Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
Editor’s Note: Major spoilers for Episode 9 “All Those Who Wander” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ahead!
The penultimate episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ premiere season is the series’ most horrifying and devastating episode to date. Tragedy befell the U.S.S. Enterprise as they lost a core member of its crew — the starship’s chief engineer, Hemmer.
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to speak with actor Bruce Horak on expanding the canon of the Aenar, the philosophy surrounding pacifism, Hemmer’s unlikely friendship with Cadet Nyota Uhura, the ultimate sacrifice for the crew in “All Those Who Wander,” and more.
POINT OF FIRST CONTACT
Sharing how much Star Trek was a family affair for him, Horak details, “First Contact with Star Trek was The Original Series in reruns at some point in the ‘80s in Calgary. My dad introduced us all; he was a big sci-fi fan. The family would gather around and watch old Star Trek reruns. And after that, it was The Animated Series on Saturday mornings.
From watching the crew on the Enterprise to embodying a member of the crew on the Enterprise, Horak admits, “It’s just an absolute dream come true. I never imagined that I would actually get to walk on the Bridge of the Enterprise, and when that actually happened, I thought, ‘How could it possibly get better than this?’ It’s just extraordinary. Every day, I would have to pinch myself.”
WATCH: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Hemmer's Origins
THE AENAR AND PACIFISM
The Aenar are a mythical, extremely reclusive subspecies of the Andorian people. “They grew up in these ice caves, and they’re blind at birth,” stated series executive producer Henry Alonso Myers in the above video. “They don’t see, but they have these incredible heightened senses. They are telepathic at a level that’s much more than your average Andorian.”
Horak remarks on the incredible abilities of the Aenar despite their perceived disability. “They really do see better than anyone else. What an absolute thrill. It’s interesting, from my own point of view, that oftentimes, people find out that I have 9% vision, and then immediately, the assumptions start to come into play about what I can and can’t do,” he notes. “At least to a certain degree, you spend a lot of time just proving that you can function normally in the world, and then you have to work twice as hard just to keep up with the pack. Hemmer proves that and certainly dispels any notions or any possible caution around him pretty much right from the get-go in the kitchen scenes. As an actor, it’s a great thrill to be able to kind of play above my own abilities. And Hemmer’s abilities are so far beyond my own that I go to explore and be somebody pretty superhuman.”
“I really got to play in that world, which was so fun,” continues Horak. “Adding further to the canon about being pacifists, which was already established, but just for the depth of that, felt really rewarding. It was so succinctly put about what pacifism truly is — this notion that I’d never been able to articulate in a way that Hemmer did in that episode — was again, just really rewarding.”
In a moment of discovery and understanding between an injured Hemmer and Uhura in “Memento Mori,” Hemmer talks about how the pacifist ended up in Starfleet, “I actually wanted to be a botanist. Love flora. I will not fight for Starfleet. But I will defend its ideals. Pacifism is not passivity. It’s the active protection of all living things in the natural universe.”
“I find it interesting that the engineer of the Enterprise, the one who’s basically making the ship go, has that as a core philosophy — pacifism as the active protection of all life, as the motivating factor. That’s the engine that’s keeping the Enterprise going and doing these explorations. Pike says that their mission is to explore, is to see what’s out there.”
BUILDING THE BONDS BETWEEN HEMMER AND UHURA
From their first encounter in “Children of the Comet,” to “Memento Mori,” to “All Those Who Wander,” one of the joys of the series has been watching the unlikely friendship and mentorship between Hemmer and Cadet Uhura.
Praising his co-star, Horak states, “Celia [Rose Gooding] is just an absolute diamond. She’s so fun. She’s got a theater background, which I share as well. It’s just a delight to work with her.”
As Uhura surprises Hemmer, so does Gooding surprise Horak, “She surprised me one day. We were chatting in the green room. We got talking about favorite foods or whatever. I mentioned that certain time of night, it’s just like I immediately start to crave popcorn. Then the next time we came back to shooting, there was a big bag of popcorn on my seat. She’s great. Very generous.”
In his final scene, Hemmer says to Uhura, “I want to leave you with one last piece of advice. Open yourself. Make a home for yourself amongst others, and you will find joy more often than sadness.”
Reflecting on how that applies to his personal life, Horak shares, “It’s so true. It’s a really beautiful piece, and it’s one that I’ve have certainly experienced in my own life. I’ve been a traveling artist for 25 years. I’ve been on the road. I’ve gone gig to gig, town to town, basically houseless for a number of years. It’s a life that I’ve lived. I’ve dedicated to being an itinerant artist, if you will, a factotum in the world. That often means coming to a new community and making connections as quickly as possible. It’s been an absolute joy of my life that I’ve been able to do that with so many people. The artistic life has been one of incredible connection and finding a home amongst other people, and what a true blessing."
THE GORN AND “ALL THOSE WHO WANDER”
When the Enterprise’s Away Team land on Valeo Beta V following the U.S.S. Peregrine’s distress beacon, they come across the deadly force that has plagued the crew the entirety of the season — the Gorn.
