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Jeffrey Combs

November 20, 2012

 

If you’ve watched any Trek in your life, and I’m assuming you have if you’re reading these words, you’ll know that one man has been in all of them.
Jeffrey Combs
He’s never been the star, or even on the main bridge crew, but he’s always been floating around somewhere.
Here, look…

List of characters played by Jeffrey Combs

Weyoun – Vorta dude with pointy ears and very pale skin. Operates within a cold, casual bubble of evil.
Liquidator Brunt – Ferengi dude who hunts down Businesses not playing by the rules. Probably corrupt.
Shran – Andorian commander who has a thing for Scott Bakula.
Ferengi thief – appears in a one off episode of Enterprise, spends time with Scott Bakula.
Scott Bakula – remember that episode where Archer outruns an explosion on the big Xindi weapon? That wasn’t Bakula, it was Jeffrey Combs.
Sick Bay – remember that episode where the sickbay on Enterprise turned into Jeffrey Combs?
Silicon lifeform from ‘Devil in the dark’ – It was the 60’s and Jeffrey Combs was just starting out. His parents led him onto the set and told him to put on a weird blob costume and shuffle around the “caves”.

So there it is. Jeffrey Combs is everywhere. To be fair, he’s not the only one. Star Trek is well known for treating its guest stars like friends [or people they can hire on the cheap] – other examples:

J G Hertzler – Martok, Hirogen thug, Klingon lawyer, T’Pol’s body double
Casey Biggs – Damar, Captain of random ship
Andreas Katsulas – Tomalok, Friendly captain of advanced race that treats Scott Bakula nice, but oppresses the third gender of his own species.
And then there are the former cast members who direct episodes of other series – Michael Dorn, Johnathan Frakes, Geordi LaForge, Lt. Paris etc.

But back to Combs. There’s a good reason why he keeps getting used. He’s really fucking good at acting. If you don’t know anything about how to act then let’s run through all the things he does with each character, and then you can also say, ‘yeah, he’s really fucking good’ and be able to back it up with my examples. Or maybe your own examples, there are lots of them.

1] Weyoun

The first thing you notice about Weyoun is he sounds like a politician. His voice rarely rises [only when someone questions the divinity of the Founders] and most of his dialogue is bullshit. Just like a politician, it doesn’t matter if he means what he’s saying, it just matters that people believe it. Or maybe less than that…all that matters is people don’t suspect he’s lying.

What else?

The way Weyoun moves is interesting – he never runs or walks quickly, he always keeps the same pace and usually has his hands clasped behind his back. This reinforces the politician angle, as it seems like he’s always going for a nice, graceful walk in the garden, even if the ship or station around him is being blown to pieces.

The best moments of Weyoun are probably when he interacts with Dukat. There’s a scene in the episode where Sisko is trying to take back the station that is surprising and arguably the finest scene in the history of Trek. Dukat is talking about victory and how to achieve it, and Weyoun listens and asks questions as if Dukat is some kind of wise mentor figure. This is perfect for both characters [and actors] as both believe they are in control. You could say it’s the writing that makes it great, but at least 57% of making a scene work is down to the acting. Marc Alamo is great as always, letting his guard down, drinking whatever alcohol it is that Cardassians drink, sitting back in the Captain’s chair and remembering past glories/regrets. A lesser actor would’ve tried to put meaning into the words by pausing a lot and gesticulating like a nut, but Alamo seems more concerned with smelling and tasting his drink. This is a guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t say the words, he believes them, almost like there’s no script at all.

And what about Jeffrey Combs, the guy this piece is supposed to be about?

Yeah, I get hung up on Marc Alamo and Dukat sometimes. It annoys me what happened to the character after this episode, such a waste of a complex dude. That scene later on in the series where Sisko says that Dukat is pure evil and it’s not up for debate – actually, it is up for debate. Weyoun is pure evil [or pure conviction?], but Dukat has shown elsewhere in the series that he does have a conscience, despite all his flaws.

Anyway, Combs…in the scene, he’s just as good as Alamo. You might not notice it as he remains standing the whole time and doesn’t drink anything, but this is the strength of his performance. He’s listening and asking questions, and everything he does is false. He’s doesn’t really give a shit about Dukat or what he thinks about Bajor – by this point, even though he’s a relatively young clone [I think he’s just over a year old, but I’m not sure] he surely knows that the Dominion is far superior to the Cardassians and they are just a stepping stone to larger hegemony over the Alpha Quadrant. But the way the scene lasts so long shows how careful Weyoun is when dealing with Dukat. He makes sure the Cardassian doesn’t suspect anything about his allies, even if there’s possibly nothing to suspect at this point. How? He stands behind the desk and moves around the side, but never challenges Dukat’s space, as if he is a subordinate. Very clever.

