One of the things every cub reporter learns early on is to do your best to be impartial, to not allow your feelings or beliefs to influence your work. It’s essential to avoid bias, or at least, the appearance of bias, in everything from interviews to writing the story.
Over the course of four decades, I’ve met American presidents, world leaders, Hollywood stars, music icons and sports heroes and have managed to always keep my feelings in check, locking the fangirl away.
But when it comes to reporting on Star Trek, I fail at this, miserably, every single time.
And I’m not going to apologize for it. I’ve been an avid fan since discovering TOS in syndication in the 1970s, when I was in elementary school. Now, with the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery upon us, I have the opportunity to share my interactions with four of the stars I’ve been privileged to have met in person, interviewed on red carpets and chatted with on Zoom.
Mary Wiseman: “Tilly”
Thanks to a Zoom hiccup, it was just a few weeks ago that I learned something new about actress Mary Wiseman, who plays First Officer/Ensign Sylvia Tilly on Discovery. I didn’t pay it much attention at the time, but a curious viewer who saw the YouTube video of my interview with Wiseman noticed the audio intermittently muted, when I mentioned that many of her co-stars were members of the LGBTQ community. YouTube personality Verity Ritchie read Wiseman’s lips, and so I went back to the actress to pose her question: “I’m pretty sure you say, ‘I’m not straight’? Is my lip reading off?”
“I did say this! It’s not a big deal at all,” Wiseman told me in a Twitter DM. “I just didn’t want to say I’m straight when I’m not! Before Noah [Averbach-Katz, Wiseman’s husband who played Ryn the Andorian], I dated and loved people of all genders. I never liked it when straight-presenting women dominated conversations about bisexuality/pansexuality when I was with women, so I try not to do it now, but I also don’t want it to feel like I’m hiding anything because I’m queer and proud!”
In our interview last month, Wiseman shared that she was a victim of online bullying and harassment by body-shamers. She let me convey her personal message to fans who rushed to her defense.
“There's definitely been an uptick in body-shaming towards me and Tilly this season, which was harrowing because I'm a person, I have a history and bullying is totally a part of that,” she said. “So it has been hard, and it's really hard to avoid, because it pops up on all the [social media] accounts, or people comment on my posts with cruel, unscientific comments.
“I just want to say that all the people who step in, to back me up like that, your presence is like little angels, blocking out these little trolls. It means something to me,” said Wiseman. “I see those things and they hurt me because I'm a person. I'm a human being, you know? And to have somebody step in and defend you is really meaningful.”
When I first met her in 2017 at a series pre-launch press event, I asked her about comments related to her character’s behavior, curious to know if Tilly was more than just a talkative space rookie, and perhaps was someone on the autism spectrum?
“In terms of the script, no one’s put a label on it,” Wiseman told me. “I think the idea that someone would see Tilly and recognize part of themselves in that performance, or that they would feel represented, is deeply moving to me, and gratifying.”
We’ve seen her character grow both in confidence and responsibility — even leading the effort to take back the U.S.S. Discovery from the Emerald Chain and Zareh’s Regulators — and we talked about her opportunity to work with her husband on the show. Averbach-Katz told me later he had been listening in, when Wiseman told me she writes poetry in her free time.
“I heard you two reciting poetry to each other from upstairs, so I knew it must be going well,” he said. At the time, little did I know that we were about to see the last of Ryn in last week’s episode.
“I was/am very sad about it too,” he told me in a message, “but still feel very lucky about how it all went, and the reception. And I think I’ll die before people get sick of me… Always best to leave them wanting more!”
Anthony Rapp: “Stamets”
Although I first met actor Anthony Rapp on the same day in 2017 that I met Wiseman, I feel like I know him so much longer. We’ve all seen him grow up since the film Adventures in Babysitting, the musical Rent and almost 50 other roles he’s played beginning in the late 1980s. Growing up in front of the camera as an actor is something I can relate to, although my work was in modeling and commercials, not on the big screen. Rapp felt a similar bond in working with newcomer Blu del Barrio, he said, in an interview via Zoom last month.
“They're so incredible, already and with no experience in this arena, in training and acting experience,” Rapp said of his non-binary costar. “Having been on a set for the first time when I was 15: It's a little weird. And then there's all kinds of strange things happening. It's easily intimidating and strange and bizarre, and you have to absorb a lot. They just hit it right out of the park right away. and came at it with such incredible grounded and human energy. So I fell in love with Blu right then and there.”
That fatherly role Rapp has played in the build-up to the season finale is not just on screen, he said. And it can be seen on Twitter as well, even when it’s tongue and cheek.
