Alice Krige

Alice Krige was born on 28 June 1954 in Upington, South Africa where her father, Dr. Louis Krige, worked as a physician. She attended Rhodes University in Grahamstown where she pursued an undergraduate degree in psychology and literature. She later went on to study at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. In the '80s Krige made her feature film debut as Sybil Gordon in Chariots of Fire (1981). In the same year she received a Plays and Players Award and a Laurence Olivier Award for Most Promising Newcomer after appearing in a West End theatre production of Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man. It was this early success in theatre that allowed her to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Star Trek fans will know her best for her role as the Borg Queen. Darren Rea spoke with her as the
Star Trek: Borg Fan Collective, was released on DVD...

Darren Rea: Happy belated birthday for last Wednesday.

Alice Krige: Ah. Thank you very much.

DR: You're career to date has been incredibly varied, and even though a lot of people know you for playing the Borg Queen that role hasn't hindered you in finding other roles that are totally different. Are you proud of the fact that you've never been typecast?

AK: I'm immensely grateful [laughs]. I don't know how much I've had to do with it, but I'm immensely grateful because I have been very fortunate to play a huge variety of roles in a greatly varied spectrum of work. I've worked in mainstream cinema, on the absolute fringe of cinema, mainstream television, television that was sort of "out there" and cutting edge at the time and I've done some work in the theatre. I haven't yet been typecast and I actually consider myself incredibly fortunate.

DR: How do you prepare for each role? I mean you've played Joan Collins, where you could do a little research, but when you are playing a character, like the Borg Queen, how do you get a feeling for what the character is all about?

AK: I never ever know whether I am going to find the character or not when I start. I'm always in a state of trepidation whether she'll join me, as it were, or that she's going to leave me there all alone [laughs]. Sometimes, and the Borg Queen was such an instance, you arrive at a moment where it's almost as if she's doing it for you. It doesn't happen very often, and it's like a moment of grace when it does, but it's as if the character just shows up and does it for you. I never entirely know if that's going to happen or not when I start.

I also don't have a formula, as it were, of how to go about looking for a character. I just turn over every stone until the process kicks in and starts doing itself. So that I will, for example, listen to music or read literature that I think might help me find it - or look at art. My approach is completely unorthodox and I don't have a system. I just look everywhere that I possibly can to try and find it... or find her. And what triggers it is almost always different to what triggered it the previous time.

With the Borg Queen it was a number of things. I was cast and then almost immediately the director, producers, crew, and everyone except Brent Spiner [who plays Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation] went off to the National Forest to start shooting. And so they were gone and it was just me and Brent left in LA.

I had to go in for the initial of the makeup process - having a life mask done and such like - and I started talking to people about who she was, or what the Borg were. And it seemed to me that everyone had a slightly different on what their origin was, and what they actually were.

And so just on impulse I revisited A Brief History of Time, I'd read the book some years before hands, and I got the DVD and watched it. And that was a sort of defining moment for me, just because I came to the conclusion having watched that, that actually the Borg Queen had been around since the dawn of time. Since the Big Bang she's always been there and she's always going to be there, because no one is going to get rid of her. It's an energetic form that will reinvent itself one way or another. But that essence, that sort of vibrational quality that is the Borg Queen, is always going to be there.

So that was useful for me, because I now knew that she was eternal and I didn't have to worry about when she showed up - because she's always been there. I also made a decision that the Borg are just beings that she's colonised - she actually says it. She say's: "I am the Borg". So they are just beings that she has absorbed, and she is it. She actually is the essence of the Borg. She is what the Borg is. Although, on another occasion, we might find her in a totally different form - manifest in a completely different way that we can't yet imagine.

So, that was kind of a door opening for me. And then, in a much more dramatic way that has ever happened to me before or after, the whole process of assembling her, the way she looked, became enormously formative in who the character was.

DR: What did you think when you first saw how she was going to look?

AK: What Scott Wheeler [makeup artist on Star Trek: First Contact] did with the look of her was really quite extraordinary. You can't really imagine her separate from the way she looked. It was very crucial in how people relate to the character. I think Scott did an amazing job.

The only thing that I asked for was that in the original sculpted version of her Scott had sculpted in eyebrows, and I felt that that tied her to a Cruella De Vil kind of expression. And so I asked him to sculpt out the eyebrows. He had to get permission to do that, and then he made another sculpture without the eyebrows, and he made prosthetic pieces without the eyebrows. We tried both, and they agreed that it was better to not have the eyebrows sculpted in - there was much more range of expression open to the character.

I was very nervous of being under layers of prosthetics - as it was they were immensely helpful.

