in which a fairly major secret is made secret no more

Back in the old days, before Twitter exploded into the phenomenon that it is now, I got a message from Greg Grunberg. Greg plays Matt Parkman on Heroes (this information, which most of you don't need, is provided as a public service to the seven of you who do), and has been in every JJ Abrams project since JJ started making movies in the pre-old days.

Greg and I traded several messages about a bunch of different things, and then he sent me a private message that said something like, "JJ needs voice actors for Star Trek. Would you be interested in doing that?"

"Well, let me think about this for .00005 seconds," I thought. "I love Star Trek, I love voice acting, and … why am I still thinking about this?!"

I replied in the affirmative as quickly as my fingers could get the thoughts out of my head.

Shortly after I sent my reply, I had a different series of thoughts that went something like this: "This is way too good to be true. This has to be a prank. Someone is fucking with me and I'm going to be the butt of a pretty mean joke." But then I had still another thought: "I'm not famous enough to be Punk'd, and Greg Grunberg doesn't seem like the kind of person who would do something mean, anyway." I was, as they say, cautiously optimistic.

About 24 hours later, JJ Abrams called me. It was an entertaining conversation; I couldn't believe he wanted me to do work on his film, and he couldn't believe that I wanted to do it. He asked me if I'd be interested in playing some Romulans, and I think I held my hand over the phone so he couldn't hear me squeal in delight before I calmly told him that, yes, I thought I could do that. I don't recall precisely why, but we agreed that it would be extra cool to keep it a secret until the heat death of the universe, an uncredited bit of awesome that only a handful of people in the world would know about … unless we told them. (In fact, as far as I know, only a dozen people in the world knew about this until some meddling kids and their dog at Viacom found out about it this summer, and said we had to give me credit and stuff.)

I met JJ at an ADR stage a few days later, where he told me the entire plot of the movie (and, for the record, hearing JJ Freakin' Abrams tell you the plot of his Star Trek is even more awesome than you'd expect) and showed me some of the scenes that I'd be dubbing. I ended up providing voices for all the Romulans on Nero's ship, including the guy who tells him that "it's time" at the very beginning of the movie. (Yeah, how cool is that?)

I was distracted for the first 15 or 20 minutes before we started work, because I kept expecting someone to come out from behind a screen with a camera to laugh at me, but when I was given my dialog and recorded my first take, I knew that it was really happening.

I thought it would be really hard to keep my squee under control, but when I stood there in the darkened ADR stage, three pages of dialog in front of me, sitting in the soft glow of a single dim light clipped to a music stand, I was able to put my inner awkward superfan into check long enough to be a professional actor. I mean, I was working for JJ freakin' Abrams on Star frekin' Trek, so maybe I could rise to the occasion, you know?

We recorded dialog for about an hour or so, I guess, and when we were finished, JJ invited me to come with him over to the mixing stage, where he was going to watch a reel of the film.

Um. Okay. Yeah, I think I can do that. I texted Anne something like, "Probably never coming home again. I'm going to stay here with my new best friend JJ Abrams and watch as much of Star Trek as he'll let me."

So you know that scene where Kirk climbs out of the pod, runs away from the monster, and eventually meets Spock Prime in the cave? I got to watch that scene over and over, as they made the wind sound colder, then warmer, then colder and more fierce. I got to hear the roar of the monsters deepened, softened, made more terrifying, made louder, made softer. I got to hear the fire in Spock Prime's cave crackle more, then less, then more again, because the wind outside was now colder and more fierce, so it should probably be a warmer fire.

It was one of the coolest things in the world to watch, not just on screen, but in the room, too. The way JJ interacted with the other creative people in the room as they mixed the sound, the music, the foley, and everything else that we tend to just take for granted when we're in the theatre watching a movie was just fascinating. I don't know if all directors are like this, but he didn't let a single second go by like it was any less important than another.

Sooner than I'd would have liked, though, I began to feel like I was just hanging out, and even though I knew I could have stayed longer and watched more, I decided that it was best for me to leave before I overstayed my welcome.

