The stars were out at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. The venue, perhaps most known for hosting the Academy Awards each February, welcomed the latest panelists in the Paley Center’s PaleyFest series. The casts and creative teams of CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s newest offering, Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot, took the Dolby Stage for their 2019 PaleyFest debuts.
Variety’s Daniel Holloway moderated a lively Discovery panel, for which he was joined by Sonequa Martin-Green (Burnham), Ethan Peck (Spock), Doug Jones (Saru), Anthony Rapp (Stamets), Wilson Cruz (Culber), Shazad Latif (Tyler), Tig Notaro (Jett Reno), Mary Chieffo (L’Rell) creator Alex Kurtzman, and executive producer Heather Kadin. StarTrek.com was there to catch all the action for you, not missing a beat as our crew of cast of creatives talked about what makes Star Trek special, the developing relationships between several of our favourite characters, the challenges of taking on an iconic character, and what’s next for fans in the vast Trek universe.
WHAT MAKES TREK SO SPECIAL?
Alex Kurtzman’s pure understanding of what Star Trek was created to mean, what it was meant to inspire in people, and what it asked humanity to aspire to is clear when you watch Discovery. But, just in case you had any doubts, the executive producer summed up his feelings on Trek’s meaning perfectly, and succinctly when asked to open the event with his thoughts on why Trek is still with us in 2019. “Gene Roddenberry created a vision of the future that was defined by hope,” Discovery’s creator and showrunner, Kurtzman, shared with Paley’s audience. “ It was marked by the idea that the best of us would endure into the future, and that diversity is an assumption.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT BURNHAM’S IMPACT
“I don’t think I can ever communicate what it means [to play the lead on a show like this],” Sonequa Martin-Green said, when she was asked about her role as Michael Burnham. As the first non-captain to lead a Trek show, it was a step that Heather Kadin felt was necessary in order to connect with viewers who were also midway in their life journeys. Her lack of commanding title certainly doesn’t lessen Burnham’s impact, however. Not for the audience, or Martin-Green’s portrayal. “It’s overwhelming as an artist, as a human being, as a woman of faith,” she explained, tearing up slightly as she considered the character’s importance. “Because of the franchise’s history and longevity, because of my cast, because of the complications in the story… the gratitude that I have and the honor that I feel? It’s overwhelming.”
HOW DID SPOCK BECOME SPOCK?
Leonard Nimoy left some very large prosthetic ears to fill, so to speak, in the role of Spock, and Ethan Peck admits that he felt a bit nervous about stepping in. “In the final audition Alex spoke about the season and about Spock and who he is, and I just listened,” Peck said during the panel. He was slightly terrified after booking the job, which he confessed to Kurtzman at one point, who simply replied “You should be!” But instead of letting the nerves get to him, Peck got down to business and began studying his predecessor. “I probably watched about 30 [TOS] episodes to try and internalize [Nimoy’s] version,” he said. But, as Peck reminds viewers, his Spock isn’t simply a paint-by-numbers copy of the beloved original. The beard is certainly a change (and a purposeful “choice,” Kurtzman added, “it says a lot about the state he’s in when you meet him.”), but there are more performance and story driven differences as well. “It’s a version of Spock you really haven’t seen before.”
HAS THE GOOD SHIP STAMETS/CULBER SUNK FOR GOOD?
One of Discovery’s favourite couples is having a rough go of it this season. This is to be expected, of course, when your partner has literally risen from the dead. “I see [their breakup] as a man who came back from the dead trying to figure out how to live!” Wilson Cruz said, when asked of the breakup, which both actors seem to deeply appreciate for its authenticity to the situation. After all, would your relationship be the same after a resurrection? “If you go through crises [in your relationships] and you’re unchanged by them, then I think you’re a little bit dead,” Anthony Rapp laughed.“We’re grateful to be given something authentic, complicated, and rich [from the writers]... It’s not the old way of doing TV anymore.”
TIG NOTARO’S SELF PROCLAIMED FIRST DAY DISASTER
The celebrated stand up had the hilarious story of her first day on set locked, loaded, and ready to go. “I thought I would do an episode or two and be on my way,” Notaro, who has known Kurtzman for 20 years, explained. “Especially because I did a terrible job. I got to set and I could not remember these words. A [director] had to sit on set and feed me my lines.” Ever the professional, Notaro wrote an email of apology to Kurtzman after her first few days on set. “I know you said you’d like to have me as much as I’m available, but I’ll understand if you change your mind after you see the footage, no hard feelings.” she told him. But the kicker? Notaro says, “He told me that after receiving that email, he decided to make my dialogue even harder!”
WHAT DOES KURTZMAN WANT TO DO WITH TREK NEXT?
Though Discovery finishes up in just a few weeks, Kurtzman still has Trek on the brain. Plenty of mystery still surround the upcoming and untitled Picard series, but Kurtzman was able to give us just a bit of a hint of what to expect. “I had an amazing experience the other morning,” he said. “I sat at [Patrick Stewart’s] kitchen table, heard him read the first episode and I almost cried.” He continued, sharing what little he could: “It’s going to be a very different show from Discovery. Each show speaks to a different part of Star Trek. [The Picard series] is a very thoughtful, psychological portrait [of a character]. [Picard] in some ways has to go through a gauntlet in order to find [himself]; things have changed for him and changed him in some ways. So… we’re thrilled and I know Patrick is really excited. It’s coming together beautifully. And, well, I can tell you nothing else!”
We can’t wait to see what bold new worlds Kurtzman takes us to with Discovery, Picard, and everything Trek that comes next.
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