The other thing that I asked for was that the character appeared to have quiet a red mouth. I wasn't wearing any red colouring on my mouth, it was just the colour of my mouth but it was accentuated by how pale my skin had been made by the makeup. People were concerned that my mouth was too red, but I thought it was important to leave it that way. Both of those requests were granted.

The look of her was very helpful to me. By the time they had put on the makeup and we had put me in the suit I felt as though I had gone through a doorway - and that it wasn't me, that it was someone else.

The suit was helpful too, in that when they made the first version of the suit it was too small. It had done something that that rubber never does - it had shrunk. And so it was almost unbearably tight, so tight that my hands and feet swelled up.

The first day was a very long day. I think my call was 3:30 in the morning and I think we probably wrapped at about 2:00 the next morning. It was a very long day. Because it took so long to get me into the suit. At that point it was taking nine hours - seven hours to put the whole thing with makeup on, and two hours to remove it all. The crew were working a nine hour day, but I was actually working an 18 hour day - and that first day it went on much longer.

In the middle of the first day that I had worn the whole thing for the first time for the duration - instead of just putting it on, looking at it, and taking it off - I had inadvertently not limited my fluid intake. So by about four O'clock in the afternoon I was desperate to go to the loo. It was an enormous and expensive procedure to get me out of it - because the crew was idle for the 45 minutes it took for me to go to the loo [laugh]. And 45 minutes of an idle crew is a very long time on a film set and a very expensive period of time.

Part of the difficulty was that my hands and feet had swollen so that they couldn't get me back in the suit. So that night, at two O'clock on that Saturday morning, Todd [Masters, design supervisor: Borg, Star Trek: First Contact] went back to his workshop and by noon on Monday he'd come up with a new suit that fitted.

But, that period of time, of being in the too tight suit, kind of produced the way the character moved. I was moving against the rubber all the time and it created the way the character moved - which was very helpful to me. And I just went on doing it even thought the subsequent suit wasn't tight at all.

And then there was another element of the makeup that was a precipitating thing - another factor that kicked the character into place. That was the contact lenses. I could see out but, because they were so reflective, it was very difficult for people to read me. And I kind of felt untouchable, and sort of unreadable and inscrutable and as if I was invulnerable in a way. That was very very useful. I think it was very frightening to people that they couldn't read me.

Oddly enough, even though I was covered in half an inch of rubber, I always felt naked in the suit. And all of those elements knitted together in some odd way to be very influential in the way she emerged. As I said, more than any other character ever that I have played.

I always look upon the Borg Queen as a collaborative effort really. Without Todd and his crew, and Scott and his crew and the gifts that they gave me, it would have been a very different character.

Alice Krige (pictured with Martin Landau) as Helen Weiss in Max and Helen

DR: Of all the work you've done which are you most proud of?

AK: That's a very difficult question to answer. As you mentioned, I've done such a wide variety of work, and every time I work there's something that I learn - that's valuable to me. I seem always to walk away with something that has made it memorable and productive for me. So, to chose one above the other is kind of difficult.

For example, I have played several real people, and that's always astonishing because one has a certain kind of responsibility to try and stand in those shoes. Two of the characters that I played, who were real people, were both involved in the holocaust in very heartbreaking ways.

I was playing a woman called Helen [Helen Weiss in Max and Helen] who was in Poland at the time that war broke out. She was transported to a labour camp and had the most horrifying experiences at the hands of an SS officer.

While we were filming that in Budapest, for Poland, we were doing a night shoot and it was the night of the transportations. The actor playing opposite me was Treat Williams, we were sitting on the set one night and ended up talking to an old man who was playing an extra. It transpired that this man had himself been transported from Budapest to Buchenwald and he had no idea of what was going to happen to him - not really. And he said to us: "Do you see this rolling stock that we are using? Do you know that's the original rolling stock from all those years ago."

It was overwhelming, because you are are required to imaginatively re-inhabit that space. And, although you can't ever get to understand what it was actually like, it was a very shocking and powerful experience to go through those footsteps on that particular path. That has happened to me several times and each of those experiences has been sort of indelibly imprinted on my mind.

Alice Krige as Sybil Gordon in Chariots of Fire

The very first picture I ever did I met my husband on so [laughs] every time I hear the music for Chariots of Fire I kind of get transported back to being wildly in love [laughs]. Every piece of work I have has something associated with it.

Perhaps one of the most perfect shot for shot films I've ever been part of was a piece that very few people will have seen. It's a black and white movie called Institute Benjamenta. It was made by a remarkable pair of film makers - identical twins the brothers Quay [Stephen and Timothy]. They have done astonishingly beautiful work in stop-motion animation.

