This article was originally published on October 30, 2020.
Star Trek history was made when it was announced that both Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander were joining the cast of Star Trek: Discovery as the first non-binary and trans characters in the franchise. As the franchise makes steps forward in terms of LGBTQ representation, the inclusion of both del Barrio and Alexander is groundbreaking for a franchise that has always existed solely in the gender binary, with a few exceptions.
While we haven’t met Alexander’s character Gray yet, fans got to meet del Barrio’s character Adira in episode three, “People of Earth.” A teenager of the 32nd century, Adira might hold the key to discovering what happened to the Federation, and already we’re excited to see how they become part of the Discovery crew going forward.
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to chat with del Barrio about this episode, what the future holds for Adira, and trans and non-binary representation in Star Trek. Meet the newest member of the crew below.
StarTrek.com: What was your first contact with Star Trek as a franchise? And were you a fan before being cast?
Blu del Barrio: I guess my first contact with Star Trek was getting cast. I hadn't seen any Star Trek before I auditioned. But once I got cast, I got an influx of people that I knew who are Trekkies sending me episodes I should watch and parts of the franchise that I should dive into and immerse myself in. Nick Adams at GLAAD sent me this long email of any episodes with queer content. So I was introduced through other people who are Trekkies once I got the job.
What was the audition process like for Discovery?
BDB: It was really strange for me and really fast, because I auditioned while I was still in school in the UK, and so it was a self-tape that I sent in. They cast me from that self-tape. It happened super quickly. And really, I graduated, and then I flew to Toronto. It was from one second to the next, I was suddenly on the sound stage and on the ship, on Discovery. So it was really, really surreal and crazy.
What does it mean to you to be the first non-binary performer cast in Star Trek?
BDB: I'm still processing that feeling, because it means a lot for me. If I had had a character like Adira or Gray on screen when I was eight or nine years old, it would have really changed my life, I think, for the better. I'm sort of speechless. It's really hard to think about the fact that Ian and I are now playing those characters, characters that I would have wished for as a kid. So I'm so grateful to be able to be doing this, really.
Your character represents so much to people who haven't always seen themselves represented on screen, and when your casting was announced, there were so many fans on social media who were overjoyed and who were sharing emotional reactions. So what does that response mean to you?
BDB: It's overwhelming in the best possible way. I'm honored. I'm honored to be able to be a voice and to be able to play this character who, hopefully, will help a lot of people and will show a lot of people a reflection of themselves, because that's all we want to see as people. We want to see ourselves reflected in other things, and trans people haven't really gotten that in the media. So it's finally now starting to be a little bit more apparent, a little bit more available to us, to finally be able to see ourselves on screen reflected back to us. I'm incredibly humbled to be able to be doing what I'm doing, and to play a character who is still figuring themselves out, I think, is also really important, because a lot of the characters we do see are very confident and assured in who they are. Adira, like myself at the start of this, is still trying to figure out how to explain themselves and how to talk about themselves to the rest of the world.
I have to veer off topic and just say, personally, I'm non-binary, so when your casting was announced, I think I spent 30 minutes just crying happy tears. And so I want to personally thank you.
BDB: I'm going to tear up. That makes me so happy. I was so terrified at the beginning of this. I felt really terrible imposter syndrome, because I was still questioning a lot about my identity and thought, "Should somebody else have the job? I'm not the person to do this," but it's connected me now to so many other people who are non-binary, like yourself. And now, I get to talk to people about this experience and empathize with other people who are going through the same thing. I'm so happy to be talking to you.
I'm so happy to be talking to you as well. Have you had any interactions with other Star Trek fans yet?
BDB: I guess not yet. I've gotten messages online from people who are also non-binary, who are also queer in some way, but I haven't gotten to interact yet with anyone. I'm actually really excited for when things open back up and we can go to Comic-Con or something, because I want to meet people. I want to meet the queer fans of Star Trek. I'm so excited to do that, to be able to get to talk to them. Yeah, so hopefully when things open back up, we can do that at Comic-Con.
Without spoiling anything, can you tease what adventures await Adira now that they're part of the Discovery crew?
BDB: Going forward, they are just going to have to open up. Right now, they're so introverted and closed off, because of the stuff they've been through in their past. They're now alone on this ship with people that they don't know. There's not one person on that ship that they are close to. So really, for things to happen the way that they want them to happen, they're going to have to open up, and that by itself is a huge challenge for them as a person. But it's going to cause really wonderful things to happen, because as we know the Discovery crew is filled with wonderful people and fantastic characters. I'm really excited for people to see it.
The first few episodes of the season established that the Federation as we know it might be gone, but there are those who still believe in it. Would you say that Adira is a believer in the Federation, or will they grow into one as the season progresses?
BDB: I think that Adira is in a place of hopelessness. I think that probably their belief in the Federation maybe has stumbled and faltered, because of things that have happened to them. But I think that they are someone who is looking for hope in any direction that they can find it. So hopefully meeting people on Discovery and meeting people who are hopeful of the Federation, believe in the Federation, that, that will get that belief back in them.
The last trailer for Discovery teased a relationship between Adira and Gray. Can you give us any hints about their relationship?
BDB: What can I say without spoiling anything? I can say that Gray is probably one of the most important people in Adira's life. That's their person. And I don't want to say too much else, but I think you'll be seeing a lot more of both of them together, because I think they're each other's people.
Do you have a favorite on-set memory?
BDB: I've always had a maybe subconscious dream, or one that I wasn't totally aware of, of doing a film or TV show, either one, but doing a scene where I have to go in water, whether it's the ocean or a lake or a pool or whatever. I just think that those scenes can be so beautiful. And I did get to do that in this season. I won't spoil anything, but I did get to go in water, and it was really cool.
Also, I think just seeing the ship for the first time. I was shown around, and I walked into a soundstage and the ship was real. They built it. It is fully like you are walking inside of a ship, and people have asked when they watched the show, like, "Is everything we're seeing real? What is green screened?" It's all real. You are walking inside of Discovery. And that was crazy to see for the first time.
How did the cast welcome you when you joined the show?
BDB: Like family. Honestly, [they] welcomed me like a new family member. They were so loving and caring and empathetic to anything that I needed or was going through, and just wanted to be friends right off the bat. It's an incredible cast. I feel so lucky that I got to be here with these people, because they are really special people and loving people. I was really scared at the beginning of all of this, and they really just eased me into it and were so supportive of me in every possible way. So it was awesome.
Star Trek is, at its core, all about hope and optimism for a brighter future. And we're currently experiencing some unprecedented times right now in our world. So do you feel like fans can draw hope from both Adira's journey and from Discovery as a whole this season?
BDB: Absolutely. When I saw the first episode of this season, which was obviously filmed before a lot of 2020 started to fall apart, it still spoke to everything that was happening. It still made me tear up at the end, to have this hope of finding the Federation and finding other people with the same belief and wanting unity and family. It was really emotional, because it does speak to what's happening now. And I think Star Trek always has, in some way or another. So I think that a lot of people can draw hope from this season. And I hope they do.
Julian Gardner (they/them) is the editorial assistant for StarTrek.com
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+ in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.