If you think of the Star Trek: Short Trek installment “The Brightest Star” as an appetizer and the Discovery episode “An Obol for Charon” as the main course, then that makes tonight’s Discovery hour, “The Sound of Thunder,” the dessert in a Saru-centric three-course dinner. On the other hand, we probably shouldn’t talk about our Kelpien friend in food terms. Any way you frame it, however, “The Sound of Thunder” gathers the story threads from “The Brightest Star” and “An Obol for Charon” and furthers Saru’s remarkable arc. StarTrek.com chatted the other day with the man behind the mask, Doug Jones, who looked back at “An Obol for Charon,” previewed “The Sound of Thunder” and shared his plans for the off-season…
How satisfied were you with “An Obol for Charon” in general and in terms of Saru's evolution within it?
Oh, my word. I've been working for 33 years in lots of creature makeups and playing lots of otherworldly characters. That episode alone was something above and beyond for me. To play it and then to watch it back has been a very fulfilling and satisfying experience as an actor. The writers gave me such a chance to play emotion that I haven't played as any character before, let alone a creature. And to see, having lived in fear, and that being a part of what I had to ingest as an actor to play this character, now that fear is gone. That just turned the page completely for me as an actor in this role.
Every actor craves a great death scene. You basically played a death scene and then didn't die. How challenging and cathartic was that scene?
It was so cathartic. Sonequa Martin-Green and I cried on each other all day that day. We had to film multiple takes from every angle. We both had headaches by the end of the day because we were so cried out. It was, again, I'm going to use those words again: fulfilling and satisfying, because as actors, that's a dream to be able to play a scene like that with someone else who's also fully immersed into it. I think that was some of Sonequa's best work, watching it back, too.
How surprised were you to be handed “The Sound of Thunder,” another heavy Saru episode, so soon after “An Obol for Charon”?
When we wrapped episode four, I was like, “Phew, OK, wipe the brow. OK.” Then, episode five, I was in it, but not much, so it was fine. Then, I saw the script for episode six and I was like, “Oh. Well, this is sooner than I thought, but here we go.” I knew we had to circle back around once the threat ganglia fall out and I've learned some truth about the about the Kelpiens and the lie we've been living under all these centuries. Nobody living on Kaminar, no living Kelpien, knows of what our history was. About the Ganglia. We've all been duped into thinking that we're done when our ganglia reaches Vahar'ai. We didn't realize that we can go on, that we're all adolescents and that we have adulthood yet that we've been missing all these years. So now that I know that, I knew we had to circle back around to this issue, too, at some point.
Sure enough, Discovery following the red signals around the galaxy provides that opportunity to circle back sooner rather than later...
And wouldn't you know, one brings us to Kaminar. We still don't know why, why these red signals are guiding the Discovery around, but here we are. Now I'm faced with the huge conflict of General Order One, the Prime Directive. I cannot go back into my pre-warp society and say "Hey, everybody, guess what!" It's not up to me. So, this is a huge conflict because I could save my entire species, and I have the power and information to do so. And it's... Think of it! Think of the conflict!
How did you enjoy shooting on a hot beach outside of Toronto in the middle of the summer, in the makeup, on those gorgeous Kelpien village sets?
It was hot and muggy and humid, and I'm encased in silicone makeup. I have to hand it to all the other people who played Kelpiens in this episode. We had background actors, we had day players, and my dear friend David Tomlinson played a character for us, as a Kelpien. He also plays Linus in this new season. And my dear, dear sister Siranna, played by Hannah Spear, she is a trouper. She'd never done anything in prosthetic makeup before, and here she is fully encased in silicone with contact lenses and hoof boots on, just like me.
Little known fact: You filmed your Short Trek, “The Brightest Star,” and “The Sound of Thunder” at the same time…
… Because we used the same locations. It was a great big block of shooting and we (Jones and Spear) both just worked to the bone on this one. So, again, when you're going through a little bit of hell on set, to sit back and now watch the finished product, it's like, “This is extremely satisfying. OK, that's why we went through the hell.”
Genre junkies out there like myself will be thrilled to know that Javier Botet is in this episode. How'd you enjoy working with him again?
I love Javier Botet! We worked together on Crimson Peak. We were both ghost ladies together in the big mansion in Crimson Peak. And we've known of each other. So, we got a hold of each other on social media long before even Crimson Peak, so we've been buddies for a long time.
Saru is very much affected by losing the threat ganglia. Do you see him as the same character, or is this Saru 2.0?
He's the same character, but he is evolved, like all of us. Just like me, Doug Jones today at 58, I am absolutely not the same person I was at 18, right? So, I think Saru is just on his own evolutionary journey, and he's maturing. He didn't realize he was an adolescent all this time, and now he's entering adulthood. Just like me, in my teenage years, I was afraid of everyone, afraid of everything, afraid of my own shadow, afraid of my reflection for sure, and I hated it. Now, as a grown man, I'm like, “Oh, well, we're stuck with this, so let's make the best of it.” I've changed my attitude. I believe Saru's on that kind of journey.
There are fans out there who related to Saru precisely because of that on-the-sleeve fear. How concerned are you as the actor and the human behind this character about losing that part of the connection with those fans?
That has crossed my mind, but I am not fearful of losing that contingent of fans because, if anything, let us all let Saru, be a beacon of hope that whatever our fears are, whatever we've been afraid of all this time, whatever makes us anxious day to day, is it real, or is it something as simple as those ganglia just need to shrivel up and fall off? And we'll realize we were afraid of nothing this entire time. That's what I feel. I've lived in a lot of fear over my lifetime, and half the time when you step back from it and look at the situation you are afraid of, it's like, "I had nothing to be afraid of at all! My gosh, people live through this every day! Oh crap." I say let's stay connected, let's keep hugging on each other, all of us fearful, anxiety-stricken people, and let Saru be a beacon of hope for us.
Give us a tease of what else we’ll be seeing for Saru and for the show as we approach the second half of the season…
There's so much more coming! My gosh. For the entire Discovery crew. The biggest thing, of course, is where is Spock. When are we going to see Spock? When will Burnham and Spock be reunited as brother and sister? We still don't know why they were estranged from each other all this time. So, (there’s) that, and that dynamic, and following these red signals around. And Captain Pike. The big one for Saru is Captain Pike is on our ship. He's in charge, and he outranks me, otherwise I would be the acting captain until we found a designated permanent captain. What does that mean for Saru with my rank and my position on the ship? Where does that go as we near the end of season two? If we resolve things, where do I go? What's my future within Starfleet as an officer? That's the big one for me.
And there’s brother-sister time, (in terms of the) relationship between Burnham and Saru. As competitive with each other as they were last season, they're more supportive of each other now. We've been through a lot together, as you saw in episode four. We've been through life and death matters together now. I respect her more than I can say. She respects me more than she can say. So, we actually want to push each other forward. If the captain's chair becomes available, I honestly think Saru might even be like, "Well, I don't know if I'm the best one for it. There might be someone else on this ship that I'm near and dear to that I would actually rather see there." So, there are a lot of questions left to be answered.
Last question. You’re wrapped on year two, so what will you be up to during your off-season?
Right now, I'm doing a lot of convention appearances and meeting fans face-to-face and loving every minute of that. That's all around the world. I've already been to Brazil, and I'm going to be in Italy and Ireland and all over the U.S. So, I'm enjoying that very much, and I've got a couple of guest starring roles, Better Things with Pamela Adlon, and that great new, hilarious show, What We Do in the Shadows. I did episodes one and five of that. So that starts in March.
Watch the global preview of tonight's episode below:
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s Space Channel and OTT service Crave.