Known to Star Trek fans as Elaan, the obnoxious princess Capt. Kirk attempts to tame in the third season episode “Elaan of Troyius,” France Nuyen’s role on the 1960s classic sci-fi series wasn’t the first time the actress worked with William Shatner.
Born in France, she moved to New York with her mother as a teenager. While working for a top modeling agency in the ’50s, she was discovered and given a small role in 1958’s musical “South Pacific,” playing a barefoot island girl.
Joshua Logan, the film’s director, immediately went on to direct the Broadway production of “The World of Suzie Wong” and wanted Nuyen for the title role. It ran for more than 500 performances from 1958-60 and co-starred a young Canadian actor named William Shatner.
“He was very professional and eager to make a career for himself,” she said. “I still only spoke French and just memorized my lines in English, so Shatner and I had very little communication offstage because his French was Canadian, which was really a foreign language to me.”
Nuyen went on to appear in numerous films and TV shows, including with Shatner again a decade later in “Star Trek.”
“Playing the spoiled alien princess was a role that had authority and rage — I was throwing knives around the set — quite different to other parts I had played and opened up a new range of acting emotions for me,” she said. “I must have done a good job, because I’ve met people who think I’m really that kind of person.”
She says she especially admired the show’s costume designer, Bill Theiss.
“He did miracles with a tiny budget making clothes out of plastic table placemats,” she explained. “He cut them into squares and put glitter on one side, so when they were clipped together, it looked like metal. But they looked beautiful and expensive.”
The episode turned out to be a fan favorite.
“I’m 80 years old and get more letters with autograph requests from Star Trek fans than anything else I’ve done,” she said.
But she wasn’t done with Shatner yet.
“I did an episode of (the TV show) ‘Kung Fu’ with him, and he played my husband,” she said. “He introduced me to his then-wife and children and we talked about us being on Broadway together.”
The pair also has met at Star Trek conventions over the years.
“I’ve watched him on the stage with 3,000 fans who smile and clap at anything he says,” she said. “You can’t get him off the stage because he loves it and they adore him.”