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Grokking Discovery's Spock

Ethan Peck is ready to live long and prosper in his role as Spock

Ethan Peck

And now, logically, it’s time to talk to Ethan Peck, who will step into the role of Spock when Star Trek: Discovery kicks off its second season Thursday on CBS All Access. The young actor, whose film and television credits include Passport to Paris, That '70s Show, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 10 Things I Hate About You, In Time, Madam Secretary and The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, is the grandson of Hollywood icon Gregory Peck. Proudly sporting a Borg T-shirt, Peck spoke with a small group of journalists at a Manhattan hotel the day after his first New York Comic-Con appearance in October. During the 20-minute conversation, he addressed his familiarity with Trek, discussed how he prepped to play Trek’s most-beloved Vulcan and shared his thoughts about the heightened fame he’ll surely experience as part of entering the Star Trek universe.

How familiar were you with Trek before hooking up with the franchise?

Mildly. I'm a huge science-fiction fan, and obviously Star Trek falls under that category. I'm a big fan of the Abrams movie that Kurtzman worked on, but I'm really becoming a Trekkie now, as I do my studies.

You’re playing arguably one of the most famous Trek characters of all time...

Yeah. It's pretty wild.

No pressure, right?

No pressure.

How much research do you go into? Did you sit down and try to watch all the movies, and all the series?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

I'm still working my way through The Original Series, because that's a ton of hours. I had to catch up first with season one of Discovery. I met with the Nimoy family, which was an incredible experience. I wanted to and CBS made that happen, and that was the first step in feeling like I am worthy and I can do this.

Did you want to meet them to get their blessing?

I was just curious to meet them because, obviously, Leonard is not with us, but there's some of him with them. Sure, of course I wanted their blessing in some way, shape or form, and they definitely gave me that. They really inspired me to be curious about what Leonard did with the role. I was curious… “What did he do to prepare?” And they were like, "You shouldn't… Just watch The Original Series." I was like, "OK." That's the most Spock thing I could have done, just to be deeply curious and observing of what he's done. I read I'm Not Spock, and I'm reading I Am Spock now, and watched Wrath of Khan the other night. The Spock that we are creating, that I'm a big part of, isn't immediately recognizable as the Spock you will see, because it wouldn't be very fun to just have him. So, we need to get him to where he is shaped and molded to the Spock that we will see in The Original Series.

I've done my best to capture and internalize the spirit of Nimoy's Spock, which is really my benchmark. Quinto obviously did an amazing job with his Spock, but that's an alternate universe. My light at the end of the tunnel is Nimoy's Spock. From what I've seen of TOS, the conversations and the dialogue I've had, I don't think we've ever seen such complex inner-world ruminations or explanations. So, just in the writing alone, there's more Spock, there's farther down into the depths of Spock. There's a lot of freedom there to creating an inner emotional world that's much more on the surface, but, as I said, with utter respect and reverence for who he becomes and within cannon, and all that.

Is this a more emotional Spock?

I guess you could say that, yeah. When we first see him, he's sort of unraveled. This is a time when this epic conflict within him, human, Vulcan, in one being is really on the surface and plays out on the surface.

You auditioned not knowing what role you were up for, right?

That was something I discovered on my own. The first set of scenes I got were disguised, and I had no idea who it was. About three weeks later, a couple days before my final audition, essentially, I got a scene that revealed that Michael and I shared a father. I was like, “What? What? No! What?" Watching Discovery, at this point, I realized that Burnham was Sarek and Amanda's child, adopted child. I just couldn't believe it. I was like, "No farking way, man! That's not... how's this possible?" I just never thought he'd be again.

When did you start to feel like Spock? Was it the ears? Was it getting the eyebrows shaved and raised?

Ethan Peck

As you know, he starts in a place that we don't immediately recognize him. Even in that way, I didn't feel like Spock, because he's not. That's kind of a gift for me as an actor because it's such a daunting task. I have time as Ethan to grow as an actor, to grow into Spock as an actor, and Spock himself is growing into Spock. I think that you'll see hopefully will be authentic, but I think the first time I really felt like, well, that Spock was… We did a big press shoot at the weekend. I hadn't really seen photos of myself yet. I'd seen photos of screens from the monitors, and I was like "Wow! This is real" and "That's me and that's Spock."

Before this, what was the most logical role you had played?

This small movie called Adopt a Sailor, I played a sailor who's trying to make sense of a very traumatic experience. He has a near-death experience. It's a very intellectual process for him. So, probably him.

To you, how fascinating is the conflict between emotion and logic?

Very fascinating, because what a gift as an actor, and as an audience member to have somebody who's in this struggle. These are the touchstones of humanity: logic and emotion. We are primal. Civilization has given knowledge and discovery and desire to understand and communicate with each other what's going on here in this universe and in this world, and to have that played out in a character is just such a gift, such an opportunity. And I think as an audience, as a viewer to see that is really exciting, because we can all relate to that. There are times when you're like "Ah, man! I really overreacted." Or, "I shouldn't' have said that" or "I don't even remember what I said because I was so angry." He's really teaches all of us what it is to be human. I think that's really special.

Can you talk about working with Sonequa Martin-Green?

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham

Sonequa is so amazing. My nickname for her is “Strength” because she is so full of energy and so full of life, both on and off camera. The amount of work she has to do for the show would make your head spin because it's just non-stop for her, and she's a mother, which blows my mind. The amount of work she puts in for Discovery is vast, and very few people could do that. She's really special and really inspiring to me and I admire the heck out of her. It's such a joy to work with her, too. She's been a huge part of me feeling like I can do this, and that this Spock is my own. We've been through a lot together, on and off camera, especially on camera. I'm really excited for the world to see it. Hopefully, it is as good as it felt.

You will be a fresh face to a lot of people. How ready are for the fame element that comes from being part of Star Trek? And the follow up is, in a perfect world, what will this lead to for you going down the road.

Ethan Peck as Spock

Great question. It's funny, I had so much excitement about the audition process. “Wow! This is a dream come true.” It really is. This is something every actor's dream is to have moment like this, where you get this role that's going to put you on the map, as they say. My aim is not to be famous. That gives me a lot of anxiety. I really appreciate and enjoy my anonymity and being able to observe the world as a normal member of the world. Fame really can be distorting for both the self, if you become famous, and for other people and the way they view you. The night before I found out I got it, I was actually in tears talking to a friend of mine, like “Am I worthy of this? Will this change my life in a way that's irreversible and unpalatable?” So, I definitely have anxiety about that, but at the same time I'm glad that it didn't happen any earlier in my life because I feel like I'm really coming into my own as a person, and I'll have that forever and hopefully I can hold on to that. Whatever happens with this, whether it makes me famous or not... And further down the line, I’d love to continue playing roles like this. I have to bring up my grandfather because he played such inspiring and beautiful characters that I think epitomized paradigms for humanity, in a way, such dignified and noble people. I think Spock falls into that category, and it really moves me that I get to play this character and I hope to get to do more characters like him.

How cool is the Six Degrees of Separation element that your grandfather worked with Patrick Stewart on Moby Dick?

Crazy! And that DeForest Kelley was in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. So, there are all these kind of ties to the past there.

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.