Whether you're a full fledged Star Trek geek, or not a fan at all, everyone has their favorite Trek girl. Despite the long list of goddesses to grace the show, I've always been an Uhura man. From her kickass hair to the way she fit in to that red mini-skirted uniform, it was hard to stop looking at her. So when Randy had a chance to do a quick interview Nichelle Nichols for retroCRUSH, I was excited. Hell, when Randy and I were growing up and played with his Mego Star Trek dolls, I'd always grab the Uhura one and just stare at it, sneaking a quick peek under her skirt. We didn't have a lot of time to do a full blown interview with Nichelle, so we tried to stay away from the Trek questions she's been asked a jillion times already. And a an added bonus, check out our Nichelle Nichols gallery at the end!
Even as a little kid you knew you wanted to be in show business?
Yes, even as a child, I always knew what I wanted to be. I was writing plays (starring me, of course,) when I was still in gradeschool. As a matter of fact, for years my father told me when I was a small baby and he would carry me to the refrigerator at night to get my bottle, as soon as the light went on, he claimed I would break into a chorus of "Let Me Entertain You!!" Of course, that song hadn't been written yet, but you get the idea.
You married, had a child, and divorced at a relatively early age. Was it difficult balancing your career & motherhood? Why do you think your own relationship with your mother was so strained?
Of course there were difficulties. I took off from my touring career until my son was three years old. Fortunately, living in Chicago allowed me to work until he was six before I accepted any gigs out of town. Also, I was very fortunate to have two loving and generous parents who helped me a great deal.
What was it like playing a loud mouth, tough hooker named Dorinda in the classic Blaxploitation film Truck Turner?
Dorinda allowed me to stretch my acting ability in several ways and I am glad I got the chance at such an early time. Drawing on that experience, I was able to do a creditable job as a tough army officer in Sandy Howard's film, "The Supernaturals," in which I starred with Maxwell Caufield.
Many people were surprised to find out about your relationship with Gene Roddenberry before he married Majel. What is your best memory of Gene? How did the song about him come about?
I was recording an album for Crescendo Records and it included an interview about my life, and of course, quite a bit about Star Trek. I decided I wanted a song about Gene who was in failing health, so I talked with my music director, Jim Meechan, who has written many of the songs I sing, and we wrote "Gene." I fortunately got to sing it for him and give him a gold record of the song shortly before he passed.
How do you feel about the popularity of Star Trek and being known primarily for playing Uhura. At times I read you were unhappy with Uhura’s lines being cut in the original series. How would you like to have seen her character more fully developed?
Of course I would have liked to have had the chance to further develop the role of Uhura, as Gene had planned for all of the original seven, but that's the way it goes. I have no regrets about my Star Trek experience...where else can you become a living legend, have thousands and thousands of loving fans, and get paid for it?
Do you feel you would have been as famous now if you hadn’t played Uhura? What would it take to play her again? Have you thought about writing her into your own novels?
Saturna is the heroine in my novels, along with her mother, Nyota Domonique, who just happens to have an African heritage! My novels, "Saturn's Child" and "Saturna's Quest," (and a third one coming next year) take place at the end of this century and in the early part of 2100. So it is possible that Nyota Domonique and Saturna are related to Uhura who comes along in another century!
What are you working on right now? Are there other roles you’ve played that you’re especially proud of?
I have just finished playing the role of Ms. Mabel in Ice Cube's new movie, "Are We There Yet?" which will be released this summer. We filmed in Canada and it was a joy working once more with Director Bryan LeVant and many of the crew from the Disney hit film, "Snow Dogs," in which I costarred with Cuba Gooding Jr., and the late great James Coburn. I enjoyed working with Ice Cube...he's a hoot! I am also writing a new book, non-fiction, which pertains to women, but men might also benefit, be enlightened, and perhaps even enjoy.
Is there a famous celebrity that you idolized or had a “retroCRUSH” on while growing up?
I had a number of celebrity heroes growing up. I guess the ones that come to mind are the 12 legendary ladies I "become" in my one-woman musical, "Reflections," which I am currently remounting. Some of these are Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday and several more, all of which influenced me greatly as I was growing up and establishing my own singing career.
Thanks to Nichelle for the interview! If you'd like to find out more of what's going on with the lovely Ms. Nichols, or buy one of her books, check out her website at UHURA.COM.
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