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EXCLUSIVE: Sonequa Martin-Green on 'Discovery''s Future

'Discovery''s star talks the season's far flung finale, grasping quantum physics, and why she loved screaming at the top of her lungs.

SMG Interview

Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery's two part season two finale to follow. Proceed with caution.

"Time is the fire in which we burn."

When Star Trek first quoted the poet Delmore Schwartz, who could have known how apt the simple line would be? Over the course of Star Trek: Discovery's second season, Michael Burnham came to understand not only the non-linear vastness of time, but also what it could teach her. “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” found our heroine at peace with family and friends before strapping into the Red Angel suit, Iron Man-style, and trekking 950 years into the future – with Discovery in her wake – in order to protect the sphere data and save the galaxy.

As always, Sonequa Martin-Green infused Burnham with heart, hope, fear and excitement, and delivered on the episode's intense action too. In an exclusive interview, we picked the effusive Martin-Green’s brain about the finale, season two as a whole, her hopes for season three, and her hiatus plans.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham

Russ Martin / CBS Interactive What worked best for you about the season finale?

Sonequa Martin-Green: Oh my gosh, all of the puzzle pieces fit together, I think, very beautifully. And very comprehensively, very completely, courageously, yet respectfully. I appreciated how everything you've seen, especially over season two, but certainly over season one, as well played a part. I love how all these story points came together, all of these people came together, and I love that it was ultimately to save all of sentient life and save the future. I love that even though we're going to do that and we're going boldly where nobody has gone before — I mean, can you believe that we are actually doing that? — we're doing it as a family. We're going to land 950 years in the future as a real, solidified and unified crew.

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So much of what you do on Discovery, but especially in the finale, involves special effects. Did you feel like a viewer watching it for the first time?

SMG: That's the thing, it's indescribable. We were transfixed. Alex Kurtzman put on a big event for all of us, and we got to see it on a big screen. We were dumbfounded. It was electrifying. We just sat there with our jaws open, mouths agape, bated breath. We couldn't believe this was what we had done, because what we leaned on was the words on the page, the story, the direction, and our imagination, right? And to see it all come together like that, none of us expected it to be that grand, [or] that dazzling. So, we just looked around at each other with tears in our eyes and said, "Wow, so this is our show."

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Many actors need to understand what's happening in their scenes and dialogue in order to play moments. Discovery deals in faith, quantum physics, time crystals, wormholes, mycelial networks, multiple species, and a mirror universe. How much do you need to grasp in order to invest in the moment and sell that moment to the viewer?

SMG: I have to have as firm of a grasp as I possibly can, because this is, number one, a vast universe. It has everything you just said and more. [And] my character's a genius in quantum mechanics, the only human to have graduated from the Vulcan Learning Center and Vulcan Science Academy, and was ahead of my Vulcan peers. Also, I’m a genius in xeno-anthropology. These are things I'm not going to have [a complete grasp] of as Sonequa. I would have to go study those things to have the totality [of that knowledge], but I do have to have a firm-enough grasp where, when I speak, I'm coming from the heart.

That means I have to do a lot of research. [laughs] That means I find myself in my own rabbit hole on the internet of quantum physics and light travel and time travel, and all these things we're talking about. I'm doing all this research so I at least have some understanding. [This way] I can come at it from not even just the heart, but the mind as well, and really speak Michael’s truth. I get lost, and sometimes I'm like, "Okay, my mind is spinning, and I think I'll stop there."

On a less serious note, you screamed an awful lot during the finale's time travel sequence. How long did your director, Olatunde Osunsanmi, have you screaming on set and in ADR?

SMG: Aw, man, there was a lot of screaming. There wasn't as much screaming on the days we were shooting that sequence, but I did scream quite a bit in ADR. But you know what? There's something freeing about screaming at the top of your lungs. I don't know the last time you did it, but try it. If you find yourself in an open field somewhere, scream at the top of your lungs. It feels really good.

In what ways did you feel season two built on season one, and how different an experience from year one was year two?

