Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is bringing Star Trek fans something they might have felt was missing from other new Star Trek entries—wonderment, inspiration and hope.
The series picks up where Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery left off after Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) saved the galaxy from an intergalactic threat by taking a one-way trip to the future. Some of the characters, like Burnham’s adoptive brother Spock (Ethan Peck) and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) are dealing with the fallout from the prior events. While others, like a young Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) are shaking off their nerves and discovering their inner hero.
Shadow and Act talked to the cast members from the series and learned more about the journeys the characters will undergo and what it means to them to be a part of a legendary franchise.
Babs Olusanmokun and Jess Bush, who play Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel respectively, talked about what it’s like to become part of the Star Trek universe, one that has inspired so many to dream for a better future.
“It feels like a massive honor to be trusted to tell this part of Star Trek‘s story. When I first got the gig, I was like, [apprehensively and nervous] ‘All right, let’s do it!'” said Bush. “But I quickly realized that it’s such a warm and welcoming family, the Star Trek franchise, and every person, every part, every facet of the production is…just a big community…that stretches to the fans, the production, other productions that reached out to me and were welcoming in that way.”
“It’s a massive privilege as an artist to be able to contribute to something like this, that means so much to people and is very intentional on putting out positivity and has always has had clout in that way,” she continued. “…[W]hat they say and show on television has always had quite a ripple effect on[on the world]…you can’t ask for anything more.”
“It’s an amazing legacy to be a part of and as an actor, as an artist, to be gifted with that is something that is just so beautiful and it is a responsibility and it is a blessing and it is a privilege and we are determined to do our best to serve that…enduring legacy,” said Olusanmokun. “As Jess said, this show that’s touched so many lives and represented so much to different people, reading about how Nichelle Nichols [who played Uhura] from the original was going to leave Star Trek and Martin Luther King had a conversation and said ‘Please don’t do that, you mean something to us up there.’ To be connected to that kind of beauty and truth and serving through the arts, I think words can’t describe it.”
Rebecca Romijn, who plays Number One in the series, also discussed what it’s like taking on a character who means so much to the original franchise, especially since she was played in the original series’ pilot by “The First Lady of Star Trek” herself, Majel Barrett Roddenberry (who later played Nurse Chapel in the original series and other characters throughout the franchise).
“I’ve been involved in other franchises where the fandom really has a lot to say about what we’re doing, so it’s not my first time protecting a legacy character,” said. “…The writers are incredibly talented, as an actor, I get to take some liberties with her, but ultimately…just like the Star Trek fans are protective of these characters, I feel very protective of this character as well. I feel like a caretaker.”
More has been added to Number One, such as her actual name, Una Chin-Riley, and her mysterious backstory.
“We find out in the third episode that she’s hiding something…We’re now in the middle of the second season, so that development is going to really affect who she is,” Romijn said. “But she’s hiding something and she hides it by being very good at her job. She’s very fastidious, very meticulous, and she’s hiding something. And she’s a little bit scary to the younger crew members. She keeps her distance by being intimidating.”
Romijn said that everyone on the show shares her feeling of being caretakers for the characters and the franchise, with everyone doing their best not to let fans down. Thankfully, they also work very well together and, as she said, “the cast loves each other.”
This mutual adoration for each other can be felt throughout the series, especially as characters begin to create the relationship dynamics they had in the original series. For example, Spock and Uhura’s relationship was one built on deep trust and close friendship. From what Peck had to say about the characters, it seems like their relationship builds very smoothly to that point.
“I hope they go on a wonderful journey together,” he said, adding that the friendship mirrors the one he has off-screen with Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Uhura in the series.
“I’m not sure I can say too much about it, but there’s a profound respect between the two of them, and I think Celia and I have a profound respect for each other personally,” he said. “We get along so wonderfully on set, I think everyone gets along so wonderfully [and] we have a lot of fun between takes. [Gooding] coming on and taking on this incredible legacy character is something we could really relate on and I did my best to make myself available to her as she had questions [about] what’s it like taking on a legacy character. But she’s just handled it with aplomb. She’s a really impressive and special person, as the world will see soon.”
He said that his experience playing such an integral character as Spock is to the franchise is one he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s an ongoing journey of discovery, of confidence-building, of respect, it’s a very delicate dance to do. It’s the journey of a lifetime in many ways, both as a person and an actor,” he said. “I’m still making sense of it in my reality, to be honest with you, and I hope it never feels normal because it’s just such an extraordinary thing that’s happened to me in my life, and this character is extraordinary for so many other people and I’m in awe of that and I try to find wonder in it every day.”
One of the exploratory parts of playing Spock in Strange New Worlds is that viewers will get to see what Spock is like on off-hours, when he’s in a relationship with his betrothed, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), and how he makes friends (and actually tells jokes). Peck said that finding Spock in these more intimate moments was a challenge, but is “thrilling and deeply satisfying.”
“Strange New Worlds really provides a space to go into the nuances of Spock’s inner world and life. What’s he like behind closed doors? What does he struggle with? What’s he like romantically?” he said. “It’s been really exciting, it’s been really fun, but it’s also been scary because there isn’t much of a map for that. I really look for Leonard Nimoy as my guiding light. I’m a big fan of Zachary Quinto’s performance and I love the Kelvin timeline of movies, but that’s a different universe from ours.”
“I wish that Nimoy were alive today to provide me some wisdom and advice and guidance, but unfortunately, I only have the enormous and amazing body of work that he left behind,” he continued.
Gooding, Melissa Navia and Christina Chong also talked about how it’s been taking on the Star Trek mantle, with Gooding talking specifically about the legacy Nichols left behind.
“It’s been a dream. I’ve been incredibly lucky to continue this legacy of this incredible character in both in sci-fi history but also entertainment history. As a Black femme, it is not lost on me how incredibly important this role’s history was for the future of Black women in television,” said Gooding. “And so being able to have that in my mind while I continue to play this character who has no idea about any of what I know as an actor, it’s a fun balancing act.”
“It’s really, really intriguing to push all of that legacy information aside and just play this young woman who is just trying to make it through and continue fill her days with something that is meaningful and fulfilling. It’s incredible,” she continued. “I stand on the shoulders of very woman who has come before me in this industry, but all of us stand on the shoulders of Nichelle and what incredibly strong shoulders they are. I am starstruck, and I’m incredibly and deeply grateful.”
Navia, who plays helmsman Erica Ortegas, said that while her character is new, she is a callback to a character cut from the original series.
“I get a chance to originate a brand new character and fans get to see her interact with these legacy characters that they have a history with. In addition to that, her last name when producers explained to me this homage that they did, the last name came from the original pilot that Gene Roddenberry made,” she said. “There was a character, José Ortegas, who was a navigator and he was Latin American. That character never made it to screen. It became a different character, that last name was changed…So as an actor and as a Latina myself, I love that all these decades later, we’re somehow still bringing that spirit to the screen.”
“She’s an incredible pilot, she’s confident and deservedly so, she’s a combat veteran,” Navia said of Ortegas. “Some of the other characters…are already dealing with some really dark backstories that they’re grappling with, and you know that Ortegas has been through a lot, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. The writers have really made it so that we’re peeling back all these layers as the episodes progress.”
Chong plays the Enterprise’s chief of security La’an Noonien-Singh, a relative of one of the most famous Star Trek villains Khan Noonien-Singh. A survivor of a genocide, La’an deals with her traumatic past and her complicated lineage as she opens up to the Enterprise crew.
“As a new Star Trek fan, it’s just been amazing to learn…everything in Star Trek history and especially about Khan and how I can embody that through La’an,” she said. “It’s been super exciting to play such a strong a character who’s closed off at first with such a dark history and trauma [and] PTSD…[T]o bring to that a vulnerability…that’s slowly unfolding as well as being able to do the fights and the cool action stuff, going down to different planets, the missions, going in disguise, all of that stuff has been amazing to play as an actor.”
Watch the full interviews below. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres on Paramount + May 5.