Published Nov 9, 2020
Read an Exclusive Excerpt From Star Trek Magazine #77
Check out an interview with Discovery's Oyin Oladejo.
By Ian Spelling
They may not be as visible as Star Trek: Discovery’s leads, but the bridge crew are just as important in their own way, acting as essential support for the main players. That’s how Oyin Oladejo sees it, anyhow. The actress responsible for operations officer Joann Owosekun is content to enjoy her first major TV role, to maybe learn a few things, and to embrace those moments when the spotlight falls on her – something that promises to occur even more in Season 3.
Oyin Oladejo almost threw in the towel. It was 2017, and Oladejo had just finished a run in an immersive stage play when the doubts kicked in – the kind of qualms that infamously plague young performers early in their careers.
“I was questioning, ‘Do I want to continue being an actress?’” recalls Oladejo, who was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to Toronto as a teenager. “I was going for several TV and film auditions and nothing was biting, and the majority of the feedback I got was about my accent, and I didn’t know how to tame my accent.
“I decided, ‘Maybe the TV and film world is not for me,’ and also I wasn’t very happy with the theater I was doing. So, I thought about it for a while, and I decided to quit. I’d been in Toronto and went to stay in Vancouver with a friend of mine, just to clear my head and be sure whether or not this was really the right decision. I even sent my agent an email after a month saying, ‘Yes, I think I’m ready to quit acting. I’m not sure this is for me. I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I was cleaning houses, I was landscaping. We chatted back and forth by email and she said, ‘OK, if this is what you want to do, then sure, do it; but there’s this TV audition that came across my table that I think would be nice for you to do.’”
Oladejo didn’t know at first that she was up for Star Trek: Discovery; to maintain secrecy, at the outset the production used a fake name. But the show was indeed Discovery, and the role was that of U.S.S. Discovery operations officer Joann Owosekun.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘Ah, I’m not going to get it. It’s TV. I never get TV stuff. I’m not going to get it,’” she says, laughing. “But I just went to the audition, and two days later, my agent called and said, ‘They want you, and you may have to fly back to Toronto in two weeks.’ Just like that. There was no callback, there was no nothing. It was just, ‘They just want you.’ And that’s it. That’s how Star Trek happened for me. I was actually, literally, holding a rake in my hand when my agent gave me the call saying, ‘They want you. You may have to fly back in two weeks.’”
Chipping Away at Trek
By her own admission, back then Oladejo admittedly didn’t know much about science fiction or Star Trek, so she “chipped away” at episodes from across the franchise, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation. (She’s still doing so, she notes, having recently watched the first season of Star Trek: Picard.) Likewise, when she landed the role of Owosekun, she knew little about the character or what the writers and producers had in store for her.
“Nothing!” Oladejo exclaims. “Honestly, they told me nothing, and I understand because in the first year I think everybody was frantic. So, I honestly did not know what I was walking into with Joann. But we did get a huge manual, this whole Star Trek manual for all the operation systems, what each button does, what the stations were, what the ranks meant. I’m looking at science diagrams and terms and thinking, ‘What? What? This is like school! This is biology and chemistry and physics that I didn’t like in school!’
“Then, when I sat at my console, I realized, ‘Oh, you are actually a huge part of controlling this ship. I’m the operations officer, and I see everything that happens on the ship. I see everybody’s lifelines.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, I have a lot of responsibility in this station of mine.’ Gradually, because she’s not completely there yet, I’m sitting comfortably in my chair, as an operations officer.
“And, as the actress, I created just enough of Joann’s backstory to help me hold my own amongst my bridge crew, enough to try to find the relationships between her and the rest of the crew, because I didn’t know whether my character would be developed,” Oladejo continues. “I didn’t know if this was just a couple of episodes. So, it took me a bit to figure out where I wanted my character to go, or where I want Joann to fit. But the main thing that came to mind was that she is a fighter and she wears her emotions on her sleeve. That’s as far as I was able to go at the beginning in the first season.”
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.