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Among the few dozen main characters in the Star Trek series, very few take any successful main roles in subsequent series.

Exceptions:

Possible exceptions:

Actors who more-or-less disappeared outside Star Trek except in recurring roles: Nimoy, Kelley, Nichols, Doohan, Takei, Koenig, Frakes, Burton, Sirtis, Meaney, Spiner, Dorn, Brooks, Siddig, Visitor, Shimerman, Beltran, Dawson, McNeil, Phillips, Picardo, Russ, Wang, Ryan, Lien, Bakula, Billingsley, Blalock, Keating, Montgomery, Park, Trineer.

This is among all the main characters in four series. Certainly others will add more debatable ones to the list, but I don't think the affects the point.

So firstly we see that overwhelmingly the exceptions that come to mind played captains.

Secondly, I would note that a huge fraction of actors who played a main role in Star Trek TNG era and later, guest starred or played a recurring role somewhere in the Stargate franchise. So they haven't quit acting entirely.

(I'm not including ST Abramsverse because they were all pretty much movie stars already.)

So, what's going on here? Is it that they are typecast? Made enough money and don't want to work? Too busy with Star Trek conventions? Are 'over the hill' by the time they are done with their long-running series and films? Aren't held in high enough esteem in Hollywood?

What have the actors said about their acting careers post-Star Trek?

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    you could probably pick any sucessfull TV show at random and find that many of the actors never get a major on-screen role again. – KutuluMike Aug 4 '15 at 17:21
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    I think the answer you will get will be typecasting, but I'd argue against including Leonard Nimoy in the list. Outside of Star Trek he was in Mission Impossible (probably more successful in its day than Star Trek TOS), Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland, a successful director, a more accomplished musician and singer than William Shatner, and even a Columbo villain. That a lot of it was behind the camera shouldn't lessen it. – The Wandering Dev Manager Aug 4 '15 at 17:23
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    How many Seinfeld actors have leading roles now? Cheers? Cosby Show? Family Matters? Home Improvement? Full House? Maybe a handful of breakout stars among that list, but mostly, they did their big role and then faded into the background. – KutuluMike Aug 4 '15 at 17:35
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    I've tried to make the question less 'opinion-based'. I would point out to everyone, VTC for 'opnion-based' should be if you think answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, not if you take issue with the premise of the question. – ThePopMachine Aug 4 '15 at 20:08
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    Can't believe you include Colm Meaney on that list! Also, Babylon 5 fans may take exception to Walter Koenig being there... ;) – colmde Jan 26 '18 at 16:22
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The pattern here doesn't seem that unusual for the cast of a successful television show not to ever get another high-profile role; there are far more TV actors than TV roles to go around. In fact, many of the people on your list followed a typical pattern for television stars, which is to get one big break-out role, followed by scattered guest appearances in TV and movies.

Just a quick glance at IMDB shows regular television appearances by most of the people on your list, including Brent Spiner, Jolene Blalock, Michael Dorn, Alexander Siddig, Robert Picardo, and probably others.

Beyond that, typecasting probably does play a big part in why many of these actors find it hard to get new leading or starring roles. This was probably a bigger issue for the original cast, and possibly the Next Generation cast; by the time of Enterprise I think the "stigma" of being in a science fiction show was much less of a problem. The classic example of this is Leonard Nimoy, whose book I Am Not Spock was all about his typecasting, but it's easy enough to find most of the TOS and TNG actors complaining about being typecast at some point.

The fact that the early casts kept doing movies, and thus kept going back to their characters, probably didn't help much. On the other hand, the movies, and convention appearance fees, likely kept them making enough money that they weren't all that bothered by the lack of other work. James Doohan explains how he came to accept his role as Scotty, and even learned to make a living from it for the rest of his life:

In 1973, he complained to his dentist, who advised him: "Jimmy, you're going to be Scotty long after you're dead. If I were you, I'd go with the flow."

