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. This is awesome. I can(no I can’t) imagine how excited you must have been. I mean isn’t Star Trek like your long lost brother anyway? Let me just say it is about time the world gets to see…or hear you in some movies. Some of the actors out there are praised for their ‘acting’ skills, yet as we watch them on screen we can’t see it. Every movie you have ever been in, you have always given your all. That one part in Stand By Me when you and River are sitting by the tree…. and the ending where the goodbye’s are said…brilliant. I hope you get more chances put your acting skills to work. You are too great not to get that chance, and you deserve it more than anyone. I have a whole new respect for the movie now:)

  2. That is just the coolest thing I’ve heard in a long time! I can’t wait to see the movie again and listen for your voice! I think t is awesome that you got to work on the latest Star Trek installment.

  3. I’m wishing there were an unused superlative left but, alas, that’s not to be. So – AWESOME, COOL, OMG, etc. etc.!! You, sir, rock!

  4. I got about halfway through this post and had to start over because I did not believe it. I thought I had to have missed the punchline somewhere. How could I have NOT known Wil worked on Star Trek? How could I NOT have recognized his voice any of the times I saw it? Lunacy, I tell you!
    So happy for you, Wil. Heck, I’m happy for ME. I have another reason to like the film and watch it over and over.

  5. This, among many other reasons, is why JJ Abrams was the perfect person to reboot Star Trek. Between the homage to old Star Trek dogma and the ability to keep core concepts alive while re-visioning them is a truly remarkable thing. Also, his engagement of past characters for buy-in showed great respect for where Star Trek has come from and who built it.

  6. Try this. Get up early Sunday morning and put together the fixings for cranberry pancakes for your whole family. When your kid comes into the kitchen, jump up and say “But sir, if you ignite the burner for the red batter….”
    Then laugh maniacally.

  7. Okay, I? Am dying right now. DYING.
    And you know what’s really funny? In the scene on the Kelvin, there’s this guy sitting at a console on the bridge who turns sort of halfway towards the camera, and EVERY TIME I see the film, I think he’s you, Wil. He’s only there for a second, but to my eye the resemblance is uncanny, and I kept thinking, “Did Wil get a uncredited spot in this film? HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE?” And then I realize he looks too young, and he’s probably not you, and I Am Bummed. But it turns out my instinct was right, even though the fact was wrong! (My Psychic Creds are validated once again!)
    Last note: You are the luckiest bastard in the world. I shall now gnash my teeth with jealousy.

  8. Oh, no you’ve given me another reason to watch the movie again. I am usually really good about voices too, but I didn’t catch this or even wonder about it. Maybe I was too busy being overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the whole movie.
    I can’t wait for the bluray!! I bought a 47inch tv and bluray player almost specifically for this movie. When it comes out, I’m calling out from work for a week just to stare… and listen.

  9. That is the coolest, Wil!
    This makes me even more glad: I bought myself a Blu-ray player JUST so I can buy THIS MOVIE in Blu-Ray and watch it on my 48″TV. No other movie inspired me. And now, one of my favorite geek/actors/writers/twitterers is on THIS MOVIE – OK, look, I am GIANT fangirl because you are Awesome!Dad and Awesome!Husband and Awesome!Writer, and I have a lot of respect for you and I would offer to buy you a beer next time you’re at the same con except I would be ridiculous, so it’s better that I not.
    This makes me even more glad that I fist-bumped you that one time, even though I was embarassed as hell about two seconds after I did it.
    GO YOU!

  10. Congratulations! That’s amazing…almost as amazing as the fact that the secret was kept as long as it was…now I need to go back and rethink some conspiracy theories…

  11. Man, this might move you up a few notches on Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s list. That poor guy didn’t even get to SEE the movie because he was stuck on the North Pole with a failed experiment, and you go to be IN it?! I’d avoid local comic book stores if I were you.
    Seriously, this is just about the coolest thing EVER. Congratulations on the whole experience — and keeping it a secret — and thank you SO MUCH for sharing the tale with everyone.

  12. I couldn’t resist a comment to @sheldoncooper – Wil tasks him, and like a poor marksman, he keeps missing the target.
    I just imagine the fictional Sheldon realizing it’s Wil he’s listening to, as he tries to enjoy the movie. What is twitter if we can’t have fun staying IC?

  13. Holy cow man! WAY TO KEEP A SECRET. Makes keeping my Halloween costume a secret pale in comparison. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Seriously, this is awesome and a total win for all. Congratulations.