I was recently invited by them out of the blue. They had been invited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles to speak about their work. And up on that extraordinary big screen, with that astounding sound system, we saw a lot of the twins' work.

Anyway, Institute Benjamenta was their first live action feature and if you asked me to describe it I would say it was film as poetry, as opposed to film as literal linear story telling. I found it to be a most beautiful dreamlike piece of work, and I think it's probably of the best work I've ever done.

DR: If someone was to make a film based on your life who do you think would play you?

AK: Oh my goodness. No, that's an impossible question [laughs]. Wow! No one has ever asked me that. I can't possibly answer [laughs]. What a fascinating thought.

DR: Appearing in Star Trek is usually the nail in the coffin for the career of any established actor - that they'll be remembered for that character for the rest of their career. Thankfully you've managed to break that trend and gone on to do more diverse work. But was it a concern when you were up for the part?

Alice Krige as Christabella in Silent Hill

AK: No, because I had no understanding at all about what I was getting into. I'd never watched Star Trek. I was unaware of the fact that it was a phenomenon of the 20th century - that it had iconic stature or status. I was oblivious to all of this. I was sent these four scenes, because that's all it was. And I said to my agent: "I won't meet them unless they give me the script."

And my agent said: "No, you don't understand. No one gets the script - no one sees the script, even. You either go in and see them on the basis of these four scenes, or you don't go at all."

So I went in and met them and it was four screens in a science fiction movie. I had no inkling of what I was actually getting into, and I don't think that anyone necessarily assumed that the character would inhabit an archetypal space ultimately.

So, fortunately, it wasn't a nail in my coffin. And it was not something that necessarily generated more work. Even then science fiction was still seen as the poor second cousin. I think that's changing. I hope that people are not looking at science fiction, or good science fiction at any rate, as B-movies. There was certainly still that feeling 10 year's ago.

But, yes, she certainly was a huge character and there is an enormous amount of fun in playing characters that big in film. Generally one is required to reproduce real life, which is often just thrown away and, comparatively speaking, very low key. To play someone like the Borg Queen is like playing one of the Shakespearean heroines - It's like playing Lady M. You're given scope to deal with all those archetypal resonances that great drama, that has lasted for centuries, addresses. It's very rare to be allowed to do that on film.

Alice Krige received an honorary doctorate in Literature from Rhodes
Pic: Greaves Photography, Grahamstown

DR: If the work dried up tomorrow what would you do to pay the bills?

AK: Erm... I think I would go and learn how to be a gardener - I love gardening.

I actually went to university to train to be a psychologist, and that was my initial qualification. And that's what my mother was. And that's of immense fascination to me.

DR: I bet your mother had a field day with you playing the part of the Borg Queen.

AK: It's fun actually, because I very often send her the scripts as I start on them, because she is obviously interested in my life and what happens to me. So she reads them and we often talk about them. Often, if I'm looking for a back story for a character, I will call my mum and we'll have a chat.

I played a character last year that I found immensely disturbing, called Christabella in Silent Hill. I needed to find an underpinning for her behaviour, and so I called my mum and we spent an hour on the phone. I was saying: "This is what I think it has to be to make someone this disturbed. What do you think?"

We often have a great deal of fun imagining that together. But I don't think I would want to work in that field at this point in my life. I would, at this point, be very nervous about suggesting to people what they might do to change their lives. Although I know my mother has helped hundreds of people to cope with stuff that was happening to them, I don't know if I would want to do that.

I would either want to retrain as a gardner, or as a doctor. But I think doctors are so compromised nowadays by health insurance [laughs] and what they are and aren't allowed to do in terms of treatment - both of my brothers are doctors and so is my father. But that's a very interesting view - if one can be in medicine and is open minded enough to have the skills of current western medicine, but to be open to the whole area of holistic medicine. And help people actually just be aware of what they do that generates disease in their lives...

DR: Our office is based in Totnes, in Devon, which is one of the places in the UK where holistic medicine is embraced.

AK: I love Devon. I spent five years on Dartmoor with my husband working in Dartmoor prison. I think if I could live anywhere in the world I would live on the high moors of Dartmoor - if I could choose, that's where I would live. We lived in North Bovey, Gulworthy and between Tavistock and Plymouth. It's utterly magical.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Marek Steven at Greenroom
Sabine at

Star Trek: Borg Fan Collective is released to own and rent on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment on the 03 July 2006

Order this DVD for £27.49 (RRP: £34.99) by clicking here

This interview was conducted on 30 June 2006

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