Actress Rosalind Chao has been busy. Since the early 1970s, Chao has been in front of the camera performing for television. Her credits include roles on many top-rated shows like the live-action “Spider-Man,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “MASH,” and more. She’s also appeared in multiple film roles, including “The Joy Luck Club” and the live-action version of Disney’s “Mulan.”
But fans of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” know her best as Keiko Ishikawa O’Brien. She was the mother of Molly and Kirayoshi and the wife of Miles (Colm Meaney). Keiko appeared for the first time on the TNG episode, “Data’s Day,” where she and Miles were married by Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).
Keiko had her own career, which was just as important as Miles’, in botany. This occupied much of her time while she was aboard the Enterprise and on Deep Space Nine. Due to her expertise, she was often called away for expeditions on Bajor and other remote places to use her skills.
Rosalind Chao Was Almost Tasha Yar
Thanks to earlier reporting by Heavy’s Robin Zabiegalski, fans know that Chao was in the running to portray security officer Tasha Yar. The role ultimately went to actress Denise Crosby. The latter left the show after she expressed unhappiness with the part.
“I wasn’t a sci-fi person,” Chao told Yu. “I think it’s already out there that I originally they wanted me to test for … The Next Generation. At the time, I was visiting my boyfriend in England, and my agent called and said, ‘remember that Star Trek thing?’ And I said ‘yeah, whatever.’”
Her agent explained that the producers of Next Gen wanted Chao to return for some tests, and she was not interested.
“Nope,” said Chao. “It’s been done. I’m not coming back.”
The agent told her that she was the “top choice” for the role, and Chao still said that she was “not coming back” and that “‘Star Trek’ has been done. Come on!”
On the podcast, Chao and Yu shared a hearty laugh at that comment. When Yu asked about auditioning for the part of Tasha Yar, Chao said that she placed what was happening in her life as more important than some of those roles.
“Because my parents were so ‘nose to the grindstone,’ I think I went the opposite way,” Chao explained. Chao said that she didn’t remember too much about the audition, other than “all the big guys” were there.
Chao Was Cast as Keiko Because…
She returned for the part of Keiko Ishikawa and told Yu that she learned how she got the role, which was not too flattering.
“I do remember my agent saying, ‘You know they were tempted to go with somebody prettier, but your reading won them over,’” said Chao. “So… thanks but no thanks?”
Chao said that the TNG producers signed her for five episodes. She noted that Trek costume designer Robert Blackman had her try out a variety of outfits. This gave Chao the sense that the Keiko character might appear more than just five times. She ultimately appeared on eight episodes of “The Next Generation.”
Chao Turned Down the Full-Time DS9 Part for Family Reasons
Since Chief O’Brien was a regular cast member, it made sense that his wife ought to be part of the show. That was the original plan, anyhow.
“I was going to be a regular,” Chao said. “But I seem to remember seeing somebody’s baby on a set and seeing that the stroller was in front of the dressing room. I remember saying how nice it was that you brought your kid. And the actress said, ‘Well yeah, it’s his birthday.’”
She decided then that she “wanted something different” for her children. She said that she basically grew up in her parents’ restaurant. She said that she got a call from Rick Berman after she decided against becoming a regular cast member of DS9.
“I’m not asking for me; I’m asking for you,” Chao said that Berman asked her on the phone. “‘Are you sure you only want to do this as a recurring?’ And I said, ‘Why are you not saying it for you?’ And he said, ‘For you, I’m thinking … financially. It’s good for your pocketbook if you do it as a regular.’”
“I stubbornly didn’t, but it left me to be open for ‘Joy Luck Club,’” said Chao.
The writers of DS9 worked around her schedule, and she did appear in 19 episodes of the show.