RIP René Auberjonois
Today brings us the sad news that René Auberjonois, best known to Star Trek fans as Constable Odo from Deep Space Nine, has passed away.
Odo wasn't Rene's first or only stint in Star Trek. He first came to the show all the way back in 1991, playing Colonel West in Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country. West was an eager Starfleet officer who urged the President to rescue Kirk and McCoy from the Klingons, promising that if it led to war the Federation would "clean their chronometers". In some versions of the film he then proves to be the assassin who tries to kill the President with a rifle at the climax, to be stopped by Scotty.
In Deep Space Nine he had the common Trek role of "the outsider"; the non-Human character whose function in the show, alongside whatever official duties they might have, is to hold up a mirror to their Human comrades for the audience. Odo was one of the better versions of this kind of character, and that is in no small part due to Rene's skill (and of course, excellent writing). Odo was a man alone, as one early episode called it - with no people of his own he functioned as an arbiter of sorts, then a security officer on the station. He remained aloof, unattached, because he had no involvement with any of the races there. René brought a pathos to the role that served it very well indeed, giving us an Odo who was smart and determined, but also so very isolated and lonely - and completely unable to admit it. But then, he didn't need to admit it. René Auberjonois could give us that aspect fo the character with a look, a tone of voice, a tilt of the head. He was just that good.
When we do meet Odo's people we discover that they are the mysterious Founders of the Dominion. A race that reflected Odo's commitment to order, but without the moral centre that was so strong within him. He got to play many great scenes off this, making him one of the most interesting characters in the show.
And of course there was his relationship with Major Kira, played supremely well by both René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor. At the beginning it was an unrequited love on his part, just another morsel of agony the Constable had to bear. But their love blossomed eventually, allowing René to show us a lighter, more fun side to Odo. No matter what the writers threw at him, he played it superbly.
He also made an appearance on Enterprise, playing the Engineer Ezral. Another isolated character, though this time one who engaged in a unique solution to end his loneliness. Not the best of episodes, but René was, as always great in it.
Many Trek actors struggle after the show, but René was well known to the public both before and after it. From his stint in MASH and Benson before, to his long-running turn in Boston Legal, where he starred as Paul Lewiston alongside William Shatner's irrepressible Denny Crane; his talent always brought him a steady stream of roles. I especially liked his Boston Legal run. The show would occasionally make little Star Trek jokes about Denny Crane, but I don't recall then ever doing one for Lewiston. A pity, I always thought.
Which of these did he most identify with? In a 2011 interview he said "I am all of those characters, and I love that. I also run into people, and they think I’m their cousin or their dry cleaner. I love that, too!" Truly an actor's sentiment.
He continued working right up until this year, with several projects throughout 2019. Unfortunately he developed metastatic lung cancer, and died in his home today, Sunday the 8th, aged 79. He is survived by his son Rèmy-Luc and his daughter, Tessa.