"I took his advice," said Mr. Doohan, "and since then everything's been just lovely." src

Many of the original series cast were already well into their acting careers anyway, and just decided to retire. DeForest Kelley, for example, had been acting for almost 20 years before he was cast on Star Trek. Ironically, he was actually being typecast as a villain, and chose to play Bones to "break away" from that. However, he was never bitter about being re-typecast due to Trek:

People have asked me, you know, about Star Trek and how I feel about it having typecast all of us [...] I feel so fortunate to have had the experience that I had in the motion picture business, that Star Trek just became cream on top of the coffee for me. src

Others would eventually come to grips with their typecasting, and take advantage of their status as science-fiction icons to reappear on later genre shows, including: Fringe (Nimoy) or Heroes (Takei, Nicols) or Stargate (Blalock, among many others). As Nimoy explains, this was mostly just learning to accept what they had:

I was so heavily typecast and so heavily identified with the Spock character, it was difficult to draw attention to the other work that I wanted to do. But once we started to make Star Trek films that tension went away. I became very comfortable with working occasionally on a Star Trek movie and doing other work as well. src

Also, a lot of these actors simply chose to do something different with their careers after leaving Star Trek. Of particular note LeVar Burton and Roxann Dawson went into directing, and Jonathan Frakes began producing shows of his own, all of them relatively successful at it. Many of the actors, people like Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks, were active in theater before their roles, and went back there afterwards. (Avery Brooks, IIRC, has also released an album.)

Overall, I think the impression that Star Trek actors have any more problems getting work than any other actors is probably just cognitive bias: you are hoping to see those actors again because you like them, and when they don't show up, you wonder why. But in reality, I don't think it's any worse than anyone else.

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    [snip] Take it to chat, please – Valorum Aug 5 '15 at 17:30
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    Worth noting too, that a lot of them found themselves doing voice work. Remember Gargoyles? Had damn near the whole cast of TNG in recurring roles there. – Irishpanda Jan 26 '18 at 15:13
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    Robert Picardo had a pretty solid career before Voyager - look in almost any Joe Dante film and you'll find him. And he's well known as a voice actor as well. – VBartilucci Jun 19 '18 at 17:50
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First off, who you know to have other big roles definitely depends largely on what other tv shows and movies you have seen. I actually think far more of the actors than you claim have actually had main or recurring roles.

For example:

  • Walter Koenig had a recurring role on Babylon 5

  • George Takei was on heroes

  • Sirtis had a big role in Mass Effect (I know, different medium, but I was just so impressed with her performance there that I had to mention it)

  • Colm Meaney seems to pop up just about everywhere I look be it in smaller parts

  • Brent Spiner had a recurring role in Warehouse 13

  • Robert Picardo had a part on Stargate Atlantis (recurring, upgraded to main cast for the last season)

  • Tim Russ has had recurring roles in several children's series

And that's just the ones I happen to know. Add the ones you happened to know and the ones neither of us happened to know and the remaining actors who didn't continue in main roles becomes a lot shorter. Actually, at that point it isn't about Star Trek anymore. From there, it's just about actors and could have been any other show.

However, the question remains: Why did so many of these actors (who happened to be in Star Trek) not continue in main roles?

Some of them moved on to do other things. Examples include Roxann Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill who both went on to directing and some of them may have moved from the world of the moving pictures entirely. However, the real reason is a different one, if you ask me.

Acting isn't an easy branch of work. That is, there isn't much in the way of job stability. Mostly it is going from guest role to guest role and from movie to movie. There's the main characters of any given show, but even their job security is only as strong as the show itself, as it might just get cancelled. (And leading roles don't always pay to well at that moment but can have long lasting benefits through royalties, depending on the success of the show in syndication.) At the end of the day, there are just far fewer leading roles than there are actors, as well as than there are guest roles.

It's actually rather common for an actor who had a leading role not to get a leading role again. You can probably name quite a few actors who had more than one leading part. However, if you think about it, how did things go for the other actors on those shows? For every main actor that lands another leading role, there seem to be quite a few who don't...

So to summarize: If you look at what parts the actors have had since, and not just in what you have seen them, the number of Star Trek actors not getting a main role again drops considerably, to a level that is more on par for the industry. Some people just didn't continue acting. For the others, a factor is that the industry only a small part of the industry consists of major roles...

