Interview With Author Laura Banks
Laura Banks new memoir, Close Encounters with Captain Kirk, the Making of Star Trek II
(and the Rest of It) is a true-life story about an adventurous girl who leaves her home in
Kansas for California in search of fame, fortune, and frolic – and finds all three. The compelling book takes the reader through Laura’s life from surviving a dysfunctional childhood to working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It traces her early years as an actress, including landing a small, but pivotal role in Star Trek II, how Whoopi
Goldberg came into her life, her romantic encounter with William Shatner, and finding success as an author, comedian, and actress.
Laura was a regular at the famous Improvisation in NYC as well as the Comedy Cellar. She was a member of an improv comedy troupe with Whoopi entitled, Spontaneous Combustion. She went on to become a bestselling author with Embracing Your Big Fat Ass, an Owners Manual and Breaking the Rules: Last-Ditch Tactics for Landing the Man of Your Dreams, co-written by Janette Barber and published by Simon and Schuster.
And, as if acting, writing, and comedy weren’t enough, the stars have truly aligned in Laura’s case; not only as an actress on Star Trek but also as a renowned astrologer. True Trekkies, and Others can now have their charts read by someone who's actually been to the stars.
You’ve done quite a lot, tell us a bit about your career.
I've had a love for both the visual and performing arts since childhood. (I have a BFA in Fine Art, Drawing and Painting, from California State University Northridge.) I loved painting and I loved my acting in high school plays. Writing was not a major love of mine until my forties. I have kept a journal my entire life though, writing daily sometimes for hours at a time since my youth. When I was fifteen years old, I did win an award (Bronze Medal) for a speech entitled, “Women and Identity” where I wrote and delivered a speech about how not all are designed for the role of only being a housewife and mother and what happens to women after the children move away.
At 22, I moved away from Kansas to California to pursue my acting career but fell in love with the comedy scene - stand up and improv. I started writing comedy for stage combined with sketch work. I met Whoopi Goldberg in 1979 and we were in an improv troupe together. I then went on to land a small role in “Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan” and larger starring roles in other B-film action pictures shot in Southeast Asia produced by the infamous Roger Corman.
I then moved to New York City to do more/better stand-up comedy and improv. I wrote and performed a one-woman show off Broadway entitled, “Amazon She Warrior”. I started writing actual books almost as an act of desperation. A relationship was ending, and I couldn't figure out how I might support myself. I took a Mavis Beacon typing course and wrote my first book, “Love Online”. When I finished the book, I could not get an agent, so I self-published and got myself bookings on various TV shows. Then I sent my reel of TV appearances to various agents, got my first agent, and a deal with Career Press Publishers. Career Press also published my second book, “Breaking the Rules, Last Ditch Tactics for Landing the Man of Your Dreams” and sold 250,000 copies and became a USA Today Bestseller. After that came “Embracing Your Big Fat Ass, an Owner’s Manual” with Atria Publishing, a division of Simon and Schuster. My last two books were co-written with Janette Barber, another stand up comic who has won multiple Emmy Awards for her TV producing work. My last two books ended up at William Morris for TV and film development deals.
What was the impetus for writing your new book?
I wanted to get back into my career after many years of struggling with no impetus to do much of anything after the untimely death of my partner, Dr. Alan H Pressman. I wanted to make sense of what had happened to me in my life, for myself first, then my audience. I wanted to give the reader some laughter because that is needed now more than ever. Leaving people inspired to take life chances themselves, to be shamelessly self-expressed, especially as a woman, both sexually, emotionally, was very important to me, too.
Your book talks about your journey in Hollywood. What was it like meeting and working with some of the legends you worked with and navigating your way through those early days?
I am a bit of a female Forrest Gump, with no idea how or why I kept running into celebrities. I was never really one myself – just on the fringe. The first legend, Whoopi Goldberg, was such a gift in my life. She wasn’t famous when I met her, but her talent was enormous already. She taught me a lot about the nature of combining pain and humor, not an easy accomplishment as a performer or writer. She was also very down to earth.
I was intimidated by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II. The whole experience of being on a movie set for the first time and thrown into a big film environment was pretty scary for me. Sure, there was a lot of nerves working with some of the other cast members from Star Trek and reporting to Paramount Pictures. When I met Shatner for the first time, I could barely breathe. Then Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty crossed my path – that is my favorite story in the book because I met them waitressing in a lipstick lesbian bar. Separating out my fantasies about movie stars and the reality never really happened. It was always an altered experience. Maybe because it combines some interior knowing of someone as a public figure and the brain’s attempt to get to know them for who they are in real life. Now I realize that when I go to sign autographs at Star Trek conventions, that I am actually…famous myself. Now I watch others react to me the way I reacted to famous people.
Can you tell us about how you got cast in Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan?
