reprinted from Star Trek Magazine
Quark's and Rom's mother Ishka, better known as Moogie, caused plenty of problems for her boys - especially after she and Grand Nagus Zek fell in love. Cecily Adams tells us what it's like to play a fierce Ferengi female.
NOVEMBER 2000 - Cecily Adams couldn't look less like Ishka, whom she portrayed in four episodes of STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE. But the strength of character is there, although you wouldn't know that if you had seen her in previous TV roles, which have tended toward the vulnerable and ditsy. "I usually play timid characters, or people who are insecure or flaky," she says. "So Ishka was a real departure for me, although I think the more I did it the more confident I got at it. And now I know I can play a strong character in a giant rubber head!"
Taking over the role
Ishka was initially played by Andrea Martin, in 'Family Business,' but Andrea was unable to return. Cecily says, "I don't know that I had ever even seen DEEP SPACE NINE, and so I had no idea how to even approach the character, and I had no idea what they were talking about! For the audition scene, we had the worldwide tongo championship, and there was Maihar'du, and there were tube grubs, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I said 'Is this in English?'
"Luckily, I knew Armin [Shimerman]; he and I had been in the same theater company, so I called him and asked if he had a tape of the episode with Andrea Martin. He let me watch it, and I got an idea of how broad the character was. Andrea did it very big - the character was very confident and very loud - and I really got a handle on how to approach it.
"Apparently, they saw a lot of people for the role, and from what I understand they saw people who were funny, but were so different from Andrea that it didn't work. I'm younger than she is, but I think we're similar in many ways. First of all, they put me right into her clothes and they didn't have to hem anything or let anything out, and I wore her facepiece for the first two episodes. Then, when they asked me back for the third episode, I said, 'OK; I'll come back if you give me my own face!' And so they did."
Getting into STAR TREK
Cecily knew of the previous STAR TREK shows, but had not grown up as a fan. "I was aware of them - certainly the original show and a little bit of THE NEXT GENERATION; maybe I'd seen them once or twice, but I had no idea about the world itself. I actually watched more VOYAGER because Roxann Dawson is a friend of mine and I was excited for her, but I really didn't get familiar until I was thrown into the world."
The makeup was rather daunting. "I had no idea what I was getting into," Cecily says. "You show up in the makeup trailer at three or four o'clock in the morning, and they don't warn you about what they're going to do; they start slathering this stuff on your face, and it's really shocking. Then, at seven o'clock, they're done and they put me in my outfit and you go right to the set and you start! It would be great to have two hours to practice in front of the mirror to see what your face is doing, because it is literally not your face any more."
Virtually nothing was left of Cecily by the time the makeup people had finished with her. "In the first episode they just drew lines on my hands, but then they decided that I didn't look old enough, so they put fake hands on me. Not an inch of my actual body was showing. The only things that were me were the palms of my hands and my upper lip! My own mother wouldn't know me. My father came to the set, and he couldn't look at me; he sat next to me, and every time he turned toward me he'd groan."
Coping with the makeup
The routine didn't get much easier. "Some days were easier than other days. It depends on how much sleep you get; I found that the more I got, the better I was able to cope with it. If I'd only gotten a couple hours' sleep I would get panicky and claustrophobic. I'd be in the makeup trailer and I'd think, 'What would happen if there were an earthquake right now,' and I'd start to flip out. I'd have to go outside and take some deep breaths to calm down.
"One time, I started crying in the makeup and I realized that I had to get a grip on myself because I would stuff up, and it's not like you can blow your nose!
"I think the more you do it, the easer it gets. I don't mean to take anything away from the others - I think it's astonishing that they were all in good cheer, and to be in the makeup all the time is really something."
Playing a Ferengi must be one of the deepest ends of the pool that an actor can be thrown into. "So much the deep end," Cecily agrees, "that if it wasn't for Rene Auberjonois I would have been lost completely." Rene directed Cecily's first show, 'Ferengi Love Songs.' "First of all, he's a wonderful actor and a really excellent director. And he's also been an acting teacher, and he's taught mask work, which is what this is. So it was a dream come true to have him be my first director.
"I remember my first day. It was a Ferengi day: scenes with me and Armin all day. I believe maybe Wally [Wallace Shawn] too, but definitely Armin. Armin really helped me; he said, 'Be confident that what you're thinking and feeling will come through your eyes.'
"But Rene was the one who pulled me out and helped me animated the face, because your face can look like it's not moving at all; you think you're doing things with it, and it's doing nothing. My favorite thing was when he said, 'Cecily, in this scene, be a little more animated; do it bigger!' I said, 'OK, Rene, I will, but I'm just afraid of coming off like a cartoon character,' And he said, 'Cecily, have you looked in the mirror?!'"
Cecily still wasn't confident she'd got it right. She says, "I begged and pleaded to watch the dailies so that I could learn from it. Where I thought I was making this huge expression, you barely see an eyebrow move. To lift your eyebrows, you have to lift this entire rubber head with the muscles of your forehead. Your face is at the gym!"
Hiding behind the mask
Cecily greatly admires her fellow guest star Wallace Shawn, who played Grand Nagus Zek. "I'm madly in love with Wally Shawn; he's the most fascinating man and just wonderful to work with." Cecily found that the Ferengi mask made it easier to interact right away. "In my first episode there was a lot of cooing and rubbing noses; we'd just met each other, and here I am feeding him worms and we're giggling and hugging.
"A lot of times you just sit around, and Wally and I would talk to each other about very intimate things. I knew what he looked like out of the makeup, but he honestly wouldn't have known me if he'd run me down in the street; one day, after I got out of the makeup, I went over to his trailer to say hi to him, and we just stared at each other. It was amazing."
