A Night of Discovery Revelations at PaleyFest
The cast and producers of Star Trek: Discovery ventured from their packed appearance at New York Comic-Con to The Paley Center, where they all took the stage as part of the center’s PaleyFest activities. Discovery's Executive Producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts and Heather Kadin were joined by eight of the actors:
Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham)
Jason Isaacs (Captain Gabriel Lorca)
Doug Jones (Saru)
Mary Chieffo (L'Rell)
Shazad Latif (Ash Tyler)
Mary Wiseman (Cadet Sylvia Tilly)
Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber)
Attendees – more than a few wearing Trek uniforms – were treated to an hour of conversation, laughs and revelations, as well as, exclusively, a scene from episode five. Actually, if we’re being honest there were more bombshells dropped here than during the NYCC panel. So, you’ve been warned, spoilers ahead:
Kadin addressed the show’s casting and cited Michael Burnham as “the longest journey” when it came to selecting a leading lady. “Any time you try to cast a female who feels intelligent, who can carry a phaser – it’s usually a gun, on cops shows – and not look ridiculous, it’s hard,” she said. “It’s hard to find someone not doing the whole Charlie’s Angels thing. And it’s hard to find someone who can carry the weight of the show, on screen and off screen. But we found her.”
Harberts acknowledged that Captain Lorca’s creepy menagerie includes a Gorn skeleton, even though we didn’t see a Gorn until Kirk and crew encountered the one everyone remembers from “Arena,” the iconic TOS episode. “What does it say about Lorca that he has access to one?” Harberts asked aloud. “It gives us a story element, and it’s a fun wink and a nod with the audience.”
So, what about the footage screened? It was from episode five titled "Choose Your Pain," and it featured Shazad Latif as Lt. Ash Tyler, Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd and Isaacs as Lorca. They’re in a prison cell, having been captured by the Klingons, and Tyler looks worse for wear, having been there several months. Lorca doesn’t much trust Tyler (how is he still alive after so long?) and he takes an instant dislike to Mudd, though the feeling is mutual. “It’s an interesting episode,” Harberts observed. “It’s about torture, about loyalty, and it sows a lot of seeds. It’s one to watch very carefully because it sows seeds for the rest of the season.”
Lt. Saru, in “Context Is for Kings,” walked around eating and offering blueberries. It was a cool, quirky moment, but even Jones wondered why his alter ego liked blueberries. Harberts chose that very moment to answer: “That was a tribute to Bryan Fuller,” Harberts revealed. “He’d walk through the office and offer you blueberries.”
Speaking of Saru, it’s a bit of a joke that the character has no butt. It’s partly because of the character’s unique heels and posture, but more to do with the fact that Jones himself doesn’t have much of a rear end to speak of. Discovery costume queen Gersha Phillips at one point conferred with her staff in hushed tones while they examined Jones in costume, and he knew immediately they were talking about… his butt, or lack thereof. They all then engaged in a conversation about possibly padding his butt.
“’How about keeping it as it is, since it looks more alien,’” Jones recalled suggesting. And so Saru is butt-less. “I won that one!” Jones declared.
Harberts made the following memorable statement: “Georgiou is never going to leave us.”
Chieffo addressed the many houses of Klingons and their distinct looks. Referring to House T’Kuvma, she said, “We’re almost the runts, the Land of Misfit Toys of Klingons.”
Cruz, Rapp and others spoke passionately about the show’s diversity, but stressed that the characters don’t actually ever discuss it. The show simply leads by example. “I hear the President watches television,” Cruz said. “I hope he’ll watch Discovery.”
The show didn’t change course much following the U.S. presidential election, though Kurtzman acknowledged that afterward the writing staff “realized how important it was for the core message of the show to be amplified.”
The cast and producers buzzed excitedly when asked about what changed on Discovery as it shifted from idea to reality. Among the revelations:
Saru was supposed to have 10 eyes. That idea was ditched when the prosthetics proved too complicated and limited Jones from using his eyes and facial movements to full effect.
Originally, the U.S.S. Discovery was going to have a two-story bridge.
The tardigrade creature that made its debut in “Context Is for Kings” was initially going to be an officer on the Discovery bridge. It had a name, Ephraim. A puppet version of it was even constructed. But it proved too expensive, too impractical and would have taken too much time to include in scenes.
Goldsman spoke at length about the power of Star Trek and science fiction. The discussion can be distilled down to the following quote. “Here is what sci-fi, what Star Trek, is good at,” he noted. “Empathic imagination… played out on a giant interstellar canvas.”
And it was Wiseman who got the last word. As much room as there appears to be for Burnham to grow, the moderator suggested, it feels as if Tilly might have even more room to do so, and that Burnham might learn at least as much from Tilly as Tilly could learn from Burnham. The actress acknowledged all of that, teasing that “Everything she seems is not everything she is.”