Once upon a time, Star Trek was looked down on by some TV critics. It was just a cheesy science fiction show with aliens, not exactly the kind of series a major actor would take part in. Things would change with the original Trek having some big name guest stars like Ricardo Monalbaln and Frank Gorshin. The later series have also been using some big names as special guest stars. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Jean Simmons to Kurtwood Smith to Stephen Hawking would make appearances on Trek. Whether a human or alien, good guy or villain, they seemed to love taking part in the saga and becoming part of the Trek lore.
However, given how many shows there have been and how long they’ve lasted, it’s probably no surprise that Trek boasts a lot of “before they were famous” faces. Many actors have made appearances that would go on to be famous later on. Sometimes, they make a small appearance that has an impact so they’re brought back later in another role. Other times, they can just make a cameo before ending up having a pretty big career on their own. Some are more TV actors well known for their small-screen roles. Other cases can be actors who balance out movies and TV well. And one case is a man who went on to become the biggest box office star on the planet. A few are known but others may be a surprise to even their biggest fans. Here are 20 actors who were on Star Trek before becoming famous and a great reason to rewatch some episodes.
20 NEAL MCDONOUGH
Today, Neal McDonough will joke about his white hair being part of his entire persona. So it’s fun to look back when it was much darker. In First Contact, McDonough is Hawk, the young helmsman for the Enterprise as they take on the Borg. Hawk gets good screen time with some action scenes and even aiding Worf and Picard in a fight outside the Enterprise. He was assimilated and then taken out by Worf and when you see he was wearing a red shirt under his uniform, that should have been no surprise.
McDonough got attention for the part to boost himself up in Hollywood. This led to roles on Boomtown and Desperate Housewives and playing Dum Dum Dugan in Captain America. Arrowverse fans known McDonough well for his role as the twisted but hilarious Damien Darkh who’s made life miserable for Arrow and the Legends of Tomorrow. Those used to him as that sharp villain can enjoy seeing him as a hero in Trek.
19 BILLY CAMPBELL
The first two seasons of Next Generation were filled with some poor episodes. A big example is “The Outrageous Okana” as the ship is forced to take on the title character as part of a mission. A pirate and rogue, Okana is talked about as a dashing hero with a fun style, a ladies’ man and a sharp conniving mind. However, fans tend to loathe the character as not belonging in Star Trek and the writers more in love with him than actually showing him an effective character. Billy Campbell was the young actor cast in the role and didn’t seem comfortable with the part. The plan was for Okana to be a recurring character but the negative fan reaction ended that.
Campbell bounced back nicely. He landed the lead role in the cult comic book movie The Rocketeer just a year later. While not an A-list star, Campbell has become a successful TV actor. His credits include Once & Again, The 4400, The Killing, Helix and more. Known for some darker roles in his later years, it’s somewhat bizarre to see Campbell in this early part.
18 KIM RHODES
Fans of a certain current genre hit may be surprised by this one. Kim Rhodes was a rising actress when she landed the part of Lyndsay Ballard on the Voyager episode “Ashes to Ashes.” Lyndsay had been a crewmember of the ship who appeared to be killed. Her body was recovered by an alien race who revived and remade her into one of them. Getting away, Lyndsay does her best to rejoin Voyager and also has a romance with Harry. Eventually, her now-alien biology forces her to return to her new home planet.
Rhodes was fun in the role with a sparkling wit and got along great with the cast. She would continue work such as playing the mom on the Disney Channel comedy The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She’s also known for her role as a director on Criminal Minds. To Supernatural fans, Rhodes is loved as Jody Mills, the tough sheriff who helps the guys out and was even planned for her own spin-off. It was Voyager that helped boost Rhodes up for genre fans.
17 ANDREAS KATSULAS
With the Klingons now allies of the Federation in TNG, this made the Romulans the major villains when the series started. The Enterprise would soon have run-ins with Tomalak, a stern Romulan commander. Cool and conniving, the man had some charm but also loved doing his best to get one over on Picard. Plans were for him to be a regular enemy but it never came off due to shifts in storylines although the character did pop up in the series finale.
A big reason he never became a regular was that actor Andreas Katsulas would be rather busy. While featured as the one-armed man in The Fugitive, Katsulas would become known for another iconic sci-fi series. Buried under makeup, he played the noble G’Kar on Babylon 5 and made the character a beloved fan favorite. Katsulas sadly passed away in 2006 but left behind a legacy of being on two of the greatest sci-fi series of all time.
