Lt. Commander Billups has emerged as a fan favorite of the Cerritos crew. A master engineer and a mentor to Ensign Rutherford, Billups got the spotlight in the season two episode “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie,” where fans discovered he’s not only a prince among Chief Engineers but the crown prince of a planet. StarTrek.com sat down with Paul Scheer to discuss season two, the Rutherford and Billups dynamic, and becoming part of the Star Trek family.
StarTrek.com: Billups was the star of an episode this season, in which we found out he's the crown prince of a planet. What was it like getting to do a deeper dive and develop this character?
Paul Scheer: So much fun. I love this show so much and no matter what part they offered me, I was going to say yes. I know that I'm a little bit on the side, and I'm happy to be on the side, but when I had a chance to actually be able to explore a little bit more about Billups — I think you even see it in the season finale here as well — I'm just thrilled because I love to see what they're coming up with for me. My character gets to do a lot of fun stuff on the show, but it's great when you get to see a little bit more of what makes them tick.
If Billups could get drinks at Ten Forward with any other Star Trek character from across the whole franchise, who would it be?
PS: Oh wow. I was going to say my first gut response, I don't know if it's right... I'm going to say Miles O'Brien, I feel like the two of them would have a good time together. I don't know why, that was my first gut, but then if I'm thinking about it, I feel like engineers need to hang out with engineers. I don't know if he is going to be impressed by anybody else. I'm going to stick with it. I'm going to stick with Miles.
How did you and the writers want to make Billups different from other great Star Trek engineers like Scotty or Miles O'Brien?
PS: I think that every character on Star Trek is an archetype and what makes them different is the way that their personality shines through that archetype. There are so many things that are similar between Kirk and Picard and Janeway, but yet their individual way of doing things is incredibly unique. I feel like with the engineers, there's even more of a uniformity. If you look at Scotty and Miles O'Brien and Geordi and B’Elanna, I think that they are the most put upon. They are literally responsible for this ship staying in the sky, and so I feel like they are always coming from a place of not feeling like they're getting enough respect.
What I like about this character of Billups is you get to see how he treats the rest of his crew. A lot of the time, the way we've been looking at our engineers is when they come up to the bridge or when they're called upon by their captain. We're seeing them in these moments. I think with Billups, we're able to see how this may be the best position on the ship, because while stressed, while under the gun at any given moment's notice, he is responsible for so many people and keeping them in line and keeping them happy. So I think that I really loved showing that other side of an engineer. He's a good boss, and I think that that was really kind of fun for me to show that. I think you see these moments of, there were veneer cracks, and he can get really angry, but you get to see [this] other life.
Sort of talking about that, Billups and Rutherford have a great mentor-mentee dynamic. Was that fun to explore more of in season two?
PS: Absolutely.I was doing improv in New York City and Eugene [Cordero] was a college student. I remember seeing him in his college shows. I was so supportive of him; he was an intern at the theater that I worked at. I've been a fan of Eugene's career for such a long time, so there's something really interesting just in the realism of it. I feel like throughout our careers, Eugene and I have had a, not a similar relationship, [I’m] not his boss, but we definitely have had that thing where I've kind of been a little bit more in an institution longer than he has been and had that relationship. So I love that we get to do that on screen as well.
What was your first contact with Star Trek?
PS: It's going to date me a little bit, but my first contact with Star Trek really came from loving the reruns of The Animated Series on Nickelodeon. I loved them so much. My dad then took me to go see Star Trek: The Motion Picture, probably on a re-release. And I was incredibly bored. I've come to actually really like it. But then he's like, "You know what, we got to go and find these original episodes." So we started to go back to the video store and every weekend we would pick one of those VHS cassettes that had two episodes on them. And I remember being so excited because I had seen Wrath of Khan and we got to go back and watch "Space Seed." And, then from there I was off. I was a huge original cast fan.
Then every Saturday night for me and my dad, it was always watching The Next Generation. I had the action figures. I had the bridge playset. I've been in since I was a kid. I went to all the conventions. I've watched Walter Koenig talk on stage. I've had autographs and one of the best moments ever was getting to go to the Vegas event only, when NTSF was coming out. Kate Mulgrew was on NTSF as our commander. She brought me backstage to hang out and watch the captain's panel. And that was the full circle moment for me to go from a fan that went there as a kid with my dad, where people came to tell us that phasers were real, the government just didn't give us the technology to do it, and all the way to get to backstage and watch these amazing actors who have these iconic characters. It was one of the highlights of my Star Trek fandom.
Now that you’re a part of the Star Trek family, what has been your favorite interaction with the fandom so far?
PS: I think what I'm blown away by is the amount of love. I love doing this show. I feel like I have a very small part in the show and I love what I'm doing on it. It's the only show where I can have a part the size that I do that started to get me fan mail. I normally get mail about whatever, but when this show came on the amount of fan mail that I got started to blow my mind. I was like, "Oh my God." I'm signing these stills of me as Billups. And it is, the fandom, I knew it was big, I know it is one of the best fandoms because it's something that I've been literally involved with as a fan. So to just see that reach and how it makes people so happy.
I'll bookend it by saying, and what has been great is, and not disturbing but eye-opening, is the sexualization of Billups. I've seen a lot of sexy Billups drawings. I've seen a lot of screen grabs of Billups' ass. I've seen a lot of shirtless Billups. I've seen a lot of that. That has been like, "Wow, I did not know that that was going on in the Star Trek world." I don't even think I'm giving them a lot of that, but whenever there's a chance for Billups to say something… that has been the most shocking thing yet.
Lower Decks is filled with Easter eggs for fans from all corners of the franchise. What was your favorite Easter egg in season two?
PS: Well, Alice Krige coming back as the Borg Queen was pretty amazing. To see the Borg Queen back was really exciting. I loved the joke, I believe it was [episode nine] where Jack's character was wearing the same shirt as Kirk, "Go climb a rock." I love that kind of stuff. That really, really, really makes me laugh.
I also think all the jokes about the Nexus time ribbon and people are referencing Genesis and stuff, I just feel like it makes the show much more lived in. There are these things that we see them as the audience for the first time, they've never referenced again, but I love that they actually have a resonance on this show.
For my final question, what does it mean to you to be a part of the Star Trek family?
PS: Being part of the Star Trek family is just truly a dream come true. I love it so much. I love Discovery. I can't wait for Strange New Worlds. I love the little shorts. I just think it's such an amazing world. One of the best parts of getting to do what I get to do, is getting a chance to interact with my heroes and to be a part of something that is such a part of my childhood is amazing.
I will say the only downside of it truly is not being able to touch this stuff. I just want to touch this stuff. I want to be on the bridge. I begged to be in Star Trek when J.J. was doing it, I was like, "Get me in there. I'll do anything." But maybe there's a blessing in disguise. I'm not in full makeup, although Billups has no makeup. I just have to get my mustache back from Black Monday.
It's just to me an honor and a privilege to be in this universe of amazing actors and stories that just continues to be fresh and exciting and doing things like this. Doing the first comedy in the Star Trek, approved comedy in the Star Trek world, is just great.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States and Latin America on Paramount+, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.