For 85-year old actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant (later Commander) Uhura in the iconic, original Star Trek TV series (1966-69) and in the ‘Star Trek’ movies, guesting at the 20th Anniversary Wizard World Comic Con at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont on August 23-26 is “coming home.”
Nichols grew up in Robbins, a place she found ‘amazing’ to foster creativity. “I’ve been performing since before I was old enough to even remember,” she recalled. “Singing, dancing, driving my parents crazy. The community I grew up in was an amazing place to foster that creativity. The culture, the community, and the access Chicago afforded a young person with talent was so valuable.”
As Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols made history as one of the first African-American women featured on a major television series not portraying a servant. (Nichols has been credited with paving the way for ‘Julia,’ starring actress-singer Diahann Carroll, which premiered in 1968.)
“I had actually met Gene Rodenberry on an earlier project, my first foray into film after being recognized as a singer,” she said. “Gene had been a part of that, and immediately saw potential in my work on film. When he was creating Star Trek, he really created that character for me, and fought an uphill battle with the studio to get me on.”
To stay on, though, took an intervention from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nichols wanted to leave during the first season to pursue roles on Broadway. She was at a club one night when a friend told her someone wanted to meet her. It was Dr. King. When she mentioned that she was thinking of leaving, he told her, “What your role means to the people of color watching back home … You are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be. You can’t leave. You don’t exactly say no to Dr. Martin Luther King.”
Why does Star Trek endure?
“Star Trek shows an ideal future, when we’ve worked past all the problems that consume so much our time here on earth,” said Nichols. “Between countries, between religions, and the bounds of energy and resources. It is about doing what we all want to do deep down: explore.”
Despite a recent diagnosis of mild dementia, Nichols isn’t letting herself slow down. According to TMZ, her doctor says she has no issues with long-term memory, verbal communication or reason. And
Nichols herself said, it’s her “Friends, fans, and family” that keeps her going.
Though Thomas Ian Nicholas didn’t grow up in Chicago, the 38-year old actor-director-musician is most commonly associated with Chicago as the star of ‘Rookie of the Year.’ At 12, Nicholas played Chicago Cubs pitching phenomenon Henry Rowengartner. Until 2016, when the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series, Chicagoans were left with his movie, a fantasy about the boy who became a star pitcher due to an accident. “In other places, I’m known for playing young Walt Disney,” said Nicholas. “Or, Frank Sinatra, Jr. Or from ‘American Pie.’ But when I’m in Chicago, it’s always ‘Rookie of the Year.”
The Las Vegas native, who today is married to his ‘best friend’ DJ Colette, and has two children, got into acting when his actress mother took him to the set “of a Jan-Michael Vincent movie she was working on. They needed an extra.” Nicholas remembered filming in Wrigley Field for ‘Rookie of the Year’.
“The production company was told they could have Wrigley Field the entire month of October,” he recalled. “They asked about the World Series, but the Cubs were having a terrible season, and the owners at that time said, don’t worry. There’s no way that’s going to happen.”
They filmed at night. “It was so cold,” he remembered. “We had to pretend it was still summer. I had heat packs everywhere. I thought l was prepared for the cold. But this was something different.”
While in Chicago, he’s making it a full experience. Following his appearance at Wizard World Comic Con, Nicholas will be playing a gig at the House of Blues on Saturday with his band, The Thomas Nicholas Band. Thomas Nicholas Band. Sunday, he’ll be throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, hinting that “something special” is in the works.
For ‘Kim Possible’ star Christy Carlson Romano, the opportunity to play such a strong character was a great experience. “She was a little like me,” said Romano, now the married mother of a daughter. “She was feisty, outspoken. And she was going through everything l was going through at the time. So we grew up together.”
She’s grateful that she and her character grew up before the age of social media.
“I can’t imagine going through what these young stars are going through now,” she said. “I was also glad to play an animated character. That gave me a lot more privacy.”
A ‘Kim Possible’ movie is in the works now. “It’s a whole new cast, and a whole new generation for Kim Possible.” said Romano. “I think it’s great.”
Headlining the 20th Anniversary celebration are X-Files stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Other stars include Tom Welling (“Smallville,” “Lucifer”), Ian Somerhalder (“The Vampire Diaries”), six stars of the cast of “Outlander” (Sam Heughan, Catriona Balfe, Graham McTavish, Lotte Verbeek, Richard Rankin, Sophie Skelton ), Guardians of the Galaxy standouts Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff, the “Boy Meets World” foursome of Ben Savage, Danielle Fishel, Will Friedle and Rider Strong, and David Krumholz (“Firefly,” Serewnity).
For more information, log on to their website, http:// www.wizardworld.com.