  14. Frankly, I am one of the fuddy-duddies who has a difficult time adjusting to the idea of Trek with an Enterprise, but without Shatner or Stewart at the helm. I still watch TOS episodes on You Tube.
    Hearing that you are involved with the new Trek movie has me interested enough to go out and buy a copy of the DVD. In fact, I don’t follow your blog as regularly as I would like, so I didn’t realize that you were involved in Flubber and once I did, I went out and bought a copy of that.
    BTW … I always appreciated your performances as Wesley Crusher. Sometimes I would grit my teeth and sometimes I would smile and shake my head.
    All the best, Wil!
    Best regards,

  15. I… I… I can’t believe I didn’t recognize your voice at all. (Does this mean I have to turn in my Official Awkward Superfan membership card now? Seriously, I missed the red matter line?) That just makes the movie even cooler than it was before and I really wish I could run right out and see it again in the theater NOW. I am never going to watch the Romulans the same way again. Very, very cool.

  16. No, I think that if someone were focussed on what that Romulan's voice *sounded* like at that moment, instead of being immersed in the story, I don't think that person would have cared if he/she/it *did* pick it up.
    Your card is all good, AngieK … though I think you should laminate it, just to be sure.

  17. Now that I listen to the “red matter” line at my desk, out of context of the movie, I totally know it’s you. But you’re right – at that point in the movie I was a squirming 8 year old who just wanted Spock to get away alive (as if he wouldn’t) and I didn’t focus on any of the actors (physical or vocal) as actors whatsoever. Very high my suspension of disbelief was, mmmm yes.
    I need to laminate that card. I nearly washed it… again.

  18. It cracks me up that you are such a huge fanboy that you can’t stand to work on something that you helped make awesome in the first(OK, second) place by, er, working on it.
    BTW, I just caved and started watching The Guild. I turned into a real life Clara while I caught up with it all ๐Ÿ˜‰ My poor neglectarinos… You have a lot of talented friends, you lucky thing.

  19. ohmifuggingahd – I am sooo excited about this news.
    So happy because it means so much to you, and because you got to work on pretty much the coolest movie of the year, and close to the best Trek movie evar, AND because you got to work with JJ Abrams.
    My plan is for it to be our first Blu-ray purchase (or Watchmen)unless some one gives it to me for Xmas. :)

  20. It is awesome that you were in the movie, but what made me squee with delight is that you read Questionable Content! That just made you and QC both more awesome. Now I’m even more likely to be an awkward superfan if I ever meet you in person.

  21. That is freakin’ sweet. I was bouncing around and flailing my arms while reading this entry. Thanks for letting us in on that. And I thought Star Trek was cool before with Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto, add to that you doing the Romulan voices.

  22. This is a really awesome story! Thanks for sharing it. I’ve been a huge Star Trek fan since I can remember. I love that they allowed you to once again reap the joys of being a part of something so awesome. You deserve it! Great job, too, by the way.
    I feel like watching it again just to listen for your parts. I’m a Trekkie geek :)

  23. And now in the tradition of actors playing more than one role in the Star Trek universe (that list is huge) it’s time to put you back on screen.

    Seeing Wesley through your eyes in your stories about your time on TNG did set the record straight, Wesley was a flawed creation of writers and young Wil – just stumbling out of the first dungeons he had to cross on his quest to awesomeness – tried to make that character work. It didn’t work out that well, but it made our hero strong and he levelled up steadily.

    Now it’s time to let not so young but still not old Wil and his highly levelled skillset lose on something that would turn into pure awesomeness given the fact that skill and (Trek-)passion – which clearly is maxed out on Wil’s Charsheet – can only lead to [insert strongest geekiest w00t happy dance in words here]

  24. Ha!! That is AWESOME! i NEVER would have known had you not said anything. And i’ve seen the movie 3 times!!!!
    Your buddy Greg Grunberg Twittered that he was ‘in’ the movie as well, and dared us to find him. It took me 3 times to realize where he was in the movie (which I will not reveal here so that those who are on the same quest to find him will squee as much as I did when I made the revelation).
    But now knowing that you were involved – i will listen far more closely once I get my DVD.(Which may be Christmas because I was told i’m not allowed to buy myself any DVD’s before Christmas) :( That’s a long wait.
    But just an awesome story Wil! Can’t wait to watch it again.

  25. OMG! I saw the movie in the theater and did not realize this at that time! Now, I watch the clip and me being at work is the only thing keeping me from invoking the SQUEEEEEE!
    I’m definitely buying the movie when it drops next Thursday. Unfortunately, it will have to be the regular DVD, as I do not have Blu-Ray … yet.
    BTW, it is now official … you are no longer awesome … you are THE Awesome!

  26. I guess I need to turn in my Man Crush card, too :(
    EDIT: OK … guess not … Wil said your card is good, so mine is most definitely safe.
    I think I’ll have mine bronzed :)

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