SMG: I love this question because what I’ve said before is  — and I'll continue to say this because I think it's a perfect way to describe it — I feel we hit the ground running with season one. We had so much ground to cover, and I think it was a valiant effort. We were at war with the Klingon Empire, and we went at breakneck speed because of that war.

Really, the biggest change from season one to season two is we were able to slow down a bit and deal with the aftermath of the war, deal with how it had changed [the Discovery crew], and how we were going to be now, moving forward. I love that you pick up with us in this state of restoration — wanting to restore ourselves, wanting to restore our relationship, wanting to restore Starfleet. That carries us into the great mystery of season two, which is, of course, the Red Angel and these signals, which obviously then uncovers this great threat of Control.

I love what Alex, Michelle Paradise and the other producers and writers did with season two. We gelled and built off of where we were, and where our showrunners took us with season one. We ramped up from that and found ourselves in a very new and exciting and interesting place.


Which is 950 years into the future for the Discovery crew.

SMG: And I think that, going where we are going,  — I just gotta say it, going boldly where no one has gone before — [the excitement] will just continue. Now that we have found ourselves in this new place, I'm very excited to see how that plays out. Our [show] name is Star Trek: Discovery, and the people on the starship Discovery are discovering themselves.

You have Saru going from fear-based to power-based. Culber came back to life, so it’s Culber and Stamets having to realize who they are to each other. Tilly is realizing herself in this new way, separate from her mother. Then, obviously, Burnham had all these cornerstones of shame taken down one by one. Spock realized the balance between being Vulcan and being human at the same time. Michael helped him realize that, and he helped her realize herself. There's all this self-actualization, and I love that we're finding ourselves as a family and as a crew.

How cool, weird and Star Trek-y was it that your husband, Kenric Green, is your father?

SMG: It was the best thing ever. I tell you, we never in a million years would have imagined that would be our connection in this story. It's wild, it really is, but we were very moved by it. Even though he was only on the show for such a short period of time, he is forever solidified in canon as my father; I am his namesake. He will always be there. We felt that that opportunity was so huge, so, I love it. We both love it.

Although we didn't work together, we had a lot of fun. It's just such a funny thing to say that my husband is my dad.

Given how “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” played out, there must have been a lot of tears on the set, right?

SMG: There were a lot of tears, because these are people that have been with us — in many cases — from the very beginning. There were so many goodbyes, and so I’ve got to shout out all of them. All of our Trek family, family forever.

Looking to season three, what do you hope to explore as Burnham continues to evolve?

SMG: Well, in a perfect world, I'm hoping for a balance; that very same balance we saw Spock find, that Saru's trying to find, that all the other characters are trying to find.

I'm very excited for it because when you pick up with Michael Burnham, [she's] this Vulcan-Human. I have this image I have built up, and it is made of diamonds. It's almost impenetrable, these defenses I've put up as I've been overcompensating and seeking absolution. [I'm] being driven by shame and guilt and needing to prove myself. That's where you picked up with me, at the beginning of this show. So, what I love is that you see this outpouring of emotion in season two, because the pendulum has swung the other way. Now I've really connected with my humanity like never before. So now it's time for us to swing, and swing, and swing, and swing until it gets to the middle and we find this balance.

That balance is something I'm going to be working on for some time to come, and that's what I'm really excited to find. I'm excited for the freedom that is to come for Michael Burnham, as well, now that I'm not driven by shame. All these things have been plucked out and uprooted, so now I have the freedom to be who I am.

sonequa martin green

During your hiatus after season one, you spent time with your family and did publicity for the show. This year, it seems like you’re getting in more work. Can you tell us about your Netflix movie, Holiday Rush? And will you be Mrs. LeBron James in Space Jam 2?

SMG: I am very excited about Holiday Rush, because we're almost done now and it's been such an incredible experience. I love everybody I've been working with. I've never done anything that you’d categorize as heartwarming. I certainly haven't done anything in the holiday genre. So, it's been really lovely to tell this family-oriented story that is full of spiritual context and so warm. I've also certainly been spending my hiatus time with my family. I'm having a really good time. And [in terms of Space Jam 2], we will see what else the hiatus has in store.

This interview has been edited and condensed.