In 1982 I saw an ad in Drama Logue, an L.A. casting magazine, an ad that could have been describing me exactly, my height, measurements, hair color and age. I went to Central Casting and got approved there, then to Paramount Studios where I was given the greenlight by the director, Nicholas Meyer, for the part. In fact, he liked me so much that he paid a fine to the Screen Actors Guild to keep me. I was not in the union at the time and when I beat out other union actors for the role of Khan’s navigator, the studio was penalized.
What was that like being onset with all that star power? Is this when you first met William Shatner?
Being on set was exhilarating, but I was always concerned I didn’t move to my spot in the shot on time or maybe was in someone’s way. The camera was huge, I remember thinking. But I had been enamored by the world of moviemaking since my childhood, when mother and I watched films together all the time. I’m named after the movie, “Laura”. That is why I became an actress. It almost felt right for me to be there from the get-go. And I have a bit of a journalistic approach to life, where I throw myself into crazy situations, what I am passionate about, just to learn and see what happens. On set, I think I was able to keep my cool, feeling myself more of an observer at times, then go back to my journal and write about what happened on set that night. Maybe my writing was, even then, saving me more than I know. I have always felt that my writing was my parachute.
I met William Shatner after filming, not on set, but at a Star Trek Convention in Houston, Texas. We met backstage, right after I had gone on to meet the fans. I met him in a tiny room and boy, was he big in it. We shared a limousine to the hotel and the rest of my story I’ll save for the book. (page 109) Ha.
What was the best advice you received?
From my mother. She told me to go follow my wildest dreams and don’t let anything stand in your way. She would always say, “Laura, you make doors where there are none.” She said to put my self-expression, my career and monetary resources before the interest of marriage and family. Because of mom, I have had a very adventurous life and I adamantly defend my choice to stay single and child-free by choice.
Were there any obstacles/challenges/or thoughts of “maybe I shouldn’t write that” while you were writing your book?
Oh, God, yes. I struggled primarily with penning my time with Shatner, but since it was a very positive experience, I went with it. I was told by a few close friends that it was a bad idea. I feel that this is the history and all it needed was to be committed to the page. The point is, sure there was some exploitation on his part, but I do not blame him, and I make the point that I chose to be with him.
It was very hard to share how close I got to the seedier parts of Hollywood like prostitution and stripping (dodged both those bullets) and posing in a magazine (didn’t dodge that one). What I share are true parts of my journey that screamed to be told. The point of the telling is that in spite of what others will see as pretty funky behavior I have kept my self-respect. I also respect other women and what they have had to go through with the shaming we do as a culture. We can only judge ourselves.
I wanted the darker sides of me represented, and I then wanted to not only honor myself (my survival skills) but get to a place of happiness and celebration for a life well lived, even though I did not make it in the eyes of many, including my own.
You are definitely connected to the stars, you are also an astrologer. How did you find out you had your gifts?
My mom was an astrologer so I am a second generation astrologer and intuitive. I have studied the stars my whole life and am passionate about constructing a natal chart and seeing into the soul of another. I was able to guess people’s signs while in college, so I guess that is when I first knew I had talent. I was a reader at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando for a season, which was wonderful. But the planets, signs and houses and how they intersect and tell the story of a person’s life is always stunning to me. I can see lovers, family relations, career choices, it’s all there since birth, so yes, we are fated. There is some will power, but we come into this lifetime on a path since birth and the endless path of life and death and reincarnation. Interesting, isn’t it, the intersection of Star Trek and my studying of the stars.
Has being an astrologer helped guide your career? If so, can you give a brief description?
I have an 8th house sun placement. That means professional and financial partnerships come easily to me. Janette Barber was my co-author on two other successful books. Writing partners have to be a perfect fit in my opinion though. I also have four planets in the twelfth house of psychic intuition – so I knew I was gifted there. And lots of Leo, which is the sign of the performer, so I knew acting and comedy writing and performing were right for me. I am a multiple fire sign and my first film was “Wheels of Fire”. Funny. I also have Venus in Taurus (exalted) at the top of my chart. That is a lover of fine art. I could go on forever on this. I love it.
Circling back to your new book, what would you like your readers to take away from reading your book?
GO FOR YOUR DREAMS. Make a mess of your life but make sure you are passionate about what you are doing. Take chances. And if you don’t succeed, that’s okay! Be self-expressed and proud of yourself when you take big chances! Be sexy and be proud of it, too. The U.S. has such puritanical beliefs about sex that we need to get over, especially when it comes to judging women more than men. Embrace all the parts of yourself you don’t like, then go, boldly go, to your next fantasy experience or bad idea. If an idea gets you out of bed in the morning, that’s the one.
For more info please visit: http://www.laurabanks.com/