Star Trek: Discovery will kick off its second season on January 17, and as we build to the big day, StarTrek.com, for the next week, will share interviews with the show’s cast and creatives. We continue today with Mary Chieffo and Shazad Latif, who’ll be back in their familiar roles as L’Rell and Ash Tyler. During a roundtable conversation with journalists at a New York City press day in October, the actors – she’s a ball of energy and chatty, he’s low-key and a man of few words – shared their thoughts on Trek fame, discussed their respective characters and hinted at things to come in Discovery’s sophomore season…
Mary, you are probably not recognized on the street as much as you might be if you played a character not in makeup. How much do you enjoy that fact, that you can do your job, be a part of this phenomenon and walk down the street without being accosted?
CHIEFFO: I'm glad you asked that because it's something that I feel a lot of different things about. At the end of the day, I did become an actor because I wanted people to look at me. (Laughs) I am about the craft. It's actually a huge gift. It reminds me constantly that it is ultimately about the work. Some people were asking me yesterday too about playing a character that is feminine in a lot of ways, but also carries a certain masculinity that we don't always get to see in female characters. When I was in Juilliard (doing) mask work and playing extreme characters, I played a lot of male Shakespeare roles. Playing L’Rell, it's kind of this amalgamation of all of the stuff that I wanted to do. To be able to do it (professionally) so soon after school is incredible.
But, to answer your question, it's an interesting balance. I also wanted, fans-wise, with Twitter and Instagram, I want them to know who I am as Mary because I'm very different from L'Rell. We have the same heart, but we manifest it very differently in life. It's been really fun for me cause I'm a geek, because I'm far more like Tilly in real life than like L'Rell. I talk too much. I feel like it's been fun to have such a separation, that I'm really getting to know the fans as Mary, and then I'm getting to hear their response to L'Rell. I am able to evaluate her journey on the show in a way that doesn't... It's very personal. I feel very protective of her, but it is still a character and a creature. I think, just for me, since this is the first big thing I've ever done, the fact that I still go about day-to-day life normally, but then we come to a convention and I get my sea legs or space legs, as it were, in how to navigate this sort of recognition. The hope is that, eventually, as things progress, I'll be able to get used to having that be more of a constant thing. Fingers crossed. Yeah, I feel a lot of different things about it.
Do you think it brings your game up creatively, just having that bit of separation from the role?
CHIEFFO: (Looking at Latif) We were talking yesterday about the fact that our characters found each other as L'Rell and Voq. You can go to that place that these characters exist within this world between action and cut, because even when I'm in the prosthetic, it isn't until I get the eyes in and the teeth in and have the full armor strapped on, that I fully feel like the character. It does allow me… I believe in L'Rell. It's very personal for me. I believe in what she has to offer as a character in this story. It's painful to be invested in anything, but it's definitely more rewarding, too.
What’s your experience, Shazad, in terms of being recognized by fans?
LATIF: I like the interaction with that when people appreciate anything. It's a lovely thing. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't… there wouldn't be a show. By far, I didn't get into acting for any of that. I'm man of few words, generally. I just like to do the character, let the work speak for itself and that's what I'm about. But I like engaging with them. I don't mind being recognized. It's nice being recognized walking down the street, but it's not something that I crave, really.
Shazad, given the different shades we've seen of your character, what's your favorite thing about him?
LATIF: The duality. Getting to play both, something that's so opposite is, one, very fun, but I like the original thing with Voq and L'Rell. I like that we showed a side of the Klingons that, even though it was a time of war, we had very intimate moments. For me, it was more about that samurai thing. There was a calmness in the way they behaved and their tradition and a peacefulness in the way they moved, and then they would go crazy. I like that sort of ritualistic nature of what they were doing. That was what I was taken by, really, at first, and then everything else.
CHIEFFO: Then all the crazy stuff!
What can you tell us about season two? Where do we find you guys?
CHIEFFO: Where you find us, we can tell you certainly that. We're on Kronos, team Kronos.
LATIF: Lots of flames.
CHIEFFO: Lots of flames. Oh, my God.
LATIF: Some nice new costumes.
CHIEFFO: Nice new costumes. New aesthetic.
LATIF: We're sort of acting as these peace ambassadors, in a way.
LATIF: Actually, you get to see L'Rell has a garden. We can say that.
