Published Jun 28, 2023
WARP FIVE: Yetide Badaki Takes Starfleet to Court
The Star Trek: Strange New Worlds actress sits down to chat about power dressing, the purpose of storytelling, and more!
By Christine Dinh
SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 2 "Ad Astra per Aspera" to follow!
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
The latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ “Ad Astra per Aspera” joins the honored ranks of the franchise’s best courtroom drama episodes. Following First Officer Una Chin-Riley’s arrest at the end of the series’ first season, her secret status as an augmented Illyrian is exposed to not only her crew, but Starfleet itself.
In the second season opener, “The Broken Circle,” facing court-martial along with possible imprisonment and dishonorable discharge, Una and Captain Pike have unsuccessfully tried to connect with her preferred legal representation of choice – a childhood friend with whom she had a terrible falling out. Unwilling to chance the loss of his Number One, Pike travels to the Vaultera Nebula, enduring their unsuitable atmosphere, to meet face-to-face with the Illyrian counsellor Neera Ketoul, who begrudgingly takes on Una’s case.
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to speak with actress Yetide Badaki on her incredible portrayal of Neera Ketoul, power dressing for the role, the real world reflections of Star Trek’s allegorical tales, and more.
Point of First Contact
Yetide Badaki could not contain her excitement in detailing how Star Trek had always been a part of her life, “There’s nothing better than being able to geek out on Star Trek all day.”
“For me, there was no going away and coming back,” explains Badaki. “Once I was into Star Trek, that was it for me. It was when I was a child in Nigeria. At that time, we’d just gotten satellite TV; The Next Generation came out and I was hooked. Star Trek: The Next Generation is my comfort watch, wherever I am in the world. It’s always on. My first crushes were Data and Picard.”
“After that, I was able to go back and watch The Original Series, and then I watched every single iteration that came after,” Badaki continues. “To now be a part of this, it’s an absolute dream come true.”
A Storied Legacy of Courtroom Dramas
Neera Ketoul’s defense of Una Chin-Riley’s rights as a genetically enhanced individual within the Federation shines a light on Starfleet’s hard stance, which proves that the organization is not infallible especially when the letter of the law continues to perpetuate oppression and privilege. Based on the reaction to “Ad Astra per Aspera” online, this storyline has cemented itself as an instant fan-favorite along the likes of trials involving Data’s rights and personhood in “The Measure of a Man,” the conspiratorial witch hunt in “The Drumhead,” the question of accountability for a previous host’s crimes in “Dax,” and maintaining innocence in the face of a false claim in “Court Martial.”
In this week’s episode, Neera Ketoul, who works to advocate for the rights of Illyrians, takes on the high-profile case against Starfleet in order to boost visibility of her smaller cases. Discussing on the opportunity to chew on a compelling episode that explores the less than perfect side of Starfleet, Badaki shares, “I’m getting goosebumps [thinking about it]; it’s absolutely incredible.”
“I did a video many years back talking about stories that captivated me,” continues Badaki. “I talked about Star Trek; I love those impassioned speeches that Picard would give. Every great captain has given an impassioned speech about how we can do better and how we should do better. Reading this script, I immediately said to Valerie Weiss, our director, I said, ‘It’s like ‘The Measure of A Man.’ Melinda Snodgrass was the writer of that incredible work. The idea of Data fighting for his rights and his sentience, it was incredible. I saw a lot of those flavors in this episode. It’s one of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all time. I also thought there were shades of ‘Court Marial,’ from The Original Series where Kirk was on trial. It really is everything; getting to do this, it means so much to me to be a part of this world, and especially in this kind of episode. I feel extremely lucky.”
On Pursuing a Career in Acting
With the real-world parallels in “Ad Astra per Aspera,” Badaki reveals, “This is why I became an actor. I truly believe in the capacity for storytelling to change the world for the better. This is not hyperbole.”
“I truly believe that; I blame Star Trek for that,” laughs Badaki. “We see it everywhere down to influences in technology like the automatic sliding door and how we’re basically carrying around tricorders. This episode in particular, ‘Ad Astra per Aspera,’ to the stars through hardship; it’s such a powerful message. It’s a very needed message.”
“Globally, we’ve just gone through an immense event,” she continues. “We’re still going through a lot of upheaval. A lot of things that can make people feel afraid, that can make them feel a loss of hope. That’s one of the purposes of storytelling; when it’s done well, it offers up a beacon, a possibility of something better. I have to applaud the Star Trek franchise for this; in a world where we don’t often see depictions of a possible hopeful future, we’re bombarded with images of the opposite. It’s a north star of what we can be.”
Crafting a Backstory for Neera Ketoul
A point of contention for Neera Ketoul and Una Chin-Riley is how they view their Illyrian heritage. In their first encounter in the episode, we discover they have not spoken in 25 years, based on the events in their colony as some Illyrians chose to cease all modification activities, which to their culture were traditional customs, while others who refused to hide who they were ended up ostracized and punished.
On building a relationship with such delicate nuance, Badaki praises her colleague and director, “First off, I have so much love for Rebecca [Romijn]. She’s a woman after my own heart. Valerie got us all these matching onesies. There’s a video of us doing a video challenge that involves a Beyonce song where we all drop. Valerie Weiss did an incredible job of making sure that we got to meet each other beforehand to discuss what this friendship was like and what happened – where the tears occurred, and how, and when specifically, even if we don’t see it on the screen.”
“Valerie painted a picture for us, describing how Neera and Una used to lay down and stare up at the stars as children, dreaming together,” adds Badaki. “It was so visceral. At the end, we sent each other gifts. Rebecca sent me comfy slippers that has stars on them – aspera. She’s an incredible human being and getting to watch the courtroom scenes, watching her straight on. Those will definitely be one of those memories that I keep for a lifetime.”
Dress for the Job You Have
Throughout “Ad Aspera per Aspera,” Badaki graces each scene she was in as Neera with one powerful outfit after another, commanding presence in every room she enters.
Badaki agrees on how we can, on occasion, need external assistance when embodying a role, “Sometimes as an actor, you need to pull from the outside in. I wanted that, as soon as Neera walks in, you feel that presence. The whole team; their attention to detail. There was a lot of psychological stuff that went into each element that we see on Neera. The clothes; it’s powerful – we got shoulder pads, we got our power suits going. Every one of those designs could be on the cover of Vogue. Bernadette [Croft] did such beautiful, beautiful work, and they all speak to Neera’s character. Knowing she exists in a space that is potentially hostile, she’s able to stand fully as herself, in all these spaces presented.”
“I have to say this, I love that Bernadette brought back the colors of the uniforms,” continues Badaki. “Visually, that always made me see that it’s not only different individuals from different races from different places, but also people of different disciplines, different thought areas, working together for a common goal. Then you had on makeup, Scotia Boyd, who I’d worked with before as well. Scotia did such detailed work with that makeup. Working towards that, it’s how does Neera truly show up as her full self, down to the nails, which she put very specific angles in. Again, to counter that space that Neera finds herself. Then on hair, Daniel Losco – he had some sleepless nights putting that hair together. You see those hard edges. It was all about working these angles. The team did such beautiful stuff. They make it so easy for an actor because you step into all those elements and you go, ‘Ah, there’s Neera.’”