Winner by a Nose

updated 08/16/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/16/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

From chorus girl to Working Girl to spacewoman, Visitor set her own course

LAST FALL, DURING A HARD DAY'S FIGHT WITH EVIL CARDASSIANS and conniving Ferengi on the set of the hit syndicated series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I Nana Visitor was ready for a little shopping break. But no sooner had she beamed down to a nearby L.A. mall than a stranger rushed up to her. "You poor thing!" he cried. "What happened to your nose?"

As every Trekker knows, Visitor, 36, plays Major Kira Nerys, the feisty second-in-command of Deep Space Nine, a Federation space station near her native planet, Bajor, in the 24th century. And Bajorans look just like humans—except for their odd, accordion-like snouts. It takes two hours to put on one of Nana's Noses, as they're known in the DS9 makeup trailer, and a half hour to take one off. Visitor was antsy to go shopping that day, so....

In makeup or out, Visitor is so deeply into her role on Deep Space (which is in first-season reruns this summer) that, in talking about it, she almost becomes Kira. "Because we Bajorans were born with wrinkles on our noses, the Cardassians [reptilian storm troopers] enslaved us," she says indignantly. Then, snapping back from the future to her antiques-filled, two-story West Hollywood apartment, Visitor laughs. "I don't want to appear like I'm nuts," she says, "but this show really has had an impact on me."

Here on Earth, she is merely Queen of All Universes Known and Unknown—a title whimsically bestowed by her husband, Nick Miscusi, 34, a TV actor and dancer. While his wife is off deep-spacing, Nick (aided by a nanny) takes care of their 16-month-old son, Buster. And yet, as fulfilled as she feels in her life and career nowadays, "I've always felt slightly different," Visitor says, "and slightly like an outsider."

But certainly no alien to showbiz, considering how she was raised in New York City by her parents, choreographer Robert Tucker, 66, a Tony nominee for Shenandoah, and his wife, Nenette, 78, a French-born ballet teacher. Nana (whose aunt was Cyd Charisse, her mother's former sister-in-law) took up dancing at age 7. At 16, she began to go her own way, changing her last name ("Tucker never felt right") to the more exotic Visitor (based on a great-great-grandfather's name). Then, upon graduating from Manhattan's exclusive Nightingale-Bamford School, Visitor passed up Princeton to become a chorus girl. "My whole family," she says by way of explanation, "is Bohemian, artistic, wild."

In 1984, Visitor won a starring role in the L.A. production of the musical 42nd Street. The next year, at a tap workshop run by her dad, she met Miscusi, her father's prize pupil. "I felt a deep friendship with him right away," she says. A month later they were on their way to Hollywood—with $500 and a broken-down Honda.

Although she soon won guest spots on L.A. Law, Empty Nest and Matlock, Visitor felt like a stranger in a strange land. "I didn't look like everyone else," she explains. "I had short brown hair, and working actresses were mostly blond with lots of hair." Even so, she won her first series role as the (dyed) blond boss in a 1990 TV version of Working Girl.

But that series lasted barely a season. Nick and Nana were preparing to return to New York when she was invited to audition for DS9. Visitor was immediately attracted to Kira. "She's a strong woman," Visitor says, "and not in connection with a man. She's her own entity."

For years, Visitor's own independent streak had kept her from tying the knot with Miscusi. "I was more career-minded then," she explains. "Being married, to me, meant having a child. I thought my life would be over." But Nick was persistent. "Nana, we're getting married tomorrow," he said one December day in 1989, and the very next day they did. "Life pushes you into doing exactly what you need," she reflects, "and Nick is what I needed."

Some two years later she gave birth to Buster, and now, she says, "it's a whole different world. I've learned it's not important to get from Point A to Point B in this or that amount of time. Suddenly, everything is exciting. I can't wait for Buster to wake up in the morning."

Later, while eagerly waiting for Buster and his dad to visit her in her dressing room, Visitor crams for her next scene. "When I press a key on a computer, I damn well better know what I'm pressing," she says, sounding like Major Kira again. "Because the audience lets us know if anything is amiss." Her self-confidence belies such concern. Why, it's as plain as the nose on her face.

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
LOIS ARMSTRONG in Los Angeles

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