Star Trek: Nana Visitor on Playing One of TV's Overlooked Female Heroes in Deep Space Nine

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced fans to some of the Star Trek universe's most complex characters. One of that was Kira Nerys, played by Nana Visitor. Kira was a member of the Bajoran resistance who fought against the Cardassian occupation.

Where other Star Trek shows had Starfleet officers who were unabashed heroes, even at their lowest moments, Kira was more nuanced. To the Bajorans, she was a freedom fighter. To the Cardassians, she was a terrorist. She was someone who sometimes did the kinds of things Starfleet never would in order to get her people one step closer to freedom.

In the new documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Visitor, well, looks back at her time playing Kira. Ahead of the film's May 13th theatrical release, Visitor spoke to ComicBook.com over the phone about where Kira fits into conversations about television in the 1990s, and how she might be different if introduced today.

Nana Visitor Terry Farrell What We Left Behind
(Photo: Shout! Studios)

The documentary includes a segment where the writers get back together to break down the first episode of a theoretical eighth season of the show. In it, Kira becomes a vedek. Is that how you would envision her 20 years later?

Nana Visitor: Well, my understanding, and I saw the doc, I've seen it twice now, but what I felt was that she stepped away from being a vedek to come back to the station and do what was necessary. Now that's what interested me. Being a vedek, not so much, but I know that's the direction the books took, so it makes sense that that's where she went, but that she comes back is what interests me.

When people talk about television in the 1990s, they often talk about some the important, strong female characters that were introduced like Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Xena in Xena: Warrior Princess. Does it feel like Kira gets overlooked in that conversation?

I think she was a little bit controversial. Xena was still, she was strong, but she looked just a little more like something in the '90s that was a little more palatable. There were edges to me that might hurt some people. So I understand when she doesn't come up in those cultural conversations, but what has always satisfied me and kept me feeling okay about it all, are the people that I've met in the 20 odd years since they show. The women who say, “This meant a lot.” From people in NASA to just every industry I can imagine, women saying, “You know what? I was different growing up, and your character, I would say, ‘What would Kira do?’ And it gave me the strong answer.” So just to feel that, there was just this thread of influence and strength that Kira gave other women was really enough for me.

Plus, the young men that I've met, more recently when it started to stream that go, you know what? Kira's cool. She's a cool woman. That acceptance is huge. Of course, that wasn't there 25 years ago so much, but it is now.

You touched a bit on this in the documentary, but Kira was a freedom fighter or a terrorist depending on who you asked. Now, 20 years later, terrorism is seen differently, at least in western culture. Do you think you’d play the character differently if you were introducing her to modern audiences? Leaning more or less into that aspect of her character?

I feel like I leaned into it hard at the time. I didn't back off or make her reasonable or make her non-threatening. I actually got a lot of pushback for how un-PC she was. I think what would be interesting if it was done now, is what the writers would do and say, and the opportunity they would have to to make certain points about freedom fighting or terrorism, however you want to speak of her. But my truth would be the same. The human truth of having post-traumatic stress, and recovering from that, and all the personhood questions that she had.

Another thing about her character was her faith in the Prophets. What was the reaction to your depiction of a person of faith in the Star Trek universe? Because besides some vague Klingon stuff, that was almost unheard of.

Right. At the time when it was airing, when I'd go to a convention, there would be a lot of people saying, “Yeah, yeah, that stuff is boring to me. I don't want to see that.” But now I think with streaming the show people get a whole different truth to the whole mix of things that we were doing. I found it fascinating that I got to play someone and show all those different aspects of their character. Not only that but the flip side of her character, the Intendant. It was just every opportunity. It was Disney World for an actor. Really.

Something that comes up in the documentary is that the angriest you ever got on the show was when the writers wanted to create a romance between Kira and Gul Dukat. Why did that bother you as much as it did?

We can go through the horrendous war criminals in every part of the world. Just name the one that chills you to the bone, that's who Gul Dukat was to me. He wasn't someone who was just carrying out orders, because his family was in danger or whatever. I couldn't work my head around anything other than these were his hard and fast beliefs that another sentient being was below, was less than him. To find a love relationship, or a physical relationship, with him was unspeakable and unthinkable to me. I think that Damar and Kira towards Season Seven could have gotten involved. That would have been something different, but not Gul Dukat. Never him.

In reuniting with the cast and crew for this documentary, did you hear any stories that you someone didn’t know about during production that really surprised you?

You go through seven years, which is really more like 30, because of the time you spend every day on the set. Intense time. Not just, “Hey, how are you?” sit down on the couch and have a conversation time. I thought from my perspective, to hear everyone's deep perspective on it was fascinating. It changed my perspective on everything, and it was emotional. It was tough to hear how Terry [Farrell] felt about leaving. I was so upset she was leaving. I don't think I understood really her perspective, and I got it from the documentary.

I don’t know if you’ve seen any of Star Trek: Discovery, but to me it seems more like Deep Space Nine than any other iteration of Star Trek so far.

I saw the first three episodes and went, “Ah, I see a little bit of Kira there,” and I'm so happy.

Do you feel at all vindicated to see Star Trek, and television in general, turn more towards what Deep Space Nine was doing?

Vindication? It just makes sense to me, is the bottom line of that feeling. It makes sense that they look at our show and go, “Yeah.” What we're supposed to do, as a Star Trek show as I understand it, is give you a safe perspective to look at yourself, to examine what you think about these subjects that we're bringing up, and certainly I think the lens that Deep Space Nine had, all those years ago, really does reflect where we are now and what we're struggling with. We're not able to just boldly go, we need to stay and figure it out, which is exactly what we did on the space station.

If you had one more episode to play Kira again, are there any stories, idea, angles that you’d like to explore that you didn’t have the chance to during Deep Space Nine?

I always wanted to explore more the experience of giving birth to a child that you don't keep, that isn't yours. I think they had so many storylines, it was so much going on, they can't do all of it. But that was there, and I mentioned it at the time to the writers, and that's basically what they said. “We can't, there's so much to do, so many stories,” but that would've been an interesting study to me.

I think it says a lot about how much you did with that character that giving birth to somebody else’s child was a back-burner issue.

[laughs] Right. A gift to me because I was pregnant at the time. there were other actresses who got fired from jobs for being pregnant, and I was scared that I was gonna lose my job. It was a real possibility, and that they didn't hide me behind desks, or limit my time, but just went, “Here, she's pregnant, and just here it is. Here's a woman who is pregnant, this is what she looks like. This is what she goes through.” It was a huge opportunity and a real gift, as I say.

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What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine plays in theaters for one night only on May 13th.

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