Dr. Hugh Culber on Star Trek: Discovery has the potential to be a memorable, worthy addition to Trek’s long line of medics. The fact that the character is gay, and represents half of the first-ever gay couple on a Trek series… well, that’s just icing on the cake, feels Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Culber opposite Anthony Rapp as Lt. Paul Stamets. Cruz, who happens to be gay in real life and advocates for LGBTQ causes, counts among his more than two decades’ worth of credits the Broadway musical Rent (which also featured Rapp), and such films and television shows as My So-Called Life, Nixon, Joyride, Party of Five, Party Monster, He’s Just Not That Into You, Pushing Daisies (which provided the Bryan Fuller/Gretchen Berg/Aaron Harberts connection that paved his way to Discovery), Grey’s Anatomy, Shameless and, most recently, 13 Reasons Why.
StarTrek.com sat face to face with Cruz at Star Trek Las Vegas, shortly after he shared a Discovery actors panel there with Mary Chieffo, Kenneth Mitchell and Sam Vartholomeos. The pride in his voice as he spoke about Discovery was palpable. We held the interview until now, following his debut as Dr. Culber in “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” Here’s what he had to say:
How on your radar was Star Trek in advance of booking Discovery?
Well, my introduction was The Original Series, but that was in syndication as a kid. I obviously saw it, but I didn't really become obsessed-obsessed until The Next Generation, and I would never miss that. So that was my intro, and then I saw The Wrath of Khan in the movie theaters.
We are assuming that your involvement in Discovery means so much to you, and on so many levels…
As a little Latin boy in Brooklyn and in the Inland Empire of California, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV because one parent worked nights, and my mom worked really late days, and I was the oldest of three kids. I spent a lot of time in front of the television, and so a lot of my views of the world came from things I experienced and was exposed to on television, and a lot of that I owe to Star Trek, especially in reference to this multicultural Utopian ideal. That really forms the way that I thought we, as people, should be moving towards. And this idea that we are all interconnected, and that we should see ourselves in people that are even vastly different than ourselves in order to find commonalities in that and to work from there in order to succeed, that all came from Star Trek. So, now to be a part of that mythology, of that history, for me, is overwhelming.
How about being half of a Star Trek series’ first gay couple?
That’s just… beyond for me. It really is. Like I said earlier, during our panel, so many of us have waited to see this on Star Trek. What it says to young people watching it is that when the future comes, we will be a part of that. LGBTQ people have always been a part of civilization, and to see that we will continue to be a part of the civilization is incredibly important. For a young person to turn on the television and be able to see themselves is really important. It was the characters on TV and in film that allowed me to dream outside of what was expected of me, that really freed me of those expectations and allowed me to dream bigger dreams for myself. So, if Anthony and I can do that for a young LGBTQ person, then we will have fulfilled a great need.
How long had you known Anthony Rapp before teaming together on Discovery? And how are you enjoying the experience?
I’ve known Anthony for 20 years. When I came into the Broadway cast of Rent, it was his last month with the show. I think it was his last three weeks, actually, and so we met at that point and became very friendly right away. He and I have such great respect for each other as actors and as performers, and to be able to convey that to each other through these two characters 20 years later is unbelievable. We didn't have to create a bond. We didn't have to create a relationship. We came in with a depth of knowledge of each other, and a deep respect for each other and our work, and we kind of translated that into this relationship between our characters. So, it made the work so much easier, and he's such an incredibly generous actor and I've loved every minute of it. I can't wait to do more.
How freeing has it been to do the show for CBS All Access and Netflix, in the sense that you're not doing it for a network and you have much more freedom? And does that apply to you directly or indirectly on set?
I don't really sense it, to be honest. I go into every job feeling very free. I think, in our case, CBS has been really supportive of the writing staff and the actors. I feel like they want us to tell a big story, and we're doing that. I think they're excited with the interpersonal relationships of these characters. There were scenes with Anthony that I never questioned whether I was going to get physical or if I was going to touch him or anything like that. It never occurred to me not to do that. If something is honest to the scene and is what would happen in that moment, I'm going to do it.
How ready are you for a long run if both Discovery and Dr. Culber stick around for a few seasons?
Oh, I'm here as long as they want me.
There's going to be a ton of Discovery merchandise. What are you most psyched to see your face on?
Oh, my God. I don't know. An action figure maybe? That would be pretty mind-boggling. That white uniform is going to look good on a doll.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Sunday nights on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Space Channel in Canada. The series streams on Mondays on Netflix in the rest of the world.