Published Nov 15, 2021
Exclusive: David Cronenberg Talks Star Trek: Discovery In Star Trek Explorer
The actor and director shares his thoughts on going into the future and whether he'd go to a Star Trek convention
By Ian Spelling
Read this exclusive excerpt from Star Trek Explorer #1, and make sure to purchase your copy when the issue goes on sale tomorrow!
One unexpected bonus of the U.S.S. Discovery crew blasting 930 years into the (even farther) future was that among the new faces waiting to greet them was… David Cronenberg! Director of two-dozen cult and classic movies in the 20th and 21st Centuries, Cronenberg guest-stars as Federation agent Kovich in the 32nd Century of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season – and he’s back for Season 4…
David Cronenberg is a man of mystery – and surprises. Best known as the director of such memorable, visceral, even enigmatic films as Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996), and Cosmopolis (2012), Cronenberg also has a habit of turning up unexpectedly as an actor in the most unlikely of projects, including To Die For (1995), Jason X (2001), Alias (2003), Falling (2020), and… Star Trek: Discovery. His Discovery role was no cameo. He played the mysterious Federation agent – and apparent Mirror Universe expert – Kovich in the third-season episodes “Die Trying,” “Terra Firma, Part 1,” and “That Hope is You, Part 2,” and he’s returning for Season 4. For this first issue of Star Trek Explorer, we caught up with Cronenberg for a rare interview.
Star Trek Explorer: What do you enjoy about acting as opposed to directing?
David Cronenberg: I enjoy the fact that you don’t have the responsibility of the entire movie on your shoulders (laughs). Acting takes you back to a childlike innocence. Kids – children, almost babies – immediately act. They love to play other characters, take on personas, play with each other. There’s a very childlike, basic, primitive, lovely thing about becoming another person, and taking on an accent or different body postures. It’s an innate thing, I think, a very human thing, a way to experience what it’d be like to be somebody else. I think it's what allows us to be the social creatures that we are.
How were you approached about appearing on Discovery?
DC: I like to say – I guess ad nauseum – that I’m cheap and I’m available, and I live in Toronto (laughs). [Executive Producer] Alex Kurtzman apparently got in touch with some casting people who know me well because they cast my films. They asked if they thought I’d be interested in being part of the show. Of course, I said, “Who wouldn’t be?” I was certainly a fan of The Original Series and would never in a million years have dreamed I’d actually be in a show. So, I was happy to do it. And the timing was right, because I wasn’t directing anything at the time.
How well did you know The Original Series?
DC: We’re talking about the ‘60s, and I’d watch every week. I was a fan. Was I a fan in the sense of crazed, insane fan? No. But I was enough of a fan to want to see it every week, and to enjoy it, and to talk about it. I can’t say I’ve been able to keep up with all the many spin-offs. But it’s still, in essence, a familiar rhythm, particularly in the dialogue. There’s still this Star Trek techno talk with invented technology that’s very convincing and has, at times, an emotional meaning underneath. It was interesting for me to try and find the tones… the music, basically. It’s like singing, like music, the rhythms of the dialogue. It’s not normal dialogue in terms of dialogue people have when they’re in a restaurant or walking down the street. So, it’s not easy to crack. It’s a lovely challenge for an actor.
Who is Kovich? He seems very single-minded about his task in Season 3…
DC: I think the key to him, and for me the key was, he said he’s been obsessed with Terran history and methodology ever since he was a boy. So, it wasn’t a career move. It was an obsession from the beginning, the whole life of the Terrans, what they mean, their significance, and so on. Now that there’s a Terran – an emperor [Michelle Yeoh], no less – in their midst, much to everybody’s surprise, they need a Terran specialist. So, he’s not just an interrogator. In fact, he might not even really be an interrogator. He’s kind of a cultural historian. Yes, he is single-minded. He’s been brought in to discover whatever he can from Emperor Georgiou because it’s understood how dangerous she is, how dangerous what she represents is. It’s innate in the dialogue that he’s playing his cards very close to his vest. He doesn’t want to give away too much. He knows how dangerous she can be. At the same time, he has to play with her. They have a little duet, a little duel, because that’s how Terrans are. You can’t just ask them a question. So, that was the key for me for how to play him.
We’ve got to ask about Kovich’s glasses. Your idea?
DC: No, it was scripted. I would’ve thought he wouldn’t have glasses. Nobody else has them. Obviously, their eye-lasering technology would be pretty good (laughs). But it was scripted.
You’ve so far had some nice moments with Michelle Yeoh (Georgiou), Sonequa Martin-Green (Burnham), Doug Jones (Saru), Mary Wiseman (Tilly), and Oded Fehr (Vance), among others. Have you enjoyed working with the ensemble?
DC: Michelle is lovely, and such a star, but very approachable, very sweet, very collaborative. Weirdly enough, I met her husband, who’s involved with Formula 1, years ago at a Formula 1 race. Who’d expect such a thing? And it’s quite a group. They’d mostly been together working before me, and so I came in as a Johnny-come-lately. But that’s OK, because it actually worked with the character. He was parachuted in to deal with Georgiou and what she represents, and that continues to be his main focus.
How impressed are you with Discovery’s production values?
DC: The sets are fantastic, incredibly detailed. I was curious about how much was real, how much was CG. Of course, it’s a lot of CG, a lot of visual effects work that goes into each episode; but, boy, you could really live on those sets. They’re very complete. And they stand up to 4K or even 8K resolution scrutiny, which not all sets do. That is lovely for an actor because it takes you into another space continuum. It really helps to dislodge you from the present and put you into the future.
You’re back for Season 4. Can you comment on that?
DC: I can only tell you I’ve been invited to be part of Season 4, and I was delighted with that. That’s about all I can tell you, and it’s not because I’m trying to be coy. It’s because I don’t know any more.
If you were asked by Alex Kurtzman to direct a Discovery episode, how much consideration would you give it?
DC: I wouldn’t consider it. I met Alex in Santa Monica before I was shooting. It was great to meet him, hang out and talk. But, it’s a different kind of directing. It’s almost a completely different modality of work because so many things are established. You come in to direct an episode of something like Star Trek, the casting’s been done, the tone of the script’s been done. And you’re not there for months and months of CG work and post-production, including the dialogue.
For example, normally you do ADR (additional dialogue recording), because sometimes they’re recording on the set and there’s movement or special effects explosions or something like that. So, you have to replace the dialogue. Normally, you do that in a studio, but because of Covid, we couldn’t do that. I ended up in a closed closet, using an app on my iPhone to record additional dialogue, which was fantastic! It really is doable. The technology these days on things like iPhones is so good that instead of a huge recording studio with a couple of technicians – and you’re in a recording booth with the scene you’re doing the dialogue for up on the screen so you can synchronize the dialogue – you can do it all on your phone, holding it in a closet. And the reason you’re in a closet is because the clothes hanging in there neutralize the sound of the room so you don’t get any echo.
I’d never done that before, because it’s never been necessary before. But that was a new thing, and in its own weird way, very Star Trek-y.
Now that you’ve been on Discovery, we’ll probably see Kovich – you – on T-shirts, pins, and other merchandise. And fans will want to meet you at conventions. How open would you be to appearing at a Star Trek convention?
DC: Well, I’d certainly be tempted, I have to say. I’d be very tempted. Let’s hope I get some invites.
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.