RED ALERT! This interview contains spoilers for Star Trek: Picard season 3 episode 6, “The Bounty.” Written by Christopher Monfette and directed by Dan Liu, “The Bounty” is currently available for streaming on Paramount+.
Daniel Davis first played the role of Hologram Professor James Moriarty in the Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2 episode “Elementary, Dear Data.” He later reprised the role in TNG season 6’s “Ship in a Bottle.” In spite of appearing in only two episodes, the character cast a long shadow over the franchise. And now, Davis has returned to the Franchise in Picard season 3’s “The Bounty.”
The Beat got the chance to chat with Davis over Zoom and find out all about returning to Trek after thirty years, to ask about memorable convention experiences, and to find out where he thinks our favorite sentient hologram might possibly appear next!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Cover image: Picard season 3 teaser trailer.
AVERY KAPLAN: How did you come to be involved in Picard season 3?
DANIEL DAVIS: Back in November 2021, my agent called and said, “We’ve heard from Star Trek.” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Don’t you want to know what it is?” I said, “It doesn’t matter. Yes, whatever it is.”
I guess they had been thinking about involving Moriarty in the episode, but they had begun to write and they thought, “Well before we write this, we better find out if we can get him to come back.” Yeah, twist my arm. Of course, you can get me! So once I said yes, they worked on the script.
But they kept the script from me; I never saw it. They keep things under close guard because things have a way of getting out. Which makes them very unhappy.
So all I got were my pages that I was going to be shooting. And I could not make heads or tails of it. I said, “This is not Moriarty, at least, not how I remember him.” Because the menacing and the danger had passed, I thought, with “Ship in a Bottle.” That we were over that aspect of him – and had gotten over it a long time before that, really.
But I didn’t know who I was in “The Bounty.” And even, in Riker (Jonathan Frakes)’s words: this is not the self-aware Moriarty that we knew on the Enterprise. So I was confused, and there wasn’t really anyone around to answer my questions, so, I did what actors do: I just said the words.
And then when I got the request from CBS to start doing these interviews, I said, “I can’t talk about it because I haven’t seen it, and I really don’t know how I fitted in or what the episode was about.” So they sent me a screener, and I watched the episode yesterday and today, and I thought, “Oh, okay. When you have the callback to Data (Brent Spiner) and Riker’s first meeting; and you have the crow; and you have Moriarty, who is a strong association with Data; and you have the tune, which is a strong association for Riker… Then Riker’s going, ‘Ah, snap finger: Data’s around here somewhere.’”
And then, the scene that I didn’t read, but I saw finally, was Riker saying, “He wasn’t trying to hurt us, he was trying to guide us.” And I thought, “Ah! That’s why I was there.” But I was in the dark until that moment, so that was kind of strange.
But you do what actors do: you just sort of say the words and hope that it all works together when they cut it – and it did! So I think I’m supposed to be some version of Data – in whatever function his android brain still has – to lead them to him. And that’s why he wasn’t exactly the Moriarty that we know.
KAPLAN: Would you consider the Picard incarnation of Moriarty to be a manifestation of Data’s subconscious mind?
DAVIS: It’s possible… It could be a version of Data. I mean, he’s the most schizophrenic android in the history of androids, with so many personalities. So it’s either Data, or Lore, or Soong, or, you know, another manifestation. Because when Data does achieve consciousness in the episode. They haven’t integrated yet. So it’s very possible that Moriarty is a manifestation of some aspect of Data’s personality…
The interesting thing, though, is it was Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) that programmed Moriarty to be as brilliant as Data. I guess that Data, Geordi and Moriarty are sort of entwined in the psyche of each of them.
The only trouble was I didn’t get to see Geordi, even though he was in the episode, and I didn’t get to have a scene with Patrick Stewart. And so it wasn’t really what I was being called back to do, because I had a fantasy in my mind that I was being called back to resolve the broken promise that Picard made to me about getting me off the holodeck. But, it didn’t turn out to be that. So I’m still on that holodeck, somewhere! Floating around with Countess Bartholomew (Stephanie Beacham).
KAPLAN: Does your personal interest in the Sherlock Holmes canon extend beyond this role?
DAVIS: Well, I read the books, back when I was younger. In high school, I think, I read all the short stories and books. And I was in a play, at my home theater of American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco, of The Crucifer of Blood, in which I played Doctor Watson opposite Peter Donat as Sherlock Holmes – and Moriarty was not a figure in that play.
