Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets: An Interview With Marina Sirtis

We spoke to genre icon Marina Sirtis about her latest film, Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets, Star Trek The Next Generation and Tottenham Hotspur…

Max Winslow

Marina Sirtis made her first step towards iconic status back in 1987 in her role as Counselor Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation alongside Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes and since then, has cemented herself in legendary status, appearing in a plethora of TV shows and movies besides.

From the Nineties/early Noughties Star Trek movies, to Disney’s fun animated series Gargoyles (now on Disney+ Gargoyles fans!), to episodes of The Outer Limits, Stargate SG-1, Titans and Picard (just to name a few) and films such as The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time and now Max Winslow And The House of Secrets (as a talking AI no less!), Marina’s IMDB page reads like a genre wish list.

We sat down with her to discuss all manner of things!

Your latest movie, Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets is out now – how did you get involved with it?

Well, they asked me to do it, they sent me a script and it was… I have to say one of the reasons that I did it was because it was going to be a doddle! It was going to just be me and the camera! I didn’t even get to meet the other actors because it was just me and a green screen, and being as I’ve done the occasional green screen before in my life, that’s why I say it was a doddle because I know how to do green screen!

Listen, I did a panto in Bridlington two years ago and when I was doing the BBC local radio, he said to me: “How did they get you to come to Bridlington?” And I went: “They asked!” So basically, if you want me to appear in any project, just ask!

What would you say are the main themes for Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets?

I think with sci-fi you can invest it with whatever you want to invest in it! A lot of people are now getting in touch with me and saying: “Stop being political because you’re just an entertainer and we watched your show to be entertained” and I’m like, well, that’s fine, you can watch it to be entertained, but Star Trek: The Next Generation was a little morality play every week. You can watch it on different levels.

My part [Haven] in Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets she is like the puppet master if you like, she was the one directing everything! I played this really nice character in Deanna Troi in TNG – probably for the first time in my career did I play someone that non-judgmental and sweet and kind [with Deanna]. I always usually played the bad girl because dark-haired girls are usually the bad girl while blonde girls are usually the good girl. My character in Max Winslow is kind of evil, so I go back to that.

I remember when TNG first started people would come up to me at conventions and say: “We think Deanna Troi is really boring. But we really love you!” I actually prefer evil. It’s more interesting. There’s more to get your teeth into… though as far as acting goes it’s much harder for me to play someone nice because it’s so far away from who I am [haha!]

Haha so with Deanna Troi that was some top notch acting…

That was major acting! I always say the only thing we had in common was we were the same height. Our eyes are different colour though because my eyes are hazel and her eyes are black. [They gave me] black contact lenses – I was putting these things in my eyes and in the first season the colour was leaching into my eyes! It’s a wonder they didn’t blind me because they had the contact lenses painted by the makeup artist!

Marina used to wear black contact lenses that were painted by the makeup artist when playing Deanna Troi…

How do you normally go about choosing a project?

I wish I could say that I’m very choosy and that I pick my projects with great care and consideration. But that would be the opposite of the truth because I had an experience that basically taught me that I don’t know a good script from a hole in the wall!

When Star Trek was over, I got sent two scripts: one was an offer and one was where I would have to go in and meet with the producers and director.

The one I was offered was about saving the rainforests – I don’t know if you know, but I’m a bit of an environmentalist. I want to save the rainforest so I’m gonna do the rainforest movie! It was called Paradise Lost and it went straight to DVD, nobody saw it and the thing that I didn’t go in for… wait for it… Men In Black!

We guess you’ve gotten better at choosing scripts since then?

I have to say that nowadays you don’t even see a whole script. Especially if it’s a genre movie; they pretty much just send you your scenes. It’s like we’re guarding the nuclear codes now! It’s because of social media. When we were doing Star Trek if the scripts came out, illegally, we were trying to figure out who did it. Was it the printer? Was it somebody in the office? Now you just couldn’t trace it. It would be out in the ether. So that’s probably why. Nowadays you have to sign an NDA before you go into read for something sometimes! Wow, I’ve signed so many NDAs that I feel like one of Trump’s mistresses [haha]!

We see you’re drinking from a Tottenham Hotspur mug. We know you’re a pretty big fan…

I have Tottenham Hotspur everything because my fans buy me everything with Tottenham Hotspur on [and] the club send me a Christmas jumper every year. I’m getting the royal treatment, it’s lovely. I [even got] to talk to Ledley King. I got a picture of me with Ledley King. It’s my prized possession!

