Where do you think Discovery will fit into the Star Trek legacy?
The vision of Gene Roddenberry from the ’60s is still being carried through with Discovery. It couldn’t be a more timely thing right now than to offer them a show that does offer hope and the human spirit, and resolving conflict and trying to do it peacefully with reason and intellect as opposed to weapons and blood. I think it’s very timely, and very needed right now.
You play a new type of alien, a race called Kelpiens that you helped create. How much input did you get in the process?
The showrunners and our writers really established who he is and where he comes from, what his back story is and why he is who he is and all those things. I get to personify that. And then, of course, our creature designers also inform an awful lot about who he is and the look of him. I’m thankful that I don’t have the pressure of having to fit a pre-established species that the fans are very meticulous and very persnickety about watching. If you get something wrong, they will let you know about it. I don’t have that pressure, thank heavens. But I do have the pressure of hopefully helping make this character, this species, become iconic in the canon that is Star Trek.
The backstory that the writers gave me is that he is a prey species, which means I’m the hunted; I’m the herded; the eaten. Therefore, it’s odd that you see a Kelpien rise to the position I’m in. I’m the first of my kind to ever go through Starfleet Academy. I’m the first of my kind to ever rise to a high ranking officer on a starship. I have a lot to prove and I’m even hoping for a captain’s chair one day myself, which mirrors the lead of our show, Michael Burnham. She’s the first human to have gone through Vulcan Academy. By the time you meet us in the pilot, on the Starship Shenzhou, she and I have already been working side by side for about seven years. In that seven years that we’ve known each other, we have developed a brother-sister relationship, working under the tutelage of Captain Georgiou.
We’re very competitive with each other, Michael Burnham and I, and we are trying to elbow each other out because we both want a captain’s chair one day, and the race is on. “I want to get there before you do. I deserve it, dagnabbit.” It’s a very healthy, competitive relationship and we annoy each other like a brother and sister would do. But at the same time, there’s an undercurrent of deep love and respect. I do believe she’s the smartest Starfleet officer I’ve ever known or worked with. That’s all a wonderful relationship to play on screen.
What can you say about the rest of the crew on the ship?
The Captain of the Shenzhou, Captain Georgiou, is a mother figure for both Michael Burnham and Saru. We’ve both come up during those seven years that we’ve known each other before you meet us, under her tutelage, under her direction, under her guidance. She had been very maternal with us, but a very strong leader. A captain who has been through war, and has seen rough days, and has taught us how to get through those rough days that are ahead of us.
When we work under Captain Lorca, played by Jason Issacs, he’s a very different kind of captain and a bit more militaristic, a bit more gruff. He’s not quite as warm and fuzzy, but he also has his strengths that are helping us get through the war that we’re in with the Klingons. So we have a lot to learn from him as well, and working under him as a high ranking officer gives me a chance to interact with him quite a bit.
The other characters that I just love on the show [include] Anthony Rapp, who plays Lieutenant Stamets, he’s one of our science officers. He brings a very specific expertise to the Starship Discovery and you’ll see how his specialty is something very different. It’s something unique in the Star Trek lore, too, for how our ship is powered and what it can do.
A sidekick of his is Cadet Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman. She is gonna be a breakout in this show. She’s hilarious and the writers have really taken advantage of her comedic strengths. It’s gonna be very refreshing to have a character in the Star Trek series that has this kind of humor and these one-liners that come out of her, and her insecurities are just as charming as can be. She’s comedic relief that has not really been seen quite so much in the Star Trek franchise before. She’s gonna be a complete breakout that you’re gonna love, love, love.
You’re no stranger to roles with extensive prosthetics. What do you think about when you’re in that make-up chair for hours? What do you do? Do you chat? Do you just sit? Do you meditate?
First of all, thank heaven the process got from four hours down to less than two now, ’cause with ongoing television, for however many years this goes on, that’s mercifully short for this kind of transformation. I will tell you that my creature effects make-up artists become my best friends, because I’m with them so long during the day. We get along really well. We tell stories. We joke around. We listen to music, and I’ll sing out loud quite a bit during the make-up process because that’s what I do. We have an Internet connection, so we have a laptop up with YouTube on it. Come on now, bring me those talking cat videos! I’ll be entertained for hours.
What’s the coolest part of being in a new Star Trek series?
It is so cool to be in a product that has a built-in audience already that is waiting with bated breath to see the next installation. The fan base is so loyal. Even if there’s been negative commentary on the Internet or on social media, it’s only because they love the product so much. They love the franchise so much and the legacy of Star Trek so much. They care so much about it, and that’s beautiful. Of course they might have misgivings, as they always have with any new series in the Star Trek universe that has come up. There’s always been the naysayers because they love it so much. They don’t want it to suck. And we can assure them, though, that this is not going to suck. This is going to do anything but suck.
What do you say to people who are worried about all the delays in production?
In this case, the delays have only meant better product, honestly. It only means, “Let’s not jump the gun and put something out before it’s ready.” And you have to trust me, September 24, it is ready, OK?