If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again. Sam Vartholomeos debuted as Ensign Connor Danby in the very first Star Trek: Discovery episode, “The Vulcan Hello,” and fans seemed to take immediately to the young, personable, brave bridge crew member with a bright future ahead of him. And, wham, he perished in the next episode, “Battle at the Binary Stars,” forcefully establishing that viewers should expect the unexpected when it comes to Discovery. Then, true to the notion that no one ever really dies in sci-fi, and especially Star Trek, Vartholomeos returned as his character’s ruthless, ambitious Mirror Universe counterpart, Captain Danby, in “Despite Yourself.” That resurrection was short-lived, however, as Michael Burnham killed him during a brutal, mamo-a-mano fight in a turbolift.
Star Trek: Discovery: Season One arrives today on Blu-ray and DVD, and this conversation with Vartholomeos – conducted in August at Star Trek Las Vegas – closes out our series of cast interviews building up to the Blu-ray’s release. Here’s what easygoing actor had to say his time on Discovery…
You were at STLV last year, but were in and out in order to be on a panel. This time around, you’re meeting the fans, doing the photo shoots, signing autographs. What has the full-on convention experience been like?
Actually getting to meet everyone is really special because everyone has a story that they want to tell. Being here the whole time is nice, to, because you don't have to rush anyone, and they don't feel rushed. So, you get to be a little personal with them. I just took a little break, and I was walking around, and people were stopping me. I had no idea that Connor resonated with so many people, because he was there for just a hot second. But, people loved the fight. They absolutely loved the fight. I did, too, so I'm happy they did. But it's just so surreal, man, and humbling at the same time.
Did you know as soon as you signed on that Danby would be dead by episode two?
I was in L.A. for a screen test in another show, and I made it a trip. I was there for about 10 days, maybe two weeks. I went, and I met all the writers. They sat me down, and they were like, "Oh, you know, we're so happy to have you, and Connor is going to be great. Too bad he dies." And I said, "What?" I said, "Excuse me?" I knew he was a recurring character, but I didn't know he died. I remember getting a script and Connor literally had one line in the entire first episode, and getting the second script after that trip, and him being all over the place. That was great. I think they wanted Connor to be a little more significant character in the episodes, and I think they accomplished that, because people are coming up to me, saying, "We saw you here last year. We thought he'd be a great character. We loved you in the episodes, and then bam! Episode two, you're dead." People are like, "We were so happy to have you back and see you in the Mirror Universe, and then boom! You were torn from us… again." I keep telling people third time's the charm. We'll see. You're never really dead in Star Trek.
Exactly, dead is never dead. But how odd was it die again, the second time as Mirror Connor… Captain Danby?
How can I put this? They're tricky, these writers. In all great shows, they make you fall in love with these people, and then they tear them away from you. That's what they did with Connor, successfully. There were rumors during the pilot, because obviously people knew I was dying, and the crew was coming up to me and saying, "Oh, you know, Mirror Universe, you never know." I was like, "Yeah, yeah, OK." Rumors in this industry are just that, rumors.
Until they’re not…
I didn't really keep my hopes up. Once I saw that the Mirror Universe was confirmed, I was like, “Oh, is this actually happening?” Then, yeah, it was. I got a call from my agent, and he said, “They're bringing you back.” I said, "That's pretty cool." I thought it would just be that, Mirror Universe Connor, Evil Ensign Connor. I walked into Gersha Phillips’ wardrobe department and I saw black everywhere. “What's going on here?” Then I saw the rendering of my uniform, and it's all these plates and gold. I'm like, "Is this what a Mirror ensign looks like?" They're like, "No, you're a captain." I just had this moment of... “What? I'm a what? How did he go from ensign to captain in the Mirror Universe?” It was pretty crazy.
What was it like to put on that uniform?
It was cool and… stiff. That's what I'll say. I had the gloves and everything. One thing I'll say about Gersha Phillips, she makes it really easy to get into character with those costumes. I think everyone on this show can agree with that, because you get into the Starfleet uniform, and you feel like you're part of Starfleet. You get into a Mirror Universe uniform, and you're like, "I want to kill someone." You have your knife, your phaser, and all these things that no one in Starfleet would carry on them in the ship, and you just feel like a badass, man. You have these badges, and Mario, our prop master was explaining, “This one mean 50-plus kills, and this is for strangling someone. This is for drowning someone.” I said, "OK, Captain Connor is a badass dude." You're just immediately in that position of “I'm going to kill you.”
Take us through staging that great fight sequence with Sonequa Martin-Green…
There was a lot of action in that scene. It was what, a full 45 seconds, and everything in a confined space. That took a whole day. I think I was there for about maybe 10 days for that episode. I got in, and Sonequa was still shooting her stuff. I met with Hubert Boorder, our fight coordinator, and he walked me through everything. I learned it with my stunt double, actually, and that was it. We worked on it one day, and he would send me videos of what we rehearsed, and I would watch that and rehearse it in my room. I got in for rehearsal with Sonequa just one day, I think during a lunch break. I remember it being a very short period of time. A few days later, we were like, “All right, let's do this,” and we got in there. People were asking, "Did they chop it in half? Did they open it up?" No, that was on the actual set. There were two doors, so they got those two shots, and they got an aerial shot from above for that crazy zero-gravity moment. Then, Tony, our camera operator, came in with us to get through that left hook and any dialogue that we had inside. That was special, because in that confined space, that space became 10 times smaller. And so that's when the infamous kick to the... what do you want to call it?
Shall we go with… groin?
Just because it was a confined space, and we had moved everything, and we had rehearsed it with me being this far away from you and you being that far away from me. Then, all of a sudden, we're closer. So, Sonequa got me. We took a break, and she was like, "I'm so sorry." I said, “It's OK. It will be fine." Just hearing Jonathan Frakes go insane with enthusiasm, that was really special. The whole scene, it was a physical and emotional roller coaster for me, because it was my sayonara to everyone.
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Seasons 2 and 3 are also available on the Pluto TV Star Trek channel in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave. Star Trek: Discovery is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution.