As Emmy season begins anew, the first Star Trek: Discovery For Your Consideration event took place last night in Beverly Hills. The Paley Center for Media Arts hosted Discovery cast and creatives, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ethan Peck, Wilson Cruz, Executive Producers Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, and Michelle Paradise, and Visual Effects Supervisor Jason Zimmerman for a panel digging into Discovery's sophomore season. They were joined by Trek fans from the greater L.A. area who came for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the props and costumes of Discovery up close on exhibit (which you, too, can see at the Paley Center through July 7th), a screening of the season-two finale, and a lively discussion about the (literal) future of the U.S.S. Discovery and her crew. As always, StarTrek.com was there to grab all the best moments.
On grappling with the legacy that is Star Trek...
“[When you’re] starting with something like Star Trek that has an enormous fan base, the first thing [you think about] is how do we be true to what Trek is at its core,” shared EP Heather Kadin. “And then [we ask], 'How do we bring it into the modern age?' If fans are going to pay for a show that they've never paid for before, then they’d better be getting their money’s worth.”
But, as EP and season-three co-showrunner Michelle Paradise expressed, the executive producers are getting their “money’s worth” as well, from the experience of simply getting to be involved with Star Trek. “It’s incredible to come on and have the opportunity to [help run the show] for season three. It’s Star Trek, it’s iconic, so that is a dream come true within itself,” she said.
Star Sonequa Martin-Green also felt enormity of Trek as soon as she stepped into the role of Michael Burnham. She wasn’t a fan of Trek growing up, she told the Paley audience, and so she had a lot to learn. “[The cast] took it so seriously and realized how important it is,” Martin-Green explained. “We just care [about the franchise] so much. I had to learn a lot about the universe, about what it means to be Vulcan, [and] about what it takes to carry a story like this. I had to learn a lot about quantum mechanics and xeno-anthropology. I like to know what I’m talking about, so i spent a lot of nights in the rabbit hole of Wikipedia.”
And even beyond the practical aspects of the Trek universe, the show itself was an entirely new beast unlike the franchise had ever seen before. “We had a lot to learn even about our identity as Star Trek: Discovery,” the actress said, speaking about the show’s American home on CBS All Access. “How could we be new and yet old at the same time? What did it mean to be streaming and hyper-serialized?”
Some actors had to grapple not only with the franchise’s legacy, but iconic characters's legacies as well...
Alex Kurtzman knew from the beginning that Spock would be a main key to season two’s story. “You can’t just drop [Michael as Spock’s sister] in there as a random factoid," he said. "It requires a whole reasoning behind why Spock has never told the story of his sister.”
While Kurtzman knew he would need the Vulcan, Ethan Peck (Discovery’s Spock) had no idea who he was auditioning for when he came in to read for the role. But that didn’t stop him from being “terrified” of stepping into the franchise anyway. “I read for ‘Tom the Andorian,’” Peck said. He was handed fake scripts to audition off of, which writers often do to keep spoilers from leaking early into production. But that didn't stop him from imbuing the role with personality. “I didn’t know what I was reading for, [and so] I got to bring myself [to the reading], but I was still hugely terrified.”
“Each [would-be] Spock actor brought something very specific to the part,” said Kurtzman. “The question is, how do you find an actor who embodies the spirit of Spock, but [is] going to bring enough of themselves to the table that their spirit shines through. I could tell that [Ethan] was going to dive into that part.”
Kurtzman continued, explaining how “Light and Shadows” came to give us our first look at Discovery’s version of the Vulcan science officer, seven episodes into the second season. “We started breaking the story right after the first season, and it very quickly became clear that the most interesting thing was to not bring Spock in right away. The most interesting thing to do was to… search for Spock. (He said it, not us.) “[Spock] looms so large, but he’s not there and so... I wanted to bookend the season with the siblings talking to each other but not together.”
In the end, Peck turned out to be the perfect Spock for Discovery. And, as he shared with the audience, the makeup room has 58 pairs of Spock ears to show for it.
Even for returning actors, there was still plenty to discover about their characters...
Martin-Green described Michael’s evolution in season two as a "pendulum swing," noting that her arc of self-discovery was crucial in Michael's path to becoming a whole person. “She’s realizing that she can be who she is, not having to seek the approval of [her] father [Sarek] anymore. I liken it to a pendulum swing; I’m as Vulcan as Vulcan can be in season one, and I’m very emotional in season two,” she said. “For Michael, it’s all about allowing yourself to feel, and not continuing to see yourself as inferior because of those feelings. It’s about taking it in and allowing yourself to feel it.”
While Michael was finally allowing her emotions to swing, Saru spent season two on an emotional arc of his own. With the loss of his fear instinct, the Kelpien really began to come into his own, leaving actor Doug Jones with an evolved, rich palette to work with. “I relate to Saru on a deep level with that fear thing. I’m scared right now!” he said, laughing on the evening’s panel. “[But] I thought, 'If Saru can do it, so can I.' That’s been a lot to overcome. I have to redefine how I look at myself in the mirror as Saru. How does his posture change? How does he see himself now? That’s all changed after the fear. It should come out in subtleties [of acting].”
And what could change a character more than death and resurrection? Wilson Cruz had a full gamut of emotions to run through as Dr. Hugh Culber, but he’d at least had a nice chunk of time to prepare. “I knew pretty quickly that Culber was coming back after my untimely death,” Cruz explained. “It was actually at this event last year when Alex took me in a corner and told me how it was going to happen.”
From there, it was a matter of challenging himself to experience the world the way Culber might in order to understand — as much as a living person can — what effect a resurrection might have on body and mind. “It was a challenge. So much of my storyline was in isolation from what was happening with everyone else, which was helpful because Culber was isolated and feeling out of sorts,” he said. “So I had to isolate myself from the cast — because I love them too much — and I needed to feel estranged. It was really lonely, I have to say.”
Cruz continued, offering more insight into Culber’s state of mind. “It required me to think about what it would be like to get a second chance at life… What do you do with that? What are you willing to change? What do you need to change? I love the journey that they took this character on. He didn't automatically jump back in. There were consequences to what had happened.”
And with season two in the books, the audience — and even the actors! — wondered what to expect in season three...
Rest assured that Discovery will continue to look like Discovery; which is to say, season three will be chock full of the magic, spectacle, and detail that often make it feel as through you’re watching a full-length feature film, not an hour-long drama. “We don’t have a feature budget, or that kind of time,” Kurtzman shared. “[Our show] requires an [SFX] artist with an artist’s eye who can make it look like a feature because that’s the standard we hold the show to. I would put us up against Game of Thrones, just at a level of pure artistry.”
And as for that now-infamous time jump? Well, they knew it was coming. “Part of it was knowing we had all these canonical issues that needed to be squared away. Jumping them to the distant past or the future was the only answer,” the showrunner said. “The challenge of season three is going to be this: How do you reinvent the world and the future while staying true to everything that Star Trek is at its core?”
It’s a huge question with a tall order, but we wouldn’t want anyone but this group of amazingly creative cast and crew serving it up.
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.