Ensign Pavel Chekov, played by Walter Koenig, first appeared in the “Star Trek” episode “Catspaw” (October 27, 1967), the first episode of the show’s second season. The appearance of a forthrightly Russian character, and a hero at that, communicated to Trekkies that the Cold War of the 1960s was not only over but that Russians would now be working in harmony with American characters like Captain Kirk (born in Iowa) and Dr. McCoy (born in Atlanta, Georgia). In the role, Koenig brought a great deal of energy and humor, happy to interject into formal conversations to point out that Russians actually founded most of the Earth’s most important innovations. Although already 30, Koenig also communicated a youthful energy, serving as a vital counterpoint to the judicious commanding officers on the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Koenig has remained loyal to “Star Trek,” having appeared in 36 episodes of the original series and in eight feature films (a picture of him briefly appears in “Star Trek Beyond”). He also played the voice of a descendant of Chekov in “Star Trek: Picard” and has lent his voice to various “Star Trek” video games. Above all else, Koenig has been very game about reprising his role of Chekov for various unauthorized high-end “Star Trek” fan films, including “Star Trek: Renegades,” “Star Trek: Captain Pike,” and “Star Trek: New Voyages.” The franchise, it seems, has been very good to him.
In a recent interview with Sci-Fi Bulletin, Koenig, now 87, reminisced about his early days on “Star Trek” and had an amusing — if slightly embarrassing — anecdote about how he first learned about his casting on the show. It seems no one told him he got the part of Pavel Chekov until a costumer started yanking at his pants.
Hey, buddy. What are you doing down there?
Koenig pointed out that his time on “Star Trek” was a very casual affair. It seems that when he landed the role of Pavel Chekov, he wasn’t under any sort of contract and was hired to act on an episode-by-episode basis. He said that he was never sure if he’d be in the next episode until he finished shooting the first. Then scripts would be handed out for next week and he’d be delighted to see that Chekov was once again featured. Not bad for a character who would go on to be considered a vital part of the ensemble.
Indeed, Koenig noted that his onboarding was “inauspicious”; there didn’t seem to be any formalities or official announcements during his audition. Koenig made his audition sound like a typical Hollywood cattle call with a bunch of ambitious actors milling around waiting to hear word from the higher-ups. It wasn’t until a shocking invasion of his personal space occurred that Koenig learned about his new gig:
“I went in, I read and hung around for a couple of hours. Nobody came to tell me to go home but then the costume guy came by and asked me my name and for me to follow him. So I went with him to wardrobe. He dropped to his knees and put his hand on my crotch — this is no hyperbole, there is no exaggeration — that’s exactly what happened. I said ‘What are you doing!?’ and he said ‘I have to measure you for a costume.’ And that’s how I found out I was on the show. That’s the grand announcement that was made.”
Doomed to failure
Koenig was initially unimpressed with “Star Trek.” In the 1997 documentary “Trekkies,” he noted that the show’s styrofoam rocks were unappealing, which led him to assume that it would be canceled swiftly. No one was more astonished at the constant growth of “Star Trek” than Koenig:
“I expected it to last until the next week and the next week … and the next week … that’s all. And then of course it just grew and grew over 50 years.”
With each episode, each movie, each spinoff, Koenig cautiously assumed that it would be the end of “Star Trek.” He certainly assumed that “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was the end.
This meant, of course, that Koenig didn’t realize until very late into the franchise’s run that Chekov never got an episode of his own (nor did he ever get a “big scene”). He’s happy to remain involved in “Star Trek” but now feels a slight pang of regret that he didn’t get to do more:
“And then it was the sixth [movie] and then they invited me to do [‘Star Trek: Generations,’ the seventh movie]. The whole thing has been a series of steps over a series of years instead of a grand realization: nobody gave me a big shot, just little pricks. The fact that I’m still here exploiting my time on ‘Star Trek’ is really quite amazing. If I wasn’t quite so old I’m sure I’d be doing more.”
Seeing that Patrick Stewart managed to star in his own “Star Trek” spinoff at the age of 83, there’s no reason Koenig couldn’t return as an 87-year-old Chekov for another “Trek” project. His “big shot” may still be ahead of him.