Your role for Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets is mainly via voiceover – how do you approach doing voiceover acting?

Voiceover acting is not my favourite type of acting, because the way I work (and everyone has their own method) is I don’t plan anything ahead of time. I know a lot of actors absolutely think “this is what I’m going to do on this line and this is what I’m going to do with this line”. They have it all planned out. I don’t do any of that. I learn the lines. The lines have to be 100% in no doubt, and then I react to the person that I’m acting with because I was taught that acting is reacting. Acting is listening and then reacting. So if you plan something… well the other person could be turning cartwheels in the scene and the way you deliver doesn’t change!

With voice acting, you’ve got nothing to react to because you’re usually on your own in a sound booth. Or with Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets I was literally on my own with a desk with a green screen behind me and the camera in front of me. So you have to do it all in your head. In that respect you have to totally create everything in your own head. You have the director sometimes feeding you the off camera dialogue if there is any. But again, he’s not an actor, he’s a director or a producer and it’s different.

When we did Gargoyles, we shot that like a radio play. When I went to Guildhall (back in Middle Ages haha!) we learned radio technique. It finally came in handy! It finally got to be used when I did Gargoyles. I don’t think I’m ever going to be in The Archers [haha] but, finally those radio technique classes from Guildhall came in handy.

Marina plays Haven in Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets – an AI who controls an incredibly smart house…

We’re guessing they must be very different experiences…

You have to do a lot with your voice. I’m an eye actor, I’m a face actor. Jonathan Frakes [from TNG] always used to say when he was directing – if he had a problem editing, if something didn’t quite fit together he’d cut to my face! He said to me: “It’s always got the right expression on it.” So when Deanna Troi turns up in a Jonathan Frakes episode for no reason you know why now!

You have to do much more with your voice. I’m amazed at voice actors! I remember when we were doing Gargoyles there’d be like one line and Jamie the director would say: “Ok I need old Scottish guy that sounds like a dog when he talks” and like three people would put their hands up. I’d be like: “Really?? You have that at your fingertips? In your repertoire?”… AND THEY DID!

You were also in The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time film. What was that like to shoot?

Yes I played Alaska’s mum in the last Sharknado film – I did it because they promised me it was the last one [haha]! We were shooting in Romania when the Beast From The East was going through Europe. It was so cold my lenses froze on my eyes! We were shooting outside in a snow storm! We just kept going, we just didn’t stop! Neil Degrass Tyson was Merlin [in the film] and I was Merlin’s assistant. Neil Degrass Tyson was in it – I’m definitely going to do it. It was a lot of fun!

What was it like reuniting with some of The Next Generation cast for Picard?

It was interesting because when they asked me to be in it, I had to say no because I was doing a play in the West End called Dark Sublime. So the producer called me the next day and he goes: “We could ram it into two or three days… couldn’t you send on your understudy?” and I went: “Understudy?! It’s my face on the poster outside the theatre. I’m not going to have an understudy! People are coming from America [to see it]!”

But they worked it out [as we] basically we shot our scenes out of sequence. I should have lied because they said “when are you available?” and I was trying to be really helpful so I said “I close the play on Saturday night. I could get on a plane on Sunday and be back in LA on Sunday night” which is exactly what happened! I literally closed the play at 10.30pm Saturday night and had to be on a plane at 10.30am the next morning! Monday morning I’m at Santa Clarita where they filmed having a costume fitting and I’m working on Tuesday morning, with my matchsticks holding up my eyes, with jet lag [haha]. They would never have known if I’d have said I was closing a week later! I could have had a week off [haha].

I’ve spoken to Isa [Briones] since. I always used to be the youngest woman on the set – well that hasn’t happened for a long time [haha], but I remember being Isa’s age. I wasn’t as successful as she was at her age, nowhere near, but I did feel like a mentor. I gave her some Star Trek-related advice because I know what’s going to happen to her next. She was very open to it, very open to listening to advice.

I learned my lines in England before I went back to LA to do it. I talked to Jonathan bless him. He was really nervous because he hadn’t acted for a long time. He said in an interview: “Well Patrick’s Patrick and obviously brilliant. Marina’s just literally stepped off stage on the West End, so she’s firing on all cylinders… and I haven’t acted in years, I’m really nervous!” But he was wonderful! Working with Patrick and Johnny again… my heart was full!

Max Winslow And The House Of Secrets is out at cinemas now.