Paramount wanted Star Trek: Nemesis to come in for less money than its predecessor – but its strong-arm negotiations wouldn’t go down well.
Notwithstanding the fact that it had the prescience to give Tom Hardy an early key role in a blockbuster movie, there’s not a huge amount of love in the world out there for Star Trek: Nemesis. The tenth film in the Trek big screen saga, and the fourth and final to feature The Next Generation crew, the movie arrived at the end of 2002 and brought their journey to an end. With something of a thud, too.
But their voyages were really supposed to have stopped in 1999, when the ninth film – Star Trek Insurrection – arrived. It duly landed, made a little bit of money, but lost the momentum from its predecessor, Star Trek: First Contact. Post-Insurrection, the contracts of the crew were up anyway, and that was that. It was assumed it’d be quite the costly exercise to bring the gang back together. Still, as this podcast episode explores, Paramount was eventually minded to give Star Trek and its then incumbent crew another zip around the galaxy.
Yet what Paramount found itself up against was those salary negotiations, at a time when it was looking to play hardball over budgets. This nearly led to the whole film falling apart before it had even got going. Conscious that Star Trek Insurrection had cost $70m to make and grossed $118m worldwide – albeit in an era where DVD sales more than compensated for muted cinema attendances – there was little incentive still to overspend on a new film. It wanted the price to come down, and was persuaded by an idea from Gladiator scribe John Logan as it put the movie into active development.
But the studio hit a problem once its representatives started negotiating with the core cast to come back for the movie. All were open about a return, even if some were more surprised than others. Yet Paramount elected to play a bit of hardball, and it nearly spectacularly backfired. Particularly when it came to Captain Picard himself.
The actor behind him, Patrick Stewart, by this stage of his career had plenty of other movie options on the metaphorical table. He’d become a core part of the X-Men movie franchise for instance, and he was also constantly busy on stage. But his affection for Star Trek was and is well known, and he – or more to the point, his representative – was soon in talks about reprising the role of Jean-Luc. If everyone else was in, so was he.
Stories of actors and studios doing battle over a salary are not uncommon, of course. In recent times, Scarlett Johansson ended up taking legal action against Disney over her Black Widow recompense. Usually though, those battles are either had long before production, or come to light after a film’s release. In the case of Star Trek: Nemesis, they were coming up as part and parcel of the movie’s press tour. At a point when attention arguably should have been on the movie, the story became what was happening behind closed doors.
In particular, take an interview Stewart gave to Empire magazine in its August 2002 issue. Promoting the disc release of The Next Generation, Stewart was asked by a reader whether he was “uncompromising” over his salary negotiations for the film (as had been well reported), and whether he could imagine at that stage a Trek movie without Picard in it.
Stewart not only could imagine that, he was close at that stage to making it happen. “I was a breath away from saying this is not worth the time. An absolute breath away”. The film at this stage was just a handful of months away from release. I remember doing a double take reading the interview at the time.
Stewart wasn’t finished, though. “They were negotiating so uncompromisingly that it had reached the point where humiliation was the only way of settling this and I wasn’t prepared to do that”.
He did add that he wasn’t directly in the firing line himself, saying “the nice thing for actors is that you don’t actually have to walk into those rooms yourself, and you don’t have to answer the phone when they call”. But still: quite a situation.
He dug in, and ultimately prevailed, with everyone swiftly becoming friends again. After all, Paramount couldn’t very well make the film without Patrick Stewart on board. He’d seal a deal worth $14m for Nemesis in the end, a $5m increase on his Insurrection payday. His Nemesis fee was reportedly nearly matching what he’d earned from his entire seven season run of The Next Generation TV show.
In the end, both Stewart and Brent Spiner (Data) would reduce their salaries to help manage the costs of the final movie as development work progressed.
Yet still, there was more unhappiness caused by Paramount’s negotiations that came out . Marina Sirtis, who played Deanna Troi in the series and films, was also one on the end of the studio’s intense negotiation strategy. As she would reveal at a convention many years later, “when I was negotiating for Nemesis, they literally threatened to fire me and recast Troi… well, not actually recast, but they said we are going to fire you and hire Jeri Ryan”. Ryan, of course, had broken through as part of the ensemble for subsequent Star Trek series Voyager.
Sirtis though replied that “Jeri Ryan won’t do it for that money, that’s for sure”. In the end, Paramount would pay up, but the negotiations had taken a bit of a toll. The sense of unhappiness around the project was no secret by the time the Enterprise headed for cinemas in December 2002, and the film failed to ignite the box office. Its returns of $67m worldwide – again, mitigated by DVD income and the sizeable competition in cinemas – were enough for Paramount to extinguish Star Trek on the big screen until JJ Abrams rebooted it all many years later.
In truth, it never stood much of a chance at the box office when it landed though, up against Harry Potter, James Bond and Lord Of The Rings. Over time, many involved with the film would level criticisms at Nemesis too, with director Stuart Baird often the target of ire. Baird, who famously wasn’t from a Trek background, was hired by Paramount for his action skills rather than any knowledge of the series itself. The stories are not in short supply. But still, the deleted scenes hinted at a slightly different film, and the intent was interesting. It’d be fair to say, from start to finish, this was not the steadiest of Trek ships…
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