Being an extra in a Star Trek movie is pretty much every Trekker’s dream. Few people actually get to live that dream though. Eric Stillwell is one of them. He got to be one of the Klingons in the courtroom scene in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. He shared the set with the likes of William Shatner, Christopher Plummer, and his favorite Star Trek actor, DeForest Kelley.
However, the experience wasn’t nearly as fun as he thought it would be. In an interview with Heavy in February, Stillwell talked about the difficult aspects of becoming a Klingon.
Landing the Job
Stillwell was working behind the scenes of Star Trek: The Next Generation around the same time that The Undiscovered Country started filming. The show was on a season break when he and some of the other behind-the-scenes folks heard that the movie was looking for extras. Since they weren’t working, Stillwell, his writing partner Trent Christopher Ganino, and a production assistant named Dave Rossi all decided to show up and volunteer to be extras.
Stillwell was cast as one of the Klingons that filled the rafters of the theater-like courtroom. Ganino was cast as one of the Klingon judges and Rossi was cast as one of the random aliens on the prison planet of Rura Penthe.
Becoming a Klingon
When they went in for their costume fittings, Stillwell and Ganino were fitted with random pieces of costumes borrowed from other movie and television costume departments, including Planet of the Apes. However, they didn’t know about the final, most uncomfortable part of becoming a Klingon until they showed up for filming.
To create their Klingon faces, Stillwell and Ganino had don rubber masks that Stillwell described as “really hideous.” Typically, Klingons didn’t wear a full mask for the role. Instead, they wore a forehead prosthetic and had elaborate makeup applied. However, since the courtroom scene had more Klingons in it than any previous Star Trek scene, there wasn’t time to give every extra the full makeup treatment. So, the extras got “hideous” masks.
Stillwell went into great detail about how uncomfortable the Klingon extras were during filming.
There were a couple of nostril holes, but you couldn’t really breathe through these masks. There was a slit where the lips were… It was really hard to breathe and it was really hot, and it took two days to shoot that scene. We’d be standing up in the rafters chanting and whatever… and it was so hard to breathe that we complained.
The director of the movie, Nicholas Meyer, instructed his assistant directors to find a solution to the problem. They came up with a rather unconventional fix. The assistant directors gave everyone who had to wear a mask some small plastic tubes. They were instructed to insert the tubes into their masks so they could breathe through the tubes. Stillwell didn’t think the tubes worked well enough so he, “brought a turkey baster from home to use.”
Stillwell joked that the assistant directors always had to remind the extras to remove the tubes from their masks before the cameras started rolling. He also revealed that “half the Klingons didn’t show up the next day because it was not a fun experience.”
However, Stillwell clarified that even though it was uncomfortable the experience was very important to him because he “got to take part in the original Star Trek.”