Published Nov 6, 2020
Ian Alexander Brings Truth to Light on Star Trek: Discovery
The newest member of the Discovery family talks about his historic debut, the franchise’s quest to improve LGBTQ representation, Trill society, and much more.
By Jay Stobie
After introducing Blu del Barrio in “People of Earth,” Star Trek: Discovery welcomed Ian Alexander as the Star Trek family’s newest member in episode four, “Forget Me Not.” Portraying Gray, the franchise’s first trans character and a former Trill host for the Tal symbiont, Alexander exudes wisdom, understanding, and an endless love for his partner in the initial scenes that he shares with del Barrio’s Adira.
As a recently joined Trill who is working to understand his own identity, Gray Tal offers comforting words to Adira to reinforce their relationship in one of the series’s most touching moments to date. Unfortunately, an accident takes Gray’s life and leads Adira to inherit the symbiont. After regaining a connection to the symbiont’s memories, the human now known as Adira Tal conceals the fact that they are still able to see and communicate with Gray even after leaving the Caves of Mak’ala.
StarTrek.com caught up with Alexander to discuss his historic Star Trek debut, the franchise’s quest to improve LGBTQ representation, Trill society, collaborating with del Barrio, and much more.
StarTrek.com: During New York Comic Con’s Discovery panel, you mentioned that the only contact you had with Star Trek when you were growing up was through your parents. What aspects of the franchise do you think appealed to them?
Ian Alexander: I think that they really love sci-fi, and especially Star Trek, for pioneering so [many] new ideas, and concepts, and technology that hadn’t existed until it was introduced in Star Trek. [My parents] love any sort of community, camaraderie… anything that involves a team of people. I think [witnessing that] was also really helpful growing up, watching how everyone on the crew works together as a whole, as a community. That was always very inspiring to me.
I know that my mom had a really strong connection to the character Spock, and my dad would always joke that my mom was either Vulcan or the Borg Queen [laughs]. I definitely had connections to sci-fi [and thought], Oh yeah, my mom reminds me of Spock a little bit.
The casting process for any show is nerve wracking, and a Star Trek series carries more pressure with it than most. How did you motivate yourself to bring Gray to life during your audition?
IA: I actually was not originally auditioning for the part of Gray, but I really just brought my own personality and my own version of the character Adira. They saw my audition and loved me as an actor, but recognized that I wasn’t right for the part of Adira. There originally was another role that was under a different name. They changed the name to Gray and adjusted the role to fit casting myself. When they called me they said, The bad news is we’re not casting you for the role of Adira, but we’d like to cast you for the role of Gray. He’s going to be a 16-year old Trill who joins with a symbiont, has a relationship with Adira...
As soon as I heard that, I was like, You mean Adira and I get to be partners in crime? I’m totally on board! I was ecstatic to finally have another trans and non-binary castmate, because that’s a first for me. I haven’t acted with another trans person before.
Did sharing that experience with Blu del Barrio help ease your feelings about exploring this new character?
IA: Absolutely. I think it can feel alienating sometimes, to be the only person that is out as trans at work. I knew that, coming into this amazing, longstanding franchise, I was going to be really nervous and probably feel a lot of anxiety and [experience] imposter syndrome. It was helpful to have someone else there that was such a dear friend to me, and we still have such a long lasting connection and friendship because of Star Trek. I’m grateful that Blu and I had each other, and still have each other, through this. Having a friend on set always makes things fun.
What is your favorite part about collaborating with Blu del Barrio on the show?
IA: Every single scene we’re in, I feel such a spark and connection. It’s visible on screen, as well. It reads well on camera, and I’m excited for other people to fall in love with these characters in the same way that I have.
Once you were cast in season three, what was the very first Star Trek episode that you watched? What was your reaction to it?
IA: I started with Discovery season one, episode one, because I hadn’t actually seen Discovery. I [became] obsessed. I absolutely fell in love with Stamets and Culber’s relationship, so I’m really, really excited for you to see how Stamets, and Culber, and Adira, and Gray’s storylines all progress in season three.
What has the support you have received from Star Trek fans meant to you on a personal level?
IA: It’s meant so much to me. I’ve noticed quite a lot of people that might not necessarily have known about trans people before [are] reaching out to me and saying that, Since I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, I found out that you’re joining the cast, and that you’re trans, and I support that. It’s been amazing to see how many people I’ve been able to influence.
On the other end of the spectrum, for people who are trans [to be] so excited to see other trans people represented in the mainstream media on a show as incredible as Star Trek… it’s been amazing to see that reaction, as well. People reaching out [and] saying, I cried because I was so happy. Things like that are just truly touching to me. They haven’t even met the characters yet, so you can only believe how amazing their reaction is going to be tomorrow.
In “Forget Me Not,” Gray and Adira share several incredibly beautiful moments where they discuss identity, trust, and love. What was your reaction when you first read the script for that scene?
IA: I genuinely had tears streaming down my face. I’m a very emotional person, which is great, because I play with my emotions for my job, so it’s perfect for me [laughs]. I was so overwhelmed with love and tenderness. It’s such a wholesome moment that I think deserves to be seen on the big screen. Trans love is so revolutionary and so beautiful, so all of the moments with Gray and Adira are [so important] to me.
