Sonita Henry – The Doctor Is In

The smart, witty, talented and beautiful Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

The smart, witty, talented and beautiful Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Most people have at one time or another received a phone call that has changed their lives, hopefully for the better. That is definitely true for actress Sonita Henry, who can be seen in U.S. movie theaters this Friday in the highly-anticipated Star Trek feature film. “About a half-hour or so before I found out that I’d be auditioning for Star Trek, I was talking on the phone with a friend of mine,” recalls Henry. “I said to my friend, ‘If I could just meet J.J. Abrams [Trek director/producer], everything would work out,’ and then I got a call telling me I had an audition for what was then known as ‘the untitled J.J. Abrams project.’

“When I arrived at Paramount Studios there were a number of people who were there to read as well – men and women, all ages, sizes and races. We were each handed exactly the same scene to read, which involved one of the ship’s crew giving out basic instructions. You had between 10 and 15 minutes to look at the material before auditioning. They put us on tape, and from there it’s usually a matter of whether or not you get a callback. If you do, then you go back and do it all over again.

“In this case, though, they [the film’s producers and casting director, April Webster] made their decisions right from the tapes and then called whoever they wanted to book. What a terrific call to get. The thing is, though, being a working actor, when you receive a call like that, you don’t really hear the words ‘Star Trek‘ at first, but just that they want to book you. You think, ‘Cool, I’ve got another job.’ Then it dawns on you weeks later, or for me it was my first day on-set that I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is Star Trek!”’

In Star Trek, Henry plays a doctor, but not just any futuristic medical practitioner. Her character is, in fact, the physician who delivers James Tiberius Kirk (portrayed in the movie by Chris Pine, but first made famous by William Shatner) into the world. That, however, is about all the actress knows about her Trek alter ego.

“We don’t know if she’s human or alien. They didn’t really tell me,” says Henry. “I pretty much look like me, although I have freckles, which they covered with make-up. Then they drew dots on my face so that a computer could register those and play with my features [in post-production].

“The biggest challenge I had with playing this character was keeping my energy level up, because the scenes I’m in are very high-energy. Even though the set might be perfectly quiet, you had to imagine in the back of your mind that things were exploding around you and people could be dying. So you had to try your best to live that moment even thought it was deadly silent on-set.

“And the thing is, we were never given a complete script, but just the sides [dialogue] for the days that we were shooting, and every morning we had to sign them out and every evening sign them back in. So you never really knew where you were within the context of the story. That was a little bit confusing, but because J.J. Abrams is such a talented and gifted director, he’d sit with us and explain what was happening in a scene and what was going to happen right afterwards. That was a huge help as it at least gave you a sense of the timeline.” 

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Looking back at Henry’s inaugural day on the Trek set, it was all-go for her. “We were shooting out at Long Beach Power Station, and there was myself, Jennifer Morrison, who plays Winona Kirk, KelvinYu, who plays one of the med techs, and another actor, whose name escapes me at the moment, I’m afraid, playing a second med tech,” says the actress. “We were basically running full-speed down a corridor, stunt people running in the opposite direction, with things exploding and sparks flying everywhere. I had so much [styling] product in my hair and all I could think was, ‘Oh, no, my first day working with J.J. Abrams and I’m going to go up in flames, I just know it,'” jokes Henry.

“We did a number of takes, and during one of them the timing was totally off. We left too late, so did the stunt people, and one of the biggest stuntmen ran full-speed right into Kelvin, who went flying into the air. Of course, there was that moment of, ‘Oh,crap,’ and everyone came running up to Kelvin to make sure that he was all right, which he was, thank goodness.

“What I remember most about the entire shoot was being nervous and wanting to do a good job. There was also the secrecy surrounding the film. We wore these over-sized trench coats and were driven around in golf carts covered with little tents so that people couldn’t see us. On the second day, the paparazzi managed to find us, which was amusing. Someone must have tipped them off because you just don’t turn up at Long Beach Power Station hoping to find actors filming a movie or whatever.”

The actress chuckles when talking about the actual “birthing” scene she shot with Jennifer Morrison. “I’m sure it’s not as uncomfortable as having to do a love scene, but it’s right up there,” muses Henry. “That was an interesting day and, I think, the same day that Leonard Nimoy [Spock] visited the set along with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth, the Australian actor who plays Kirk’s father [George]. They hadn’t started shooting yet, but you could feel the energy and excitement about being involved in this amazing project.”

Having a mom who was a huge fan of old Hollywood movies, Henry was brought up watching Audrey Hepburn films until, according to the actress, she could quote them by the age of seven. Not surprisingly, Henry longed to one day work in the industry, but her dreams had to be postponed for a bit. “I grew up in a very small town in England, and you just didn’t do that [act] for a living,” she says. “You did community theater, and that’s fine on the weekends, but otherwise you had a ‘real’ job.

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

“So I put acting in the back of my mind and figured that I’d be an English teacher. Then, however, I went to college and graduated with a degree in journalism and media studies, which encompassed film, so I thought I’d try to get a job as a journalist. I moved to New York and interviewed with newspapers as well as [TV] networks, but one day I decided, ‘I really had fun doing The Fifth Element; I think I’m going to become an actor.’ Having made up my mind, I threw myself into acting school and began studying, and I’m still studying. You never stop. There’s always something to learn. So from English teacher to journalist to actor, and here I am today.”

It was while still in college that Henry made her professional debut playing the President’s Aide in the aforementioned 1997 Sci-Fi movie The Fifth Element. “I had done a tiny bit of modeling and really didn’t enjoy it,” notes the actress. “Then one day I found this ad in a magazine saying that [writer/director] Luc Besson was looking for people for his latest movie.

“I’d studied Luc Besson’s work in film class and thought he was a genius. Funnily enough, it was my Mom who sent my picture to him and I ended up getting a call from the casting director asking me to come in for an audition. So I went down to London, met with the casting director, and a couple of weeks later I was told that Luc Besson wanted to meet me. We met at Pinewood Studios and he offered me the role while I was there. Of course, that’s not how you typically get an acting job, but in my mind it was. I took two weeks off from college, shot the movie, then returned to school and finished getting my degree. I enjoyed doing the film, but didn’t think any more of it until I had moved to New York, and you know what happened next.”

Besides Star Trek, Henry is also working on a video game, the specifics of which she has to keep under wraps for the moment. “I would love to tell you all about it because it’s going to be so much fun,” she enthuses. “I get to do motion capture work, which I’ve never done before, where you wear the suit with all the weird dots on it. So my character is going to look like me, move like me and sound like me. It’s not anything to do with Star Trek, but it is Sci-Fi and a really well-known video game.”

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Sonita Henry. Photo courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography

Although the actress is new to the Trek world, she has already received a warm response from the franchise’s many fans. “Before any details about my character were revealed, people were trying to guess who I was, and that was a neat thread to read on the [Internet] forums,” says the actress. “The overall response so far from fans about the movie seems to be 50/50. Some of them don’t think it should have been made, while others are really looking forward to it.

“So I’m sure it’s an interesting time for J.J. Abrams, but I know he’s trying to reach as broad an audience as possible. I’m hoping the fans will be happy and that they’ll be curious about my character, especially because of the fact that she’s the first one to hold, touch, whatever you want to call it, James T. Kirk. I just think that’s pretty cool in the arc of Captain Kirk and the Star Trek lore.”

Steve Eramo

As noted above, all photographs courtesy of and copyright of JSquared Photography, so please no copying or unauthorized duplicating of any form. Thanks!

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