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    ^_^ Takei also had a recurring role as the holographic ghost grandpa in "Supah Ninjas", but I don't know if he counts that among his successes. – FuzzyBoots Aug 5 '15 at 12:05
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    There are others you haven't mentioned, but the truth is, whenever I see one, I can't help but think "hey, there's that guy from Star Trek". René Auberjonois, Teri Ryan and Armin Shimerman in Boston Legal, Robert Picardo and Robert Beltran in several bad TV movies (SyFy), John de Lancie and Nana Visitor in Torchwood, etc. I would never take notice of these people if it weren't for the fact that I knew them from Star Trek! – Mr Lister Aug 5 '15 at 14:50
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    Everyone seems to be missing that I asked about leading roles, not recurring or guest-starring ones. And then everyone is going a listing all the recurring roles everyone did. I acknowledged that tons of ST actors appeared in SG, but this is not the point. – ThePopMachine Aug 5 '15 at 17:09
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    @MrLister - whenever I saw Rene Auberjonois, I thought "Hey - there's that guy from Benson." – Hannover Fist Aug 5 '15 at 22:49
  • @SeanDuggan He also seems to end up doing voice overs, usually in narration form. Not sure if that's a success either. – fredsbend Aug 6 '15 at 5:34
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Wil Wheaton has written about his experiences not finding work after Star Trek on his website and in his books. http://wilwheatonbooks.com/just-a-geek/

(Summary: He had a string of being the second choice for a bunch of parts until he retired to be a professional geek.)

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    In the context of this question I wonder how we should count his recurring role as himself in Big Bang Theory? – Hagen von Eitzen Aug 5 '15 at 5:54
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    Wil Wheaton is a rather successful actor who has been hired for many roles since he was a little child - after all we have heard of him. Yet I think I vaguely remember an interview where he said that he had been turned down for literally thousands of roles while getting tens of roles and becoming a celebrity from some of those roles. So as a general rule it is hard for even actors who are or later become relatively famous and successful to get roles. – M. A. Golding Aug 5 '15 at 6:01
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    True; the original question isn't about my assessment of his career, but his. IIRC when he stopped having an agent, he considered his acting career over. (Fortunately for him, it picked up again sans agent.) – Trevel Aug 5 '15 at 10:27
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Patrick Stewart would be a stronger counter example than you suggest.

Prior to Star Trek, his filmography would suggest quite a failure for someone who started acting in 1959, though "North & South" and "I, Claudius" in 1975 and 1976 respectively standing out as television series that at the time were very much acclaimed.

After that while he doesn't quite beat his best-known rôle, his filmography is very much packed.

This though is deliberately myopic, in that I'm completely ignoring his theatre career. Several years with the Old Vic, 27 years with the RSC and a few years with the Royal National Theatre is a hell of a stage career. It doesn't show up in IMDB listings though. There are certainly Shakespeare buffs in the world who would argue as to whether Stewart's best-known rôle was Prospero or Macbeth or perhaps his race-switched Othello with an otherwise all-black cast, and not consider that he's done some sci-fi screen work at all.

He wasn't doing badly prior to TNG, he was doing other things.

For the other actors, there's a lot of this in reverse; they're doing other things.

And we're completely ignoring the actors like Colm Meany and Whoopi Goldberg (or in the movies, Kirsty Alley and Kim Cattrall) who were in Star Trek but whose other projects at the time meant that they never became as exclusively linked to Star Trek as other actors.

For the most part though, the question is a tautology:

No actor has had a rôle with more impact than their most impactful rôle, because if they do, that becomes their most impactful rôle, ipso facto.

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    rôle? what's up with that accent circumflex? – Jasper Aug 6 '15 at 12:33
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    @Jasper started as an adolescent affectation, and now I'm just used to writing it that way. (It is an attested English spelling, but rare). – Jon Hanna Aug 6 '15 at 12:46
  • I've seen Sir Patrick in two out of the three roles you mentioned. Based on my experience, I would love to see him as MacBeth (or indeed any stage performance). – Codes with Hammer Aug 6 '15 at 14:36
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    Yeah, most people probably think of her part in Sex in the City when they think of Kim Cattrall. However, I remember her as "Lassie" in Porky's! ;-) – GreenMatt Aug 6 '15 at 17:42
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    @Jasper See english.stackexchange.com/questions/15488/… and also dictionaries such as chambers.co.uk/search.php?query=role&title=21st – ClickRick Sep 16 '15 at 10:40

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