JJ and I thanked each other, talked the way you do in Hollywood about maybe working together again in the future (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease oh please, Steve the Fruitbat, please make that happen) and I walked down the now-dark streets of the studio toward my car. I kept it under control until I drove out of the lot, at which time I bounced around in my chair like … well, like a guy who loves Star Trek and just got to work on Star Trek would bounce around.

They digitally-altered my voice to sound like different people, but when I saw the movie, I could definitely tell that it was me underneath the effects. In fact, there's one moment near the end of the movie where one of the Romulans is yelling at Nero, and it's my plain old voice without any alterations. I bounced in my seat when I saw that in the theater just like … well, you know.

140 thoughts on “in which a fairly major secret is made secret no more”

  1. JJ mentioned my work on the film in the DVD commentary. He and I talked about this months ago (when I was working on Leverage, actually) and decided that we'd go ahead and talk about it publicly when we felt the time was right.
    Enough people have heard the DVD commentary and asked me about it to make me feel like the time was right.

  2. OMG!! Dude!!…I had no idea that was you! Are you in the credits because I sat through the credit all of the 4 times I saw Star Trek in the theatre and I never saw you’re name. I love the movie and knowing this makes it totally so much more awesome….Getting the DVD as soon as it comes out. Ordering Memories of the future at this very moment…well…as soon as I post this. Loving the Podcasts.
    Thanks Wil

  3. Wow! I feel so silly that I didn’t know that even though it was apparently a big secret. I was squeeing for you the entire blog entry. I am even more excited to get the DVD now!
    I just finished reading Memories of the Future and it was wonderful. I am getting it as a Christmas present for all of my Trekkie relatives.

  4. That is quite awesome!
    You certainly played that one close to the vest!
    I suppose there is a post, somewhere way back, where you mention that you are doing something uber-cool and can’t talk about it.

  5. Before reading this blog, I thought that nothing could have made the new Star Trek movie better. Whilst reading this blog and learning of THE Wil Wheaton’s involvement I began grinning maniacally. And somewhwere towards the end (When learning what dialogue you voiced) I punched the air and made a victory noise that normally would only be appropriate, had I just defeated Khan Noonien Singh in Pon Farr, for the rights to every green orion slave girl…EVER.
    In short: This blog is made me substantially happy.

  6. OK, now here’s something about movie making that I DO NOT understand, and would like to – why did they need someone to do voices for these guys? I’m assuming they didn’t manage to accidentally hire a troupe of mutes for these roles, so what’s the deal? Is the stage just too noisy to capture audio well?
    Given that there must be some reason to do audio separately, why did they have you do it, instead of having the actors do their own off-stage audio? I mean, getting you means that they also have to do a bunch of effects work to make it come out sounding like not-you. Are the actors just generally no good at doing voice-only work?
    And lets go on record as saying you did a great job – I just want to know why?

  7. Almost all dialogue in movies ends up being re-recorded, is my understanding. It’s easier than trying to hide microphones everywhere, especially on background characters where you’d literally have to clip a pack mic on them, or hide a mic in the set to pick them up well.
    Plus you needs voices in distinct and separate channels to do the surround-sound encoding correctly. Most voices are designed to come out of the center channel, but background/offscreen characters and such you might hear from over your shoulder or something.

  8. I don't know precisely what happened in this case, but having voice actors come in to do off-screen characters during post-production is very common. It's also pretty common to hire voice actors to dub background actors in post-production, because it's less expensive for the production and it makes things run more smoothly and quickly during filming.
    Most of the characters I voiced were off screen, so maybe those lines were added after the film was cut together, and JJ or one of the other producers felt that additional dialog was needed to bridge some gaps that weren't apparent during production (we did this all the time on TNG when something we thought was clear on the day we filmed it actually wasn't clear at all in the final cut).

  9. Wow, if I were you I don’t think I ever could have convinced myself that it was somehow COOLER to make this an uncredited thing. I’d want my name all over those credits.
    Was JJ worried that Wesley haters out there would instantly recoil at the sight of your name attached to the new Star Trek?
    I can see how he maybe wouldn’t want to have to deal with all the rampant fan speculation when it was announced that “Wil Wheaton will be performing voice-over work for the film”.

