INTERVIEW: Wiseman Talks Tilly, Finale & More
Amidst all the drama aboard the U.S.S. Discovery, there’s been a constant shining light, and her name is Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Tilly finds the goodness in everything, anything and anyone, and her positivity has been infectious for both the characters around her and the audiences at home watching Star Trek: Discovery. She’s also provided the show with a good deal of its levity. Much of that is in the writing, of course, but Mary Wiseman has winsomely portrayed Tilly, deservedly emerging as one of Discovery’s breakout talents in the process. The show’s freshman season will conclude this weekend with “Will You Take My Hand?”, which gave StarTrek.com an opportunity to catch up with Wiseman. The actress chatted amiably about her Discovery experience so far, previewed the finale, shared her plans for the off-season and revealed what kind of captain she thinks Tilly will be some day…
When we met you at Comic-Con last year, you were super-excited, super-nervous, and very psyched for people to finally be able to see Discovery. So, are you still excited? A little less nervous?
I'm considerably less nervous. It has been really exciting to watch everyone seeing the episodes for the first time, and having some context for that kind of world we're building. I'm still, however, very excited about the future and what the rest of the season and subsequent seasons will hold.
Tilly started out so green and with so much to do and learn in front of her. What interests you most about her as a character so far?
I guess it interests me that Tilly has so much potential for growth because, like you say, she is starting out so green. She's going to experience everything for the first time. Everything still contains the wonder of the first time you're seeing it or experiencing it, and so she has a lot to develop over the course of the series. She's not done yet in becoming the final and ultimate version of herself. I love that she gets to experience new things and have those things change her and continue to grow and continue to find out who she really is.
She’s developed several relationships already, particularly with Michael, Stamets and Saru. Talk a bit out those relationships and working with Sonequa, Anthony and Doug…
It's been such a blast. They're all really lovely human beings and also really incredible actors who are very well seasoned. So, it's been great and, selfishly, I get to learn a lot just from watching them and watching the way that they work. It's been great as an actor and as a continuing student of actors. As far the characters, Michael is both Tilly's very good friend and mentor, so that's been really cool, having someone to look up to, I think. And, having someone so close who can kind of show her the ropes has been really useful for Tilly. I think Tilly has also been making mentors everywhere she can find them. You know? Stamets is kind of an unwilling mentor who is now including her more and more in working on the spore drive. Saru and Tilly were trying to work things out together when the ship was stuck in the Mirror Universe, so she's been able to impress him with what she's able to do and her understanding of the spore drive. Hopefully, he can help her move along whatever command training path she wants to pursue.
You and Mary Chieffo haven’t had a lot to do yet together on the show, but heading into this experience, how helpful was it to at least have someone there you knew, since you’d known each other from your time at Juilliard?
It's been really helpful. Like you said, we don’t have a lot of scenes together, so it’s not like we see each other all the time on set, but it was nice, doing this huge thing, moving to Toronto, starting to work on a Star Trek series, to have someone that I know involved in it at all. We could kind of text each other and talk each other through this new experience.
Tilly is full of positive energy and innocence. How much of that is on the page and how much of that do you feel is the writers playing to what you bring as an actress and as a person?
That's interesting. Definitely, the genesis is in the writers' room, in the minds of the writers. Gretchen Berg has, I think, a niece named Tilly who is, I'm guessing, three years old. That was a big inspiration point for her, that sort of childlike wonder, and that fascination of all things, that childlike pluck that Tilly has. And so they wrote this part and then I got the job and then as we go on we, we gotten to have more discussions about her. But I’ve always followed the writers’ lead. This is their baby.
The Mirror Universe events pushed Tilly out of her comfort zone. How much fun did you have with those scenes being not just tough, but truly captain-like?
It was a big blast as an actor to get to put yourself in a different role and to embody a totally different character within the character you've already been playing. There was a lot of comedy in that, which is a really fun place for me and was a really fun thing to do in those shots with those people and those directors.
How much did that awesome uniform/costume help you get into the character of Captain Killy?
The uniforms are incredible and so beautiful. Gersha Phillips did such a good job bringing this to life and honoring the past and having little Easter eggs of past universes in our costuming. Putting it on, I felt really broad and strong. I was in armor and a lot of black leather, so that really helps you get into character and feel like you can sit in that captain's chair.
You had the distinction of dropping Trek's first f-bomb. What do you remember of shooting that scene and how much -- in your mind -- was riding on getting that right?
Tilly is someone who is allowed to make mistakes, because she is still pretty green and still figuring things out. She has this unbridled enthusiasm and I think that's where that line came from. So, I think that she probably was a good person to drop the first f-bomb. And Stamets had this really beautiful moment afterwards where he supports her and affirms her. So, he got to have the second f-bomb in the Star Trek universe.
We've seen some massive reveals in the past few weeks, with characters dying and coming back, with Lorca's identity. Did you know all along that Lorca was Mirror Lorca or not?
Yeah. I did. They let us know what's going to happen, thankfully. But, you know, Jason's such a good actor that it's easy to kind of forget that he's secretly an evil Terran universe-r. Also, we spent five months with this person as our captain and then a script comes out and you're like, "Wait. I forgot. Oh, yeah. This guy's evil.”
Give us a little preview of the season finale and how Tilly will factor into it…
Well, we are going to have to deal with this war that we have just phased back into, what is it, nine months later? So, we have to figure out what we're going to do, because we're losing and we have to do some really creative thinking to try to push through this. Tilly will be integral to that, and she'll get to put her theoretical physicist/theoretical engineer hat on and help figure that out.
What are you plans for the off-season?
Well, I've been on my off season. I shot an episode of the show Baskets with Zach Galifianakis. And I have some other stuff down the pipeline that I'm not sure if I can talk about yet.
How eager are you to do a couple of conventions, to get out there and meet the fans?
It'll be really fun. I'm excited to see what it's like. It'll be a real first for me, so I'm really looking forward to it. I think it'll be a blast to see everybody who's invested so much in our world.
Last question. When the time comes, what kind of captain do you think Tilly will make?
I think she'll be benevolent and lighthearted and kind, which is sort of the example that she gets from Burnham and Georgiou, Prime Georgiou, and even Saru when he takes on the mantle of being captain. I think she will be a true Starfleet captain and exercise those values in every decision she makes.