Interviewing actors via Zoom has its own challenges, but it is so much easier compared to the assembly line format of talking with them from behind a rope line. The red carpet is a little like speed-dating: you get to ask a question or two, the actor usually gives the same answer he just gave three other reporters but tries to make it sound fresh, and then it’s on to the next one.
Not with Rapp.
He made a connection with me that day in 2017, letting his guard down in talking about being out and gay in a time when LGBTQ rights came under fire from the now-outgoing administration.
“It saddens me that this continues to be the case,” Rapp told me in 2017, saying despite the Trump Administration’s actions, he remained encouraged. “The backlash that comes is only possible because of the progress. So it is in direct opposition to progress. It’s like the last gasp.”
Over the past three seasons, Rapp broke new ground on Star Trek: Discovery, being a role model for closeted and out LGBTQ viewers who had never before seen characters like his and Wilson Cruz week after week, playing a committed couple whose orientation wasn’t a plotline or a one-off, but just an aspect of life aboard a starship. And now he’s part of a committed couple here on Earth, engaged to marry his fiance, Ken Ithiphol. I met the couple at a fundraiser for the NLGJA, The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, in March 2019, several months before Rapp popped the question.
As before, the actor was disarming, sincere and kind to all those who asked for a photo, including me. Ithiphol was sweet and seemed to enjoy himself as his boyfriend entertained all his admirers with enviable aplomb. Celebrity isn’t the right word for Rapp, even though he’s earned that title, along with thespian. He’s more of an entertainer, and I’ve come to see that whether he’s on stage, screen or on Twitter, he appears as comfortable in that role as he is just having a conversation.
Rapp tweeted this week that Ithiphol joined him and other Trek cast members in what’s become a tradition of late: A Zoom-based game of Dungeons & Dragons.
Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander: “Adira” and “Gray”
Also taking part in D&D fun: Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander, who play recurring characters this season and season four as well; production is underway in Toronto.
Like Adira, del Barrio came out as non-binary this year. In our one and only meeting, recorded via Zoom in October, del Barrio told me that in addition to sharing a journey of gender self-discovery with their character, there are other similarities.
“I am also similar to Adira in that I'm very introverted,” they said. “I like being alone. I like having time to myself to sort of recharge. I love watching movies. I love videogames.”
They are also an avid photographer, as evidenced by the dramatic work they’ve shared on Instagram. Del Barrio said they’ve asked CBS Studios for permission to share pictures they’re taking behind the scenes of Discovery.
Alexander, too, is active on social media, and frequently bares their soul through tweets and posts that resonate with young viewers: sharing — not hiding — their acne with a hashtag #acnepositivity, experimenting with fashion and accessories and makeup.
“I am really letting go of my last little bits of self-judgment,” Alexander told me in November. The actor uses both they and he pronouns interchangeably, matching his transgender non-binary identity. “I’m fully wearing and doing whatever I want, whatever makes me happy. Because, why not? I think, even if it's just to dress up and, you know, take photos because I want to look cute, that's great, too.”
Alexander had this advice for would-be actors, especially LGBTQ youth, who aspire to follow in their footsteps: “I would say, put yourself out there, even if it’s memorizing monologues that you wrote, or a friend wrote, and posting it on your Instagram,” he suggested. “Put your acting out there! It doesn’t have to be in a film or a show.” Don’t wait, they said.
As for me, I’m waiting to talk with Out Magazine cover boy Wilson Cruz again sometime in this new year. We first met at a red carpet event in 2015, two years after I myself came out. We last spoke in October, when Wilson told me on Zoom ahead of the launch of season 3: “I'm proud to say that we are bringing you the queerest Trek in history!” He told no lies: At least six members of the cast identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In my lifetime, Star Trek showed me “There are always possibilities,” that “Risk is our business,” and that the three greatest words — more important even than “I love you” — are “Let me help.” The people who spoke and wrote those words helped launch my imagination, and inspired me to live my best life.
I’ve been blessed with a career and connections that allowed me to come face to face with the legends of Star Trek I look forward to my next chats with Wiseman, Rapp, del Barrio and Alexander whenever that happens, and hope to bring fans more interviews with the stars of Star Trek: Picard, Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds, if the stars align as they should.
But I cannot promise I won’t fangirl.
Dawn Ennis (she/her) was the first transgender journalist to come out in network TV news and currently manages outsports.com as well as working as a freelance journalist and college professor. She co-hosts “The Trans Sporter Room” podcast and is a single mom residing in Connecticut in the sweet spot between Boston and New York City.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access 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.