Published Dec 30, 2022
WARP FIVE: Jason Alexander on The Fun of Building A Tellarite Personality
The Star Trek: Prodigy actor reflects on the franchise, Janeway stories, and more!
By Christine Dinh
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
With the first season of Star Trek: Prodigy wrapped, the U.S.S. Dauntless crew, led by Vice Admiral Janeway, has witnessed their fair share of galactic quandaries. First, they’ve been in hot pursuit of the U.S.S. Protostar and its crew comprised of runaways from the Tars Lamora labor camp. Second, they had a traitor among them, a Vau N’Akat impersonating an over-eager Starfleet ensign. Then, they bore witness to their admiral behaving erratically and unfit to lead. And if that wasn’t enough, there was the a dire situation where the Living Construct is infecting every Federation ship in their vicinity, forcing them to destroy themselves. And the very crew of misfit kids that got them into this situation was the very one that rescued them.
StarTrek.com had the pleasure of speaking with Jason Alexander, the Tellarite chief medical officer, Dr. Noum, aboard the Dauntless.
Dr. Noum isn’t the first role the prolific television actor embodied; that distinction would go to Kurros, the leader of the scholarly Think Tank on Star Trek: Voyager. In a 2011 interview with StarTrek.com, Alexander shared his boyhood dreaming of guesting on Star Trek and finally making it happen.
More than 20 years later, Alexander returned to the franchise in a recurring role where he plays a non-humanoid-presenting alien. Speaking on this new opportunity, Alexander stated, “The invitation to be part of Prodigy is what drew me. It was fascinating and great that they circled back to Janeway because the character of Janeway, especially as it sits on Kate Mulgrew, to be a really fascinating. Even though Voyager had its lovely run, there's a lot more juice in that piece of fruit. She's such an interesting character. To me, of all the subsequent follow up series, I've always thought that Janeway was the unknown stepchild of Kirk. She has so much of his qualities and what first drew me as a child to Star Trek was the Kirk character. His attitudes and his abilities and his failures were what really drew me to the franchise. And so to see those finally embodied, and in a strong female character, just made me so happy.”
“The fact that Kate is a part of this and Janeway is a part of this, is icing on the cake,” added Alexander. “But I'd be lying if I said, ‘Oh, there was no way I was going to do this if it wasn't about...’ I was just really thrilled that they invited me to be a part of this, and particularly thrilled that they invited me to be part of it as a character that people don't usually think of me for. When I first saw the rendering of Noum, I went, ‘You don't want my duck man voice coming out of this.’ It was all a lovely surprise and has continued to be a very sweet thing to be doing.”
In building out this role, Alexander looked to another iconic Star Trek species to inform his performance as the stubborn Tellarite doctor.
“It's like all series,” noted Alexander. “This was true on Seinfeld as well. You learn as you go. If you make too many assumptions going in, then the writers write something and you go, ‘Oh, I was playing the opposite of that, all these other episodes.’ You don't want to make too many bold assumptions about anything in a series because it is going to change from week-to-week. What we know is that there is a sort of intellectual condescension and superiority that the whole race seems to hold. There's an arrogance, through physical ability, they all seem to be on the larger side of things.”
“But what's surprising about Noum, and that I hope is the secret sauce to playing him and where they may go with him, for a character that has that kind of arrogance and ego to be subservient in a military chain of command and to have the flashes of compassion,” revealed Alexander. “He's a doctor; to have the flashes of compassion that he's to have, I think is such an interesting mix. It leads me to believe if we really start to meet other Tellarites, that that has to be in the mix and I'm interested to find out — is that a big component of their essential character? Is there a toxic male masculinity to these guys and the women undercut that in some way? Or is it all sort of a tough Klingon society where the survival of the fittest? I don't know where they want to go and shape this, but I would hope what I find compelling about him are those little flashes of those ‘I will tell you that you mean nothing to me, but then I'll take a bullet for you if I have to.’ That is a really interesting combination of character.”
In “The Ghost in the Machine,” the Protostar crew find themselves trapped in a Holodeck simulation designed. Eagle-eyed viewers noticed that Noum played a significant part of the characters the crew engaged with, including but not limited to, a Tellarite biker gang, patrons of a speakeasy nightclub, and a pirate aboard a vessel helmed by Dal.
Alexander found such delight in embodying a variety of characters, revealing, “It was interesting for the directors as well and the writers to go, ‘If we go into the speakeasy, is it Noum with a these and those and Brooklyn thing?’ The pirates have a little bit of a brogue added to them. How much was too much? How much was not enough? How many different?”
Star Trek: Prodigy - Holodeck Brawl
“What was really fun is the thing you see the least of when you watched the episode, which were all the crowd Noum reactions to things,” explained Alexander. “I must have done 200 different little asides or reactions to things that they have blended in. When I've watched it, I go, ‘Which ones are they using? Which ones are they picking up?’ Noum is generally a brush stroke in an episode, so it’s great to have more of him, more presence of him, and to see the different kinds of fun. He brings some comic relief because he is such a strong attitude no matter what the situation is. And it's usually in juxtaposition to the situation, so you can get some laughs with him. So to see a broader range of how you could possibly use him, especially comedically, was really fun to do and really fun to see.”
The revered television actor’s love for Star Trek began at the early age of 10. Recounting his love affair with the franchise, Alexander shared, “What I didn't realize I was so drawn to as a kid and what was so impactful as a kid in watching Star Trek was how it was tackling social issues and diversity issues and inclusion issues. Usually, not by hitting it like a hammer over the head, but by merely looking at the show, looking at that Bridge — Asian, Black, alien, women — all in positions of power. All of it, because I was so devoted to it, was not a small part of my understanding and feeling about what diversity and inclusion means.”
Alexander had high praise for the work Star Trek: Prodigy is doing as an accessible, all-ages series. “We now live in a time that is as divisive as any I've been through,” remarked Alexander. “And how do you reassure younger people that no matter who they are, what they look like, how they feel, that there is community for them, that there is space for them, that they have value? In the Star Trek universe, its message is repeated over and over and over, but it's done with imagination and excitement and romance and silliness.”
“What Prodigy does so well is it makes it something that a young person would get excited about,” he concluded. “But all of those underlying values, all those stories, all those characters working together in unison and not dismissing anybody because of a single failure, but finding a place for them in a community, I have to believe that that is part of the solution. And I am happy and thrilled to be part of the solution, especially if it's presented through something like Star Trek, which does it so beautifully. The creators of Prodigy are specifically playing to a younger audience. They have a very powerful part in teaching something to these kids that will be impactful along the way.”