Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek TV show may have lasted for only three seasons in the 1960s, but it left a lasting impression on geeks all over the world. When the show’s sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired in 1987, its creators were rightfully worried about whether it would be able to meet the high expectations of fans, stoked by the two decades of nostalgia.
Despite its somewhat uneven start, the new show found its footing by the second season. Throughout its seven season run, the crew of the USS Enterprise explored the strange new worlds and sought out new life and new civilizations. But the truly epic feat was done by the show’s cast that managed to turn Star Trek: The Next Generation into a show that’s today remembered almost as fondly as Star Trek: The Original Series.
15. Whoopi Goldberg – Guinan
An actress and a comedian, Whoopi Goldberg won an Academy Award in 1990 for a supporting role in the supernatural drama Ghost. She was the first African-American woman to do so since Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind. Goldberg is also among the rare group of people who managed to win a number of Emmy Awards, a Grammy, and a Tony Award.
What is less known about Whoopi Goldberg is that she is a long-time Star Trek fan, ever since she first saw Lieutenant Uhura on The Original Series. Goldberg approached the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation after the show’s first season with an idea of appearing on the show. She was offered the role of an alien bar-owner Guinan – named after the Prohibition-era bartender Texas Guinan. It was a small role but Goldberg was more than happy to accept it. She also appears in the movies Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: Nemesis. Goldberg is currently co-hosting the daily talk show, The View, and is politically active in a number of different causes.
14. Diana Muldaur – Doctor Katherine Pulaski
Star Trek has a long-running tradition of hiring the same actors to play various roles. Case in point: Diana Muldaur, who not only played two different characters in Star Trek: The Original Series but, two decades later, got hired once again to appear in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Throughout the show’s second season, Muldaur played Dr. Catherine Pulaski, a no-nonsense chief medical officer deliberately modeled on DeForest Kelley’s Bones McCoy.
Although Muldaur was written out of Star Trek: The Next Generation after its second season, this TV veteran quickly found herself another plum supporting role: that of a power-hungry lawyer Rosalind Shays on David E. Kelley’s court drama L.A. Law. It was this role that got Muldaur nominated for an Emmy award. After four decades in show-business, Diana Muldaur left acting in mid-1990s and retired to breed and train Airedale Terriers.
13. Denise Crosby – Lieutenant Tasha Yar
A granddaughter of entertainer Bing Crosby, actress Denise Crosby’s appeared in a number of movies (Eliminators) and TV shows (L.A. Law) before being cast as Lieutenant Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although Crosby’s role was prominent at first, over time show focused more and more on other characters. Dissatisfied, Crosby left the show after the first season, but returned later to reprise her original role or to Commander Sela – Tasha Yar’s half-Romulan daughter.
Denise Crosby works mainly on TV. She played supporting roles in shows such as Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The X-Files, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and the 1990 version of The Flash. Recently, Crosby was a guest star in shows such as The Walking Dead, The Magicians, Castle and Ray Donovan. Denise Crosby is probably best-known today for starring in and producing the 1997 documentary Trekkies as well as its 2003 sequel Trekkies 2.
12. Michelle Forbes – Ensign Ro Laren
Michelle Forbes first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation playing the supporting role of an alien called Dala in the show’s fourth season. Forbes was then offered another, bigger role as ensign Ro Laren, an alien from the planet Bajor. Her character has a distinctly darker life story than other characters on the show as her planet used to be occupied by the ruthless alien race called Cardassians. Forbes played Ro Laren throughout the last three seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Since then, Michelle Forbes has appeared in some of the most popular and critically-praised TV shows of the last two decades. She played supporting roles in shows such as Prison Break, 24, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Killing and In Treatment as well as in number sci-fi and supernatural-themed TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Powers, True Blood and The Returned. She was nominated for various awards in the TV industry and, in 2011, won a Saturn Award for the Best Supporting Actress in Television.
11. Colm Meaney – Chief O’Brien
An Irishman born in Dublin, Colm Meaney began acting when he was 14 years old. After touring Ireland and England, he finally moved to the USA to pursue a career in Hollywood. His character on Star Trek: The Next Generation was, at first, merely an unnamed extra. Over time though, Meaney’s character actually got a name and rank: Transporter Chief Miles O’Brien. Meaney later became a regular on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and featured prominently during the show’s run. All in all, Meaney has around 225 appearances on Star Trek – more than almost any other actor involved with the franchise.
