Heard but seldom seen: that’s Julianne Grossman. For three seasons the actress has embodied the U.S.S. Discovery as the voice of the ship’s computer – her “black alert” calls as recognizable as any of Star Trek: Discovery’s more visible performances. And yet until last year, few of her Discovery castmates had set eyes on her…
Star Trek Magazine: How familiar were you with Star Trek before you landed Discovery?
Julianne Grossman: I’d never watched Star Trek. My father watched Star Trek when I was a little girl, but I had never really watched it.
What led you to Discovery?
JG: It was a regular audition. I auditioned for it at home. I had no idea what I was reading for. I get hired to do a lot of Siri voiceovers, Alexa voiceovers, and a lot of automated AI robotic voiceovers. It’s a speciality of mine, which harkens back to the days I did voicemail system prompts, when I’d say, “You have one dollar in your account.” That’s what, I think, influenced me. When I booked it, I had no earthly idea how much it’d change my life. I walked in so naïve, and it’s turned out to be a kind of miracle.
How did you work with the Discovery team to find the computer’s voice?
JG: I gave them a couple different choices, and I still do, each time. I give them one take that sounds robotic and automated, and I’ll give them another take that’s more ethereal, detached, and calm. All throughout Season 1 and Season 2, the producers wanted both styles on every line. But when I started, I just knew it was for some kind of AI or a computer, and so I gave them different styles. That ended up working out for the best, because the ship’s computer does not interact on an emotional level. So, even though I never know what the scene is about – because I just get my lines – I can still perform my duties.
Is it true that at one point the Discovery team considered reusing Majel Barrett-Roddenberry’s voice for the computer on Discovery?
JG: I had lunch with [Discovery producer] Trevor Roth not too long ago, and he said that he and Rod [Roddenberry] had really, seriously considered editing, cutting and pasting Majel Barrett’s voice from all the decades of Star Trek, and splicing it together. That was a real possibility for the computer voice on Discovery, and they decided in the end to use a new voice. What an honor to carry on the mantle of Majel Barrett, and what an honor to have been chosen to move this show in a new direction.
Take us through a day of work…
JG: I go in, I kibbitz a bit with the team, and then I walk onto a large soundstage. I look at a feature-film-sized screen in front of me. Typically; sometimes it’s an oversized TV monitor. I get the lines at the time of the session – there’s no advance preparation. I see the onscreen scene, and my lines are either given to me on a piece of paper, or they scroll across the screen to the tempo at which they need to be said to fit the scene.
Remember that I come in during post-production. Everything’s been filmed, and then they add me. They’ll roll [record] one take of rehearsal, when I get to see a couple seconds prior to my voiceover and a couple seconds after, so I can familiarize myself with the amount of time I need to fit my lines into. There’s one take of rehearsal, then one take of rolling. Typically, like I said, we’ll do one take with the more robotic computer voice and then we do one roll take of a more ethereal voice.
My lines are usually one line here, one line there, but if there are larger chunks, I do that in what’s known as a wild take. That means they’re not rolling to picture, and I do my take in my own time. Then they see if it fits. It typically does fit, because they’re familiar with the cadence of how the Discovery computer speaks. And then we move on.
How did the process change for Season 3, taking into account the pandemic?
JG: I did the first episode at Warner Bros., because it was still early March . Then, after Covid-19 hit, we did everything else from my home. The good news is I have [remote audio recording app] Source-Connect and we were able to knock it out, with broadcast quality, from my house. It was very different, but I was incredibly grateful that I actually had the setup so that I could do it. Everyone knows the Discovery crew goes more than 900 years into the future, but the ship’s voice remains the same. So, the job was exactly the same for me. No changes. No changes to the “character” of the ship. And I know how lucky I am that I could still be involved for season three.
Pick up Star Trek Magazine #78 to read the full interview, and find out what happened when Julianne Grossman met the Discovery crew for the first time!
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.