ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — John Hertzler, who is best known as paying the Klingon general Martok on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is giving a Shakespearean acting class at the Actor’s Studio of Rochester, Saturday March 4. Enrollment can be found here.
The studio is on the third floor of the Studio 34 building — the large brick building across the street from Three Heads Brewing — a cozy room in a cozy building.
In the class, Hertzler will take the students from “Star Trek to Shakespeare,” and will discuss his technique for “heightening the communication” of any text, balancing the truth and grace in a play, acting exercises, and more.
The name of his course is “Shakespeak.” With a hearty laugh or two, he read the opening lines of his course:
“‘The art of performing’… I worked for years on this sentence: ‘The art of acting, if it is to capture the heart and mind of the audience must be good and effective,” he said. “And in order to be effective, it must not only be rich in understanding of human behavior, but it would also include a profound reach for the great beyond.”
But students will also be learning from Hertzler’s incredible life experience.
Hertzler is now in his seventies. He may sometimes walk with a cane, and is never without his now iconic sunglasses, but his presence is towering. His baritone voice filled and echoed in the room of the Actor’s Studio, seeming to resonate with every cell of his body.
Over the course of an hour-long conversation, Hertzler told stories of his eclectic life, interspersed with anecdotes and monologues, and the occasional sidebar with Skip Greer, the Rochester actor who runs the Studio. The two are longtime friends.
That eclectic life started in Savannah, Georgia. His father was in the Air Force, and he moved around the whole world. But the majority of his growing up was in Washington, D.C.
In no particular order, Hertzler played football at Bucknell, acted in numerous Shakespeare, narrated an audiobook, has written seven unproduced screenplays, played Klingons and more, ran in a congressional midterm as Mark Twain, served for five years on the town board of Ulysses, taught at Cornell — the theater department was removed in the fallout of the Bernie Madoff scandal, seriously — and even spent a year working in the federal government in the Nixon era.
But throughout it all, there is one theme: John G. Hertzler loves “slinging steel.”
“I hate quarterbacks!” Hertzler said emphatically, followed by: “I hate fullbacks!”
Hertzler was playing Division I football at Bucknell University, playing both linebacker and defensive end. He said the only thing he was good at was using his helmet to hit whomever he could in the backfield.
At his playing weight — and admittedly still now — Hertzler cuts an imposing figure. He was recruited by the theatre department to play a character in “Marat/Sade,” a play set in the early 1800s, and centers around an argument in a French sanitarium.
It was the first time he went back to the theater since the sixth grade, after stops at five different elementary schools.
“I wrote, directed and performed in a pageant that included Nelson Gardner, perhaps you’ve heard of it, David Olsen, and myself. And it was for, somehow we put together bootleggers with Mount Suribachi,” he said with a smile. “And I don’t know how we did it. I can’t remember, but it was, it was an incredible success.”
“Marat/Sade” would be the last role he would portray until after his one-year stint in the federal government in Nixon’s General Service Administration, working in solid waste recycling. And after a year:
“I went out in the middle of a Potomac,” he said. “In my uniform, which was a suit, a government uniform, is basically a suit. I just drifted in the middle of the Potomac and watched people driving on GW Parkway by the Pentagon saying, ‘I’m out of it. I’m out of it.’
“And that’s when I got into theater,” he said.
That career in theatre led to many roles with a broadsword in hand — including the “Scottish play” — including a performance with Greer that included a one-hour fight scene.
Hertzler found his way to playing Martok — a member of the Viking-like warrior race in Star Trek — following a cacophonous audition. He played the role with a level of subtlety that would come to define the role.
But during the audition, the producers and casting directors wanted a more… Belligerent performance. Hertzler would then throw a folding chair into a wall — a set wall, as Hertzler also went to a graduate program for set design — where it stuck. He cut his finger in the process, and blood was get on the ceiling.
He got the call with the role the next day.
Martok is both a typical Klingon with an abounding love for battle, a desire for honor, and a beating romantic heart. But Hertzler brought something else to the role: his Shakespearean skill to heighten the language.
And a penchant slinging the steel, both in the war that was central to the plot of the show, and with the Klingon sword, the bat’leth.
He vividly recalls an episode where Martok and another Klingon were having a dispute about familial honor before battle, and how the other took away his chance to be an officer. After a call to the writer, he adlibbed lines that still make him tear up to this day.
“You were an officer…, only because something happened in the war. And I said, unfortunately, my father did not live to see that day,” he said.
His father, of the Air Force, did not live to see him play a general.
Following his Star Trek stint, he would go on to teach at Cornell, continue to act in Shakespeare, voice act in video games and more, and in 2016, he was elected to the town board of Ulysses in the Finger Lakes.
He said politics and current events were always top of mind. In the third grade, he says, there was a weekly pamphlet called The Weekly Reader. He was fascinated with current events.
After he says he saw corruption during his time at the GSA, it has followed Hertzler, and he also considers himself an environmental activist.
While he is no longer in the role at the board, he still lives in the area.
“I learned what was being planned for the town, and I could voice my opinion,” he said. “I did, and on many occasions, I sort of stood alone. And it was often not for the greater good, but for the fairness to the individual… Just to be fair. Fairness is so freaking important to me. And when something unfair happens to me, I’m not good at talking my way through something or thinking…
“I just want a broadsword in my hand,” he said.
After that stint on the board, realized it was time to focus on acting.