Actually, by the end of the scene, you even start to think, hey, maybe Weyoun is interested in what Dukat’s saying after all. Okay, that’s goes against what I’ve just written, but it could be true. They’re both conquerors/invaders and the concept of a ‘true victory’ would be interesting to that type of person, wouldn’t it?

No matter what it all means, the acting elevates that scene…it’s a shame Alamo never got used more…

2] Liquidator Brunt

Okay, Weyoun dragged on for a bit, so I’ll be brief with this one. I never really liked the Ferengi episodes much, even though all the actors were usually pretty sharp.
The main crux for Jeffrey Combs in this one is: How can he make the distinction between Weyoun and Brunt?
The answer is mostly in the voice.
Every time he speaks, like most Ferengis, it feels like he’s gonna spit all over the other guy. Weyoun does not do this.

Of course, the make-up helps a lot, but still…Combs knows how to draw out the differences. Watch the way Brunt moves around. There’s no grace, there’s arrogance. And when something’s not going his way, his body panics and he runs like a scared little baby. Weyoun would never do this, he would just walk gracefully at a slightly faster pace.

3] Shran

This time Combs gets to be the boss. He is the equivalent of Captain, so he commands a ship and answers to someone higher up, just like Scott Bakula.
He also gets to have a conscience and a violent streak. Each is played nicely against the other, with the conscience side of him usually muttered through gritted teeth.

As for body movement, it’s  a slighter change. Actually, it’s almost no movement at all. When he was Weyoun he always seemed to adapt to who else was in the room with him. If he was the highest rank, he wouldn’t look at people so much. If it was Captain Sisko, he would do his politician act. If he was Brunt, it would depend whether or not he had the upper hand.

With Shran, he just stands without affectation. When he moves it is with purpose, and usually with a phaser in hand. On his ship, he doesn’t go to his officers to ask them something, he stays by his chair and makes them come to him, as it should be for a captain.

When you think about it, this is pretty basic if you’re playing a Captain. Therefore the best way to make the character interesting is to really think about what his mental state would be at the moment and then making him deviate from expected positioning. Does that make sense?
Basically, the Captain of a ship can show his character on the bridge by how and where he moves. If the captain is a cold man, he would stay in his chair if one of his officers just got blown up. If he’s a caring guy, he would run over to them and scream for a doctor. If he’s caring, yet understands the role of being a calm captain, he might stand up a little, hesitate then sit down again and bark for a doctor.

Okay, another example:

If Shran is up against a superior foe or outgunned, he could either stay in his chair and be defiant, or he could walk to his tactical officer as if he’s gonna take over the weapons himself. Or he could start to move and then return to his chair, caught in two minds.

There are other things he could do, and other situations…I’m not sure if he ever got the chance to show this on Enterprise…there was the end of season 3 where he faced the Xindi ship, but I can’t remember what his movements were. But I do remember the episode where he tried to steal the Xindi weapon and Archer hit him in the face. He was always careful to stay near his chair during that scene, and when he was hit, he was sent flying over his chair – which suggests a] as there were two captains on board he wanted to show he was in command/control, and b] he couldn’t sit down in his chair properly after being hit, showing he’d slipped a little in his position as captain.

You might say this is too detailed an analysis, but really, there’s a truth when it comes to film and TV. Nothing is an accident. These guys spend a long time on scenes, and the better actors will always think about where there character would be and what they would be doing. If you really think about what you’re watching, and pay close attention, there’s usually quite a lot of good stuff to notice.

Obviously, you could be wrong. E.g. Oh, Weyoun just touched his leg, that means he secretly wants to fuck Sisko.
But it’s better to try and notice this stuff than not…

4] Sick Bay

The only misstep from Combs. Did anyone, for even one second, believe he was actually a sickbay?
Though to be fair, he was probably miscast. Tommy Lee Jones would’ve been a safer bet.

5] Silicon lifeform

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I found him convincing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2013 1:19 am

    i enjoyed this read, very much. i’m re-watching DSN and Enterprise (newer to me). I always felt something about Combs. I appreciate that you were able to put words to it.

  2. Stavrogin permalink
    July 11, 2013 2:47 pm

    Thanks, PJ. Reading it back to myself now, I think I got a little confused in the ‘Shran’ part – it doesn’t say exactly what I wanted it to, and I can’t remember what exactly I wanted to say anymore so I can’t fix it. Anyway, point is, Combs is a decent actor.

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