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The Final Frontier 

Sci-fi conventions are where movie stars go to burn brightly one more time

Wednesday, Jun 28 2000
Had Julian Glover not broken his leg at the beginning of January, it's quite likely he would be off filming a movie. But, Glover reminds, having a broken leg in the movie business is like being pregnant in the movie business: "It lasts five years," meaning casting agents don't phone up damaged goods and offer them choice roles, and so these are lean times, especially for a 65-year-old supporting actor. That's why the English actor is killing a couple of days in the sweltering suburbs north of Dallas, entertaining the geeks at 15 bucks a pop. Yet he does so with the tact and aplomb of a Shakespearean actor for whom all the world's a sound stage. The man who would be King Lear in September (at the New Globe Theatre, no less) sweats charm, even when sipping a tallboy Bud from a plastic bag.

At this moment, Julian Glover sits behind a long table, writing his name over and over again. When he looks up, he sees a man standing in front of him, and behind this man stand dozens more who look just like him--people who dress like tourists in their own home towns, cameras dangling over heaving chests adorned with images of Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker and James Bond. The man, who's either 25 or 55, points to the glossy photographs splayed out in front of Glover, which feature Glover in various costumes.

"So, which one are you most recognized as?" The man laughs, as though sharing a private joke. He wants to know which character Glover's most often mistaken for: General Veers from The Empire Strikes Back, Aristotle Kristatos from For Your Eyes Only, or Walter Donovan from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They're but three roles he's played in a four-decade-long career, yet they will forever define him. Glover is the sci-fi fan's trifecta, the lottery ticket.

He peers over his reading glasses, smiles, and says it's none of the above. If he's recognized at all, it's usually by someone who asks him only, "Aren't you famous?" Glover always responds, "Well, apparently not." Because he's English, the sarcasm doesn't sting so cruelly. The man decides he will have Glover sign a photograph of him wearing his Star Wars getup, though women usually have him sign a still from Indiana Jones. "It's a rather dashing photo," Glover says later.

Exactly 48 hours earlier, Glover sat in a tiny room with Richard Kiel (best known as the braces-gnashing baddie Jaws in two James Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and William Sanderson (the toy-making Sebastian from Blade Runner and Newhart's Larry) and tried to fathom what a science-fiction convention would be like. Being a con virgin (and who among the con's fan attendees isn't?), he could only imagine it: the writer's cramp, the remember-in-that-scene questions, the gawking as though he were an animal behind glass. Hard to believe, but the ultimate trivia question is rarely asked to appear at such conventions. He's at the Plano Centre this weekend, June 24-25, only at the insistence of friend Jeremy Bulloch, the man who wore Boba Fett's outfit in the Star Wars films--and has raked in a small fortune on the con circuit, despite the fact that his face was never even seen on screen.

"If you're a doctor or a lawyer or an actor, you go to parties and people talk shop," Glover says. "If you're a lawyer, people say, 'I've got this problem with this guy who's attacking my chickens...' If you're an actor, people say, 'Weren't you' You talk business..."

" why not get paid for it?" Sanderson chimes in, speaking in a sweet, soft Tennessee accent.

"So why not get paid for it," Glover says emphatically. "Thank you. If I don't know the answer to a question someone asks me about a specific scene I was in, I'll just say, 'I don't know.' I'm responsible to myself, not other people. I hope I will give good value."

One would think Julian Glover would be discomfited attending something like this convention, which bears the moniker Hollywood Expo. He's a proud man not given to sentimentalize a career that began on the highest note (he appeared in 1963's Tom Jones, alongside Albert Finney) and has seen its share of good and wretched moments. Sci-fi conventions have long been punch lines, their attendees--fans and actors alike--the butts of jokes, but Glover seems somehow different for the usual convention attraction. He's an actor, not just some Halloween mask.

Conventions of this sort were once the dominion of children and their parents; they were playgrounds where little boys bought comics and met their TV heroes. Now, they bear the stigma of parody: Last year's Galaxy Quest, with its has-been actors and their obese acolytes, was one more nail in the coffin. And they have become, in large part, hangouts for the stunted and the cynical--those who either collect toys instead of lives or those who sell their autographs on eBay hours after gathering them. To Walter Koenig, Star Trek's Mr. Chekov, Galaxy Quest "was incredibly painful," he tells an assembled crowd on Saturday afternoon. "When they're signing autographs, it was just too close to home." The crowd giggles and applauds, if only to prove it's in on the joke.

But the 63-year-old Koenig--who fondly recalls the conventions of the 1970s, when 30,000 lined the streets of New York--likes these people, these fanatics who sew together their memories until they become Kirk and Klingon costumes. To him, they're no different from the football fan who paints his face in team colors and bares his beer-swollen belly on television. They're just practitioners of different religions, that's all. Koenig adores these people because they keep him famous. Were they to disappear, so would he--one more supporting actor disposed of in Hollywood's dustbin, one more rerun switched off and forgotten about.

"The fans are still very supportive, and that's nice," Koenig says during an interview. "It's nice to know there are people out there who remember you, if you're not being current in terms of your career. I also get something out of it. There's financial remuneration, and you certainly cannot ignore that, but I think it's symbiotic. The fans want to see us, and it gives them a charge, and it charges us. It gives us an energy to know there's still respect and admiration in an industry where that's hard to come by. I don't think it's fair to malign fans. The way fans are cataloged by their interest in science fiction isn't fair. This is just another means of expression. And with the actors, there's a tacit implication that if you're doing conventions, it means you can't get work. In some cases, it might be so. It certainly is a significant source of income, but it's nice to get out there and say thank-you to the people who made it possible."

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky


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