This week, Connor Trinneer is hosting a special Math Encounters event at New York’s National Museum of Mathematics called “The Math of Khan.” Mathematician and Trek fan James Grime will be speaking about the fascinating mathematical ideas featured in Star Trek, including a paradox that upset both 20th century mathematicians and 23rd century androids, the mathematics of alien biology, and the most important question of all: When on a dangerous away mission, does the color of your shirt really affect your chances of survival?
Trinneer graciously gave us some of his time to talk about what he expects from the event, and reminisce with us about his days as Chief Engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker on Enterprise.
The Math of Khan
TrekMovie: How did you get involved with The Math of Khan event?
Connor Trinneer: Well initially I’d met David, who’s one of the board members and founders of the museum. He was in Vegas with his daughter last year, [and I] got to know him a little bit, and then got a call from out of the blue. Cindy, the woman who was organizing this, said they’re doing “The Math of Khan” and would I be interested in doing the intro to this guy’s speech? And I thought, ‘Sure! Why not?’
The funny thing is, most actors are actors because they couldn’t do math. (laughs) At least I am!
TM: I was just going to ask what your relationship was with math.
CT: Uh … contentious. (laughs)
TM: Did you struggle with it as a kid?
CT: I did yeah, terribly so. But oddly, it skipped a generation, because my son is obsessed with math and science and physics and calculus. And it’s a remarkable thing to watch because he seems to have a sense of understanding that I guess I never had. The older I’ve gotten, the more I can appreciate it, but really, for me, in terms of getting through school, math was always just…agh…here it comes…an hour of THIS. (laughs)
TM: Do you know what they’re planning for the talk itself? What can you tell us about it?
CT: I don’t know what this guy’s speech is. I have a feeling that … there are so many things in culture, science, our lives that Star Trek really introduced, in a way. The way we communicate now, all these things that they were doing, especially in the original series, that didn’t exist, ways in which we can evaluate people in medicine, that I’m sure he’s going to cover. But what I think I’ll do is … one, give my brief history of math in my own personal life (laughs) and share my son’s love for it, and really the parent’s joy in watching somebody do things such as … he’d wake up in the morning, and we have a blackboard in our utility room that he would just fill with these equations, and when he’d get out of the shower he’d do it on the mirror, in the foggy mirror. He probably didn’t understand the totality of the equation itself but it doesn’t matter, it’s the interest.
And I’ve got a couple of anecdotes. You know, the first time I walked into Engineering, which is one of the main sets of any Star Trek show, and you’ve got the nuclear warp core, and all that. And Michael and Denise Okuda, who write the bible for all of the tech for Star Trek, they came down and explained to me how it worked. For a second I was like, “This doesn’t really work-work?” They really diagram the whole thing. It would be one thing to go, “Yeah, this is the engine room,” but they’ve got blueprints, they’ve got, I guess in quotes, “working models.”
They were telling me how the whole warp core works and into the nacelles, and that kind of stuff, and I was blown away and then—I hope I’m not giving everything away from my speech—‘cause then, at the end of it, our lighting designer, Billy, he could tell I was a bit overwhelmed. He was like, “C’mere.” I followed him and he opened this little hatch door on this warp core, which was the size of a really large dump truck. In that was a color wheel with five different gel colors slowly spinning, and light shining on him and he’s like, “That’s your warp core, by the way.” It was like, “Oh. OH! Right! Yeah, okay, I get it!” (laughs) Inside this is kind of a disco dance floor!
TM: That would’ve been fun!
CT: Right? You’d have to be very short.
Playing George Bush in new Tom Cruise movie
TM: Tell us about your new movie with Tom Cruise, American Made. You play George W. Bush!
CT: Well, I’ve heard for years, “You should play George W. Bush,” and I’m like, “Shut up.” And you know, when prompted, I can do him, and I went into this audition and sat down and did the scene, and the casting director said, “Do that again.”
I did it again, and she’s like, “Not all the time…” and she points at the tip of her nose: “You can look just like him.” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that.” And she said, “It’s kind of uncanny. I don’t know what’s going to happen here but it’s kind of uncanny.” And I said, “Well, thanks.” You know, at any audition, you do your thing, you walk out, and you try to forget about it.
And then I got it, and was immediately terrified.
It’s one thing to play somebody that you’re just creating. It’s a whole nother thing to play somebody who everybody, at least in America, has a really specific idea about. Comics have done him, and you can look him up all over the place. And so I did that, I did research on him.
I didn’t know this –when he was in a new city, he would walk the neighborhoods with Secret Service in tow, and just chat with people. And they filmed it, it’s on YouTube. And you really get a sense of what the guy was like. Because if you put anybody in front of a teleprompter, their personality, unless they’re Bill Clinton, disappears. And that’s what I found whenever you saw him speaking to the press, or when he was giving a State of the Union. So I used these videos of him just engaging with people in the neighborhoods. And he’s an incredibly charming guy, somebody who you’d want to have a beer with.
