William Shatner. Leonard Nimoy. Nichelle Nichols. These names belong to some of the most influential actors in television history, but they are almost interchangeable with the names James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Uhura. For better or for worse, these names and faces are inextricably tied to the characters they played.
That said, anyone who only knows the cast of Star Trek’s original series as the command crew of the USS Enterprise is missing out on some pretty fantastic acting work elsewhere. Every member of the cast had credits before the first season in 1966, and they all went on to other projects after the show’s cancelation in 1969, even as they reconvened for the feature films. If you don’t want to sift through hours of Westerns and police procedurals, here is a cheat sheet to the best non-Trek performances from the stars of The Original Series.
William Shatner as Denny Crane in Boston Legal (2004 – 2008)
As much as comedians love to mock him for his over-the-top line deliveries, no one gets the comedic potential of William Shatner better than William Shatner. Even as Kirk, Shatner got to show off his comic chops from time to time (“No, no, I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space”). Several movies and series have used Shatner’s silly side to great effect, including an infamous Saturday Night Live episode.
Shatner put his comedic and dramatic skills to use in The Practice spin-off Boston Legal, where he played Denny Crane, the uncouth and powerful partner of the central law firm. Shatner’s outrageous approach is on full display in the season five episode “Dances With Wolves,” in which Crane stood trial for shooting a mugger. Throughout the episode, Crane does everything from tote several guns to every form of overt sexism, but Shatner’s comfort with big characters allowed him to sell an outrageous person without breaking the reality of the series.
Leonard Nimoy as Dr. David Kribner in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
All Trek actors struggled with typecasting, but none so much as Leonard Nimoy, who spent a lot of time resisting and (frankly) resenting Mr. Spock for overshadowing his identity. Thus, many of his roles in the years following the cancelation of Star Trek took him far away from the logical Vulcan. The most striking and successful of those revisions occurred in the first remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1978.
Of course, there’s something inherently funny about seeing Nimoy play the touchy-feely self-help guru Dr. Kribner. In the same way that he casts Robert Duvall as a priest who stares at the camera for a brief and wordless cameo, Body Snatchers director Don Seigel uses our recognition of a popular actor to disrupt us. When Kribner ends a conversation about a scared woman’s feelings by initiating a hug, we viewers shudder at the uncanny sight. Even if we know that Nimoy isn’t Mr. Spock, especially not in this scene, it still feels wrong — and that’s the entire point.
DeForest Kelly as Morgan Earp in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
Gene Roddenberry famously pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars,” so it makes sense that he would cast a veteran of Westerns to play crusty old doctor Bones McCoy. Before enlisting in the Enterprise, DeForest Kelly spent a lot of time on the frontier, appearing in Westerns on the big and small screens. In addition to film noirs like Fear in the Night and Canyon City, Kelly put in turns on The Lone Ranger and Tales of Wells Fargo, playing rugged characters doing their best to stay alive in the Old West.
Kelly’s most notable role came as Morgan Earp, brother of Sheriff Wyatt Earp in the 1957 film version of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Directed by John Sturges and starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holiday, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a hit among moviegoers, even if critics dismissed it as silly. Kelly brings a paternal air to the film, which might surprise some Trekkies, but that only speaks to the TV doctor’s impressive range.
James Doohan as Damon Warwick in The Bold and the Beautiful (1996 – 1997)
Doohan arguably struggled more than any of his cast mates after Trek, as no one wanted to see him as anything other than lovable engineer Scotty. He often appeared as himself or as a variation of Mr. Scott, as in the Duckman episode “Where No Duckman Has Gone Before.” But the Canadian actor did find a home, at least for a little while, away from deep space on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.
As the father of Dr. James Warwick (Ian Buchanan, aka Dick Tremayne on Twin Peaks), Doohan didn’t get much to do other than torment his psychiatrist’s son with a faked death. However, the reconciliation between James and Damon gave Doohan a chance to play some emotional beats rarely seen in the engineering room of the USS Enterprise. Although Doohan has since passed, James Warwick remains an ongoing character in The Bold and the Beautiful (albeit one who has not appeared since 2017), keeping alive Doohan’s non-Trek legacy.
Nichelle Nichols as Lucinda Winters in The Young and the Restless (2016)
Like her friend Doohan, Nichelle Nichols found her greatest non-Trek achievement in the world of soap operas. Nichols came to Trek with fewer credits than many of her co-stars, and she struggled again after the series’ cancelation. For some time, her most notable part came in the 1974 Blaxploitation film Truck Turner starring Isaac Hayes. But late in life, Nichols finally got the chance to show off her full acting abilities away from the control bridge, when she played Lucinda Winters on The Young and the Restless.
Lucinda entered the series late in the arc of Neil Winters (Kristoff St. John), a character who saw plenty of drama in his 28-year tenure on the show. Like Doohan’s Damon Warwick, Lucinda Winters appeared after a long estrangement from her son, opening up old wounds. But unlike her co-star’s imperious character, Neil Winters worked to heal those wounds, giving her son some peace before her death. Nichols shone as a matronly woman with a complicated past, earning an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Performer in a Drama.
George Takei as Arthur Takamori in The Twilight Zone, “The Encounter” (1964)
Unsurprisingly, many TOS cast members appeared on The Twilight Zone, the highly influential sci-fi series from Rod Serling. But few members of the Enterprise crew appeared in an episode as good as “The Encounter,” which starred Neville Brand as World War II veteran Fenton and George Takei as Japanese American Arthur Takamori. Written by Martin M. Goldsmith and directed by Robert Butler, the episode addressed the anti-Japanese racism many Americans carried long after World War II.
The episode begins with only unspoken tensions, as the unpleasant Fenton listens to Arthur as he asks for work. But when Takamori takes hold of a sword with a magical incantation, he becomes possessed by a man Fenton murdered and seeks his revenge. In the tradition of the best Twilight Zone stories, “The Encounter” uses its fantastic concept to draw attention to a real-world issue, a difficult task at which the show succeeds thanks to Takei’s layered performance.
Walter Koenig – Alfred Bester in Babylon Five (2004 – 2008)
On Star Trek, Koenig played a hip Russian kid with a Beatles ‘do, a guy later best known for his inability to pronounce the word “vessels.” While that defining role did limit the parts offered to him, Koenig kept himself busy as a writer, penning scripts for Star Trek: The Animated Series and Land of the Lost, as well as the comic book series Raver. So it’s no surprise that Koenig would choose a sci-fi series to put in his best performance.
Created by J. Michael Straczynski, Babylon 5 shared more than a few elements with Star Trek. The series takes place on a space station where several different species must learn to live together, not unlike Deep Space Nine. But when Koenig strode onto the titular space station in the season one episode “Mind War,” he shook off any comparisons to Chekov without saying a word. As Psych-Cop Alfred Bester, Koenig had a chilly demeanor and a mysterious power that set him completely apart from the Enterprise’s navigator.