Kenneth Mitchell is ready for his closeup. StarTrek.com sat down for a few minutes with the actor -- who plays Kol, leader of the Klingon House Kor, on Star Trek: Discovery – during Star Trek Las Vegas last month, settling into chairs in the Discovery Exhibit of costumes and props from the show. Mitchell, who sported a Next Generation tee-shirt, had appeared moments earlier in a packed, spirited STLV Discovery panel with co-stars Mary Chieffo, Sam Vartholomeos and Wilson Cruz, and during our brief conversation he seemed thrilled to at long last be able to talk about Discovery, Kol, his familiarity with the franchise – and more.
You’ve done a good deal of genre fare, including Odyssey 5, Jericho and Frequency. How aware were you of Star Trek before Discovery came your way?
As a kid, I watched the show a little bit. It was The Original Series, and then I watched some of The Next Generation. I probably was more familiar with those characters just because it was on at the time I was growing up. I also specifically remember watching The Wrath of Khan. That's what solidified it for me. And then being on the show, in this cast, gave me an opportunity to revisit Star Trek. I felt a responsibility to come back and revisit everything.
And you did that with another genre veteran, your friend Sam Witwer…
Sam is one of my best friends, and I recruited him. He would take me over to his house and we just went episode by episode through Star Trek. He'd sit there and educate me as I was going along. We specifically adhered to the Klingon episodes, but if there was an episode that he just thought I should watch and look at and study, he highlighted that one for me, too.
Give us a sense of Kol. What's the meat on the bone for you as the actor playing this powerful Klingon?
Well, he's… the leader. You first meet him in holograph form, and he's kind of an alpha Klingon amongst the house leaders, amongst the 24 house leaders. He has these disagreements and conflicts with T'Kuvma and his house, and it kind of launches that relationship throughout the rest of the season. Kol is on a bit of a path to power, and he also wants to protect his people, not only amongst the Klingon houses, but also amongst the Federation. I just really kind of clinged on to that.
No pun intended?
No pun intended.
Let’s talk about your elaborate Kol costume and makeup, as well as speaking in Klingon. How helpful is it for you to get into the mindset of an angry Klingon when you're in that costume long enough? You're wincing even at the mention of the costume.
No, no. (laughs). The costume is heavy and it's hot and the prosthetics are heavy and hot, but I've always been an actor that works from the inside out and the outside in. These costumes and prosthetics, when you put them on, they're like layers of your character, and the more you put on the more you start feeling like your character. Then you add in the language, this very visceral and guttural language, and it just lends itself so much to my character, being a kind of aggressive Klingon. I find the language itself is a little bit aggressive and I’ve found when I am speaking it, I kind of start moving my body a bit and using my arms and moving my neck a bit. All these layers added on to helping me create my character.
Did you walk into the show with a preconception of the Klingons? Did you say, "Oh, I'm going to be playing one of the villains?" Or did you know better and understand that they certainly don’t think of themselves as villains?
I kind of knew better just right from the get-go because, as I mentioned before, when I was talking with Gretchen (Berg) and Aaron (Harberts) and Bryan (Fuller) at my screen test, they were explaining to me how they were going to take a different approach to the Klingons and show a slightly different side of the Klingon world. Really, whether someone is good or bad is all about perspective, and it’s about understanding that culture. You’ll get to know the Klingons on our show, and then people can decide if we really are the villains.
There's going to be a ton of merchandise associated with Discovery. What item are you most excited to see your likeness on?
I’d like to see Kol costumes. If I come back (to Star Trek Las Vegas) next year, it’d be exciting to see people dressed like Kol, with the fur cape.
Star Trek: Discovery will debut September 24 on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Space Channel in Canada. The series will premiere on Netflix in the rest of the world on September 25.