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Star Trek: Lower Decks | Mike McMahan and Tawny Newsome on Infusing Heart and Comedy On- and Off-Screen

Find out who McMahan deems as the ‘cinnamon roll’ of the cast!

Lower Deckers Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi comfort Mariner

The Cerritos crew is back in action as Star Trek: Lower Decks is now streaming its third season!

Season 3 follows the events of last season’s cliffhanger finale where U.S.S. CerritosCaptain Carol Freeman was falsely accused of the assault on Pakled Planet. As Freeman faces court-martial and the Cerritos impounded, the Lower Deckers are currently grounded on Earth.

Ahead of the season premiere, had the opportunity to speak with series’ creator/executive producer/showrunner Mike McMahan and series’ lead Tawny Newsome, who voices Ensign Beckett Mariner, AKA the daughter of Captain Freeman.

The Heart of the Series

On the surprising intensity of the story at hand, McMahan addresses how they tackled that heaviness on a comedy series, “Adult animation means it doesn’t have to be a joke book all the time; my job a lot of the time is, ‘How am I going to surprise the audience? How do they not know what’s coming?’”

Mariner embraces her mother, Captain Freeman.

“There are two ways to make TV — [one,] it’s to make it familiar so you can just have it playing. It’s just a thing you have in your house and it’s reliable,” continues McMahan. “And then there’s the slightly more modern version of it where we want to give you something that’s familiar but surprise you a lot. When you’re surprised, that’s going to be what makes you get more invested in these characters.”

McMahan considers his ensemble cast in his approach to the series, “I want to surprise people, and I want to be respectful of the actors I’m working with and the artists that bring them to life by giving you more than you asked for when it comes to the heart of character stories and emotional stories.”

Despite Freeman and Mariner consistently butting heads the first two seasons, the rebellious ensign takes the captain’s arrest the hardest. In fact, Newsome reveals she was worried it was too much heart, “I was a little nervous at first because I was scared that I wasn’t being funny enough. When I did my first recordings for Season 3, I had this nagging sensation, ‘Do I need to text Mike and ask if I can do some additional ADR and hit some of those moments again?’”

Mariner strikes a determined pose.

However, it all fell into place when Newsome saw the footage. “What I realized when watching it was that they were directing me to find more of those emotional stakes and more of that heart,” notes Newsome. “It really serves the season so much better than me chasing jokes. That’s a good lesson for me in real life — if you’re suddenly worried that it’s not funny and popping all the time, maybe it’s because there’s something deeper going on and we need to examine that. I’m so happy Mike, the writers, and the producers are all smarter than me.”

The Secret to the Ensemble and Who is the Cinnamon Roll of the Group

Production for the first two seasons of the series occurred during the pandemic where the cast often recorded solo sessions from their homes. How then does their chemistry radiate both on- and off-screen?

Lower Decks still of Rutherford, Mariner and Boimler in a defensive stance

“I was wondering that too,” laughs Newsome. “How did we become friends? We never saw each other. We see each other now with the cons.”

Star Trek: Mission Chicago was such a big bonding moment for us,” Newsome adds. “I don’t know; maybe it’s just the group chat. We’ve got a couple group threads. It’s been a real Gen Z kind of text friendship.”

What’s McMahan’s take on the infectious camaraderie? He also calls out this year’s conventions and their “hours just socializing together.” “We all genuinely love making the show and love hanging out with each other,” states McMahan.

“A lot of it is luck,” reflects McMahan a touch more. “You hope every show gets to this, but sometimes the cast don’t merge as well or sometimes it’s half-half. Sometimes the show gets canceled before you can get to this place. So, it is part luck. It’s just how wonderful, sincere, and great the voice actors are. Truly every single of these folks is a cinnamon roll. There isn’t a single person on the cast, from Jerry O’Connell to Dawnn Lewis to Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Eugene Cordero to Noël Wells. I can name off everybody on the cast, even Paul Scheer. Everybody is such a sincere, nice person; getting to hang out together, it’s just a bunch of people geeking out and loving what they get to do.”

Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner and Boimler arrive in Historic Bozeman in Star Trek: Lower Decks

McMahan got to witness the evolution of the cast’s real-life friendship through the seasons. “First season, we had to build that alchemy with editing,” McMahan shares. “Then, second season, we had done enough promo and they’d gotten to hang out enough that we started writing the characters more in the voices of their actors. You’d be in a record with Jack, and he’d be like, “Oh, I can hear Tawny in my head saying this line.’ That’s when they would channel the hanging out together when they were recording on their own; it was almost like a virtual hangout. Through their performances, you can hear how much they like each other and the show coming through.”