The actress shared her biggest moments behind the scenes, including when she was taken to the hospital after fainting on the set!
Jeri Ryan kicked off a new chapter of Star Trek: Voyager when Seven of Nine, an ex-Borg drone on the long road back to her humanity, was transported onto the wayward Intrepid class ship 25 years ago.
To celebrate this milestone and the indelible mark the character left on Gene Roddenberry’s universe, ET is looking back at Ryan’s groundbreaking introduction and Seven’s journey to becoming one of the franchise’s most important stories.
In VOY’s season three finale ("Scorpion" Part I"), a game-changing cliffhanger teased a brand new era for Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and crew. As part of a peace agreement, the Borg offered a liaison to Voyager as the ship continued traversing the Delta quadrant. While expanding a core Star Trek ensemble had been done before -- Worf (Michael Dorn) hopped off the Enterprise to join the cast of Deep Space Nine just a couple years earlier -- introducing an original character mid-run was a brand new move.
“I think after our first three years, the feeling was we wanted to add a bit of pizzazz to the show,” Star Trek executive producer Rick Berman explained to ET in 1997. “We all agreed that we needed something to bring something fresh to the fourth season.”
As Berman told it, VOY was lacking one of Star Trek’s most successful archetypes. The Next Generation had Data (Brent Spiner), an android embedded with the pursuit of what it means to be mortal. The original series had Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), whose inherent half-Vulcan, half-human dichotomy highlighted both the grace, as well as the faults, of the former and latter.
In search of what next iteration of this tradition could be, VOY producers flipped the script. “When we looked at what was possible, we realized the Borg were a group who had never failed to excite both the fans and the non-fans alike,” Berman said.
In June 1997, Ryan’s casting as Seven of Nine was officially announced.
“I don't think there's anybody in my generation who is not at least familiar with Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry and his vision,” Ryan told ET that summer. While Star Trek auditions are legendary for being quite the ordeal, she said her consideration was “not that arduous of a process,” which involved just a few readings for producers and the network (UPN, which later combined with The WB to become The CW) before landing the role.
For Ryan, a lot of the TV landscape at the time was “dark” and “really pessimistic,” which made her excited to expand the franchise’s sincere, optimistic view of the future. “It should open up some interesting possibilities with the storylines, because [Seven] was raised, basically, as a machine… It should be really interesting,” Ryan said.
IT GETS INTERESTING
Shortly after filming began on the season 4 premiere, “Scorpion Part II,” Ryan ended up in the hospital.
While Seven’s mainstay wardrobe throughout the series had its own brand of infamy, Ryan’s full-body Borg costume and makeup prosthetics for her character’s introduction proved to be the most dangerous.
“The costume is very snug. And it's rubber and it's very thick,” Ryan explained to ET weeks later. As she recalled, the Borg costume was especially constrictive around the neck and the on-set emergency stemmed from moving her head in one direction just a little too long. “It apparently cut off my carotid artery and brought on a blackout,” she said.
There were other issues with Seven’s costume in that first week, but, thankfully, they were simply the result of Ryan having fun with her new castmates.
”It's their fourth year together, so it could have been very awkward,” Ryan said. “[But] they couldn't be any nicer. Any more welcoming. And every single one of them is a comedian, so it's a lot of fun. A lot of laughing. They kept making my eye piece pop off when I was in the Borg costume, because I kept laughing.”
As for Seven’s captain, her integration was a welcome change of pace on-screen and behind the scenes.
“It's impossible not to be nice to her. She's a kick. She's my kind of gal, frankly,” Mulgrew told ET in 1997. “I think the idea behind it was that Janeway would finally have somebody, as Picard had Data, to relate to in terms of developing relationship. And Seven of Nine is half-Borg, half-human. It's wonderful. It's filled with conflict and tension to begin with."
Mulgrew also revealed her words of wisdom to Ryan upon joining the ensemble. “I think what I said to her originally was, first of all, laughter is the only balm. It's the only way to get through this,” she recalled. “And I said take a deep breath, because this will end soon. And then you can relax and fly with it.”
THE DELTA CHRONICLES
When it came to Seven fostering a relationship with Janeway, as well as her attempts to be more human, VOY opted for a slow and steady approach. As Ryan’s finished out her first season, she said the character is picking up where her six-year-old, pre-Borg self left off.