The writers, having decided that Ferengi females were supposed to go naked, had to create an extraordinary character to make it credible that she was wearing clothes. "And baubles and bangles and beads and you name it," says Cecily. "I was a disaster to the sound people because I would come on stage and clank and clink! And the chain that hangs down would get hooked on my clothes all the time, and I'm flinging into things constantly. They had to loop practically half my lines because I'm jangling."
Dressed to Kill
In 'Profit and Lace,' Zek has encouraged the Ferengi to vote in favor of clothed females, and Ishka arrives on Deep Space Nine. Cecily says the costume people really went to town: "They said, 'Well, you're coming off of Ferenginar for the first time, so you want to be really fancy.' They put me in a tight Spandex suit from my wrists to the tip of my toes, but they had figured that Ishka was old, so they wanted to pad me - they put 30 or 40 pounds on me. It was my worst nightmare. And they gave me these huge hips, and butt, and breasts - they were about 15 pounds, these breasts; they were gigantic!
"I was watching the dailies the next day and I said, 'My breasts are upstaging the entire scene; who can see or hear anything when all you can do is stare at my breasts?' I'm telling you, each breast was larger than my head! And they're made out of birdseed. Then word came down from Ira [Steven Behr] - he said, 'You've got to make them smaller; nobody can concentrate! They're way to big!' So the second day my breasts got remarkably smaller."
Cecily loves Moogie as a character. "I love and adore her. How can you not? She just doesn't care what anybody thinks; she's so committed to what she things is right, and everyone else be damned. But she has a heart of gold, and she's very strong. To be a female as strong as she was, in the kind of world she came from, was wonderful, I think."
As for the Ferengi in general, Cecily admires the way they've been used, not just as comic relief but to introduce some deeper themes. "I credit, of course, the writers, but Armin as well; Armin really is interested in exploring more than just the comedy aspect of the Ferengi." Sometimes, though, the producers have shied away from showing anything too tragic. Cecily says, "In 'Profit and Lace' Quark and I have a big argument, and I have a heart attack. Sid - Alexander Siddig - directed, and he and Armin and I talked about exploring the dark side of the Ferengi.
Keeping it light
"We shot it very dark and Armin and Sid were really happy about it, but when people watched the dailies they didn't like it; they wanted the Ferengi to be funny. So we reshot it where my heart attack was silly instead of serious - I just make a funny face and fall out of frame! Quite frankly, I think that was a lot better. But although the Ferengi are the comic relief, it's really surprising and your guard is down when something touching happens, because you're not expecting it."
Andrea Martin's original portrayal helped Cecily beyond the audition. "I have to give Andrea credit because the way she played the character, very broad and very full of confidence, gave me a place to start. And then she was written with a lot of strength and humor, and it was easy to create a character from how well delineated she is. I got some insight into Moogie from hearing about Armin's mother, but I always wanted to meet Ira's!"
Cecily has plenty of theater experience, which she agrees is a great help in STAR TREK - and not only because of the technobabble. "It really helps with the Ferengi too, because you have to play to the back of the house, as they say; I don't know that an actor who hasn't done theater would necessarily know how to do that right off the bat. If you're used to playing for a camera it's very intimate work, and you cannot be intimate as a Ferengi, I can promise you!"
The convention circuit has beckoned for Cecily; she's appeared at a number of them, usually in company with the rest of her Ferengi family. "It's been really fun, because I love them dearly. They're like a real family. And I don't know of any show where you actually meet the fans and they tell you what they like about what you did and what they like about the show. It's so wonderful to have that feedback. When I did my first convention they told me to bring pictures so I could autograph them for people and I said, 'Why would anybody want my picture and my autograph?' So I took 20 pictures, and people were lined up out the door. I was stunned."
Cecily sees herself as an actor first and foremost, but has another string to her bow: that of a casting director. "I like to cast; it's so creative. But I'm an actor and nothing will ever change that. I've been one since I was conscious; I've never, ever wanted to do anything else. But there's a lot of down time. If you're not on a series you work maybe 30 days a year if you're lucky, so what do you do with the other 330 days?"
For three years, Cecily cast 'Third Rock From the Sun,' and has now formed her own small company and is responsible for 'That 70's Show.' She says, "Last year the producers of 'Third Rock' said, 'We saw you on DEEP SPACE NINE, and you were playing Quark's mother!? That's you? And I said, 'Yes, it is,' and they said, 'So you're not an ex-actor, you're still an actor; so if you got a great role on a series you'd drop us like a hot potato?' And I said, 'Yeah, basically!' But so far, knock on wood, I've been able to juggle it. I love to do other things. I do a lot of theater; I've done three shows this year, playing very different characters. And I do a lot of sketch theater where you write your own material; that's really fun."
Inspired by colleagues
Cecily enjoyed her four DEEP SPACE NINE shows - five, if you count the nightclub scene in 'What You Leave Behind' where the actors and production team appeared as 'themselves.' "I loved working with the people," she says. "I'd do it again in a second. Hats off to the producers and the casting director, Ron Surma, because they get such wonderful people on the show. I feel that it makes me a better actor to work with them, because I have to be on my toes, and I have to be very well prepared. It's like playing tennis with somebody who's better than you; it makes you better.
"All my shows had something special about them. It was really fun to be kidnapped and work with Iggy Pop ['The Magnificent Ferengi'], but I would have to say that my favorite was the first one; it was the biggest challenge, and the largest role.
"It was one of the best acting experiences of my whole life."
back to MENU