Chase Masterson is famously known for her role as Star Trek: Deep Space 9’s Leeta. Outspoken on Twitter and an advocate for anti-bullying reforms, Masterson speaks to Richard Lewington about typecasting, charity and pop culture’s role as a vehicle for parables and social commentary.
“Oh boy! I would describe myself as passionate, committed and curious”, laughs actress, singer and social advocate Chase Masterson as she sits down to answer the first question to her interview with The Madrid Metropolitan to promote her appearance at this year’s CiFiMad convention in Madrid this month.
Born February 26, 1963 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Masterson’s first major role came in 1994 as Ivy Lief on American television show General Hospital. She then spent five years portraying the Bajoran Dabo girl Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (ST:DS9). She then went on to star in James Kerwin’s sci-fi film noir Yesterday was a lie, which she also produced, and voiced ‘Janice Em’ in the animated film Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. She also guest-starred in shows such as ER, Sliders and The Flash. “I do feel typecast into sci-fi roles,” says Masterson. “When ST:DS9 was on the air, it was the most popular television show worldwide”.
In 2004 she was named one of the world’s ‘50 Sexiest Women’ by men’s magazine Femme Fatales, as well as ‘Favourite Science Fiction Actress on Television’ in a TV Guide reader’s poll. More recently, AOL named her one of the ‘Ten Sexiest Aliens on TV’, reporting that ‘Masterson is regularly voted the most popular guest at Star Trek conventions’. So how does she feel about this? Do fans expect her to “be” Leeta – the dipsy, cute and voluptuous entertainer and are there any similarities between the real Chase and her character? “Very much so,” replies Masterson. “I feel that there was a lot of me in Leeta, but there’s truly so much more to me. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to show that in real life and in other roles I’ve done. Leeta was very compassionate and really stood up for justice and that is one thing that we have in common. I’m more grounded than Leeta and I think there’s more depth to me than what she was able to show on screen. But it is her compassion that people can relate to. That’s why she was a well-loved character and I do try to include that into everything I do, because that’s where my heart lives.”
Taking a stand
Masterson’s belief that the Star Trek mantra of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” is the franchise’s key lesson to humanity, which led her to create the Pop Culture Hero Coalition – a foundation she co-founded in 2013 that uses the universal appeal of comics, film & TV to create anti-bullying programs at pop culture events, schools and communities. “It’s aim is to take a stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, cyber-bullying, LGBT-bullying, and other forms of hate, using the phenomenal popularity of media to bring justice and healing,” says Masterson.
So how did it come about?
“In 2010, I heard about a 7-year-old girl named Katie who was bullied by kids in her 1st-grade class for having a Star Wars backpack and water bottle. She was taunted by her classmates. ‘Star Wars is for boys,’ was among some of the more printable things they had said to her. That evening, Katie returned home upset telling her mother Carrie Goldman that she no longer liked Star Wars. Sensing that something was up, Goldman asked her daughter why, and she told her what had happened earlier in the day. That evening, Goldman wrote a blog post asking female Star Wars fans to show support for Katie. Within days, 82,000 people viewed the post, with thousands giving messages of experience, wisdom and support, including from Lucasfilm. Their story was picked up by Huffington Post and countless other sites, with the hashtag #MayTheForceBeWithKatie. I made contact with Carrie, and eventually introduced Katie to meet Peter Meyhew. So now, little Katie who was bullied, is now friends with the real Chewbacca! Don’t fuck with us!” laughs Masterson proudly.
Goldman and Masterson founded the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition, enlisted the United Nations Association and the NOH8 Campaign as partners, and created the first-ever panel on ending bullying at a pop culture convention. The coalition kicked off their work with an event featuring its partners, along with the Anti-Defamation League, Girl Scouts of America among others. Masterson’s work on the coalition has since led her to serve on the advisory board of the United Nations in San Diego.
So, would public service be on the cards for Masterson? “You know, I get asked this a lot and I’ve never had a desire to go into politics. I know I will make a significant difference helming this coalition. I want to focus on making the next generation socially active, so I’ll keep my focus there. We often wondered why people didn’t stop the Nazis, well now, let’s stop the Nazis in the U.S. and do what we would have done back then. It’s our duty as humans to speak out and against injustice – and that’s what I’m doing.”
A new hope
The concept of anti-bullying speaks right to Masterson’s heart. “I was bullied both as a child and as an adult – The internet can be a very dangerous place and some fans have crossed the line,” she says referring to a legal case of stalking of which she was once victim of. In 2003, A man in Berlin created a bogus matchmaking profile for Masterson on an online dating service. In the profile, the name ‘Chase’ was used, along with her photograph and home address. The man also used an email autoresponder in the profile to provide her physical address and telephone number in response to queries. Masterson requested that the site remove the profile; they initially refused on the basis that only a profile’s creator could request its removal. After pressure from Masterson, the website ultimately agreed and removed the profile two days later. However, during the time that the profile remained online, Masterson received several sexually harassing voice mail messages and a fax which she found ‘highly threatening and sexually explicit’ and ‘that also threatened her son’. To protect herself, Masterson had to flee her home, live in hotels and travel with her son for several months. “Luckily, I’ve had fewer than 10 incidents where I’ve had to tell fans to not get too close”, says Masterson.
Masterson flies into Madrid hot on the heals from a meeting with UNESCO in Paris of which she is a commissioner. Of this, she says that “Pop culture is important because it’s a language that everyone speaks. Superman stands up for people, not only because he has powers, but because others don’t. On the other hand, Anakin Skywalker also had the same chance to do good in the universe. It’s basic to say, but lessons in which countless kids worldwide can do good, relate to nearly culture. Kids are still malleable, if we do this right, then we can cause systemic change.”
To boldly go
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Star Trek is set to return to television screens later this year after a 12-year absence. The new series, Star Trek: Discovery is set roughly a decade before the events of the original Star Trek series. So what hopes does Masterson have for the new series? “My only hope is that it stays true to the tenants of Star Trek and not try to attract a new audience by filling it with sexy scenes and going down to the lowest common denominator. I hope it stays true to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision,” she says. “I also hope the actors also realise that, that they stay true to themselves and appreciate the fans.”
Masterson can now be seen, or rather heard, in the title role of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio spin-off, VIENNA. “I play an ‘impossibly glamorous’ mercenary assassin, with a heart of gold, who always chooses to side with the good guys. It’s got a lot of British humour, along with extremely relevant science fiction themes. There’s an episode about child soldiers, which is how Vienna came to be who she is. Other episodes touch on the falseness of the beauty industry, and another episode on hypocrisy in religion. We’ve gotten outstanding reviews — and we’re recording Season 4 this month,” says Masterson.
As for her upcoming visit to Madrid, Masterson says, “I’m really looking forward to it. I was about 6 years old when I last came to Spain and it really impressed upon me a beautiful sense of simpático there.” “Who knows, I just may never come back!”
Chase Masterson joins Star Wars’ Mary Oyaya, David M. Santana and Dermot Crowley at the CiFiMad Convention on 24, 25 & 26 of February. Hotel Las Provincias, Calle Zaragoza 2, Fuenlabrada, Madrid. (Cercanias: La Serna).
Tickets from €5.
By Richard Lewington