Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) continued their treacherous mission undercover as alt-universe military muscle under a fascist regime in Sunday’s Star Trek: Discovery episode “The Wolf Inside.”
SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES PLOT DETAILS OF STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SERIES’ 11TH EPISODE.
And then, as actors playing characters playing other versions of those characters, they embarked on an infiltration mission to a rebel stronghold in which Burnham’s real intent was to parley with the rebel leaders and negotiate a plot to foil the Terran leadership, including its emperor (Michelle Yeoh).
In the thick of the action is Latif’s Tyler, who is himself “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, disguised as a harmless dilemma” (to misquote Winston Churchill).
Meanwhile, Tyler, the real killer, must confront himself psychologically and, in one tense moment, physically.
You’re forgiven for not recognizing Latif as Voq, Son of None, the Torchbearer. In the season’s earliest episodes, he played the Klingon character under a pseudonym — which itself has a story, Latif told Rotten Tomatoes when we spoke to him about “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler’s demons, and the question of whether the Voq reveal can be trusted.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: First, I want to say that every time they show the medical procedure flashbacks, I gag just a little bit.
Shazad Latif: Good, good. You know, I don’t know what they used, but they did say it was horrible to film.
RT: It’s pretty terrible, but it’s been wildly successful, I suppose, in terms of gore. Would you mind explaining just what is happening with Lt. Ash Tyler in this episode?
Latif: It’s the real start of him figuring out who he is, what’s happened to him. That’s a big question. I mean, this is it. Everything is coming together now, you know? We’ve got this core thing, the core essence of Voq in this body, which is slowly awakening. He’s been a sleeping giant. And now he’s finally sort of activating, and we’re seeing that play out through this version another human, but just being placed slightly on top. So it’s this complete conflict and inner turmoil of trying to understand that. Hurting people by it coming into play. Hurting the person you’re supposed to love — I mean Burnham — physically and emotionally. Her trying to reconcile that and make her understand, “It wasn’t you.” Pleading insanity. Seeing a mirror version of yourself, but a completely different version, which I have to play a third character even, which is crazy. So there’s just so much going on. Yeah, it’s crazy.
RT: So is there any part of the human who was, I assume, Ash Tyler in there other than the physical exterior?
Latif: Yeah. His memories, his consciousness, everything was transferred over. So he’s basically, in my view, he is Tyler. Tyler is there, he’s just placed on top of this other core being. That’s how I see it. They’re both equally real people. It’s just, they’re gonna fight.
RT: So you played Voq in the Klingon makeup.
Latif: Yeah, I played Voq underneath. I used a suit, and I got to choose the name, and so the name “Javid Iqbal,” which comes up in the credits, is actually my father’s name, who passed away about five or six years ago. I used it as a little shout out. He was a big movie buff … So I just thought it would be a very nice thing; I was given the opportunity to choose that, and I did.
RT: So obviously if you played Voq from the beginning and also then playing Lt. Ash, what did you know and when?
Latif: Yeah, I knew everything. We all knew it was going to be a double character. Little things gave it away, plot lines and stuff, but I always knew.
RT: Can you talk about how you approached it as an actor?
Latif: It’s a gift, but it’s a scary gift because you have double the amount of work and you’ve got to create — for one of them, you’ve got to get the voice right, you’ve got to get the Klingon language right, get the Arabic sounding sort of hrrrrh sounds in there, the Spanish rolling R sounds and making sure that’s all good. Lucky I studied Spanish, so that was quite easy. And then you’ve got to do backstory to two characters, but then also at the same time, understanding the turmoil of both characters, really getting to an emotional place where you really have to let go. There are two different styles of acting as well: Tyler is very modern, emotional pain, and the operatic nature of the Klingon and the high sort of classical acting almost — you know, old school — but still put your emotion through the makeup. It’s crazy, but it’s a very beautiful experience. I’ll never forget it. It was long and arduous and hard, but in the end, hopefully people will respond to it.
RT: Can we really take him at his word that he is Voq or is that something we need to wait and see?
Latif: You can take him at his word that he’s Voq, definitely yeah. It’s just more about whether he can convince you that in certain moments he wasn’t Tyler. More that, for me. Yeah, he is definitely Voq.