  10. Here in NZ, the Bluray is already out and I watched it with my girlfriend last night…and at the end battle in Nero’s ship, I could have sworn I heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like an unlucky El….ALADRIN.
    Didn’t think anything of it, apart from a nagging sense of WTF – and lo! Here is Mr Wheaton himself confirming it…talk about synchronicity.
    FYI – the Bluray is AWESOME – a perfect transfer, funky menus that don’t take ages to load and some kick ass extras.
    I highly recommend buying one if you have the means, it’s so choice.

  11. I honestly don't remember why we thought it would be an awesome secret. I clearly recall that my prior work in the Trek universe had nothing to do with it, though.

  12. “Now I know!” “And knowing is half the battle.”
    What an exceptional spill o’ the beans!!! That is great. Can’t wait to see the movie again with this knowledge!

  13. Hey, I just realized . . . William #@&*%$# Shatner was snubbed for this film and Wil Wheaton made it in! Slightly karmic payback about a half dozen movies later.

  14. Oh, dollink! I join you in Squeeville! I can’t believe how superawesome that is, and here’s hoping you get a rematch with Mr Abrams for Star Trek v2.2 (first one of course being v2.1).

  15. Star Trek represents one of the few times NZ has come out on top in terms of release dates! It had the world premiere here and then the Bluray inexplicably is out a month before the US. Madness.
    You won’t be disappointed with the purchase – the sound effects (especially my favourite, the ‘sonar’ ping used in the opening scenes) come across beautifully and are used extensively in the menus. Very cool :-)

  16. that is very cool! I thought the Trek movie breathed much needed new life to the franchise. I am now quite hopeful a new tv series may one day be made :)

  17. That is so freakin’ awesome! I join you in the squeeing and the bouncing and will now be driving my mom up the wall when I get my DVD by playing those scenes over and over trying to figure out which Romulans are you. ;)

  18. Cool story, but seriously, you were excited about doing it and NOT getting credit for it. Next think you know you will be telling us that you didn’t get paid for the work either. Well, you are a generous guy!

  19. How awesome is that? Very nearly all of it. OMG, QUIT HOGGING ALL THE AWESOME. Seriously: that’s the best thing I’ve heard today.

  20. Wow, that’s amazing. It’s almost too good to believe! It’s kinda funny though, because I’ve been listening to the “Just a Geek” audio book recently (first time) and just today got to Chapter 7 where you discuss your experience on Nemesis! It’s a great book and I plan on getting some of your other stuff in the near future.
    BTW, I think you should seriously consider doing an audio version of Memories of the Future, the excerpts in the podcast are hilarious!

  21. This is beyond awesome, Wil! Haha I wish I knew that… I would have gone back to see it again in theaters! Now I guess I’ll just hafta buy the DVD! Commentaries are my favorite, too!!!

  22. Ok, that’s really cool. If I’m not mistaken, you tell Nero (in your actual Wil voice) something like, “But sir, if you ignite the red matter…”
    Congrats!

  23. Oh holy heck! Thank you! I knew it! I said so!
    Excuse me….I must immediately print this and go shove it down my friend’s throat. In a loving way though. Not, like, in a suck I told you so way.

  24. How THIS was kept secret for so long I have no bloody idea especially with Twitter letting us know things way before it gets reported anywhere in other media sources. Holy Crap! Extremely awesome!

  25. :o i feel silly for not recognizing you, despite sitting in the theatre going WHY DO I KNOW THIS VOICE?? haha. hell yea, nerdWIN ! <3
    quoting everyone else before me: “But sir, if you ignite the red matter…” … woot :D

  26. Excellent stuff, Wil!
    So you’re the only other actor (with Nimoy) from the previous Trekverse who made it into the new one or were there others?

  27. I’m also one of the 7 people that needed that info in the beginning… Wil, that’s beyond awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-D I’m SO happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I have to watch it again, just to hear your voice. That is just so great for you – I’m really happy for you!! Yay!!!
    -Alicia (@AliciaWag)

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