And then I got there to Atlanta to shoot and I’d had the script for probably a few months at that time. And I said to myself, “I don’t really care who I work with, I’m not intimidated, I know my stuff, I’m an actor and a professional.” And then, the morning of — we’d gone the night before to have a rehearsal. And there was a scene, there were a couple of scenes with Oliver North, and the head of the DEA, [director] Doug [Liman] and Tom [Cruise] and the rest of the cast, they’re really just breaking apart this scene. They’re tearing it apart and they’re putting it back together, and the writers, they’re furiously rewriting stuff, and I’m thinking to myself, “This is going to be so great. I’ve got a couple of ideas, I’ve got some notes that maybe we could play with, for my turn.” So we spent two hours in there just working the scenes, and then it had gotten a bit late in the evening, and then it’s, “Let’s go upstairs and do the other scene,” and we go up there, I’m sitting on a bench, and Tom’s character is sitting on the bench, and we do the scene, and I’m all prepared with my ideas and notes, and we do it, and Doug walks up to me and he goes, “Louder.”
All right, I’ll do it louder. I did it louder. And he’s like, “All right, we’ll see you tomorrow!” And it wasn’t appropriate to go, “Hang on, I’ve got seven or eight notes here.”
So the next morning, I get in the van to go do my scene and all of a sudden I’m feeling nauseous. And I’m like, “You’re nervous.” Then I thought, “Well you’re not going to throw up, are you?” (laughs) I didn’t.
And then we got there and – I have to say I’ve always been a fan of Tom Cruise’s films and his work, but what a great scene partner. What a real joy to be around, I just can’t say enough kind things about my day with him on that movie. He was just a really giving actor, asked me if I was okay with what we were doing, and it reaffirmed the reason, for me, why he’s so good is that he’s a careful owner of his process, and it was great. In fact, all these things that I’d had in my head, we wound up doing. Because we were just trying to work our way through the scene, but we didn’t have the rehearsal time so we just did it on the day. It was great. I hope it’s in the movie, you never know. Nobody’s told me! (laughs)
The acting process: Trip’s pregnancy, death, duplication …
TM: As Trip Tucker, you faced death, loss, romance, being a clone, pregnancy … what was the biggest WTF moment when somebody handed you a script?
CT: A couple of ‘em. Out of the gate, episode three, I was pregnant.
One thing about playing a man who’s pregnant, you want to get that right as best you can. So I really spent a lot of time thinking about what I knew from some of the things that happen to women when they get pregnant. Some of them weren’t in the script and I had them put them in.
TM: Like what?
CT: Well … when he got emotional when he was eating the breadsticks. That wasn’t in the script, that he starts to cry. (laughs) And they also put in a scene where he’s talking about how it would be really dangerous for a little one, ‘cause there was an elevator that had been worked on, in Engineering, from one floor to another. And I’d expressed some things, like, “I want him to have real emotional concern for the unknown, such as ‘What if a little kid walked in? What if a little one walked in here and had to shut this hatch? He could cut his finger off!’” I’m not sure that’s the exact dialogue but it was something to that effect.
So that was one of those WTF moments of “What am I gonna do here?” And the other one was when I had to play myself when I was cloned. There had to be some subtle nuances that were different enough that you realized what you were watching wasn’t quite Trip. And that’s the minute work of an actor where you find these things; it didn’t even matter if anybody recognized it, I did. And trying to find the click on the dial that’s one off the original character.
But they were absolute joys to do. Anytime you get an opportunity to really make artistic choices in that way, it’s such a joy.
TM: And the Star Trek shows tend to provide some good opportunities, along with all the technobabble.
CT: Yeah. I get asked a lot: what would you have liked them to do more with your character? I’m always at a loss for words because I always felt like they handed me so much. And I’d get asked by the producers at the beginning of every year and at the end of every year, what are you looking forward to, at the end of the year, how’d you feel about your character development. I was always so impressed with how they handled him. Because early on the series, I got handed some episodes that if I didn’t do them well, they were probably going to write less for me. I don’t know, but I did hear that pretty quickly, the writers heard my voice—the character—and that made it pretty easy for them to write for me. So at the end of every year, I was always impressed and humbled by the things that they’d thrown my way.
Advice for the Star Trek: Discovery team
TM: At the beginning of Enterprise, you guys were breaking new ground, risking canon by taking place before the original series. Everyone out there was so antsy about it, and now Star Trek: Discovery is doing it again. What would you tell them about how to handle the pressure and the responsibility?
CT: I forgot about it all. I was just out there, trying to tell a story. And that’s, at the end of the day, what you’re doing. I mean yes, there’s this outside pressure from the fandom, and the responsibilities for carrying on the message through the canon, but just tell the story. Because it takes care of itself, because it’s Star Trek.
