moral issues they are able to explore. “I mean, what would you do?” she asked us. For her, the decisions the characters have to make are hard to predict. “These absolutes in life. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, I just don’t know.”

One audience member asked what it was like to work with Leonard Nimoy. Denise said that he was very generous with his time and there was no question he wouldn’t answer. “He was just a lovely, intelligent, kind man. And such an iconic figure.” She also let it slip that she is working on a third installment of the Trekkies documentary series. She said they have hours of interview footage they didn’t use in Trekkies or Trekkies 2.

Later, Denise talked about what it was like to film a scene from Deep Impact that took place on a crowded freeway. There were over 3,000 extras on set that day and 7 people had to go to the hospital from dehydration. “When I arrived on set, I just went ‘oh my God.’ It was a sea of cars.”  She was amazed that the production staff used a radio frequency on the car radios to communicate instructions to the cast and crew.  In all, she said that it was a great experience and that working with Vanessa Redgrave was a dream come true.

Deep Impact Freeway

Denise Crosby in Deep Impact (1998). Photo from The Atlantic

Denise then shifted gears and talked about her experiences working in theater. “Oh, I love theater. That’s where I began,” she said. She told us about a play she acted in about the Jean Benet Ramsay case that Gates McFadden directed. She said about acting in the theater, “I can’t imagine being an actor and not doing theater. Because that’s where you really live and breathe as an actor. When you have an audience that you’re affecting, you can feel it. I can tell when I’ve got you in the grip of my palm.”

The last question came from the moderator who wanted to know: who was Denise’s childhood hero? “Mother and grandmother were really heroic to me,” she said.  Her grandmother had only an eighth-grade education when her husband died. She got swindled out of all her property and had to find a way to raise her two small children. She ended up moving to Ohio to find work and spent her life cleaning offices before retiring at the age of 70. Denise’s mother faced similar challenges as a single working mother. “That kind of stuff is heroic. And real to me…That’s what gives you character. My mother and grandmother. No one is more heroic than them.”