16 KIRSTIE ALLEY
It’s a famous case to be sure but it has to be counted. Star Trek II is often considered the best of all the movies. It kicks off with young Vulcan officer Saavik taking part in the famed Kobayashi Maru test. She’s soon part of the main plot as Kirk finds himself tangling with old enemy Khan in a wild battle. Alley imbued the role with some warmth as her character realizes you can’t always go by the rules. She was to appear in the sequel but various issues prevented it and so Robin Curtiss played the role.
Alley did get good attention for the part which would lead to her Emmy-winning turn on Cheers. She scored movie hits like Look Who’s Talking and later shows such as Veronica’s Closet. While known for some nutty stuff in her personal life, Alley keeps busy and many Trek fans still wish she’d have continued longer with this notable part.
15 JONATHAN BANKS
A long-dependable character actor, Jonathan Banks is well known for her dour expression that makes him a natural for bad-guy roles. He had finished up a stint on the crime drama Wiseguy when he appeared in the first season DS9 episode “Battle Lines.” Sisko, Bashir, Kira and Kai Opaka crash on a world at war. The Kai is killed in the crash but then pops up alive again. It turns out that the planet’s energy field keeps resurrecting the fallen soldiers. Banks is the leader of one side of the conflict who, like his counterpart, is convinced they’re being punished for the long war that devastated their world.
Banks is good in the part with a dark tone of a man who accepts he’s been horribly cursed. The actor has continued to mark up numerous TV credits. He’s gotten more famous playing enforcer Mike on the Emmy-award winning hit Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul. Given how long he’s been on TV, it’s no shock Banks has a Trek credit on his resume.
14 DANIEL DAE KIM
“Blink of an Eye” is an interesting Voyager episode. The ship finds itself in orbit over a planet with a unique temporal field around it. For every moment that passes on Voyager, a year goes by on the planet. The episode shows how their society evolves from superstitious worshipping of Voyager to scientific realization it’s a spaceship. Eventually, their technology advances enough to let a probe ship of their own reach Voyager. One pilot doesn’t survive but the other does and amazed to finally meet “the Sky People.”
Daniel Dae Kim handled the role pretty well as he adapts to the ship and even some bantering with the Doctor (who had spent time on the planet himself). He pops up as a future version of himself to thank Voyager for inspiring his entire culture. Kim would have roles on Angel and Crusade before breaking out big as Jin on Lost. He followed that with a long stint on Hawaii Five-O and thus, in its own way, Voyager inspired his own career trajectory.
13 NIKKI COX
The WB’s Unhappily Ever After seemed a clone of Married With Children about a rough family. Nikki Cox was the breakout as the hot teen who was a lot smarter than she looked. Before all that, Cox was on the second season TNG episode “Pen Pals.” She was part of the “B” plot as Data finds himself swapping radio messages with a young alien girl named Sarjenka. As her race is unaware of other worlds, Data lets her think he’s from another part of her planet. As earthquakes threaten her world, Data has to debate breaking the Prime Directive to help his friend out.
Data does end up saving the girl from an eruption and even bringing her on the Enterprise. It’s fun to see Cox as a child under that makeup, reacting in wonder to it all. Cox would go on to success on TV with her own sitcom and the NBC series Las Vegas. She’s mostly retired from acting today so it’s interesting to see this young beauty as an alien kid.
12 FAMKE JANSSEN
Usually, when people think of Patrick Stewart and Famke Janssen, they think of X-Men. But long before they were Professor X and Jean Grey, the actors worked together on the TNG episode “The Perfect Mate.” Janssen is the well-named title character, an empath who’s been promised in marriage to end a planetary war. She and Picard click together and before long, he’s fallen in love with her. But duty has to come first and Picard must let her go to fulfill her own destiny.
Janssen was good in the role and her beauty on display. It was a few years later that she got her breakout role as Xenia Onatopp in the James Bond movie Goldeneye. That led to further success such as X-Men and TV shows like Hemlock Grove. It’s no wonder Janssen and Stewart got along well on X-Men as their chemistry had been set a decade earlier.
