Brent Spiner’s Star Trek: The Next Generation character, Lieutenant Commander Data, wasn’t afraid of anything, mostly because he was an android. Though he eventually upgraded his positronic brain to include an emotion chip, Data never had to experience fear if he didn’t want to.
This was demonstrated in a particularly tense scene of the movie Star Trek: First Contact. When Data explained to Captain Jean-Luc Picard that he was experiencing anxiety about confronting the Borg, Picard suggested that he deactivate his emotion chip. He did so and moved forward fearlessly.
Unfortunately for Spiner, he can’t deactivate his emotions when they get in the way of doing his job. He found this out in a terrifying manner when he was asked to perform a stunt for First Contact that involved one of his biggest fears. Spiner recently told the story during a panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of the movie.
Spiner is Terrified of Heights
Spiner has always been terrified of heights. Every so often, his role as Data required him to face this fear. One such time was when he was filming the scene in First Contact where Alfre Woodard’s character, Lily, is shooting at the away team, as seen in the video above.
The scene was filmed in a missile silo in Arizona. Spiner and Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Picard, were standing on a very high platform inside the silo. Stewart knew that Spiner was afraid of heights and always teased him about it. So, while they were on this platform, Stewart was bouncing up and down trying to scare Spiner.
The scene required Data to jump off the platform so he could get to the ground to disarm Lily. These kinds of stunts were always performed by Spiner’s stunt double. So, he did the stunt for the initial takes.
When Jonathan Frakes, who directed and starred in the movie, watched the footage they’d gotten, he decided that the take wasn’t good enough. He told Spiner that it was obvious the jump was done by a stunt double. He then said that they’d have to redo the scene with Spiner performing the stunt himself.
Data Helped Spiner Face his Fears
They didn’t go back to the missile silo to reshoot the stunt with Spiner. Instead, they did it at a soundstage. The crew got Spiner into a harness and said they were going to progressively lift him higher and higher off the ground so he could get used to it before performing the big jump.
Spiner said that he “was in a panic” before he even got off the ground. The stunt team lifted him three feet off the ground as promised. Spiner hated the feeling even though he was still relatively close to the ground. The stunt crew said they would only lift him a bit higher and would work with him until he was comfortable.
However, Spiner knew that he wouldn’t be able to do it if he didn’t just go for it. So, he told the stunt crew to lift him all the way to the top of the soundstage. Spiner said that the only way he got through performing the stunt was to “focus and be Data.” He admitted that if he hadn’t focused so hard on embodying his role, he would have screamed the whole way down.
Luckily, he was able to focus and complete the jump. When he landed, everyone there applauded for him. However, Frakes still wasn’t happy with the footage. He told Spiner they’d have to do it again.
Though he was terrified, Spiner did the stunt again and nailed it. With pride, he said that if you slow down the footage of the scene, you can clearly see it’s him, not a double.
To this day, Spiner is still terrified of heights. Luckily, he hasn’t had to face that fear as dramatically as he did that day.