At first, Brent Spiner was not that enthusiastic about playing the fact-packed android Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now he's glad he did.

"I took the job because I was absolutely sure I would only be there for a year," he says. "There was no way we could do another Star Trek. And the laugh was on me because here we are 15 years and four shows later. It's turned out to be a really nice thing, actually. It's hard to believe we're still doing it."

Now, he's doing it again on the big screen in Star Trek: Nemesis.

Putty-coloured pancake makeup and luminous contact lenses may not be every actor's career dream but Spiner, 53, has created scores of characters besides Data.

He has co-starred in
Independence Day, Phenomenon and Out to Sea and has appeared on TV in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Geppetto, and the series Mad About You and Dream On.

Data was one of the most cherished of the Enterprise's expanded crew. "I remember my first day doing makeup tests. I had 35 tests in different colours, from bubble-gum pink to battleship grey, and I had Billy Idol's white hair.

"At the end they put it on a reel and showed [Star Trek originator] Gene Roddenberry, to see what he liked. The first one that came up he said, 'Okay, that's fine'."

Spiner wanted to be an actor from his early years growing up in Houston but he was too timid to say so.

"I thought about acting because of my heroes — Jerry Lewis was my God, along with Laurel and Hardy. I wanted to be those guys.

"I was fortunate when I got to high school that I had a teacher who approached it seriously. And many of the people who were in my
high school drama class are professionals today."

He shared the campus green room with star siblings Randy and Dennis Quaid, and his best friend in drama class was Tommy Schlamme, executive producer for The West Wing who has won Emmys directing West Wing, Sports Night and ER.

"We had this wonderful teacher, Cecil Pickett, who really inspired us all and made us think, 'You can do this for a living'. And we did."

That illustrious class of
thespians starred in several plays during their high school years. "It's odd. I've been in five Broadway shows now
and had opening nights on Broadway, which is a big deal.

"But opening nights at
Bellaire High School in Houston, Texas, were the most exciting opening nights I've ever been through. They have never been surpassed, even by Broadway opening nights because we knew we had something good to offer.

"It was such a talented group of people that we knew
we were going to surprise everybody because we were working at a different level, even in high school."

Though he spent seven
seasons as the erudite Data, he says his face is not that
familiar to fans. "I don't get recognised in my own country that often. I have the best of both worlds. I could play here for nine months and a few
people would recognise me.

"It would be ridiculous to think I could get to the end of my life and people would not mostly relate to me as Data, but it is more exciting when someone comes up to me and says, they saw me in something else and enjoyed it.

"But I don't have a problem with that. I have a difficult time answering their questions. People say, 'How come in Episode 17 you did so and so?', or 'in episode 140 you did this?' I don't know what they're talking about because I didn't watch the show. I did it one time, and it was over."

Spiner's parents fretted about his future when he began acting. "I was doing
a play in New York and
injured my back and didn't work for two years. I was
considering at that point what else I could do.

"Fortunately my back got
better and I continued to get work — actually more work than I'd had before so I didn't have to think too strongly about it.

"Now my parents don't really worry about my future because I'm an actor. They don't say to me anymore, 'Maybe you should have something to fall back on'."


* Star Trek: The Next
Generation, Prime 10.30pm Thursdays.

* The movie Star Trek: Nemesis opens April 10.