We were in the front row at today’s Star Trek: Discovery panel at Comic-Con in San Diego, featuring cast members Sonequa Martin-Green (Burnham), Jason Isaacs (Lorca), Doug Jones (Saru), Shazad Latif (Tyler), Mary Wiseman (Tilly), Anthony Rapp (Stamets), and James Frain (Sarek). They were joined by executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Heather Kadin, and Akiva Goldsman. The panel was moderated by Rainn Wilson, who guest stars as Harry Mudd on Discovery.
Cast and characters details
Michael Burnham is Sarek’s adopted daughter
Star Trek: Discovery lead Sonequa Martin-Green told the crowd that she was in Buenos Aires when she got the call telling her she’d be the star, and screamed with joy, then cried. Harberts told everyone how hard it was to cast the lead, and that they looked for months, and then had to wait for Martin-Green to finish The Walking Dead so she’d be free. But he and Berg knew she was right for the part the minute they saw her.
She also talked about how much she loves Michelle Yeoh, and how the relationship between Burnham and Georgiou is a close one. When Burnham’s parents were killed, Sarek and Amanda became her surrogate parents, and committed her to Georgiou.
James Frain spoke about how we’ll get to explore Sarek in his somewhat younger days, and understand how unusual it was for him to marry a human. Becoming a mentor to Burnham was a way for him to raise a human, to understand her complex nature, and face the challenge of dealing with her emotions. The Vulcan ideal, he reminded the crowd, evolved over centuries. At this point, executive producer Alex Kurtzman pointed out that they know giving Spock a “stepsister” [ed. note: this is not really the correct term, “adopted sister” would be more correct] is a step away from canon. “Be patient with us,” he told the fans.
Captain Lorca is a new kind of captain
Jason Isaacs explained that his Captain Lorca will be different from other captains because he’s “probably more fucked up than any of them,” and has “a lot of sharp edges.” He’s trying not to look or sound like any other previous captains.
Stamets gets a boyfriend
According to Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz (who played Rickie on My So-Called Life, and like Rapp is a veteran of Rent) will play his love interest on Discovery. Rapp then rattled off some “exomycology treknobabble” to impress the crowd. But he got serious about his character. “I play the first openly gay character in the history of TV Star Trek. I’m very proud of that & he’s a scientist.”
Following the panel CBS released a photo of Wilson Cruz and revealed that he plays Dr. Hugh Culber, medical officer of the Starship Discovery.
Saru has hooves
Doug Jones explained that Saru, as a Kelpian, has hooves for feet, and demonstrated his character’s walk. “I’m balancing on the balls of my feet when I walk,” he explained. Saru is 6’8″! His costume, he said, is very snug, and the costumers wanted to pad his flat butt but he said it would make him too human.
Saru and Burnham will have a brother/sister relationship. James Frain said that all the real drama will come from what’s happening between characters. Rapp added that the relationships on Discovery will be more dynamic than those on some previous iterations of Trek.
Mindful of Star Trek canon
Alex Kurtzman assured the crowd that they are all huge fans of The Original Series, and take their inspiration from that, always remaining mindful of canon.
But he reminded everyone, in answer to a fan question submitted to Wilson, that it’s 2017, and creating sets to match the original show wouldn’t work. But “we are consistent with origins,” he said.
“Obviously we wanted to be accurate, we are within canon, there are raging debates all day in the writers’ room among all the writers and producers about what is within canon and what’s not, what we can do technically.”
Executive producer Akiva Goldsman assured the crowd that he’s a true Trekkie; his first convention was in 1976, when he was a teen — and that his mother didn’t know about it.
Co-showrunner Aaron Harberts spoke to the theme of the series: they’re trying to show how conflict can be solved by peace. There will be mistakes along the way, but at the end of day it’s about understanding each other.
Jason Isaacs, now involved in two iconic franchises, talked about the connection between Star Trek and Harry Potter: “Both fandoms love storytelling and look to it to navigate life.”
Goldsman pointed out that the idea that Star Trek is without conflict is not accurate, it’s always been there. It’s about the search for a solution that is not dystopian, but utopian.
Rapp admitted that he was weeping backstage when the new trailer was shown. He can’t wait for the world to see all the work they’re doing.
Embracing Star Trek’s Diversity
Rainn Wilson brought up some of the backlash and negativity about Discovery‘s diversity, but said that diversity “has been part of the Star Trek universe from the beginning.” Martin-Green chimed in to add that Trek has always been about unity and diversity, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s so important to so many. “If you say you love the legacy of Star Trek, but you don’t love that, then you’ve missed it,” she said, receiving much applause along with an “amen!” from someone in the crowd.
Goldsman admitted that the degree of backlash was confusing to the team, saying that “if you love science fiction, then you love imagining yourself as something other.” He thought the backlash, “spoke more to what’s happening culturally on the internet than it did to Star Trek, because Star Trek is just about how we hold hands and move forward together.”
Wilson told the crowd that watching the original series as a kid was inspiring to him, and showed him that we can get along with other races, and other species.
Klingons who speak Klingon
Co-showrunner Gretchen Berg explained that because of the story they’re telling, it’s very important to have the Klingons speak Klingon. (“You’ll be reading,” she told the crowd. “There will be subtitles.”) They wanted to make sure that people see Klingons in an entirely different light, and not view them as just “the thugs of the universe.” Discovery will be expanding the culture that we’ve seen so far. “The Klingons have their own pride, interests & talents,” she said. “It’s a very fascinating culture.”
Producers are also making sure that the Klingon language is correct. “There is someone policing this all the time … we’ve gone to great lengths to be incredibly accurate in our Klingon.”
15-episode emotional journey
Executive producer Heather Kadin explained that unlike other Star Trek shows, Discovery will have a story that continues, and follows the characters’ emotional journeys for 15 episodes. Kurtzman said that there will be many surprises along the way, and lots of big reveals over the course of the season.
Shazad Latif pointed out that episodes won’t just be about the scifi and tech — it’s a character show, and they all have emotional complexity.
Behind the scenes, and a composer announced
Music will be composed by Jeff Russo, whose previous work includes Fargo (the TV series) and American Gothic.
Wilson teased Isaacs about playing a lot of tennis in between shooting episodes of Discovery.
The actors have been spending a lot of time together, and Isaacs told the crowd that Sonequa Martin-Green is the queen of the set–and fierce on game night! Martin-Green agreed that the cast has become very cohesive, and they value each other and their stories, then said the fans are a big part of that.
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Photos by Aaron Harvey. Thanks to Laurie Ulster for assistance with this article.