11 GABRIELLE UNION
It’s fun to see the number of major actors who have played Klingons from Christopher Lloyd to Christopher Plummer. It’s even crazier to see some women donning that wild makeup. The DS9 episode “Sons and Daughters” has Worf leading a Klingon ship in an attack on the Dominion. Worf is troubled by the fact his son, Alexander, is among the recruits. The ship is involved in some battles with N’Garen the feisty female weapons officer who proves herself as capable as any of the guys.
Look closely and under all that makeup, you’ll see N’Garen was played by a young Gabrielle Union. The actress has gone on to score hits like Bring It On, Bad Boys II and Think Like a Man. She also had a big TV hit with Being Mary Jane and the upcoming L.A.’s Finest series. It’s fun to watch that famous beauty hidden under Klingon features.
10 SARAH SILVERMAN
In the two-part “Future’s End”, the Voyager crew get a classic case of good news/bad news: Good news is they’ve reached Earth but the bad news is that it’s 1996. The group realize a billionaire has managed to get hold of tech from the future and using it in a plan that can alter history. Several members beam down and try to fit in on Earth to stop him. They run into Rain, an astronomer who was the only one to spot the ship and figures they’re aliens. She takes them being from the future in stride and helps them out.
Cast in the role was a young stand-up comic named Sarah Silverman. Her performance won over the crew with her great humor and banter with the cast. Indeed, the producers even toyed with the idea of having Rain join the ship when they returned to the present. That never happened while it did inspire the idea of Seven of Nine. Silverman is known today for her wild comedy routines so it’s fun to imagine how close she came to being a Trek star.
9 TOM HARDY
Nemesis was the final movie for the TNG crew and was a letdown to some fans. The plot had promise with Shinzon, a clone of Picard, striking out on behalf of Romulus. Shinzon feels his empire has grown too weak and plans to make it stronger by devastating Earth. The movie was criticized for some rough storytelling and the way it wrote off a major Trek character. However, Tom Hardy was praised for his role as Shinzon. Even the movie’s detractors credit Hardy with wonderfully mimicking a young Patrick Stewart to fire the movie up.
Today, Hardy is best known as a major Hollywood leading man. He was Mad Max in Fury Road, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and scored a huge hit with Venom. Given his tendency for playing strong muscle-men, it’s fun to see Hardy as a smaller but still sinister character to fire up this movie.
8 TERI HATCHER
Teri Hatcher’s road to fame had a few interesting detours. She was a dancer on the final season of The Love Boat and some movies such as Tango and Cash and Soapdish. In the second season TNG episode “The Outrageous Okana,” Hatcher played B.G. Robinson, a transporter room technician. She’s among the first to welcome dashing smuggler Okana and clearly some flirtation. Indeed, he’s seen coming to her room later.
As it happened, Hatcher had shot a lot of scenes that hinted she could be a bigger character. However, they pretty much all ended up being cut and Hatcher thus asked her name be removed from the credits. It was a couple of years later that Hatcher broke out playing Lois Lane in the hit Lois & Clark series. After a career slump, Hatcher bounced back with Desperate Housewives and recently showed up on Supergirl to show she can never leave sci-fi behind.
7 ADAM SCOTT
Here’s a very brief appearance so it’s no surprise it’s been overlooked a lot. First Contact is the best of the TNG movies as the Enterprise crew have to stop the Borg from changing history. The opening is fantastic as a Federation fleet battle a Borg cube which easily dispatches several ships. Among them is the Defiant, taking a major beating with Worf in command. A helmsman (simply identified as “conn officer” in the script) gives a damage report. Declaring that “today is a good day to die”, Worf orders the ship to ram into the cube. Luckily, the Enterprise shows up just in time to help them.
That’s all we see of that officer as the scene belongs to Worf. The actor in the role was Adam Scott who spent a few years bouncing around various guest starring parts in TV shows. He finally hit the big time as Ben Wyatt on Parks & Recreation. He makes more appearances like Big Little Lies and The Good Place but some of his own fans may forget his brief Trek appearance.
6 TERRY O'QUINN
For some time, Terry O’Quinn had long been one of those “hey, it’s that guy” actors in TV and movies. He’d played Howard Hughes in The Rocketeer and a good guest star in various TV shows. In the TNG episode “Pegasus,” O’Quinn is Admiral Pressman who’d been Riker’s first captain. He enlists the Enterprise to find the Pegasus which had gone missing after a mutiny on board the ship. Pressman clearly has an agenda as he clashes with Picard and Riker.
