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Sonequa Martin-Green Talks Burnham's Journey

The responsibilities of being Number One, Spock as your half-brother and more

Sonequa Martin-Green concludes our week of interviews paving the way to tomorrow's debut of Star Trek: Discovery's second season by chatting with the show's leading lady, Sonequa Martin-Green. The always energetic and emotive actress sat down with a group of journalists for a roundtable conversation this past October in Manhattan, a day after NYCC. Over the course of 20 minutes, she shared stories about the new game the cast played on set, discussed how she came to understand the responsibilities of being Number #1 on a call sheet from The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln, and chatted in detail about how the imminent arrival of Michael Burnham's half-brother, Spock (Ethan Peck), will change the game for Burnham and the show.

What have you not been asked yet, that you're just dying to talk about?

Oh, goodness!

That you can tell us without ruining everything for everyone, everywhere?

Well, we do have a very competitive game of imaginary darts going on right now, the cast.

So, that's taken over from Mafia?

At the moment, yes. A little bit, because we are able to play imaginary darts everywhere. And so, that's going really well. We have a lot of fun with that, but I find myself talking because I was speaking to how this cast is so incredible and, of course, the crew and the writers are, too. But we're able to maintain a spirit of fun and joy and play, simultaneously with a spirit or work and of art. We take it so seriously, what we do. We take the story so seriously, but we're about to do both at the same time. We're able to be wholeheartedly there with our whole souls and give ourselves to the story, but then, at the same time, we're able to enjoy each other. I do love that.

You say "We," but that starts with Number #1 on the call sheet. How important is that element to you, to be that kind of a leader on the set?

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham

Oh, gosh, it couldn't be more important, to be honest. I witnessed a tremendous leader for years, that leader being Andrew Lincoln. I witnessed it, and I saw and felt what it was like to be a family and to create together in that way as a family. So, I found it to be such a privilege and honor and blessing to be able to facilitate it the next place that I went. I am a very different leader than Andy is, and my family now is very different from my family there. But, a lot of those themes are the same and they're ringing true, and I think that the leader is the greatest servant of all; I think that's the truth of the matter, is that's what leadership really is. I just purpose to be like Christ in that way, where it's not about (me), it's only about uplifting, and when people feel like they belong and they're in a family, that's when creativity flows freely, and that's what's best for the story.

As the female lead in a huge, iconic show, were you at all surprised by the fuss over the casting of a female Doctor Who?

I was not surprised by it because people were upset that a black woman was the lead of Star Trek. There was a lot of vitriol that came our way, and came my way when I first came on board. "I think they're just checking off boxes in meeting quotas," and, "How dare they," and all of that. These were people who claimed to be diehard Star Trek fans, I think that's completely antithetical. How can you say that and then be... All that means is that you just have so much further to go. You just have so much further to grow. So, it doesn't surprise me, unfortunately, that people would push back about that, because change is really difficult and a lot of people are not will to do it.

Also, Star Trek has had a very strong female lead before...

It has! Exactly. And a very strong black male lead as well, but people were still upset. So, it really does just speak to the limitations of the ego.

Michael really was the focus of season one. Now that we've got Spock in season two, and the Enterprise and Captain Pike, how does that affect Michael?

Discovery Season 2: Captain Pike and Burnham

Michael is greatly affected by Spock, that's for sure. And, to tease, when Discovery finds itself face to face with the U.S.S. Enterprise, Spock is not there. Spock is not on the ship. That's the first thing that Burnham wants to do, is go see him, and he's not there. So, now, Burnham has to embark on this journey to find him, and it greatly affects Michael. And to have this new captain, who is a true Starfleet captain, much like Georgiou, who operates in kindness and humility, who values his crew, who understands the power of the minds that around him, it is healing and so it's effective in that way. And it affects Burnham in that way. It's healing to have someone like that in the wake of Lorca. And, hopefully, it's healing to have Spock.

How did you and Ethan Peck make this work? Had you met him before?

Ethan Peck

No, we didn't. He's fantastic, such a fantastic human being, and so he makes it easy. We were so close, so fast. So fast. We were brother and sister like that. It's amazing because I think he's just calibrated perfectly, Ethan. I think he's cast perfectly, and I think he's calibrated perfectly because he understands what this is and what it means, and he has given his whole self to it. The fact that he went on his own to meet up with the Nimoys before he came to set, that speaks volumes, and it's very much the way he is, and very much the way he approaches this monumental role, is with everything and he is not leaving any stone unturned. We really appreciate him for that and he's just melded so seamlessly in with everyone, and he and I had very, very, very fulfilling experiences with other in the story.

How have you enjoyed immersing yourself in the Trek community, not just meeting the fans, but also the talent from all the previous iterations of Trek?

I love it, and I want more immersion. This year was the first year we went to Star Trek Las Vegas, to the convention there. We didn't go last year because we went to the TCAs. Going to Vegas was almost heartbreaking. We walked away with our hearts broken, but in a way that just broke from the love and weight of it all, oh, my gosh. The fact that everyone from the previous iterations has received us so warmly and has welcomed us into the family... Jonathan Frakes, namely, because we've spend so much time with him, since he directs the show. (It's) just that welcoming us with open arms and making it that collective, "Hey, come on in. It's warm in here. Jump in! We welcome you, we love you, we support you." That means everything. And then, to hear all the fans of the franchise say that, too, person after person, thousands of people later, saying, "Welcome to the family," that's what I mean when I say "heartbroken" in the best way.

Last season, we got Spock-lite with Michael, as she dealt with the balance of logic and emotion. Now, we have Spock, who's really all about that. Will Michael still be dealing with that balance?

Sonequa Martin-Green and James Frain

That balance will always be a fight. It'll always be a fight for Michael. And it's a fight for Spock as well. It's a fight genetically for Spock. For Burnham, it's a cultural fight, right? It's a nature-vs-nurture fight, and Burnham says to Sarek in episode one of season one that her emotions inform her logic, but what needs to happen, what has to happen after self-forgiveness is an acceptance, a full acceptance of humanity, and finding how logic can then inform emotion. Because the goal, the ultimate goal, for me as Michael is to fully accept that I am human, fully accept that I have great emotionality, fully accept that I was indoctrinated with logic and find how they can crew new pathways of thought that serve the needs of the many Unfortunately, what we found in season one is that the battle of logic and emotion actually went the wrong way and caused me to make a lot of deep moral mistakes, because I would sort of act impulsively, emotionally, but put a logical justification on top of it. That's not the way it works. And so, it's really about finding how logic informs emotion, and how emotion informs logic, and that's going to be a long road. So, that balance will always be there. To compare, Spock has that, too. Essentially, he has to accept his humanity as well, and perhaps we'll see a little bit of that, because he is half and half. So, it's a similar battle, but very different, and they will be going on this internal battles together, essentially.

Star Trek: Discovery's second season will premiere on Thursday, January 17, 2019 on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on Space Channel in Canada. The series premieres in 188 countries on Netflix on Friday, January 18, 2019.