Emily Coutts made her mark on season one of Star Trek: Discovery with her role as Keyla Detmer, cutting quite a striking figure thanks to the helmsman’s unique eyepiece and severe haircut. She was equally striking as First Officer Detmer on the I.S.S. Shenzhou during the show’s time in the Mirror Universe. Viewers mostly glimpsed Detmer in the heat of the moment, initiating the spore drive, for example, or guiding the ship out of a gravity well. Coutts is currently shooting season two of Discovery, but during her time at Star Trek Las Vegas in August, the actress sat down with StarTrek.com to chat about her career, her experience so far on Discovery and her upcoming projects. Here’s what Coutts had to say in this, the latest in our series of StarTrek.com interviews building toward the November 13 release of Star Trek: Discovery: Season One on Blu-ray and DVD...
How much did you know about Star Trek before you hooked up with the franchise via Discovery?
I knew people were very into it, that it was a show about imagination and about a world that I really didn't know much about, but that was really exciting for a lot of people and really important for a lot of people. But I hadn't seen much of it. My family didn't watch it. So, when I got the call I had to brush up and learn everything, and the more I learned, the more I realized how much of a magical world this is. We get to create a reality that is full of hope and full of what the future hopefully is going to look like.
What were some of the Star Trek shows and films you checked out?
I started with The Original Series. My boyfriend gave me a Best-Of list, and he enjoyed showing me, because he was a big fan. And then I went to TNG and really enjoyed that one and watched a lot of episodes. So now I'm still going through the shows. I'm just starting Voyager and watching the films.
What was your audition process like for this?
I auditioned once in the room with a Toronto casting director, and that was in October, and I didn't hear anything until January. So, I had assumed, like every actor does, that I didn't get the part. And then I got a call when I was traveling overseas in Morocco. I had very limited reception, and I was on a rooftop with some friends, and I just saw this Star Trek email come through from my agent. I was like, "No way." It just made the trip.
When you auditioned, did you know what you were auditioning for?
I knew I was auditioning for a Conn Officer. I didn't know that I was going to be on the Shenzhou. I got to set the first day and was like, “Does anyone know what's happening here?” And then it all started to fill in.
What's your sense of Detmer, who she is, what she stands for? Did you come up with a backstory in your own head or are you waiting for them to give it to you?
I did come up with a backstory. I'm also waiting for that collaborative process of revealing the character and the backstory. I'm excited to hear about what the writers are thinking for her.
But what's in your head?
She's extremely dedicated to her job. She's a bit awkward and nervous. Because she came from the Shenzhou, she was used to one atmosphere, and then she gets thrown in with Lorca, the Discovery, and things are very different. His energy is very different. So, I think she's just trying to maintain her calm, be professional, and grow her knowledge and rank with the people around her.
Which episodes were you most satisfied with season one?
I loved the Mirror Universe because it was a lot of fun to play the first officer. She was sassy and angry, and it was just a lot of fun to play. The whole bridge transformed, our costumes transformed, and it came across beautifully. I got a side toupee. Got my hair back for a second. Those episodes ended up being some of my favorites.
Prime Detmer really earned her keep in season one. She initiated the spore drive, she got the ship out of that gravity well. What did you feel were her biggest contributions to the crew in season one?
I think there was a real sense of calm in those moments, where she had to do tight maneuvering with an aggressive captain, and with these very high-stakes situations. Despite her feelings underneath, she was like, “This is do or die time. I’ve got to maneuver this thing.” And she did it!
Tell us about your eyepiece. How long does that process take?
It looks quite simple, but it actually takes a while. It takes an hour for the prosthetics and then an hour for hair and makeup. So, I'm actually an earlier call than Saru, believe it or not.
Yeah. They're fantastic at it, the makeup team. They make it look so much a part of my skin and that the piece actually sinks into my skin. The coolest part of the prosthetic is that it's actually bigger than it looks on the skin.
Have they explained why Detmer has the eye piece in any detail to you?
They haven't. It's fixing an injury from the Battle of the Binary Stars. But we will hopefully find out more about the piece soon.
How close did you get with your co-stars over the course of year one?
Extremely close. I've never worked with a group like this, and coming in as a Toronto local, I was like, “Oh, this is the big leagues. Obviously, everyone is going to be mean and terrible.” I was so pleasantly surprised. Sonequa (Martin-Green) organizes game nights. We hang out. We go to shows together. We talk. And it really is a family. Everyone is saying it, but I feel like, at this convention with all the fans and just as a cast and crew, we're extremely tight. You can see it.
How is season two going?
It's going well. Very well. I love the scripts. Every time we read a script, we're all just sitting in the room after, tears or laughter, everything in between. It's going to be a great season.
Will we see a bit more of you? Learn more about Detmer?
I can't really answer that one yet. We'll see.
You're a new face to a lot of people, especially in the U.S. Where are you from, and how/why did you get into acting?
I grew up outside of Toronto, in a small town. I started singing from a young age and doing musicals in a town called Stratford, Ontario. I did community theater, fell in love with the whole thrilling experience of putting a show on. I went to theater school in Toronto, and then I got an agent and started auditioning for film and TV, and just have been able to be involved in some really cool projects. I got to work with Guillermo Del Toro on Crimson Peak as one of my very first jobs, which Doug Jones was in as well. Toronto is a really exciting place to be right now as an actor. I was on Designated Survivor, which was exciting. I've been on shows like Murdoch Mysteries a couple times, a mix of American and Canadian shows. I work on my own projects as well. I wrote a short film that I'm going to be making this year.
Tell us more about that…
I’m writing, producing and acting in it. My best friend is directing and editing, and we're going to shoot it on the East Coast of Canada, in Prince Edward Island, where the story is set. So, we’re really excited.
Some actors love a long run on a series, and others are wary of playing one role for a long time. Where do you stand on that, since Discovery could run for several years?
At first, it felt scary, but now I'm like, “I could do this for so long because it's so amazing to work with the cast and crew that we have. It would be terrible to have to say goodbye.” So, I'm hoping for many years. I'm not afraid at all. And with the off-season, I love doing films and I hope to do films in between seasons. So, there's still lots of flexibility and freedom for art and creativity.
Your autograph line is growing as we speak. How are you enjoying this, meeting the fans, speaking in front of a large audience, signing pictures?
It's overwhelming. The people are so sincere. The interactions are so honest. This franchise has really changed a lot of lives, obviously, and to be able to be a part of that and have people just say “Welcome to the family” in such an honest way has been very emotional and very exciting.
Star Trek: Discovery on Blu-ray
Fans in the U.S. and Canada can pre-order on Amazon.com now.