The Origin Story Behind Gowron's Famous Star Trek Stare - SlashFilm (2024)

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The Origin Story Behind Gowron's Famous Star Trek Stare

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ByWitney Seibold/

As the old meme dictates, find someone who looks at you the way Gowron looks at everything.

Gowron, played by actor Robert O'Reilly, only appeared in four episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and on eight episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," but O'Reilly's outsize performance left a massive impression in the minds of Trekkies everywhere. Gowron was initially introduced as a potential successor to the recently fallen head of the Klingon High Council, eventually ascending in the place of the conniving Duras. After his ascendency, Gowron would occasionally travel through the franchise to growl at other characters and demonstrably declare how the Klingon Empire was going to behave.

O'Reilly's performance involved a lot of mugging and growling, and as a result, Gowron has become one of the more openly memed characters in the franchise. Growl "Glory to you" or "You have brought shame upon your house," and you're probably already doing a pretty good Gowron impersonation. But only O'Reilly is capable of properly giving "Gowron eyes." The actor's wild, wide-eyed stare was employed frequently in his performances, and fans came to love it.

It seems that the growling and the wild stare stemmed directly from O'Reilly's initial audition for the part. He found that reading in a straightforward fashion wasn't cutting it, so he decided to shift into "high gear," as it were.

'They were bored'

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The actor explained his process on the special features for season 6 of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" DVDs. O'Reilly recalled:

"I read the analytical scene almost as myself. You know, with a couple of head twists and stuff. And they were totally bored by that reading, I could see that there were like eleven people watching. And I went, 'Well, I guess I'm gonna have to wake them up on the next one.' And what I did was I just turned around and I just went [Gowron eyes] 'Ahhhh!' And you could see everyone just backing off, and then I went crazy."

That was enough to get the attention of his co-star and occasional director Jonathan Frakes, one of the eleven people watching.

"Frakes sort of looked at me — and we peeled a few people off the ceiling — and I think he understood what I was doing with the character. I was making him a thinking, humorous, crazy; a lot of dimensions, not just one dimension with it. And when we got to the set he said, 'I want you to do the eyes thing.' And I didn't know what he was talking about ... But, when I go like this [big eyes], or if I'm doing it right, you triangulate light, and that's what he was seeing. And when I saw it on film I went, 'Frakes, you know what you're doing.'"

The Gowron stare was born. Frakes knew exactly how to wield cameras and lighting to assure Gowron's eyes would pop. It likely helped that O'Reilly's eyes were naturally expressive, with sclerae that completely surrounded his blue iris. Jonathan Frakes directed "Reunion," the first Gowron episode, so O'Reilly may have created the character, but Frakes had a hand in accentuating Gowron's signature look.

The Machiavellian in the room

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Last year, O'Reilly appeared on the "Star Trek" interview program "The Shuttlepod Show" to talk at length about Gowron, and he again iterated where he got his outsize performance from. It was Frakes giving him a piece of direction that encouraged him to "play up" his role a little bit. According to O'Reilly:

"Frakes was smart enough to go 'Bob, that's interesting. I want you to read the next scene, but I want you to go all-out Klingon. Turn the sound down a little, protect your ears please.' I went, 'You want me to go all out?' And he said, 'Yeah, just go all out.' So I just turned around and I went [screaming in Klingon]. And, you know, peeled [executive producer Rick] Berman off the ceiling. And they were all totally frightened. And Frakes went, 'Thanks Bob.'"

When he finally arrived on set, Frakes didn't just say to O'Reilly that he should do "the eyes thing," but that he should do it all the time. O'Reilly was certainly capable. Indeed, once Gowron had been established as an outsize character who is always bugging his eyes out, O'Reilly had to insist that he remain consistent. The actor recalls talking to other "Star Trek" directors and photographers over the issue, saying:

"And from that show on, I had to argue with the directors. They'd all go, 'Don't do that thing you're doing with your eyes.' And I have to go, 'That's my character,' and then it's 'Don't do it as much then.' [...] [Cinematographers] said, 'You have to watch out for your eyes because you have a lot of white and they protrude,' [...] Now, that's true if you're in human form, but in Klingon form, it's scary."

Which, naturally, is the point.

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The Origin Story Behind Gowron's Famous Star Trek Stare - SlashFilm (2024)
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