ONE QUIRK of working at The Washington Post is that, on occasion, you glimpse one of your bosses — or an iteration thereof — smack in the middle of a Hollywood film, from “All the President’s Men” to “State of Play” to last year’s Oscar-winning “Spotlight.” But this is the first time I can recall one of them becoming an alien.
At a Wednesday preview of “Star Trek Beyond,” which opens Friday, I stayed through the end of the closing credits, where I saw a familiar name: Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com founder and owner of The Washington Post, who was listed as playing a “Starfleet Official.”
At the end of my interview Thursday with co-writer Doug Jung, he shed some light on Bezos’s appearance: “I remember that day when we shot, he was in a ton of alien makeup. I remember hearing him say, ‘This is so great.’ … I just got a big kick out of that.”
Jung continued: “Someone like Jeff Bezos — where you’re like — you imagine the world is his oyster. But he got such a thrill out of something that was a day or half a day on set. It was great.”
On Thursday, the actor John Cho, who plays Sulu, joked with The Post’s Comic Riffs about Bezos’s appearance, and whether Cho ever actually got close enough to meet the billionaire actor-for-a-day.
“Beyond” director Justin Lin told the Associated Press that it was like a presidential visit the day Bezos was on set. Producer J.J. Abrams reportedly thought it was “funny,” while Chris Pine, who plays Capt. Kirk, told the AP: “I had no idea who he was. Not a clue.”
Bezos has long been known to be a proud “Star Trek” fan, and his appearance in the 13th “Star Trek” film points back to a boyhood passion.
In May, while on stage for an interview at The Post-sponsored Transformers technology conference, Bezos told the newspaper’s executive editor, Martin Baron — who himself was portrayed by Liev Schreiber in “Spotlight” — that he was a fan of the original 1960s TV series as a boy, and that “Star Trek” even inspired Alexa/Echo, Amazon’s robotic voice-recognition assistant.
— Michael Cavna (@comicriffs) May 18, 2016
“Our vision was, in the long term, it would become the ‘Star Trek’ computer,” Bezos said, confirming that the science-fiction franchise created by Gene Roddenberry was the original inspiration for the technology. “You could ask it anything, and ask it to do things for you — ask it to find things for you — and it would be easy to converse with, in a very natural way.”
“We, as humanity, as a civilization, as a technological civilization, are still quite a ways away from being able to be as magical and amazing as the ‘Star Trek’ computer, ” Bezos continued. “We still have a couple of centuries [before when ‘Star Trek’ is set]. I don’t think we’ll need that much time, actually.”
When Baron asked how often “Star Trek” has served as inspiration, Bezos reflected on his childhood. “When I was in fourth grade, we would — me and my friends Dean and Kyle, who lived next door, a couple houses down in Houston, Texas — play Star Trek almost every day. And we would fight over who got to be Captain Kirk or Spock or — and somebody usually played the computer, too. And you know, it actually was very fun. We made little cardboard phasers and cardboard tricorders and, you know — good days.”
Bezos has previously said that when he didn’t get to play Kirk or Spock, he would choose to play the role of the computer over a flesh-and-blood character. He also reportedly liked to play an early “Star Trek” game on a computer. (Bezos was born in 1964, which was when Roddenberry was first birthing his proposal for “Star Trek.”)
Bezos has saluted “Star Trek” in various ways. At the offices of his space exploration company Blue Origin, near the Seattle-Tacoma airport, there is a model of the starship Enterprise. He has reportedly named a pet dog after the early ’90s Star Trek character Kamala. And in 2014, when Bezos took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, he publicly challenged “Star Trek” actors William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and George Takei to participate next. Days later, Takei prominently decided to do so.
With his “bucket list” role in “Star Trek Beyond” — part of which is set on a pristine, gyroscopic Federation starbase — Bezos arguably can claim a unique distinction: He may be the franchise’s first on-screen space colonist who hopes, in real life, to build a space colony.
Jung said that he enjoyed having Bezos around for the shoot, even if the actor only got a few words of dialogue. “It’s great fun whenever you have people like that [on set], who unexpectedly end up being huge Trekkies.”
[This post has been updated with the image from “Star Trek Beyond."]
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