`Voyager's' Beltran proud to uphold `Trek' tradition

Ian Spelling

Robert Beltran was never a science-fiction aficionado. In fact, the only genre film he ever liked was 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

He always felt most television and big screen sci-fi efforts were dry and spiritless. Then he was asked to audition for the role of Chakotay in "Star Trek: Voyager."

"I started researching a little bit, watching `Next Generation,' `Deep Space Nine' and even the old `Star Trek,'" the amiable, soft-spoken actor said in his trailer on the "Voyager" set.

"Writing is always the crux of any program, and I found the writing on those shows to be of top quality. I knew a lot of the same people were involved in `Voyager.'

"So, I got more excited about it, and by the time I got the part, I knew I'd made the right decision. And now I'm completely sure of that."

By now, too, Trekkers have gotten to know Chakotay, the former Maquis captain who serves aboard the Voyager as Captain Janeway's (Kate Mulgrew) first officer. An indigenous American, Chakotay's on-going loyalty to the Maquis and their cause has been and will likely remain a source on conflict in his dealings with the Voyager's mostly Starfleet crew.

Beltran, who is 36 and single, reports that he enjoys working with his co-stars and learning to get a handle on "Trek's" legendary difficult "technobabble." He said he isn't too worried about the intense spotlight he has been in since the show's January debut.

What's more important, said the Mexican-American actor, is to imbue Chakotay with a sense of pride, and do justice to the character's American Indian heritage.

"I take that responsibility very seriously because I take my own indigenous roots very seriously," he explained. "I think that even full-blooded Native Americans can see this actor portray Chakotay and know that I don't have to reach very far to find the reality of it because it's in me."

A native of Bakersfield, where he was born and raised, Beltran knew early on that he wanted to be an actor. After graduating from Fresno State University with a degree in theater arts, he took part in the California Shakespeare Festival.

"My debut was in `Romeo and Juliet,'" he remembered, smiling. "I was a spear carrier."

His film debut came with the cult classic "Eating Raoul" (1982), while other credits include "Gaby - A True Story" (1987) and "Bugsy" (1991). On television, the actor has guest-starred in episodes of "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Murder, She Wrote," and he played Lt. Soto in the first 10 episodes of "Models, Inc."

Before joining the "Voyager" cast, Beltran completed a British miniseries called "Shannongate," which is scheduled to air in America on PBS this summer.

"It's a political spy thriller, and play a Cuban CIA operative," he said. "I have to do some awful things to people, but it was a great role."

Returning to "Voyager," Beltran said that the show has lived up to his expectations and that it has been a fruitful experience thus far.

"Usually, when I work in television, it gets old very quickly, but this hasn't," he said. "The material seems to sustain and I look forward to coming to work, dealing with the plots and learning more about Chakotay.

"It's been challenging and fun."

Daily News L.A. Life - 4/3/95

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Last modified on April 20, 1995