On the Gorn and the Aenars’ pacifist nature, Horak notes, “These Gorn — there’s your hostile right there. Finding another way other than just pure destruction and violence. Finding a way through those things. Oftentimes, it’s just about avoiding each other or drawing boundaries. There are other options other than just violence and war and conquest, and that sort of thing gets to the heart of what Roddenberry was trying to explore in the series.”
“It’s a challenge in this episode because his first duty is to the Enterprise and to their crew and to Starfleet,” reflects Horak. “Hemmer is actively doing everything he can to fix up the ship, to save his crew, that’s first and foremost. Right from the moment that they get onto that ship and he’s interfacing with it, in his amazing Aenar way, the stakes go right up there. There are really fast decisions that have to be made. I’m so impressed that [episode writer] Davy Perez managed to maintain Hemmer’s sort of true core, and yet, still got to that point.”
“He pushes Uhura out of the way and sort of takes the shot for her,” Horak continues. “He actively participates in the final sort of storming of the castle scene where they manipulate the Gorn.”
Regarding the crew’s scrappy plan, Horak is quick to point out, “Is that killing the thing? Well, no. It’s freezing. It’s not actually. And it’s La’An that comes out and deals the death blow. So ultimately, he maintains the integral notion of what it is to be Hemmer.”
As for Hemmer’s final act, Horak explains, “The decision to take his own life, it’s just so in line with who he is as a character. It’s a heroic act, and I felt that, ‘What a beautiful way to go out.’ I’m sorry he went out, but if you got to go, that’s up there.”
WHAT MAKES TREK TREK?
There are two core tenets of creator Gene Roddenberry’s Trek vision — The first is Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, while the second is there is value in connecting with the fandom.
On the significance of being cast as the first blind actor in Trek, Horak shares, “Honestly, every time that a disabled performer gets to go onstage, gets to go in front of the camera, and gets to practice their craft, it feels like we move the ball a little bit further down the field and breaking down some of those notions about what we can do and can’t do.”
Horak references the biography of Peter Falk, most known for his role in Columbo, and learning that they shared the same cancer – retinoblastoma. Falk had shared some of his struggles within the acting community where he was once told, “For the same price, I can get an actor with two eyes.”
WATCH: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - The Magic of Science
He admires how Falk continued despite those hurdles, and how he was able to have this incredible career. “Many people would watch Peter Falk and Columbo and have no idea,” says Horak. “But I learned and realized [anything] was possible. I’m so happy that not only do I get to play this incredible character, but that I actually get to share some of my own story, and hopefully inspire other artists, other creatives, other people who might be questioning whether or not they can’t do something.”
The support for Horak and Hemmer was present even before the series aired. “The response since the episodes began airing, and even going all the way back to the first announcement on Star Trek Day. Just the amount of people reaching out and saying A) ‘Welcome to the family,’ which is amazing. But also B, having so many people say, ‘Listen, I have a disability,’ or ‘I’m visually impaired, and it’s so great to see you on-screen doing this’ — that just makes the 4 ½ hours in prosthetics worth it!”
The symbiotic relationship of fans and the cast and creative team of Trek remains intact today, from its early days in 1966.
Horak proudly boasts, while researching his role, “I dug around into the fan sites because I love that. I’m a HUGE fan of the fan sites.”
Additionally, he’s fond of his “many, many interactions” with the fans. During our Zoom, Horak shows off a gift, a 3D printed Hemmer, he recently received, “This is from Don Einerson in Barry, Ontario. He printed off a Hemmer bust for me, which is pretty amazing.”
Humbled, Horak continues, “They’ve been reaching out and just giving their wholehearted support, and it’s extraordinary. Right from the moment it was announced, I was getting messages from people all over the world, and what a delight. Hemmer’s whole final piece of advice about making a family and making a home amongst the people you’re with, so it feels like he might be gone, but he’s gone home.”
The Aenar believe the end only comes once you’ve fulfilled your purpose, which Hemmer does as Uhura beautifully puts it as his funeral, “The people you love the most can cause you the most pain. But it’s the people that you love that can mend your heart when you feel broken. That’s what Hemmer’s purpose was — to fix what is broken. And he did.”
That doesn’t mean Horak won’t be seen again in this universe. His Star Trek career is not over.
But in the meantime, where can you find Horak next? He recommends following his website, BruceHorak.com. He’s currently working on a portrait series where he sits with people all over the world over Zoom, which he books through his website. Then, he’s off to do a show at the Toronto Fringe Festival called Juliet, A Revenge Comedy, where he will appear as William Shakespeare, from July 6 through July 14. And then at the end of the month, he’ll be appearing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa for his solo show, Assassinating Thomson, which he’s been touring for the past decade.
WATCH: Bruce Horak Visits The Ready Room
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Christine Dinh is the managing editor for StarTrek.com. She’s traded the Multiverse for helming this Federation Starship. For all things Star Trek, follow StarTrek.com and @StarTrek on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia & the Nordics. The series will air on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel & stream on Crave in Canada with additional international availability to be announced at a later date. The series is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution.