Over the course of three episodes, CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery has already proven to have a number of surprises up its sleeve — who could’ve guessed, for instance, the fate of Michelle Yeoh, who plays the Captain Philippa Georgiou to star Sonequa Martin-Green’s disgraced first officer Michael Burnham. The unpredictability of the series so far promises that there are more surprises to come.
Rotten Tomatoes was at New York Comic Con’s Star Trek: Discovery Madison Square Garden panel and press conference on Saturday to learn more about what went into this new iteration of the beloved franchise and buzzy newcomer characters like L’Rell (a Klingon played by Mary Chieffo), Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and the wartime commander, Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), who scooped Burnham off a prison transport shuttle and conscripted her for duty aboard the Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery’s real breakout, of course, is its star Martin-Green. Read on to find out seven things we learned about the complicated hero and what’s to come for her in season 1 of the new series.
“You don’t understand what an incredible adventure [working on Star Trek: Discovery] has been, so I’m not going to let them kill me, OK? I will haunt them,” she said, mimicking a ghost. “I love these guys to death.”
The love appears to be mutual. By panel’s end, series producer Gretchen J. Berg confirmed that they loved Yeoh so much that they’re bringing her back for more: “You will see more of this woman on the show!”
Michael Burnham is a hell of a character, and she’s in beyond-capable hands with The Walking Dead vet Martin-Green. Speaking on the intricacies of Burnham’s emotional and intellectual state (considering she’s a 100 percent human raised by Vulcans — franchise icon Spock’s parents, in fact — there’s a lot to work with here), the actress said that she finds the inner turmoil “quite visceral.”
“Me as Burnham, you see me say that my emotions inform my logic rather than impede them,” she said. “And so growing up on Vulcan, it was something that I — I had to find something about my emotions to be a point of strength. I had to find them helpful in some way, so that’s the way I did it. I decided that my emotions helped me carve out new paths of logic and so that would help me in the midst of this logic-based society, but then those sorts of emotional sensibilities have led me to where I am now. And so I really love that this path is one of self-discovery. But it is also a path of redemption, as well, and the yearning for that will always be there.”
While contractually obligated to reveal no Star Trek spoilers to press and fans, Martin-Green did suggest that we’ll get to know Burnham more intimately this season. When asked by a member of the audience if we’ll get a glimpse into Burnham’s personal and love life, the actress broke into a big smile and played coy.
“I’m just gonna say that there’s all kinds of life on this show,” she said. “We’re covering everything with everyone, you see what I’m saying?”
Off-camera, Martin-Green is no stranger to large-scale television projects with devoted and vocal fanbases. Back in the press room, she admitted that her time as Sasha Williams on AMC’s undead hit prepared her for her latest dramatic outing.
“One thousand trillion patrillion quadrillion percent: My time and work on Walking Dead for sure prepared me [for this],” she said. “It was very much a stepping stone for me. It was very much a time of preparation. I was on [The Walking Dead] for five years, and so it was very much a post-graduate degree. I learned an incredible amount [about] what it is to be an actor, to be a professional. I learned so much about just being a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend. An artist that is a part of a whole…. So to be on that Goliath of a show that means so much to so many people, I feel it was just the perfect experience to jump off into this. It was a trampoline into this, because now I have the honor and privilege and blessing to be on the ground.”
With as incredibly expansive a universe as the Star Trek franchise offers, it’s easy for new actors within that world to look back and borrow bits of advice from actors of the past. Wilson Cruz, who plays one half of Star Trek’s first same-sex couple as Dr. Hugh Culber, for instance, admitted to watching all the doctors of the past in preparation for this role.
“What I loved about them is they were the living, beating heart of the show,” he said. “And so I really wanted to infuse [Culber] with as much of that sensibility as possible.”
Isaacs, on the other hand, said just the opposite — that he “had no desire to be a pale shadow of any of the brilliant stuff I’ve seen before me. So everything for me was constructed backwards to be not like anybody I’d seen on Star Trek before.”
Martin-Green fell somewhere in the middle. There’s no way her performance as Burnham couldn’t be influenced by Vulcans who were previously brought to the screen — “It’s where I grew up!” she joked. But she was also quick to shift gears and credit her costars with inspiring her day to day, no matter how “lame” it sounded.
“I really am inspired by and informed by these actors. I feel that everyone has really jumped off the cliff, and they’re going wherever the story leads them. And so I’ve seen the story reflected back to me in their eyes,” she said. “The world becomes so very alive because of who we have…. It’s just a lot of heart-exchange, and I’ve been informed the most by [everyone here].”
When asked in the press room about the details of Spock and Burnham’s relationship, producer Akiva Goldsman politely but definitively responded with a simple “No.” But, Anthony Rapp, who plays Lieutenant Paul Stamets, later reassured that matters such as that are on the minds of creators and actors alike. Staying true to canon is a goal across the board.
“What I’ve continued to ask [the series’ skeptics is] to keep going,” Rapp said, “to trust that we are aware of these things. That, yes, we’ve never heard of Michael’s relationship with Spock before. Trust us that this will somehow reverberate in ways that you don’t necessarily expect.”
Central to Star Trek: Discovery’s lore is the fact that it has a non-captain woman of color as the lead protagonist, and those in the press room would be remiss if they weren’t to ask about that fact’s significance. But it also raises the question of how the other female relationships — of which there are several — will play out onscreen. Series producer Berg, for one, is particularly keen on the rapport between Burnham and Cadet Tilly.
“What was so great about seeing the Georgiou and Burnham relationship where Georgiou was such a wonderful mentor, this is now happening here between the cadet and former first officer,” Berg said. “It’s paying it forward…. And as a friendship, it’s a two-way street, and I think that’s awesome.”
Martin-Green praised her costar, Wiseman — “Mary is a firework you guys. She’s just sensational.” Then Wiseman jumped into the “butt-kissing contest” to credit Martin-Green for really standing at the helm of the series and helping her to find her voice on and off screen in a massive project like Star Trek.
“I’m very, very new to this situation and never had a role this size on this kind of franchise before,” Wiseman said, noting that Tilly is coincidentally also having her own world opening. “She’s so green and she’s on this new ship that is, like, the ship for science, and it’s exactly where she wants to be. And then she comes into contact with this woman [Burnham] who is strong, who is warm, who is empathetic, and she kind of blows her mind. She is in a place of pure possibility right now and I feel like that, too, as a person.
“To have Sonequa — she may not be the captain of the ship, but she’s the captain of this freakin’ show,” Wiseman enthused. “She is a mother and a sister and a friend to all of us. The stories that you will see on screen reverberate backwards and in between us all.”
Star Trek: Discovery streams Sundays at 8:30/5:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS All-Access.