EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Anthony Rapp On Discovery's First Season
It’s been a full meal for Anthony Rapp, as Star Trek: Discovery gave the actor his first-ever series-regular role, and that character, Lt. Paul Stamets, stood front and center for much of season one’s action sequences, science conversations, loving and heartbreaking moments, and several of its most-colorful visual effects scenes involving the spore drive and the mycelial forest. And, let’s not forget the shout-out to his early career breakthrough, Rent, or the fact that he shared quite a bit of time with… Anthony Rapp, as Mirror Stamets. StarTrek.com sat down with the actor last weekend in New York City following his appearance on the post-finale episode of After Trek. Here's what he had to say about his busy, fulfilling first season in the Star Trek universe.
What were your expectations heading into Discovery, and how different was reality?
I had a meeting with Aaron (Harberts) and Gretchen (J. Berg) after I got the role and they talked me through some of the big-picture stuff. So, I had some notion, but I didn't know all the details and I didn't really, frankly, want to know the details. Part of the joy, I've discovered -- because this is the first time I've ever done a regular role on a TV series -- is to not know, because the characters don't know.
What did they tell you in advance?
They told me there would be something that would go a little haywire with the spore drive with me. They told me there was something that would go a little rough with Culber, that there would be some consequences. But beyond that, I didn't know exactly what that meant. When it went where it went, it was deeper and more intense than even I would have imagined.
Which episodes ranked as your favorites -- and why?
There are parts of 13 (“What’s Past Is Prologue”) and 14 (“The War Without, The War Within") where, after we've been through the valley of darkness, I felt the consequences of everything and I felt the ideals of Starfleet really come into fullest focus. I loved Saru’s speech in 13, with everyone around him coming together as a crew, as a team. And the it was fully exemplified in 15 (“Will You Take My Hand?”).
Stamets and Culber had a lovely parting sequence after Culber died. What was that like for you and Wilson Cruz to play, and how hopeful are you we’ll see more of Culber and Cruz in season two?
I've known Wilson for so long. We were good friends before this, and I knew this had been such a thrilling experience for him, just on a personal level. So, that scene was pretty bittersweet to shoot. We didn't know at that point what’s to come, though we've been told things and we still don't know exactly, but we know that you'll see these two characters interact again next season. I don't know if it'll be flashbacks, if it'll be flash-forwards. Whatever it is, there will be some presence of our relationship will continue, and I’m pleased about that.
But still, shooting that particular scene, it was a very bittersweet day for both of us. We had a very strong sense of the kind of moment that that was, and a lot of respect for that. Hanelle Culpepper was the director of that episode, and it was such a bear in terms of it having the Mirror Stamets scenes and a lot of technical stuff, but she just treated it with care and… respect is a word I would like to use to describe it. We just felt really, really well served by Hanelle. We felt we had the room and the support to have the moment be what it was. And I also thought the writing of the scene was poetic and kind of heightened, because it was not actually happening in reality. So, I felt like it had a nice mixture of being in reality and out of reality at the same time.
A lot of eyes were on the show, on the Stamets-Culber relationship. As a gay man yourself, what did it mean for you to play those scenes, to be the one to represent that on Star Trek? And what’s your sense of the reaction from both the LGBTQ community and straight people?
It meant the world. I was intensely proud. My friend is one of the early, early fans of Star Trek, going to the conventions in the 70s and everything. He told me about mimeographed fan letters and fan fiction, and he's gay and he's very plugged into the LGBT community within the Star Trek fandom. So, I was very aware that there's been this vocal and vibrant segment of the fandom that has felt underserved. So, on that level alone it was meaningful, but then also, Wilson uses the phrase "actor-vist, which I really love because I think it's very true. I've tried to be the best at what I try to exemplify, just to be a part of something that is exemplified, and visibility is the way that you can continue to open people's heart and minds.
I wanted to ask you about another scene, one that I found as powerful and important as any scene from the entire first season. It’s the brief interaction between Stamets and Ash Tyler when he apologizes to you for killing Culber. What did you think when you read that on the page, and how much of yourself did you bring to it when the camera rolled?
I was very grateful that it existed because I felt like we needed some glimpse of what that would be like, and I thought it was just so interestingly brought to life. It wasn't easy, it wasn't simple, it wasn't cut and dry. I really appreciated that about the scene. In the first draft of the scene I saw, I felt there was a chance for just a little more of a cut to it, just making it even less easy, and they were very open to that. I remember it was a tiny adjustment, just a little extra spice in it. I think that's the nature of grief. It's not clean. And this, it was a very unusual situation, to be confronted with the person who killed your partner, but he isn’t really quite that person. So, we were taking something that was sort of abstract and getting to feel real in the moment. And I think it was a pretty strong scene.
How about acting opposite yourself as Mirror Stamets? What was that like for you… and you?
It was crazy because it involved a lot of intricate camerawork and we had to match the timing of each character. We recorded myself doing both sides of it, and then I had a photo double who had my voice in his ear so we could match my rhythms in playing against myself. So, it was very weird. And then, for the scene with an actual mirror, we had to do the full version as myself in the mirror because of costume changes. It was one of the craziest short-circuit brain experiences I've ever had, but it was also one of the most fun things I've ever done.
And what was it like seeing you with you?
At first, it was a little bit like, “Mind blown.” Then, I had to watch the episodes twice to really be able to take it in. The second time I watched them, I was like, “OK,” and I really felt like the scenes were coming across.
If we’re being honest, some people within the fan base had their doubts about Discovery before it started and/or early on. Now that season one is complete, do you feel the show won over the doubters?
I saw tremendous evidence of people saying, especially leading up to the finale, “Finale! Finale!" And so many people said they didn't know how they were going to feel and how much it's won them over. That's been really nice to see, because we knew how much we loved it and we kept saying, "Trust us, trust us, trust us." I think for many of them, certainly not all of them, but so many people have expressed that we have earned their trust, and that means a lot to us.