Looking for action figures with sci-fi vixen Chase Masterson
By Zack Stentz, posted December 16, 1998

LOS ANGELES--It's 11 a.m. on the sun-dappled Santa Monica Promenade, and inside the local game and toy store, the fanboys are beginning to gather. That's because they've spotted a genuine sci-fi television celebrity in their midst: it's Chase Masterson, who plays the sexy alien casino worker Leeta on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

Dressed in black slacks and sky-high heels, the statuesque redhead is easy enough to recognize, even without the ridged nose of her Bajoran "Dabo girl" character. But though Masterson, who also hosts the weekly "Sci-Fi Entertainment" newsmagazine program on the Sci Fi Channel (Friday nights at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Midnight Pacific), is uniformly gracious and outgoing with her admirers, communing with fans isn't what brought her to the store.

"Are there any Leeta figures in stock?" Masterson asks, flashing the clerk in the action figures aisle a thousand-watt smile that could melt dilithium crystals.

Answer: no. The Leeta action figure sold out long ago and has never been re-issued, prompting a 20-minute rant from the clerk about businesses who deliberately create scarcity and thereby inflate demand by manufacturing only a limited number of action figures. "I hear they're issuing a new one soon," Masterson says. "And at conventions, autographed Leetas sell for around 40 dollars."

This statement sends the clerk into another soliqiuay about the rampant price gouging that takes place at sci fi conventions. A frequent visitor to these events, Masterson observes: "On one hand, it's really wonderful to go to a place where you have 3,500 people gathered and they all want to see you. It makes you feel like Madonna. On the other end, there's this element of 'Who, me?'"

As the toy store's other adult patrons gather unbidden to join in the conversation, we beat a hasty retreat to a nearby restaurant, where Masterson reflects on her curious life as a cci fi pinup gal. "Star Trek has been very good to me," says Masterson, who grew up a military brat, studied theater at University of Texas, moved to L.A. in the early '90s with her three-year old son and auditioned for "Deep Space Nine." She didn't get the part. But then the call came: "The Leeta role was described to me as four lines and one day of work. I only found out later that they'd written the role especially for me and that it was planned from the start to be recurring."

Since then, Masterson's character has dated one of "Deep Space Nine"'s regulars and married another, helped form an extraterrestrial labor union, and survived countless attacks by marauding Klingons and Jem Ha'dar warriors. In stark contrast to the ditzy Leeta, Masterson's all steely intelligence and determination when it comes to her career. Refreshingly direct and free from the New Age babbling that so many attractive actresses engage in to sound intelligent, she's managed to parlay her smallish part into a largish cult following. The convention circuit, fan club activites and Sci Fi Channel hosting gig.

But Masterson's also used her clout in fan circles to do some good, where possible. "I really like to see science fiction fandom getting active in the real world," she says. "My fan club is really involved in raisng money for [Los Angeles charity] Caring for Babies With AIDS, which I'm very proud of."

Masterson's also smart enough to realize that being sci fi babe du jour isn't exactly a path to screen longevity, and is working hard to diversify her career. Upcoming films include a Stephen King project, and she did a high profile guest spot on last season's Emmy-winning episode of "E.R." "I'm pretty careful about choosing roles, though," she says. "I don't do things that I wouldn't want my son to see. We in Hollywood have so much power in terms of what we put out in the world, and it's important to me that we use that power responsibly."

Towards that end, "I really want to move behind the camera, into production," adds Masterson. "I'm working right now on shopping around a couple of hour dramas and animated series. But I don't ever want to stop acting, either."

So it looks as if Masterson's getting ready to move beyond the world of alien makeup, convention appearances, and scripts with lines like "realign the Heisenberg compensators." Still, we haven't given upon our efforts to find a Leeta figurine just yet. A quick phone call and we've tracked one down, in the Culver City offices of filmmakers/sci-fi fanatics Mark Altman and Robert Meyer Burnett (the pair's latest film, Free Enterprise, satirizes the adolescent obsessions of ostensibly adult sci fi fan culture.)

Arriving at the offices of Altman and Burnett, who are always glad to greet the woman they call the "queen of sci-fi television," we find lil' Leeta in good working order, except for the vexing matter of her skirt. It keeps falling off, prompting all the expected jokes about the questionable virtue of Masterson's television alter ego and bringing out the actress' rather ribald sense of humor.

"Why won't this thing stay on?" Masterson asks, fumbling with the tiny pegs that attach the skirt to Leeta's plastic posterior. "You're going to have to drill holes in my... oh, never mind."

Summing up the appeal of being immortalized in poured plastic, Masterson says: "Probably the best part comes from being the mother of a school age son. The fact that he's the only one of his friends whose mom has her own action figure gives him some cachet with the other kids. They think it's cool."

"But I'm a little worried about the new one that's coming out," she adds, eyes widening. "It's nine inches tall, and fully dressable... and undressable."

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