“This is Seven experiencing a lot of growing pains, because emotionally she's a child,” Ryan told to ET in 1998. “This is her sort of hitting her preteen years and not really knowing where she belongs. She's not really a Borg. She's not really a human. How does she feel about potentially going back to Earth? And she lashes out at the authority figure -- Janeway. “
She added, “It has been a wild ride. That's for sure. It's been a lot of fun. I've enjoyed myself, but it has been crazy.”
The next few years wouldn’t get any less intense for Ryan or her on-screen counterpart. In the seasons that followed, Seven found herself wrestling with one existential crisis after another. Whether it was fending off the Borg Queen’s temptations to rejoin the collective or preparing to go on her first date, she always came out the other end a little less broken or, at least, a little less Borg.
There was also that time she wrestled The Rock.
“[I’ve] beaten Stone Cold Steve Austin on numerous occasions. The Undertaker. Mankind. The list goes on and on and on,” Dwayne Johnson told ET on the set of "Tsunkatse" in 1999. “But [Ryan,] she's probably one of the toughest, if not, dare I say, the toughest The Rock has ever faced.”
Alongside the character’s many breakthroughs, Ryan noted that what made Seven’s journey unique was her passive attitude toward recapturing her humanity.
“I don't think it's so much that Seven really, really wants to be human. It's the fact that she is and she doesn't really have a choice now that she's not a Borg anymore,” she told ET in 1999. “She realizes that the Borg wasn't such a great thing in hindsight. She's just sort of taking what she sees as an inevitable course.”
THAT’S A WRAP
In 2001, the Voyager crew was set to finally return to the Alpha Quadrant. And like TNG and DS9 before them, VOY prepared to say goodbye to fans after seven seasons on the air.
“We've had a couple days that were a little bittersweet,” Ryan told ET on the set of “Endgame,” VOY’s series finale. “I've been with these people for four years and they've been together for seven. And you really do become like a family, because you see them more than your family.”
Ryan added with a laugh, “I won't miss the corset.”
At VOY’s wrap party, Ryan reflected on the end of her four-year journey, which also corresponded with the beginning of the end for Star Trek’s television renaissance at the time.
“This has been a wonderful, wonderful ride and I will miss these people so much, because I've made such dear friends,” Ryan said. “But I think it's time to move on. “
Nearly 20 years after VOY ended, Ryan was called back into service. Following the debut of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, Sir Patrick Stewart returned to help shepherd another pivotal moment for the franchise. To everyone’s complete surprise, the first trailer for Star Trek: Picard in 2019 revealed Seven of Nine was part of the new series. But as Ryan tells it, no one was more shocked than her to see the character on TV again.
"I did four years on Voyager and I really thought that was it," Ryan explained to ET in March. "And when I said goodbye to the character, then I really thought that was it. I was saying goodbye to that character."
Bringing the two characters together made sense to fans on many levels, but no more so than their shared history as victims of the Borg. As one moment in season 1 of STP conveyed (“Stardust City Rag”), both characters live with PTSD from their experiences.
Seven: After they brought you back from your time in the Collective, do you honestly feel that you've regained your humanity?
Seven: All of it?
Picard: No. But we're both working on it, aren't we?
Seven: Every damn day of my life.
"[Stewart]'s a legend, obviously, and these two characters, it was exciting to get these two characters, especially, together in this world," she shared.
On STP, Ryan’s been able to perform several full-circle moments for the ex-Borg-formerly-known-as-Annika, as well as portraying some of her most evolutionary and unbeknownst insights. Some of these are tragic, such as the death of her ex-Borg protege, Ichab, while others are well-deserved new horizons. Even amid the chaotic events of season 2, which saw Q (John de Lancie) throwing nearly every trademark Star Trek crisis at the La Sirena crew, Seven cultivated her romance with Raffi (Michelle Hurd) and re-upped her commitment to Picard’s latest band of interstellar explorers.
"It's crazy. That's a really rare gift as an actor," Ryan said. "It was a rare gift to begin with to have a character that was so beautifully written and had so much growth, since she didn't even start out human. But then to be able to revisit her this many years later and continue her journey, It's been pretty astonishing."
Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Picard both stream on Paramount+.