IF YOU'RE even a softcore sci-fi fan, you’ve probably seen Bill Blair in action. But you’d never recognize him without his make-up on.
The Hollywood veteran has sported Klingon nose ridges, Vulcan ears and Jem’Hadar horns as part of the cast in the Star Trek series spin-offs Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise.
Space nerds will note he appeared as a “background alien” in almost every episode of Babylon 5 series. He’s worn a spotted skullcap in Alien Nation, worked the stage as a Borg in Vegas and chased brains as a zombie in Resident Evil: Afterlife.
Though he does occasionally get to play a regular guy (his IMBD page cites appearances as an “office staffer” in Mad Men and as a taxi driver in Pretty Little Liars), Blair is best known in showbiz circles as “The Alien Actor.”
In fact, he has represented so many interplanetary species and otherworldly creatures—more than 202—that he holds the Guinness Book of World Record for “Most Special Effect Make-up Characters Portrayed in a Career.”
“I can’t believe I beat out Bela Lugosi and Lon Cheney, but it’s all been documented by the Guinness folks,” he laughs, referring to the classic Dracula and Werewolf movie icons. “It took quite a bit of paperwork.”
An avid follower of the ever-popular “Con” scene, the career monster-man looks forward to coming to Savannah for GnomeCon, March 4-6. The three day, sci-fi/fantasy/gaming gathering is now in its fifth year, magnetizing hundreds of fans for gaming, celeb appearances, costume contests and big fun.
On this turn around the board, Blair is joined by Farscape actress Gigi Edgely and Scott Tepperman of the Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters International, plus returning favorites like Professor Fear’s Quiz Show, Savannah Cosplay, vendors, tournaments and kids’ activities.
“I find the smaller conventions more enjoyable than the huge ones like San Diego ComicCon,” says Blair from his home in Los Angeles.
“I like to get to know the fans, because they’re the ones responsible for me having such a great career. Thanks to the internet, I’m able to let them know I’m following them as much as they’re following me. It’s great to meet in person.”
Devoted Trekkies might be surprised that this handsome, silver-haired gent is the face underneath the latex scales, but don’t worry, his castmates rarely recognize him, either.
“I once went up to Armin Schimmerman, one of the lead characters in Deep Space 9, when I was out of makeup on set, and he just looked at me,” he recalls. “Finally, he said, ‘Wait, I know that voice!’”
The Ohio native landed in L.A. in the early ‘90s and got his big break on the set of the futuristic Sylvester Stallone vehicle Demolition Man, which led to another sci-fi gig, then another.
“Hollywood is definitely a big, star struck place, but it’s also a small town where word just gets around,” he says.
Zoning out in front of cartoons as a kid provided the training for sitting still as special effects artists laboriously apply and adhere all kinds of uncomfortable materials to his face and body, which often requires that he show up for work several hours before the rest of the crew.
So just how much time does it take to transform into an alien?
“It depends. You have to budget time in the make-up chair, plus hair and wardrobe to be camera ready. Becoming a Klingon takes about two hours. On Deep Space 9, I played various characters, which took an average of three hours,” lists Blair.
“But on Voyager, I’ve heard that the Borgs took four or five hours.”
The longest character preparation he’s experienced in his career wasn’t an alien at all: A few years ago, he spent five and half hours becoming Frankenstein’s monster for an Elvira Halloween special.
“I actually got to wear Fred Gwynne’s original costume from The Munsters classic TV series. It was pretty amazing to wear that piece of history.”
Blair has spent so much time readying for the creature feature spotlight that he’s become something of a de facto expert on outer space metamorphosis. While serving as a special guest star on the set of Star Trek New Voyages Phase II—a fan-filmed series that reworks the original telecasts—Blair learned that the production lost their special effects make-up person days before shooting was to begin.
“When they asked me to step in, I said, ‘I’m an actor, not a make-up artist!’” he laughs, parodying Dr. McCoy’s quintessential Star Trek protest. “But I had enough experience in the chair to pull it off.”
Blair awaits the next special effects credit to his resume, though thankfully, there haven’t been any challengers to his world record since it was set in 2011. In the meantime, his non-alien career also continues to move forward: He will appear as a plain ol’ human in the upcoming Pee Wee’s Big Holiday Movie as well as the Ben Affleck-directed Live By Night, parts of which were filmed in the Savannah area.
But the real question for GnomeCon attendees and other sci-fi fans is: What kind of alien does he want to play next?
“If there was a chance, I feel that the one character I’d like to play that I haven’t yet is a Romulan,” he muses.
“When I was on Enterprise, they always saw me more as a Vulcan.”
When: March 4-6
Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 301 Fahm St.
Cost: Day rates $15-$25, Weekend packages $40-$80