How would you like to see the franchise’s quest for LGBTQ representation continue to grow?
IA: I would love to see even more trans people in space. If there’s a few of us, there’s gotta be more [laughs]. Trans people always have existed, and we always will. I’d love to see trans people of color, trans writers, and trans directors [in the Star Trek universe]. There are lots of opportunities for trans inclusion at every step of the production process. I’m excited to be laying the foundation for such an important future for trans representation in Hollywood… to see how the film industry changes, and honestly how the world changes the more that trans people and people of marginalized communities are finally being brought into the light.
You’re doing a fantastic job helping to spearhead that movement, and it’s really wonderful to see.
IA: Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. It’s such an honor to be a part of this pioneering movement of trans inclusion in the media, and to see the support means everything. There is so much love out there, there really is. I know it’s hard when the news is all doom and gloom, but it is important to remember the good people out there that are full of love and support for other human beings.
Your character Gray is a member of the fan-favorite Trill species. Did you do any specific Trill-related research?
IA: I still have not watched Deep Space Nine. That is on my watchlist, because I do want to dive deeper into the Trill’s origins. I’m especially interested in the character of Jadzia. I’ve done a lot of extensive fan Wiki research [laughs], and I did the same thing with The Last of Us Part II. When I found out I was cast, I did a binge-read of all of the character [and] plot descriptions. I’m definitely still catching up on watching Star Trek, because there is so much content, which is amazing. [It feels like] I’ll never run out of Star Trek to watch [laughs].
I’m learning, and I’d love to learn more about the Trill. I really love the moment [in “Blood Oath”] where Jadzia introduces herself to Kor after gaining a new host body. [Kor says something] like, 'Oh, my friend!' [Jadzia replies], 'Actually I go by Jadzia now. 'And [Kor says], 'Jadzia. Nice to meet you!'
I know that moment has been celebrated in the trans community for being an example of how to react when someone comes out to you. Hey, I go by a different name now, and you just immediately say their new name and new pronouns. No questions asked, you give them a hug. That’s a very important moment to me.
Your former The OA co-star Jason Isaacs is beloved by Star Trek fans for his portrayal of Gabriel Lorca on Discovery. Did he offer you any advice about entering this new universe?
IA: I wasn’t able to talk to him about joining Star Trek, but when he found out he was super pleased. He put out this amazing tweet about how Buck [Alexander’s character from The OA] lives in another dimension [laughs]. That was a really awesome moment. Jason Isaacs is a great person [who] always showed a lot of kindness to me on the set of The OA, when I was just kind of a confused, starry-eyed little kid. I really appreciate him for being one of the first people to step up to me on set. As I was looking around, dazed and confused, he was just like, ‘Hey, if you have any questions, just let me know.’
Boldly going all the right places - best news I’ve read all day: @ianaIexander‘s joining season 3 of @StarTrek— Jason Isaacs (@jasonsfolly) September 2, 2020
IAN!!!! So proud of you.
Hey, @SonequaMG , @albinokid , @actordougjones , @may_wise@AkivaGoldsman@Alex_Kurtzman and the rest... treat him well, he’s family#BuckLiveshttps://t.co/hebwaUxzOk
Activism is something that’s very important to you. How do you hope to continue to utilize your platform to effect change?
IA: I absolutely love being able to utilize my platform to boost the voices of people that don’t necessarily have as widespread of an outreach [or] as many followers. My particular focus lately has been uplifting and boosting the fundraising efforts of people that need immediate emergency funds. Whether it’s to pay their rent, to pay off medical bills… maybe they are houseless and are looking to secure housing. I think it’s important, especially now during this pandemic, to help the most vulnerable in our community directly. Just by literally sending them money.
[My focus is] using the momentum and publicity that I have in order to redirect people to send money to other folks who need it a lot more right now. I’ve also been using my Cameo, which is the platform where verified users can set a price for customizable birthday shout outs or fun little videos. I’ve been donating one hundred percent of my proceeds directly to Black trans people that are houseless, need help paying their rent because they lost their job, [or] for whatever reason that they need money. Black trans people are so disproportionately affected by violence, and houselessness, and discrimination. That’s been a great way [to help others], because most of the Cameo requests come from Star Trek fans.
Has working alongside incredible advocates like Sonequa Martin-Green, Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, and other Discovery cast members helped to inspire your own activism?
IA: Absolutely. I love that the workplace on set for Star Trek is an environment that is so conducive to being fully ourselves and being open and honest. I have overheard and had so many amazing conversations with Blu, and Anthony, and Wilson, and Sonequa. We’ve all given each other a lot of comfort. It’s helpful to talk about what’s going on in the world with someone else who’s also on the same page, who also is fighting and advocating for the same things that I am. That is really nice to have that support and camaraderie on and off set.
Jay Stobie (he/him) is a freelance writer who contributes articles to the official Star Trek website and Star Trek Magazine, as well as to Star Wars Insider and the official Star Wars website. Jay also serves as a part-time assistant and consultant advising many actors and creatives who work on his favorite sci-fi shows and films. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @StobiesGalaxy.
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.