Gowron was one of the most prominent Klingons in the Star Trek universe’s 24th century. The character first appeared in “Reunion,” a fourth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). After the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council died, Gowron challenged Duras for the position. He was elected Chancellor after he revealed that Duras had poisoned his predecessor.
Gowron was a recurring character throughout TNG. He played a major role in the Klingon civil war, which started when Duras’ sisters, Lursa and B’Etor, conspired with the Romulans to take over the Klingon High Council. Later, Gowron had to defend his leadership again when the Klingon’s greatest warrior, Kahless, apparently returned. Gowron regained control of the Klingon High Council when Worf revealed that Kahless was a clone.
He also became a recurring character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). Gowron and the Klingon High Council were major players in the interstellar political landscape that often intersected on the space station Deep Space Nine. Eventually, Gowron led the Klingons into the Dominion War, in which they played a pivotal role.
Gowron is also one of the most recognizable Klingons, mostly because of his meme-worthy eyes. However, the actor who portrayed him is likely unrecognizable to Star Trek fans.
Robert O’Reilly Brought Gowron to Life
O’Reilly was already a well-established television actor by the time he landed the role as Gowron on TNG. He started acting in the late 70s. Within a couple of years, he was regularly cast on popular television shows like Archie Bunker’s Place, ChiPs, Hill Street Blues, Knight Rider, and MacGuyver. He even worked with Star Trek legend William Shatner on T.J. Hooker.
His first role on TNG actually wasn’t Gowron. In the season two episode “Manhunt,” O’Reilly played a holodeck character in Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s “Dixon Hill” program. He didn’t get cast as Gowron until over a year later.
Though O’Reilly had a few small recurring roles before becoming a Klingon on TNG, Gowron became the biggest recurring role of his career. He played the character in four episodes of TNG and eight episodes of DS9. He also voiced the character, as well as other Klingons, in several Star Trek video games.
In an interview for the TNG season six bonus features, O’Reilly explained how he came up with the eyes that became Gowron’s signature look. He said that when he went in to audition for the role, he gave Gowron a deadly serious demeanor. However, that approach didn’t seem to work. He felt like he wasn’t impressing the people watching his audition.
So, in his next round of auditions, he decided to try something wild. He looked away from the assembled people, then snapped his head forward and bulged out his eyes, giving a maniacal, intense stare. Everyone loved it and the eyes became the defining feature of the character. O’Reilly revealed that Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William Riker on the show, particularly loved the bug eyes. This turned out to be a good thing for O’Reilly because Frakes was directing Gowron’s debut episode.
In an interview with StarTrek.com in 2012, O’Reilly revealed his inspiration for the character. Like many other Star Trek actors, he allowed Shakespeare to mold his character. Right before he started on TNG, O’Reilly had been portraying Edmund in a production of King Lear. When he was cast as Gowron and began brainstorming about who the character was at his core, O’Reilly saw the similarities between Edmund and Gowron. So, he brought a bit of his previous character into the Star Trek universe.
O’Reilly is a regular on the convention circuit, often appearing with J.G. Hertzler, who played another prominent Klingon, Martok. The two often appear in costume, interacting with each other and fans as their Klingon characters as well as themselves.