Arlene Martel is known to Star Trek fans for playing Spock’s iconic bride-to-be, T’Pring, in the classic original series episode “Amok Time”. All non-Star Trek Fans will know her from her many roles on classic series like The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, Route 66, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mannix, Gunsmoke, My Favorite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, Mission: Impossible, The Monkees, Hogan’s Heroes and Bewitched… to name a few! We’re honored to present our exclusive one-on-one with Arlene as part of BLANKMANinc’s TREKAPALOOZA!
Arlene Martel: I got into it by auditioning for a school that a movie was written about; it was called Fame. I auditioned for performing arts, it’s a school that doesn’t charge money but you have to have a level of talent in order to stay in the school, otherwise you’re asked to leave. Out of my original class another student and myself actually got to graduate, the rest were kind of kicked out. It’s a school that has very high standards and I won the drama award upon graduating. That really reinforced my interest in staying in this chosen profession. I worked on Broadway, I worked in summer stock and then went on to move to California where I worked on television and then movies.
BMi: How did you come to audition for Star Trek?
AM: My agent at the time submitted me and I read for Star Trek, originally for the pilot, I would have to have worn contact lenses that would have covered my whole eye. I can’t even watch people put them in their own eyes so I said, “no thank you” to that. I was called in again to read for a show called Catspaw and that lead to them saving me to play T’Pring on “Amok Time”, which became one of their classic shows.
BMi: Your performances differ with many accents and ethnicities. How did you develop such a great ability to tackle such varied characters?
AM: By listening and observing. I’ve lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in New York, people from Russia and Italy, you name it. That fascinated me, the differences between people just as the similarities of people fascinate me as well. It was really an opportunity for me to pretend and feel that I could be anyone. My imagination was stimulated by the variety of people in New York and then out here I live also in a very diversified neighborhood, it’s much more exciting than if everyone is blonde and blue eyed or black and black eyed. A variety of cultures makes life more exciting for me.
BMi: Your character on Star Trek, T’Pring, was a very strong female character in a time and genre where strong female characters were scarce. How did you prepare for such a unique role?
AM: Well I have a basic inner strength that I didn’t always exercise in those days but playing her, or being required to play someone who is not only led by their emotions but is actually able to create a strategy and think out of their intellectual center was very challenging to me because typically to me I don’t think before I act. That was then of course, I try to now consider the consequences of my actions but at that time I was far from the calculating, logical person than that character that I portrayed T’Pring. If you look at the other work that I’ve done you’ll notice that they’re all very emotional characters who are very spontaneous… you know they don’t take their time to think things through. So this is remarkable how I achieved that mostly by the director who said, “I want you to do much less, I want you to just really do nothing.” I was kind of afraid to be told to do nothing; I said, “won’t that be boring?” But it turned out that it wasn’t boring, it was perfect for what was required in the scenes.
BMi: The episode “Amok Time” was T’Pring’s only appearance on the show. Why do you think the show’s writers never brought her back?
AM: I don’t know because so many books were written about that character. It remains one of the great mysteries. When I do conventions the character has become an absolute icon. Even the Smithsonian Institute called me to see if they could use me as their black queen in the chess set. So I really can’t say that, I’m a very good actress and certainly capable of playing a variety of parts but I thought surely they would bring her back in a movie or something. It remains a great mystery to my fans as well, not only to myself.