It turns out Pressman was working on a Federation cloaking device which was a violation of a major treaty with the Romulans. He’s taken into custody despite defending his actions. O’Quinn spent a few more years bouncing around before landing his iconic Emmy-award winning role of John Locke on Lost. O’Quinn continues to be a steady TV star, including the Castle Rock series and thus little surprise he counted Trek among his numerous credits.
5 KIRSTEN DUNST
Usually, when Troi’s mother, Laxwana, showed up on the Enterprise, it meant some comedy was in store. But for her final appearance in season seven’s “Dark Page,” the show went for pure drama. During a conference, Laxwana shows signs of fatigue and collapses into a coma. Troi enters her mind to find Laxwana haunted by an alien girl named Hedril. It turns out Hedril resembles Kestra, Troi’s older sister who drowned as a child. Laxwana was so rocked by the tragedy that she never told Troi she had a sibling and buried the entire memory.
It was a tricky dual role but it was pulled off by the young actress Kirsten Dunst. A year later, Dunst got her breakout role as vampire Claudia in Interview With the Vampire. She’s managed to balance films from Bring It On to playing Mary Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy as well as the TV show Fargo. It all started with a good turn showing Dunst’s talent at a young age
4 SETH MACFARLANE
True, in 2004, some might have known Seth MacFarlane already. The comedian was the creators of the animated comedy Family Guy and supplied several of the voices but he actually wasn’t that famous on camera. In the Enterprise episode “Afflicted,” MacFarlane is Rivers, one of several techs in engineering being talked to by Tuck. MacFarlane just has a couple of lines and pretty much vanishes after that.
While continuing to make Family, MacFarlane branched out into live-action comedy hits like Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West as well as stuff like hosting the Oscars. MacFarlane showed his love for Star Trek with his series The Orville which plays like a loving homage to the franchise. Yet even those fans may not know MacFarlane was part of Trek for real.
3 ASHLEY JUDD
With her mother Naomi and sister Wynonna major country superstars, one would think Ashley Judd would follow in their footsteps. Instead, she chose acting with one of her early notable parts in the TNG episode “The Game.” She played Robin Lefler, a young officer who strikes up a romance with Wesley on the ship. They end up having to team up to stop a plot by aliens to take over the Enterprise by brainwashing the crew with a video game. Judd was fun in the part but plans for her to become a recurring character never came to be.
Peter David ended up being a fan of the character and would use Robin in his popular New Frontier novel series. Judd has gone on to star in movie hits like Double Jeopardy and also a notable TV face with Sisters and Berlin Station. Still, it’s fun to look back at how she was one lady who actually liked Wesley.
2 JOAN COLLINS
Jim Kirk had a lot of romances over the course of Star Trek. But Edith Keller was always “the one.” In the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk and Spock travel back in time to 1930 New York. They’re befriended by Edith, a young woman who’s leading a crusade for peace. Kirk is taken by her beauty but also her courage and beliefs that match the Federation’s. However, Spock learns that Edith is meant to be killed in a car accident. If she lives, her crusade will delay the U.S. in entering World War II which will allow the Nazis to win the war.
Kirk is thus forced to allow his love to die to save his future. It affected him deeply and it’s believable thanks to Joan Collins’ performance in the role. Just another actress at the time, Collins would continue to show off her beauty in various movies. She hit the big time with her role as Alexis Carrington in the hit 1980s series Dynasty. Given how wicked she was in that show, it’s fun to see her young and bright in one of the best Trek episodes ever.
1 DWAYNE JOHNSON
In early 2000, UPN was airing WWF’s SmackDown program with wrestling quite hot in the mainstream. The network did some cross-promotion by having WWF stars show up in various UPN shows. In the Voyager episode “Tsunkatse”, Seven of Nine and Tuvok are captured by the conniving promoter of a popular galactic fighting ring. Seven is forced to go into the arena and faces off against a member of the Pendari race. Playing the role was one of WWF’s biggest names of the time, the Rock.
The scene is short with Rock and Seven doing some fighting before the Rock hits his “Rock Bottom” finisher to defeat her. It was a brief cameo but in the long run, it ended up being important. It marked the first ever acting credit of Dwayne Johnson who has gone on to become one of the biggest box office stars in the world. Thus, Voyager can be credited with helping launch Johnson’s amazing career.