See The Actor From Ridley Scott’s Alien Who Said No To Star Trek And Star Wars

The late Yaphet Kotto - who played Parker in Alien - was offered the roles of Star Wars's Lando Calrissian and Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard; he said no to both.

By Michileen Martin | Published

yaphet kotto
Yaphet Kotto as Parker in Alien (1979)

It’s too often forgotten in the shadow of its more action-heavy successor, but with 1979’s Alien director Ridley Scott launched a sci-fi/horror franchise that’s still going strong and the late Yaphet Kotto was there for it. Kotto played Parker, the Nostromo’s chief engineer, and the fame he enjoyed from appearing in Alien attracted both Star Wars and Star Trek with offers for two of the respective franchises’ most iconic roles. Kotto was offered the part of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back before Billy Dee Williams secured the role, and he would later get a chance to play Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation; he passed on both parts.

Why Did Yaphet Kotto Say No To Star Wars?

Three years before Alien hit theaters, Yaphet Kotto starred in the TV movie Raid on Entebbe which was directed by Irvin Kershner who would later helm what’s often called the best of the Star Wars films — 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. In 2003, the Alien star revealed to IGN that Kershner offered him the role of Lando Calrissian in Empire. Kotto said he was already committed to co-star alongside Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman in the 1980 prison drama Brubaker, but that isn’t why he turned Kershner down.

Kotto said the Empire director went to visit him on the set of Alien and opened his offer with, “You’re gonna stay in space.” Kershner delivered the news that he was directing the second Star Wars film and told Kotto, “you’re going to be in it.” Yaphet Kotto said he turned Kershner down on the spot.

yaphet kotto
Yaphet Kotto in Brubaker (1980), which he chose to make instead of The Empire Strikes Back

“I wanted to get back down on Earth,” Yaphet Kotto told IGN. “I was afraid that if I did another space film after having done [Alien] then I’d be typed.” He added that in spite of the ongoing success of Star Wars, he had no regrets about his decision. “[O]nce you get one of those big blockbuster hits, you better have some other big blockbuster hits to go with it too and be Harrison Ford, because if you don’t you have to get back down to earth because you can’t stay on that,” Kotto speculated. “You place yourself right out of the business.”

Why Did He Say No To Star Trek?

In the 2014 documentary Chaos on the Bridge about the wealth of behind-the-scenes drama going on with the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was revealed that the late Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wanted Yaphet Kotto to play Captain Jean-Luc Picard. In a 2015 interview with Big Issue, Kotto confirmed that he was offered the part and that he turned it down, thus opening the door for Patrick Stewart. Unlike his decision to turn his back on Star Wars, the Alien star said he regretted not becoming the Captain of the Enterprise.

“I think I made some wrong decisions in my life, man,” Kotto mused. “I should have done [Star Trek] but I walked away. When you’re making movies, you’d tend to say no to TV. It’s like when you’re in college and someone asks you to the high school dance. You say no.”

Of course, if you’re checking IMDb then you’ll no doubt wonder why–if he was hesitant to work in TV–Yaphet Kotto appeared in three TV movies as well as doing a one-off on Murder, She Wrote in 1987; the same year Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. In most likelihood it wasn’t necessarily the medium of television that Kotto chaffed at when offered the TNG role, but the longterm commitment.

yaphet kotto
Yaphet Kotto as Lieutenant Al Giardello in promotional material for Homicide: Life on the Street

Ironically, it would be another longterm television role that Yaphet Kotto said yes to that would prove to be one many fans remember him best for. Six years after saying no to Star Trek, Kotto landed the role of Lieutenant Al Giardello on the popular police procedural Homicide: Life on the Street. He played Giardello for the entire run of the series, in a crossover episode with Law & Order, and finally in the 2000 follow-up TV movie Homicide: The Movie.

Yaphet Kotto Was A UFO Believer

Yaphet Kotto passed away in March 2021, and his final acting credit was for voicing his old Alien character Parker in the 2014 video game Alien: Isolation. It turns out that the fact Kotto was made famous by a movie set in space–and continued to get offers for similar roles–was fitting, because he firmly believed he had been visited by UFOs and extra-terrestrials for most of his life.

In 2017, four years before his death, Yaphet Kotto opened up to Vice about visitations he claimed he’d had from aliens since he was a little boy. It was, he said, the first time he’d told anyone about it other than his wife, rabbi, or psychologist.

Yaphet Kotto described disturbing experiences to Vice; including time loss, regularly spotting unidentified aircraft above his home, and visitations from beings “five or six feet tall with an elongated head.” The visitations continued, he said, from the time he was 10-years-old right up until his conversation with Vice.