RT: You can see where a viewer watching might say, “Well did L’Rell just brainwash him? Does he just think that he is Voq?”
Latif: That’s completely valid. It makes sense. There’s so many different ways it could play out.
RT: But the official word is that we can take him at his word, that he is Voq?
RT: Maybe I was just in denial because I didn’t want that to be true. This episode gave you so many great moments. Which was your favorite to perform, and, if there’s a difference, which was your favorite to film?
Latif: My favorite to perform has to be the scene with Sonequa, because it was such a culmination of 10, nine months, eight months of building up to that moment where we really have to sort of go for it at each other. And it’s ruined, the relationship changes. It’s irreparable, the damage. And that scene where we’d just did it in like 15-minute takes. It was very long takes, very emotional, and we did it so many different ways: crying eyes, not crying eyes … touching and not touching. Just to perform that as an actor, scenes like that, when it’s long takes — and [director] T.J. [Scott] filmed it very beautifully, and in the dark. That was a very crazy experience, but as an actor it was very exciting.
— Star Trek: Discovery (@startrekcbs) January 15, 2018
And the one to film was the fighting yourself. We did two days filming the big rebel scene. That was such an enjoyable scene to film. It felt very much like I was this sort of a tribal leader. Great cast, under these tents. It was a classic sort of movie scene. It was very long. Again, we did long takes. T.J. likes to do long takes, which I love. But fighting yourself, an actor rarely gets to do that, so that was very fun just playing both characters. In one day you’re playing Voq, and the next you’re coming as Tyler. That was very fun.
RT: How does the Terran costume compare to the standard Discovery uniform?
Latif: I think the Terran ones were slightly tighter. They’re all very tight. But brilliant costumes. Gersha Phillips just got nominated for an award. Unbelievable costumes. But they’re all just very tight, so you just have to get in shape. But the Terran ones were slightly tighter, because they had a bit more armor and stuff, so it was a bit more rigid, a bit more like, we used to call it, like, the Janet Jackson videos. Quite similar to that.
RT: Oh, “Rhythm Nation”?
Latif: Yeah, exactly. That was good. You had it straight away.
RT: Now I’m not going to be able to get that song out of my head for the rest of the day —thank you for that. So when Sonequa is taking off the shoulder piece — I don’t know if she was just acting or if it’s really that heavy, but it looked really heavy.
Latif: It is. It’s heavy. Sonequa, she’s strong as hell, but the costume is bigger. She’s not like huge or tall or anything like that. So it is a heavy costume, and I don’t know how much she was putting into it but it looked heavy as well. And the boots are even hard to get off.
— Star Trek: Discovery (@startrekcbs) January 15, 2018
RT: Are there any sort of non-spoilery tidbits from the following episode that you can share about Michelle Yeoh’s character returning as the emperor.
Latif: I don’t know. I don’t know how much I can say about her character.
RT: What about Tyler? Is he going to be in prison? Sedated?
Latif: He’s in the brig at the end, but they’re going to have to — there’s a whole love quadruplet and three bodies to sort of resolve. They’ve got missions to do. They’ve got to work together in a close environment while still knowing all this stuff. They’ve got to solve the Culber case. There’s so much to do in the next five episodes. It’s pretty crazy.
RT: My heart was just breaking with the Culber moments. They’re really touching.
Latif: I love that scene with Wilson [from “Despite Yourself”]. He’s one of my favorite people, and it was just so nice because we finally got to do scenes together and then it was suddenly off. We rarely do scenes together, and they were really great scenes, and it was such a shame. It was a really emotional day there for everyone. Killing a character and then leaving. We were really enjoying these scenes, and I thought they were beautifully played. It was nice.
RT: It’s also very scary for the viewer — like, Holy crap! What is happening?
Latif: I liked jumping over the bed and suddenly I’m towering over him. You know, he’s much bigger than me muscle-wise, but it’s just that height difference when coming off the bed was a very scary film moment, you know?
RT: It was such a pivotal moment and amazing to watch you two play off of each other. Really great work.
Latif: Yeah, I was really happy about it.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Sundays at 8:30 ET/5:30 PT on CBS All Access.