Star Trek‘s next step forward is arguably one of the greatest jumps back ever. Although the new era of Star Trek shows started with Discovery—initially a prequel set before the events of the original series, now it’s furthest future—his last bet on the march universe, Strange New Worldsis a return to those classic ’60s heydays in more ways than aboard a pre-Kirk Company†
“One of our showrunners called it the longest pilot-to-series pickup ever, you know? That’s really funny,” Melissa Navia, who plays Company conn officer Lt. Ortegas in Strange New Worlds, io9 recently told via video chat at a press conference for the new series. Erica Ortegas of Navia – an enthusiastic flight jockey who Company due to the myriad perils she faces week in, week out on the show – is a rarity among the series’ main cast, in that she has no direct, explicit link to Star Trekcompared to characters like Captain Pike and Mr. Spock, or even Christina Chong’s La’an Noonien-Singh, an all-new character with a all known name. But even then there is still the smallest link back.
“It’s a brand new character, but her last name was a last name that Gene Roddenberry had in the pilot for a character that never came on screen. It became a different character. And so for me it kind of became… there’s just something very symbolic [it]as an actor and as a Star Trek fan. We’re going to make new fans of this show, but we’re just bridging the gap, or how Star Trek connects generations. It was very exciting, a lot of pressure, but I think we can handle it, thanks to our great writers and cast.”
The idea of that print and the links to the original Star Trek series, plays in everyone’s mind Strange New Worlds‘ cast, whether it’s the trio we met in Discovery‘s second season – Mount, Peck and Romijn’s Captain Pike, Spock and Number One, now the full name Una Chin-Riley here – or new faces like Navia, Gooding (playing a young Uhura), and Chong, or Jess Bush and Babs Olusanmokun as minors march characters Nurse Chapel and Dr. M’Benga.
“It was incredible to have the wealth of knowledge of where the future of the franchise is, compared to where we come from in our series and the first season,” Gooding added. “It’s a balancing act of knowing where we’re going and what we’re doing in the present moment, so it’s been nice to have the nostalgic throwback-esque set pieces with this incredibly timely and dynamic dialogue and conversations about the future, like, on these moments the characters don’t know [about yet]† Uhura doesn’t know that she will have a future on many different spaceships and this is just the beginning for her. But as an actor, it’s really cool to know the future and play the present.”
For some, that meant diving into a franchise they’d never experienced before. “I’ve done a lot of homework and research – because I’m a new… march fan – I watched a lot of the original series in quarantine, and then also where Khan was, Khan’s Wrathall those things, and friends ask what certain words [mean],’ said Chong, touching La’an – who is the… Company‘s no-nonsense Chief of Security on the show – and her mysterious family bond to the iconic march villain. “There was a list of words and I marked ‘I have’ no idea‘ under each word. ‘What the hell does that mean?’ ‘What’s That† Because of course I couldn’t understand the script unless I could understand what those words were. So there was a lot going on!”
At least for some of Strange New Worlds‘ newcomers, there were real gigs to go to. “I’ve watched and researched all of Majel’s performances” Star Trek more generally, and how she fits into that picture culturally,” Jess Bush, who plays Barrett’s second original march character, Nurse Christine Chapel, after Number One was eliminated in the wake of the series’ first pilot, she said of her own investigation. Distilled her essence, so to speak, and took note of her wit and humor and used that as a seedling to generate, and proceeds from. There was a certain level of that when performing the character I think Akiva [Goldsman] and Henry [Alonso Meyers], the showrunners, did a really nice job with the writing and how we were able to brainstorm together. They had their two cents, but I was also licensed to explore. I felt honored to do it – it was a beautiful process.”
For Olusanmokun, that was an even more difficult option, given Dr. M’Benga march employment was even shorter. “We only see him in two episodes! It was trepidation, and then it was, “Okay, I can just give him something new, something that’s unknown,” you know? That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” the actor added. “I hope the journey we take with him and what we show of his life and inner life is something that the fans can connect with.”
But that pressure to embrace Star Trek‘s history was not only felt on Strange New Worlds‘ new stars. It was arguably even more demanding for its three returning heroes: Mount, Peckand Romijn, all of whom created these new continuations of their characters for the first time Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season, and several Short trips anthology minisodes. For Mount, returning as Captain Pike was not just an opportunity to grow the character he had developed on Discoverybut help run a show that would grow into something unlike any other Star Trek series out now. “I think the ability to make our own” march show, in our own way, was really the driving force behind the excitement behind this,” the actor explained. “We knew we wanted to make something episodic – not just in terms of the new idea or the big planet of the week – but, ‘What is the character of this one episode? How can we encourage our directors to come in and really put a strong footprint on their episode? How can we find another way to play each episode?’ We wanted to re-inject a sense of pleasure into Star Trekand I hope we succeeded.”
But with at least some of the pressure abated to come back, there were opportunities to push a now-familiar face like Pike even further. “On Discovery† [Pike’s] lead a different crew than he is used to on the Company– there you see him leading his crew. The sense of responsibility there, the sense of warmth… if I wanted to give Pike one thing, it’s that every time the door of his office opened and a crew member walked in, the most important thing in the room wasn’t Pike, not the question – it most important was that crew member. That’s one of the few things I was sure I wanted to do.”
Striking that balance between respecting what was before and creating a new identity for these characters was also felt well by Mount’s returning colleagues. “It’s a lot. I feel like a caretaker, like a keeper of this much-loved character who actually only got 14 minutes of screen time in the original rejected pilot. And all he saw was her doing a task,” Romjin added. We didn’t learn her name, we didn’t learn anything about her character. She now has a name – Una Chin-Riley – and it’s a lot of fun developing and working out this blank slate.”
“We don’t take it lightly,” the actress continued. “I think we all played those familiar characters, know how much the… Star Trek fans protect these characters and so we were all very protective of them, and… went out of our way to take good care of these characters.”
“It never becomes normal. It never feels like something ordinary. I think the burden of proof is more comfortable at this point — it doesn’t feel as grueling,” said Peck, who said returns as Spock after portraying a rather tumultuous version of the character on Discovery, concluded. “From the beginning I was really scared to waste this… this is such an important character to so many people, and my work is really important to me. Those two things together made for something super taxing. I think time has softened the discomfort of that and still does, but I hope it never becomes something normal or comfortable because I think that discomfort – and that legacy to live by – is a really great catalyst for creativity and imagination and exploring the unknown. It’s very inspiring.”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds hits Paramount+ from May 5.
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