What’s it like to be a child actor on Star Trek?
Jon Steuer was only six when he took on the role of Alexander Rozhenko on Star Trek: The Next Generation: Reunion, but he remembers it well.
Unlike some child actors who were urged into acting by their parents, Steuer was the one who wanted to be on television.
“When I was about three and a half, I was just watching TV, and I started pestering my mom about being on TV,” said Steuer. “My mom had been on the U.S. ski team, so she knew something about success and notoriety. She wasn’t really turned onto the idea, but I kept pushing and pestering. Then I had a friend who did little fashion shows when they used to have those at the mall in the ’80s. Like at Nordstrom‘s, they’d have these little ramp-modeling things. I went to a couple of those events in San Diego where I’m from, and one time they were short a kid, so I hopped up and did it. I hammed it up. There was an agent there in the crowd, and he came over and talked to us afterward. I hopped right on that, and my mom was kind of backed into a corner. She kind of had no choice but to let me try acting.”
Steuer got his Trek role due to his ability to sit still for the right amount of time. “I went to some interviews, and I’d gone through several rounds of callbacks,” he said. “But what that role really came down to was the makeup. I was the only kid up for the part who could sit down at that age – I think the casting process started when I was still five – and sit still long enough to have a plaster cast made of my face. They needed to do that to make the molding for the Klingon prosthetics.
“They completely mummified my head. They stuck two straws up my nose, one in each nostril, so that I could breathe. It was lights out. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t move. I sat like that for, I think, three and a half hours while the cast set.”
How did the young boy handle this “mummification?” “I kind of went into this weird, Zen-like, meditative state,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d be able to do it now.”
Steuer was a fan of Star Trek before being cast in it. “I’d seen the first series, and at the time The Next Generation was still a new thing…So I was definitely aware of it, and I was definitely excited about it. At that age I was mostly intrigued by the idea of acting in horror and science fiction. Not for the content, honestly, but for the makeup. I just loved that fantasy element. Being a child at that age, I just gravitated toward that.”
Unlike Alexander and Worf, Steuer and Dorn had no problem getting along. “He’s a super sweet, kind man,” said Steuer. “He’s just a really good person. I would say that of most of the cast. They had a really unique sense of community, and they were really casual and laid-back. I think they appreciated how lucky they were to be in that position, to be on a show like that with an almost guaranteed long run and cultish following.”
Why didn’t Steuer reprise the role when Alexander was brought back? “The show called me back a just a few months later to play Alexander again, but I’d only grown half an inch or something. The line of questioning was, ‘How tall are you now? How much do you weigh?’ Klingons are this powerful warrior race, so they wanted me to be dramatically larger. They also wanted a deeper voice out of me. But I was still six.”
Steuer was “totally crushed,” by not being able to play Alexander again, but “that’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “That kind of stuff happens all the time in acting, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your ability as an actor. It’s a matter of physical stature and things like that.”
Even though he loved acting, Steuer retired at the age of twelve. Why? “Regular TV series are almost like being on a school-year schedule. And then, when everything kind of hit the press with Grace Under Fire (in which Steuer played Quentin Kelly), all those negative stories [about Brett Butler] started being spread. It was pretty barbaric. I couldn’t go to the grocery store without people staring and pointing at me, because I was on the cover of every tabloid at every checkout stand.
“It was really overwhelming. I had never really gotten into acting for the stardom or the fame or the attention. I did it because I liked acting. That show brought a lot of press and attention around me and my personal life. I was right on the cusp of puberty, going through that awkward stage. To be put under a microscope like that is kind of a bizarre addition to your life that obviously not a lot of other people can relate to.
“I didn’t want that kind of attention. I’d always loved the idea of being a character actor, where you’d be identified in roles, but people didn’t necessarily know your name or recognize you beyond the roles you play. It was a culmination of all those factors. I just put my hands up in frustration and went, ‘You know what, I’m still pretty damn young. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me. I’ll find something else.”
Steuer now sings in punk and pub-rock bands and has just opened his first restaurant, the vegan eatery Harvest At The Bindery.
Photo courtesy TrekCore.