Since the ending of Deep Space 9, Colm Meaney appeared in a number of movies and TV shows. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in the 1993 comedy-drama The Snapper. Meaney played minor roles in the sci-fi show Stargate Atlantis. Currently, he plays a ruthless railway baron Thomas “Doc” Durant in AMC’s western series Hell on Wheels.
10. Will Wheaton – Wesley Crusher
Was there ever a Star Trek character as despised by the fans as Wesley Crusher? Even in a utopian universe populated with smart, capable, good-looking and polite people, Wesley nevertheless manages to stand out as being more precious and special than anyone else. He helps save The Enterprise several times despite his utter inexperience while a mysterious alien being compares his genius to the likes of Mozart. No wonder fans deride him as a Mary Sue character.
But for Will Wheaton, there’s life after Wesely Crasher. Aside of working as a voice artist, Wheaton appeared in a number on TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Leverage and Criminal Minds as well as in the fan favorite web-series The Guild. Wheaton also managed to build, through the magic of the internet, a devoted fan base among the very geeks who hate his most notorious role. Nowadays, Wheaton writes about all things geeky and nerdy on his website and regularly hosts a web-series about gaming called TableTop.
9. Majel Barrett – Lwaxana Troi/Enterprise Computer
Majel Barrett is often referred to as “the First Lady of Star Trek“. Small wonder that: as a life partner of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Barrett appears in all six Star Trek TV shows, either by playing a character or by providing the voice for the show’s numerous computer interfaces. In Star Trek: The Original Series, Barrett plays a series regular Nurse Christine Chapel, while in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine she appears in a recurring role of Lwaxana Troi, a self-assertive Betazoid ambassador and an over-bearing mother of Counselor Deanna Troi.
Barrett steered Gene Roddenberry’s legacy after his death in 1991. As a producer, she played an important role in development of sci-fi shows Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda, both of which were inspired by and based on the ideas of her late husband. All in all, Majel Barrett was active in show business for half a century. Until her death in 2008, she helped keep Star Trek legacy alive.
8. John de Lancie – Q
John de Lancie is an American actor, voice artist, and a comedian best known for his portrayal of Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Appearing in the very first episode of the show – Encounter at Fairpoint – Q is a seemingly omnipotent being from another reality that repeatedly tests the capabilities – and patience – of Captain Picard and his crew throughout the show’s run. De Lancie later repeated his most famous role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.
Since then, John de Lancie has mostly appeared in supporting roles in movies and on TV. As is the case with many other members of the Star Trek cast, de Lancie often appears in sci-fi shows, including Andromeda, Stargate SG-1, Special Unit 2 and Torchwood: Miracle Day. He also plays a crucial role opposite Bryan Cranston in AMC’s Breaking Bad. John de Lancie also works as a voice artist in computer games and cartoons such as My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic where he voices the villain Discord.
7. Gates McFadden – Dr. Beverly Crusher
Although Gates McFadden is best known today for her portrayal of Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, she also worked on several Jim Henson movies, including The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Muppets Take Manhattan as a puppet choreographer!
McFadden was cast a as in a role of recently widowed chief medical officer aboard the USS Enterprise, taking care of her only child Wesley (played by Will Wheaton). Although her character was intended to be a romantic interest for Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard, McFadden was let go after the show’s first season and replaced by Diana Muldaur’s Dr. Katherine Pulaski. It was only in the third season that McFadden was called back and resumed her role throughout the show’s run as well and in four Star Trek movies that followed. Since then, Gates McFadden has appeared occasionally on various TV shows, but she been also teaching acting and drama on several universities.
6. Marina Sirtis – Counselor Deanna Troi
Born and raised in London in a working-class family from Greece, Marina Sirtis enrolled in drama school against the wishes of her no-nonsense parents. Sirtis began her movie career by playing small roles in movies like Death Wish 3 and The Wicked Lady produced by the notorious Cannon Films company of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan.
Marina Sirtis and Dennise Crosby originally auditioned for each others roles for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sirtis was offered her role literally at the last moment as she just planned a return to Britain since her visitor visa was expiring. Instead, she ended up playing Counselor Deanna Troi throughout the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her character is a half-Betazoid and capable of reading the emotions of others which makes her invaluable as diplomat and councilor. Sirtis later appeared in Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. She was also one of the voice artists working along her real-life friends and colleagues Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner on the animated TV shows Gargoyles. Marina Sirtis often appears in guest-starring roles on TV shows, such as NCIS.