LATIF: We get to see more bedroom-y-type scenes. We get to have these (scenes where) we're dealing with the aftermath and the confusion of what our situation is, really. That's fun because it's not just this grandiose sort of Klingon thing. It's the quiet moments as well. She's acting as this huge, strong figure and I'm someone she can confide in and try and understand.
CHIEFFO: The fact that we’re able to have that juxtaposition is great, like we had in the first season. There's a lot of fun elements. The last time that we had intimate moments was in episode four, as Voq and L'Rell. We had many moments after that, but they were always very intense and very heightened. So, the decompression from that, and there is… I always forget his name, but Queen Elizabeth, the historical figure, who is her right hand?
LATIF: Essex... not Essex. Is it Essex? Joseph Fiennes plays him in the film.
CHIEFFO: There's definitely an element to that of... I mean, our relationship is different, but there were moments where it's like I'm having to be this regal thing and he's my Torchbearer, my Sech wi’wi’, and it's the most adorable word in Klingon. So, I would always turn to him in between takes and be like, "My little Sech wi'wi.” I talk too about there's sort of a reverse Beauty and the Beast going on, which is really interesting. Again, not exactly the same situation that Belle was put in, but there's an element of that. And I've said, too, on my side it's that I'm literally trying to figure out where the beast is inside the beauty. It's been an interesting sort of play on that.
I'm glad we've got you guys paired up because you can both comment on this. Mary, you're playing a female character who has a masculine side. Shazad, you're playing a male character who has a feminine side. Can you both address that?
LATIF: At the start, Voq's the one in charge. You were like my right-hand woman, and then it completely flips. He's willing to do that because he understands what needs to happen. So, that's, one, a sacrifice, and two, being open to that. It's nice. It's nice to get to show that, especially, as a soldier. Especially a soldier. A lot of that military side is so masculine, but, really, you want to be able to just say, "Look, people are balanced." It's a nice release. If someone can find something in that, I hope they do.
CHIEFFO: I’ve found, too, it makes it so much more fun to play when you have characters that can embody it all. If someone's just playing as one-dimensional, "I am the man," our scenes wouldn't be nearly as fun. Voq, as a character, also had a very sweet quality. I just love that there is a transference. Even though Tyler is a completely different entity, and L'Rell didn't purposely pick someone, like an identity that would be similar to Voq's. I found that there was that quality was still embodied and I think that it's interesting. Then, certainly with L'Rell, particularly being an alien woman, I keep coming back to that because I think people also… maybe their initial reaction to her and her actions were misinterpreted for much of the first season -- as was planned. People would have these adverse reactions and I was like, "I think you're partly reacting to the fact that she is not human." I remember someone being like, "I love the character, but I don't like her. I don't like the person". She said something about not liking the person. I'm like, "I'm not a person. I'm an alien." Although, obviously, Star Trek's all about the fact that there is a commonality, but we are an anthropocentric world because we are humans. We only know humanity. That's kind of the whole story, is that L'Rell underestimated the integrity of the human spirit.
There was a question yesterday at the panel about Klingons having additional body parts. Is that something that's ever come up in conversation on the set?
CHIEFFO: Oh yeah, yeah.
LATIF: It was written that they had... because of the whole surgery thing, there was so many different views and opinions of what happened with the surgery, in the writers’ room and what we thought. All of this stuff. I think they're supposed to have two genitals, two penises.
CHIEFFO: That was definitely indicated. I'm not sure about the other stuff. The idea behind us having double organs is that as warriors we are biologically developed, so that if we get stabbed in battle, we have a backup. I would say, for the most part, that's the redundancy. Obviously, we don't have four eyes. So, it's not always a redundancy. And I think people will take license with that or not, but that makes a good punchline.
Mary, how pleased are you that you're going to be able to literally let your hair down?
CHIEFFO: I love it. It's great, and the things I get to do while I have the hair (down)… like I was saying, embracing this femininity. Not the hair, or lack thereof, I felt that L'Rell had a great sensuality and femininity in the first season as well, but embracing that. Also, Mel Peters designed beautiful headpieces. There's like a certain divine feminine imagery going on. I think it's very archetypal. I think it's a great choice to develop that, and I like the idea that we did shave our heads in a time of war. That makes total sense to me.
Star Trek: Discovery's second season will premiere on Thursday, January 17, 2019 on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on Space Channel in Canada. The series premieres in 188 countries on Netflix on Friday, January 18, 2019.