Colm Meaney, better known as transporter chief O'Brien of the Starship Enterprise, didn't quite know what he was getting himself into with "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
"I'd seen it (the original series), but I'd never been a fan," Meaney said. "I'd never been a fan of science fiction in general."So why take the job? "I thought it would be a giggle," he said.
Meaney was in town last weekend to attend a Star Trek convention. And appearing as a star of television's most popular science fiction show wasn't something he had in mind when the "ST:TNG" pilot was made back in 1986.
"I was `ND crew,' " he said. "Nondescript crew. I was actually on the main bridge in the pilot. I was nondescript on the main bridge."
Although Meaney had extensive stage experience, this was his first experience with science fiction. In a scene in which the ship experiences a jolt, he said he expected hydraulic sets to create the illusion.
"But the director says, `On the count of three, I want you all to shake,' " Meaney said. "That was like - here we are in high-tech low-tech."
But after the pilot, the producers couldn't figure out what to do with this nondescript crewman from Dublin, Ireland. So Meaney returned to New York, did another play and spent some time on the soap opera "One Life to Live" as a kidnapper.
But the following season, he returned for several episodes of "Star Trek," which airs on Sundays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays at 6 p.m. on Ch. 13.
"I think I was ND security for a while. I was sort of chasing aliens with dog heads and that sort of thing," he said. "Finally, I became ND transporter chief."
It wasn't until the third season that Meaney's character acquired a last name. And when "transporter chief O'Brien" appeared in the script, Meany didn't know what to make of it.
"I said, `Who's this O'Brien guy? I'm the transporter chief.' "
This season, O'Brien acquired a first name (Miles) and a bride, played by Rosalind Chao. Although he's not a regular, Meaney does about 15 episodes a year, with his character featuring prominently in several.
"I don't make as much money as the other guys, but the advantage is that I can go do other things during the season," he said. "It worked out very well for me and for the producers."
Life on the Enterprise is rather surreal at times. Actors are at the mercy of the writers, and sometimes their ideas are rather odd.
Meaney told of one scene in which he was serving dinner. He dropped a bit of food on the table, scooped it up with his finger and ate it - only to be told by the director they'd have to do another take.
"He said, `Well, you can't do that on the Enterprise.' I said, `Why not?'
"And he said, `This is a self-cleaning ship.' "
And he's also wondering about O'Brien and the ship's lounge/watering hole, Ten-Forward.
"I'm actually quite worried about this. Every time I go into Ten-Forward, someone attacks me, " he said. " . . . and it's never been my fault."
And Meaney wouldn't mind seeing the crew loosen up a bit.
"Don't we ever have a disco?" he asked. "What's all this culture - I mean, string quartets?
"I think it's (Captain) Picard."
Then there are those Star Fleet uniforms.
"I hate it. The space suit. The dreaded space suit," Meaney said.
The first couple of seasons, the uniforms were one-piece spandex. And after the actors had worn them for a while, "You look like a kid in diapers. They're all sagging down around you."
The new two-piece knit uniforms are better but still "very uncomfortable, very restrictive."
As for O'Brien's future, fans are wondering if he and Mrs. O'Brien will add a baby to the Enterprise crew. "It's certainly a possibility," Meany said. "You never know what the writers will do."SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION: If you missed last week's Star Trek convention, you've got another chance to be immersed in Enterprise lore - the CONduit science fiction and fantasy convention, which began this afternoon at the Quality Inn at 154 W. 600 South in Salt Lake City.
The convention covers all kinds of SF - books, movies and television - but several sessions deal with TV, including "Star Trek vs. Star Trek: The Next Generation," tonight at 8 p.m.