At this point, there’s really not much more I can say about Star Trek: Discovery that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. However, after attending the show’s panel and press conference at last weekend’s New York Comic Con, I feel confident in saying one thing: the cast is marvelous.
Seriously, they’re just so darn charming.
And if there’s one thing Star Trek consistently gets right, it’s the cast. Even the more diehard Trek fans can admit that there have been some disappointing shows, episodes, and/or films. But one thing you almost never hear is a critique against any of the ensemble casts the franchise has so fantastically assembled over its 50+ years.
The casts and their remarkable ability to be greater than the sum of their parts is one of the few constants in Star Trek. From The Original Series to The Next Generation to the ongoing Kelvin-timeline films, the casts are a brilliant, cohesive whole yet still retain the unique characteristics of their individual members.
And so far, the cast of Star Trek: Discovery carries on that tradition.
The full cast and team of executive producers took the stage at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon for a wonderful panel moderated by a genuine legend: former NASA astronaut (and first African American woman in space!) Dr. Mae Jemison. I mean, guys, Dr. Jemison began each day in space by talking to ground control with “Hailing frequencies open.” She’s a capital L Legend.
It was after that panel – at the press conference – that the cast won my heart. It’s clear that they’re still getting to know one another, and their experience in the business really covers the spectrum. But it’s also obvious that they’re already becoming a family.
Jason Issacs (Captain Lorca) tried to clarify it a bit: “The work of an actor – which so few people outside the bubble understand – is not to learn lines and do the things that are said in the script. You have to create the 99 percent of the things going on inside your head that are not said and done. The things that help you most are a great story, and – believe it or not – sets, but mostly the other actors. If you look in their eyes and they’re really good, that does most of the work for you. And we’re blessed in that department.”
I asked about the cast’s interactions with fans so far and how it compares to their previous experiences, especially those who have been involved in franchises with similar fan obsession (i.e., The Walking Dead for Sonequa Martin-Green and Harry Potter for Isaacs). A common theme echoed by every member of the cast is that they’re thrilled to see fans so engaged and excited, but they’d like for them to have a smidge more patience.
Referencing some fans’ skepticism, Anthony Rapp (Lt. Stamets) implored fans to give it a chance. “Keep going. Trust that we are aware of these things. Yes, we’ve never heard of Michael’s relationship with Spock before. Trust us. This will somehow reverberate in ways you don’t necessarily expect.”
“If there’s anyone out there, and we know there are because of Twitter,” Wilson Cruz (Dr. Culber) chimed in, “who doubts how much love there is for this franchise, there’s nothing but love for Star Trek here. Everyone is excited to continue this story and to tell it. For anyone who’s a doubter at the moment: I promise if you hang in there, much will be explained. And there’s nothing but love up here for Star Trek.”
And speaking of Twitter? Doug Jones (First Officer Saru), who has been acting for 30 years (and has been in MANY genre films and shows), frankly says he’s never seen the kind of fan activity that he’s seen for Discovery. But Twitter? “Oh my gosh. We’re tagged in all of it. Please untag us before you continue your arguments. But they don’t. They don’t.” (Check out my conversation with Jones here, long before he joined the cast. He’s one in a million.)
Isaacs, however, has a somewhat unique perspective on fan involvement and interaction – coming from the Harry Potter franchise. “Everybody had loved the books, and there wasn’t a single dissenting voice [on social media]. This is a different world where adults have chosen to love, revere, and protect this. It’s mostly just love and people saying fabulously positive things. And then there are the genuine fans who are skeptical, don’t want to pay, or are particularly obsessed with technical things. To them, I say don’t ever think the people in the writer’s room aren’t pulling their hair out over canon and the story. They have an explanation, which you may or may not be satisfied with. But we’re thrilled that those people are arguing and involved.
“There’s also a bunch of people who are upset that there’s a woman lead, or that there’s a women of color, or that we have diversity in gender and sexuality, and those people can go [expletive] themselves. I try not to engage those people on Twitter, but sometimes I justify it because I’m bored. But in fact those are the people I wish would watch the show because we wish they would love each other and us and the rest of the planet. I wish they’d watch the show because it’s more aimed at them than anybody else.”
The ultimate theme of Star Trek is still just as relevant today as it was in 1966. As Cruz reminds us, “We forget to see each other within each other. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do on the series. We’re not so different, and perhaps we can find common ground. And maybe that is what will save us all in the end.”
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman channeled his inner Dr. Jemison by pointing out, “The borders and boundaries that divide us are gone in the Trek universe. It isn’t just an ideal that we want to hold ourselves to – it is essential to the survival of our species. If we don’t embrace this philosophy, we’re not going to be on this planet for much longer. The whole season arc is asking the question of who we are and what we give up of ourselves and where we are going as a species. We ask it. The Klingons ask it. It’s an exploration of that very fundamental question.”
But it’s the family that will get us there. The close connections we see on the screen that percolate up from the genuine connections that develop off-screen.
Martin-Green (Michael Burnham) hit on that point exactly. “This is going to sound lame, but it’s true. I really am inspired and informed by these actors.” At that point, Isaacs made a gagging sound, but she didn’t miss a beat. “Not by him, though. He doesn’t inspire me at all.” The joking and familiarity was genuine. It’s something I used to see between Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner and between Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes.
“I feel like all of these people have jumped off the cliff and are going wherever the story needs them. And so I see the story reflected back to me in their eyes. The world becomes so very alive because of who we have.”
It was when Mary Wiseman (Cadet Tilly) chimed in that I saw eyes begin to fill with tears. “I’ve never had a role of this size. For Tilly, her whole world is opening up. She’s so green, and she’s on this new ship, which is THE ship for science. And then she comes into contact with this woman who is strong, warm, and empathetic, and she kind of blows her mind.
“She is in a place of pure possibility right now. And I feel like that, too. To have Sonequa . . . she may not be the captain of the ship, but she’s the captain of this show. She is a mother and a sister and a friend to all of us. And I feel that way about all of the women behind the scenes also. The stories that we see on screen reverberate back and between us all. It’s really special to get to be here for that.”
Through misty eyes, Martin-Green couldn’t agree more: “We are family. All of us up here. All of these fireworks. It’s all about the family. The family of Star Trek. That’s why we’re here.”