I think it’s time to do another one. It’s been, what ten or eleven years, something like that, and from what I’ve heard, don’t write this in stone, each season will be its own thing in that it’s not going to go necessarily in a linear fashion like this happened and then this happened and then this happened, like most of them did. They may jump years, they may do all sorts of things. But the people involved, it’s such an important franchise for [them], that they’ve got a lot of fingers in that pie to get it right. Sometimes that can be a bad thing but I think that there’s enough people involved that know what they’re doing that they’ll be in good shape. I’m excited about it.
TM: We are too! So what was the biggest surprise for you when you first became a part of this franchise?
CT: The conventions! (laughs)
In all honesty, the work is the work. You’re an actor, you go in there, you put on your costume, you create a character, and you go do your thing. But it was the conventions that were the big shocker to me, I didn’t know what to expect.
I, in fact, didn’t do one until it was near my hometown. My first one was in Portland, Oregon—I’m from Kelso, Washington, which is about 44 minutes away—and I did that one because (starts laughing) — because my parents would come and I’d feel like I’d have somebody in the audience that still loved me!
But immediately, I was embraced by the fans, and it was a wonderful experience, and that whole world of the Trekkers … I knew nothing about. Zero. Since then, of course, I’ve become pretty well versed in the whole thing, having done a bunch of ‘em, but yeah, it was the outside stuff of the show that I wasn’t prepared for.
The work is the work.
TM: It’s a whole extra world on top of everything else.
CT: Yeah! I’d almost say equally as important as the show itself.
Star Trek in tumultuous times
TM: The show premiered during a tumultuous time, politically. Each show has had its own political era, from the original in the 60s to launching new ones in the late 80s & 90s, to Discovery coming now. Enterprise premiered a few weeks after 9/11. Did it affect the show?
CT: 9/11 changed our show. Hands down. Like it changed all of our lives, it could not help but have an effect upon writers, producers, directors, actors. Our season three was a direct response to it. The Xindi arc. Trip’s sister dying in this attack on Florida. I’ve spoken with Brannon Braga about this, and he says 9/11 changed our show. It couldn’t help but.
Pop culture is sort of a fluid thing that is affected by the hardscrabble that happens throughout the world at any given time. Like you said, the 60s with the original series, and every one of them had some element of politics and world events affect them, and the biggest one in my lifetime had a direct impact on our show. I don’t know what it would have been like without it.
When the whole thing happened, we had just started. And at that time I imagine a lot of people were going through a similar thing I was, which was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m an actor, and blah blah blah, who cares? But the world’s changed, and how am I going to be a part of it?’ I remember struggling with this idea that I’m just an actor on a TV show.
And I had a conversation with my father and I expressed these things, and he said, “I actually disagree with you. I think that what you’re doing is absolutely important, and vital, and especially right now, because you’re giving people a way to escape a bit. And you’re doing it in a way that is Star Trek, with that human message, and humanity, and what we can offer to the world and to the universe. And you actually have a responsibility now that you didn’t maybe have before this happened.”
And that really helped me put it into context and made me feel that I was making a difference.
TM: That’s a wise father you’ve got there!
CT: Indeed he is! (laughs) And he was right. And I’ve heard as much since then, I encounter all these people at conventions and anytime I go somewhere, there’s always someone, or several people, who tell me how the show—sometimes my role in particular—affected, changed, and some said saved their lives from whatever they were going through at that time. You know, you really value and hold on to those messages people send you.
Trip Tucker or bust!
TM: Let’s move on to something easier, and lighter…
CT: My favorite color is blue!
TM: Noted! If you could play any character on any of the series, who would you pick?
CT: I got to play the right guy for me. I really believe that. I hit the lottery with Trip. He had so much going on with him as we went along throughout the series and so many things put in front of him. Real dynamic storytelling was the plate that I ate off of every day. I would not trade having played Trip Tucker for any other part.
Trip Tucker, a Star Trek: Discovery hologram?
TM: Do you know what they would have done your character with more seasons? You died, but they said that would not have been the case had the show come back.
CT: I’d almost died a couple of times before that anyway. It’s science fiction, nobody ever really dies in science fiction. (laughs)
I would think that the events that occurred in the finale would not have happened. I imagine that, I don’t know that for a fact. One of the things they had to do was to involve us into the web of the history and the chronology of the show. And one of the ways they did that was by making sure the Captain lived. And why they did what they did, I don’t know.
What would have happened? He would have boldly gone on!
TM: He could go on to Discovery. He could show up there, it would work.
CT: Anything can happen! I’ve thought about this. I’m like, “Could I be like Obi Wan, or R2D2, or Princess Leia, when they do a little video presentation of certain things you need to know, and all of a sudden Trip’ll pop up?”
He’s dead at that point, but you know … I think it would be no problem whatsoever to incorporate the soul of Trip Tucker into something.
Not sure if you should invest in the Star Trek: Enterprise Blu-ray box set? Read our review.