I think that’s what’s exciting for the fans. You have Sherlock Holmes and you have Star Trek: you have two of the great mythologies of our culture combined into two, now three episodes. It’s pretty exciting.
KAPLAN: Is the role of Hologram Moriarty one that you find has often been close at mind, or was appearing in Picard a return to the past for you?
DAVIS: Well, it was both. It was a return to the past because it is thirty years since we did “Ship in a Bottle.” It’s also the thirtieth anniversary of The Nanny beginning, so I’ve got all these anniversaries in my head.
But it was something that I have hoped for. A return to Moriarty has been a hope of mine. When Picard first started, I mean, it was the first thing I thought of: will they bring me back? So it’s a very nostalgic period in my life. I never would have expected that it would last as long as it has. But, what was I thinking? Of course, it’s going to last, with the fans keeping it alive.
And I’ve been to conventions, and I get Cameo requests to be Moriarty. So it’s very much alive. It doesn’t go away. It’s part of me now.
KAPLAN: Do you have any memorable experiences from conventions?
DAVIS: Oh, I’ve had so many wonderful encounters with people. I’ve met people that I’m still in contact with. A few years ago, I was going to do a play in New York where I had to have a Scottish accent. And a man came up to the table with his wife, and he was clearly Scottish. And I said, “Would you mind if go off in a little room and record our conversation together?” I happened to have the script, and I said, “Could you read these lines to me?” He actually ended up being my inspiration for my accent when I did the play.
And once I had a couple show up. They unrolled a canvas poster, and on both sides were photographs of me as Moriarty. And it was as tall as a wall. I mean, it rolled out for, like, nine feet. And they wanted me to sign it. And of course, I did, and then I said, “But where do you put this?” And they showed me a picture of a barn that they have, and all of us hanging from the rafters in this barn. All these giant, nine-foot-long posters of all the characters that they could get to pose for them.
And I have now met people from the four corners of the Earth. I have Australian fans, I have Chinese fans, a lot of people in Europe, and a lot of Italian fans. So it’s put me in contact with the world at large. Between this and Niles, I don’t know that there’s anywhere that I could go that I wouldn’t be recognized. “Oh, you’re Moriarty.” “Are you Niles?” I get it all the time. And it’s wonderful! I don’t mind it in the least.
KAPLAN: Like many other Star Trek actors, you have stage experience, specifically with Shakespeare. I’m curious if you have a favorite Shakespearian role you’ve performed?
DAVIS: I have been so lucky in my career. I was classically trained when I was young, and the theater was all I was ever interested in being a part of. The movies were something up there, that I didn’t understand how they do that. And television– when I was a kid, and trying to be an actor in the theater, people in the theater didn’t do television; people in the theater didn’t do movies; movie stars didn’t do plays. There were walls up between all the aspects of our profession. And they came down a few years ago.
But I have been in so many productions of Shakespeare – more than thirty. And I’ve been in Hamlet six times and played him four times. I played Macbeth; I played Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing; I played King Lear a few years ago. I wanted to play King Lear while I could still pick up Cordelia at the end of the play.
And so I don’t have a bucket list any more of Shakespearian roles. I’ve done all the ones that I wanted to do. When I think of all of them, Hamlet is probably my favorite, because I played it at four different stages of my life. So that each time I played it, I brought the last five years of experience and knowledge with me into interpreting the role.
And god bless him, Ian McKellen just did Hamlet. He’s eighty-something years old and he just did Hamlet again in London. So I thought, “If Ian can do it, I can do it. I’m gonna stick around and do it when I’m 82 and see how it goes.” But when you’re old enough to play these parts, when you’ve had enough life experience to play these complicated parts, you’re too old to do them. So, grab it while you can!
KAPLAN: In addition to live-action onscreen performances, you have also performed in several animated shows. Would you consider returning as an animated version of Hologram Moriarty?
DAVIS: I actually had a conversation about this with Kate Mulgrew (Vice Admiral Janeway) about a month ago. We had dinner together in New York, and I said, “Why couldn’t I?” I mean, as one of the producers on Picard said: “Moriarty can pop up anywhere.” So yes, I would do it in a heartbeat.
I think that Janeway and Moriarty is a marriage made in animated heaven, so, we’ll see!
New episodes of Picard are available for streaming on Paramount+ on Thursdays.
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