5. LeVar Burton – Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge
Raised as a Roman Catholic, LeVar Burton at one point considered becoming a priest and even entered a seminary in California. By the age of 17 though, he changed his mind and turned to acting. Burton’s first role was that of Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries Roots, which brought him an Emmy nomination for Best Actor in a Drama Series.
Star Trek: The Next Generation character Geordi LaForge was created by Gene Roddenberry in honor of George LaForge – a quadriplegic fan of the series who died in 1975. Geordi is blind but equipped with a futuristic VISOR technology that makes his vision far superior to the other crew members. Ironically, in real life this prop presented a challenge for Burton, whose field of vision was mostly obscured by it. LeVar Burton appeared throughout the entire run of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as in four subsequent franchise movies. During this time, he hosted PBS children’s series Reading Rainbow that ran for 23 seasons and won over 200 broadcast awards, including 12 Emmy awards – and has recently returned in a digital form. LeVar Burton regularly guest-stars in TV shows, such as Community.
4. Brent Spiner – Lt. Commander Data
Lt. Commander Data may have been an android, but with his brilliant mind and child-like innocence, he taught us how to be more human. American actor, comedian and singer Brent Spiner played Data in all but one of The Next Generation’s 178 episodes, reprising his role in four spin-off movies: Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis. All in all, he played the same character for 15 years.
Spiner later appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise as Dr. Arik Soong, an ancestor of Data’s creator Dr. Noonien Soong. Spiner appeared in TV shows such as Alphas, The Big Bang Theory, Threshold and Warehouse 13. He’s also familiar from his appearance as an eccentric scientist, Dr. Brackish Okun in Roland Emmerich’s 1995 blockbuster Independence Day, a role Brent Spiner reprized in this summer’s Independence Day: Resurgence.
3. Michael Dorn – Lieutenant Worf
Michael Dorn’s first screen appearance was in a role of a nameless bodyguard in Sylvester Stallone’s 1974 sports drama Rocky. His big break came with a role of Lieutenant Worf, a chief security officer abroad the USS Enterpise. Michel Dorn also holds a record of appearing more times in the regular cast of Star Trek than any of his colleagues, spanning 272 episodes and five movies. As a Klingon raised by a human family, Worf presents the viewer with a intriguingly conflicted character. Both the show’s writers and Dorn himself play up the internal conflict between Worf’s aggressive Klingon nature and the far kinder and more tolerant upbringing he received from his foster parents. This quickly made Worf one of the favorite characters among the show’s fans.
Beside appearing in various movies, Michael Dorn built a respectable career as a voice artist, lending his voice in numerous animated TV shows such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Adventure Time as well as in computer games. In his free time, he likes to fly Cold War-era fighter jets, which is officially the coolest hobby in the world.
2. Jonathan Frakes – Commander William T. Riker
One of the earliest roles of the young Jonathan Frakes was cosplaying Captain America for Marvel Comics at sci-fi conventions. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Frakes appeared mostly on TV in supporting roles. His big break was the role of Commander William T. Riker, a first officer of the Enterprise. Originally intended to a somber and by-the-book officer, Riker quickly became a more light-hearted character: bold, confident and a bit of a womanizer. As such, he is a great contrast to Patrick Stewart’s far more serious captain Picard.
While other cast members of Star Trek: The Next Generation went on to appear in other movies and TV shows, Jonathan Frakes instead turned to directing. Not only did he direct episodes of various Star Trek shows but also two of the franchise movies: Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Jonathan Frakes has been steadily working as TV director over the past two decades on shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Falling Skies and The Twilight Zone. He has also been working as a voice actor, providing voices in cartoons such as Adventure Time.
1. Patrick Stewart – Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Patrick Stewart started acting on stage at a very young age. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s, Stewart played supporting roles in a number of noteworthy productions, both in the movies (John Boorman’s Excalibur; David Lynch’s Dune) and on TV (as in the 1979 BBC production of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) .
Stewart was at first a bit skeptical about taking on a lead role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as it left him no time for theater acting. He nevertheless accepted the role, thinking that the show will most probably be cancelled after the first season. Instead, Stewart’s role of a calm, collected yet charismatic Federation starship captain Jean-Luc Picard brought him worldwide fame. Stewart’s second most famous role is that of Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movie franchise. Over the last two decades, Patrick Stewart has used his fame and wealth not only to teach acting but for political activism as well, regularly promoting campaigns against domestic abuse.
Who’s your favorite actor from Star Trek: The Next Generation? What was your favorite moment of theirs in the show? Share your thoughts in the comments below!