John Hertzler has played as many as 10 different roles on Star Trek, most notably as Martok – a Klingon warrior known for skill and leadership.
On Jan. 1, he will be one of five board members in Ulysses, a town of 5,000 people in Tompkins County near Ithaca.
“I hope to be able to accomplish something,” Hertzler said of his new role.
Hertzler said he has taken his passion as an actor and translated it in community involvement. He still travels the world to attend Star Trek conventions in character as the powerful Klingon leader who rose to chancellor.
“I have no designs on the presidency,” Hertzler joked about his local election. “But I do want to do my best in terms of serving the folks here.”
Hertzler, 63, known professionally as J.G. Hertzler, moved to the Finger Lakes area several years ago after coming to the Northeast from California. He performed in Rochester at Geva Theatre and then came to Cornell University in Ithaca as a visiting professor in acting.
He has stayed in the area, doing performances and getting active in local politics. As he campaigned this fall, he took time to do a performance of “Sleep Hollow” on Halloween at the local library.
People in the town knew he was an accomplished actor, but it wasn’t widely known that he was a Star Trek character adorned by loyal fans, said Ulysses Town Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas.
Thomas said she only learned about his Star Trek role shortly before Tuesday’s election. They campaigned together on the same Democratic ticket.
“I knew he was an actor. I didn’t know he was an actor on Star Trek. He was very modest about that,” Thomas said. “It’s very exciting.”
A former linebacker at Bucknell University, Hertzler is an imposing figure at 6’2’’ and 225 pounds. He makes for a fan favorite at Star Trek conventions, where he has been paired with actor Robert O’Reilly, who played fellow Klingon Gowron.
“They are fan favorites because they are big, gregarious guys,” Nemecek said. “They slap people on the back. They have a good time. They tease people back. They do it for the audience.”
Nemecek said it takes skill to act in science-fiction roles, and Hertzler became a popular actor on the show because of his dramatic talents.
“One of the things on Star Trek and any of these sci-fi shows, for an alien wearing a prosthetic, is to be able to act through that,” Nemecek said. “And he was good at doing that.”
Nemecek recalled that Star Trek star George Takei ran in the early 1970s for Los Angeles City Council and lost. Jeri Ryan, another Star Trek actor, was married to former Illinois Senate candidate Jack Ryan; Kate Mulgrew, who also starred on the show, is married to Timothy Hagan, who ran for Ohio governor in 2002.
Hertzler has become politically active in New York, particularly in opposition to hydraulic fracturing. New York has not decided whether to move forward with the controversial drilling technique for natural gas, but Hertzler said he’s concerned it would destroy the picturesque region.
“This is a pastoral, bucolic wonderland here in the Finger Lakes and should be preserved,” Hertzler said.
On the town board, Hertzler said he wants to fight for more state aid for local schools because his daughter goes to high school there. Rural schools have been stung by a loss of aid, which has meant cuts to programs and staff, he said.
He said he draws his inspiration, in part, from the role of Martok and feels a personal connection to it.
Martok had humble roots and rose to power despite not being of “noble blood.” Hertzler’s own father died when he was 25 and never got to see him perform.
“My whole being is supported by a foundation of passion,” Hertzler said. “And there is no more passionate character that I’ve ever come across than a Klingon.”