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Catching Up with "The Cage" Talosian, Felix Silla

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The Star Trek entry on Felix Silla's resume is really just a blip, but what a blip. Silla, a man who's been a part of The Addams Family as Cousin Itt, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as Twiki, Return of the Jedi as a hang-gliding Ewok, and also appeared in Battlestar Galactica, a Tim Burton Batman film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and so many more movies and TV shows, has the distinction of appearing as a Talosian in the first Star Trek: The Original Series pilot, "The Cage." He appears... walking down a corridor. That's his bit. No dialogue. And remember, NBC rejected the pilot, which few people ever saw until, first, Gene Roddenberry showed a B&W version of it at conventions, and, then, when the color iteration of "The Cage" at long last reached home video. And so it is that Silla is part of the Star Trek universe, not to mention a popular guest at conventions worldwide. He's set to appear at Star Trek Las Vegas, which will be held August 2-6 at the Rio Suites Hotel, and StarTrek.com recently spoke with Silla about his life today, his career and memories of Trek, and more. Here's what he had to say...

If we’ve got our facts straight, you’re retired, living in Las Vegas and spend many a weekend attending conventions and autograph shows. Sound about right?

Felix Silla
I'm fully retired. I retired in 1996. I did my last movie in Romania and then I just retired. I gave it up. I got my pension. There's not much work left in California. As a matter of fact, not too much work now, because little people, there's so many little people and not enough work for everybody. So, I gave it up, and in 2003 I decided to move out of the San Fernando Valley, and I moved to Las Vegas. And, yes, now I do a lot of conventions, signing autographs, making appearances. I enjoy it. I get to see some of my all fans and I get to meet some new ones. I'm having a lot of fun, traveling, a lot of traveling. I’ll be in Las Vegas for the big Star Trek convention. I live here, in Vegas, so it’s an easy one for me. And I’m going to an event soon with Jonathan Ke Quan, who played Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I doubled him, and I worked on that film for six months. So that should be exciting, to see him again. When I do these shows, everyone says, "You're a part of my life" or "I grew up with you." I love to hear that. I made a living, I worked with some very talented people, and I also made a lot of people happy. I’ve also got my family… (his wife, two daughters, a son and five grandchildren). So, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

You've been in The Addams Family, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buck Rogers in the 25th CenturyBattlestar Galactica and Batman and more. What does it mean to you to be a part of so many popular franchises?

Felix Silla
You know what? I got to work on the most wonderful shows… Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Addams Family, Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes. To me it was really enjoyable. I enjoyed my career and, like I started to say, I got to meet a lot of nice and good people, professional actors while my career went on, from 1962 to 1995. For example, Carolyn Jones and John Astin. I worked with Gig Young and Shirley Jones in my first movie. Some of these people, they're gone, and but I have good memories of them. And I never expected any of this. When I moved to California, I didn't know what I was going to be, because I used to work with the circus. I had no idea, "Hey, I'm going to be in the movies." No, I didn't have any idea whatsoever until a guy came over to a place where I was working and said, "Hey, they're looking for little people to do some stunt work, to do some work doubling some kids." I didn't have a car in '62. When you travel with the circus, you don't need a car. You traveled by train. But a friend of mine took me down to MGM and I started working on a movie as a stuntman. It was called A Ticklish Affair.

Let's go back to late 1964. How did you land your role in "The Cage"?

Felix Silla
We did an interview. I was not the only one there. There were two or three little guys, and the makeup was crazy. We wore these weird bubblehead things. It was like they grew around our face, around our ears. I remember that when we went to lunch we didn't even have a chance to talk to each other because we could not hear each other talking. We went to lunch every day at the commissary and then we used to do like sign language to each other, the little guys, but we didn't even know what the hell we were talking about.

What else do you recall about your time on the episode?

I remember that Jeffrey Hunter was there. He was the main actor, and he was a wonderful man, professional guy and really nice, but I was brand-new in the business. To me, when I went to work, I did my job and I went home and I forgot all about it that day. It was just a job and I got paid for it, and it was very, very enjoyable.

How many days did you actually work on Trek?

Felix Silla with Trek guest stars Celeste Yarnall and Lee Meriwether, and Yarnall's husband, Nazim Artist.
I think it was about a week, a week and a half.

All for that one quick shot of you in the corridor? Can we assume you shot scenes that got cut?

Probably, yes. Probably. They usually do that, shoot more than they use. I remember when I did Return of the Jedi, we did a lot of filming, and when I got to see the film, I said, "Well, where am I? What had happened to all the stuff that we did?” They don't use it all. And sometimes it just never gets seen by people. But I was there for more than a week on Star Trek, so I must have shot more, but I don’t remember what it was. I can tell you about that corridor shot, that tunnel shot. They built the sets a certain way for what they called perspective shots. The tunnel or corridor, it was maybe 15 or 20 feet long, and they put me at the end of it. That made it look like a mile long. That was the reason to use little people.

How did you hear that NBC had not picked up the pilot?

I don't really know because I was not really paying attention to those things at the time. That wasn’t my job. I did my job, and then I got my next job. I remember hearing that Jeffrey Hunter’s wife told him that she didn't want him to do the show because she thought was nothing was ever going to happen with it. And then, when they did the second pilot, most of it was changed.

What was it like, then, to see Star Trek explode into a phenomenon? And not just that, but for you, an uncredited actor in a rejected first pilot, to be swept up in the phenomenon?

Felix Silla
I have one picture of me from Star Trek. It took almost two years to finally find this photo that I have. It's a long shot, way back in the tunnel, like I was talking about. They couldn't find anything else. They kept sending me all these photos, and I kept saying, "No. It's not me. It's not me." They finally found one. I never imagined that, 53 years later, people were going to talk about me being on Star Trek, or asking me to sign that photo, you know? Like I said, man, I just went along, I did my job, and that's it. So, it’s 53 years later and now Star Trek is one of things – like with The Addams Family and Buck Rogers – that people come up to me at my table and talk about and say, "Oh, I grew up with you.” I love it.

Star Trek Las Vegas will be held August 2-6 at the Rio Suites Hotel. Go to www.creationent.com for details.

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