Brent Spiner Desperately Wanted Data To Die In Star Trek: Insurrection

Actor Brent Spiner is on record with his ambivalence about playing the android Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." On the one hand, Spiner appreciates the boost in visibility the role provided, while on the other, he was all too cognizant of the way "Star Trek" pigeonholes an actor. When "NextGen" was wrapping, Spiner mused that no matter what impressive acting he may do for the rest of his career, Data would be listed first in his obituary. This must be a career irony of any actor associated with a beloved cult film or TV show: They will forever be simultaneously visible and un-hirable. To break the cycle, a Trek actor must find a role equally iconic (William Shatner on "Boston Legal," Patrick Stewart in the "X-Men" films, Kate Mulgrew on "Orange is the New Black"), or remain in the public eye in a wide variety of roles, such as how Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have since severed their once-usual pop association with the "Twilight" films). 

Brent Spiner was more or less done with Data when "NextGen" ended its run in May of 1994. According to the book "The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J.J. Abrams: The Complete, Uncensored, and Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek" by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, Spiner didn't even want to star in the 1994 film "Star Trek: Generations." Furthermore, he hoped Data would be killed off in "Star Trek: Insurrection."

Consider killing Data

When Spiner was asked to star in "Generations," he initially turned the part down. It took some negotiating to get him back. In his words, the studio needed to create "an attractive enough reason for me to do the first [movie]." Whether this refers to a higher salary or more interesting character work, we can only speculate, but "Generations" did introduce the story conceit of Data's emotion chip, a widget that allowed the unemotional android Data to experience feelings. 

Spiner goes on to say that the 1996 film "Star Trek: First Contact" was an easy "yes" for him, as he liked the script. In "First Contact," Data is kidnapped by the Borg Queen, an evil, seductive cyborg who grafts organic skin to Data's body and attempts to seduce him. The interplay between Data and the Borg Queen is icky, intense fun. "As soon as it was presented to me," says Spiner, "I thought it was a great idea." 

When it came time to make a third "Star Trek" feature film, Spiner had more or less run out of steam on Data. "Star Trek: Insurrection" entered pre-production in 1997, right when Spiner was in the middle of a nine-month run playing John Adams in a high-profile Broadway revival of "1776," and he would have been forced to leave that production to work on a movie he really didn't want to do. 

This time, it wasn't the script that turned him off, as Spiner hadn't seen one yet. It was merely the idea of leaving "1776" to go back to Data. "It was the idea of doing it again in that moment," Spiner said. "I would have had to leave the show and come back to L.A. to do another 'Star Trek' movie." He called executive producer Rick Berman from New York to make a daring suggestion: "When you write the script, consider killing Data at the end of this film." 

When Berman asked why, Spiner had several good reasons: 

A: It will create a really interesting scene in the movie; we can count on that. B: The studio won't have to negotiate with me again, which is never a pleasant thing. And C: When you do the next movie, you won't get caught off guard with whether or not I'm going to do it. You'll already know I'm not going to do it, because I'm gone and everybody will be let off the hook in a really gentle way.

Berman had to talk to some people to make it happen. 

Why he did it after all

Spiner says that Berman went to the producers with the suggestion to kill Data, but he knew his idea had been rejected when the script for "Insurrection" arrived two weeks later with a Post-It note reading, "Sorry. Kill you next time!" written on it. 

But Spiner was ultimately convinced to star in "Insurrection" after his girlfriend made some good points. Plus, he came to the realization that playing Data was, at the end of the day, a fun, well-paying job that he gets to do with friends: 

A really good point was made to me by my girlfriend, which was: "You're going to hate it when it gets to be time to shoot this film and all your friends are there doing this movie and you're not going to be there." And I thought, you know, it's really true. Also, the fact that "Star Trek" is different from other films I do, because they asked me to do them. I don't have to win a contest in order to get the part. They call, they offer me a part, they offer me a handsome salary to do the part, and it's a good part. And I get to hang out with my friends and play for three months. It's an attractive proposition, always.

"Star Trek: Insurrection" ended up being, sadly, one of the lower-rated "Star Trek" movies, unloved by critics and clearly shot with a much lower budget than its immediate predecessors (much of "Insurrection" takes place on an alien planet that looks astonishingly similar to certain locations around California). To this day, it is considered one of the lesser "Trek" movies. 

The death and resurrection of Data

Spiner would eventually get his wish with "Star Trek: Nemesis," a film wherein Spiner played Data and a character named B-4, a prototype of Data. The finale of "Nemesis" is clearly a repeat of the action in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" with two ships facing off in a nebula, one of them captained by a vengeance-driven villain. The bad guy is bested when Data sacrifices his life to blow up his ship. Finally, Data was killed off during the finale of a "Star Trek" film. Spiner, however, left the door open to returning to play B-4. 

B-4 would not return in "Star Trek," but Spiner would, and repeatedly. After the disappointing opening of "Nemesis" (which remains the lowest-grossing of all the "Star Trek" feature films) Spiner would return to "Trek" to play an ancestor of Data's creator in a multi-part episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise." Spiner would also play Data again in dream sequences on "Star Trek: Picard" over a decade later, as well as a descendant of Data's creator. On "Picard," particles of Data's obliterated android body had somehow been salvaged, and then used to (*sigh*) grow a series of new android bodies from scratch somehow. Additionally, Data's consciousness was reconstituted, and for reasons never fully explained, stored on a hard drive. 

By the end of "Picard's" first season, Data is politely requesting that Picard euthanize him. One can't help but assume that Data's request was Spiner's sentiment.