SDCC17: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Team Talk War, Roddenberry, Space Mushrooms, And A Reimagined Mudd

Following their panel at San Diego Comic-Con, the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery held a press conference. On hand were cast members Sonequa Martin-Green (Burnham), Jason Isaacs (Lorca), Doug Jones (Saru), Shazad Latif (Tyler), Mary Wiseman (Tilly), Anthony Rapp (Stamets), James Frain (Sarek) and Rainn Wilson (Mudd). Also answering press questions were executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Heather Kadin, and Akiva Goldsman. TrekMovie was there to bring you the highlights.

Star Trek: Discovery cast and crew answer questions from the press at San Diego Comic-Con

Discovery is going to war

In the new Star Trek: Discovery trailer released on Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con, we see Captain Lorca saying, “You helped start a war, don’t you want to help me end it?” This issue of war as an over-arching theme and setting for Discovery came up a number of times during the press conference.

The first time was when Alex Kurtzman answered a question about balancing what to keep from classic Star Trek with what new elements to bring in for Discovery:

First and foremost, the defining factor of Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future. He envisioned a world where all species, all races came together to not only make our world better, but to make every world better. I think that is something that can never be lost in Trek. Once you lose that, you lose the essence of what Star Trek is.

That being said…we live in very different times. Every day we look at the news and it is hard. It is hard to see what we see. I think now more than ever Trek is needed as a reminder of what we can be and the best of who we can be. Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and right now the idea that – the question is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is in the weight of challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war is a very interesting and dramatic problem. And it feels like a very topical one given the world where where we live now.

Kurtzman again brought up the backdrop of war, when asked a question on how the show will push the boundaries:

You know about the Bechdel Test? How many times have you seen in television or a movie in which two women come together and talk about a guy? I am not saying they never talk about guys when women are together in this show. It’s not that we are trying to make a statement or not make a statement, that is not the focus of what we are doing. They are dealing with real problems in the middle of a war and so I think Roddenberry’s greatest contribution to race relations is that he never addressed them. It just was. And that is exactly what we are doing.

Rainn Wilson also brought up the issue of war in the context of answering a question about stepping into the shoes of a known character like Harry Mudd:

It is incredible to play Harry Mudd…I grew up watching the show. Let’s remember this particular universe is a particular dark time for the Federation and for Starfleet with this war happening, so I don’t think it would be appropriate in the universe to have as many jolly wackadoo episodes that were often in The Original Series and The Next Generation because – and that is one of the wonderful things about Star Trek is that you could have some episodes that were almost comedies.

Rainn Wilson at Star Trek: Discovery press conference at Comic-Con 2017 (CBS)

Some Walking Dead grit in Discovery

When Sonequa Martin-Green was asked what it was like going from a “gritty” show like The Walking Dead to Star Trek: Discovery, she said she saw much in common between the shows:

I feel that storytelling is such a champion in our world and our society. It does so much for us. It shapes us and changes us and enlightens us. I think going from a show where the storytelling is so rich and so dynamic to another show where the storytelling is so rich and so dynamic and there is such a stellar group of people here and everyone else who isn’t hear. I just feel that all high quality stories are gritty because life is gritty. So in that way I don’t see that much difference.

It is a different backdrop for sure. I think the complexities of the story and the dynamics of the relationship I think – one of my favorites that we explore on the show which is a acculturation and how when that happens it doesn’t have to mean assimilation. That’s really one of the pillars of Star Trek and what it teaches is that we don’t have to let go of who we are in order to learn who you are. We can do it at the same time. That is something touched on in The Walking Dead and it is touched on here in such a unique and in a way that I think honors the legacy, but also carries it to the next level.

Sonequa Martin-Green Rainn Wilson at Star Trek: Discovery press conference at Comic-Con 2017 (CBS)

Preserving Roddenberry’s vision

There was a lot of discussion of Gene Roddenberry and his original vision of Star Trek during the press conference. Akiva Goldsman had this to say:

I think we are acutely aware of the legacy of the show and what is unique about this – dare I say ‘enterprise’ – is there is so much love for the history that comes before us. We talked before about how Star Trek is about family. The creation of this version of Star Trek has also become about family and that seems fitting and correct. Unlike virtually anything I have ever been a part of, there is no whimsy to anyone’s commitment. There is an awareness and a pump to getting to be the next holder of this baton as we pass it down the road. It is pretty startling privilege that I don’t think any of us take lightly.

Jason Isaacs also spoke about what he sees at the core of Star Trek.

The original stories in the 60s were told at a time of enormous turmoil with the civil rights movement. And we all wanted a vision of the future and Gene Roddenberry created a future where people have found a solution to the divisions between people at a time when the outside world seems to be be getting more divisive and more backwards. So for me the gadgets are fun and the sets are great and I am sure we are going to have all the whizbang stuff you can ever wish for, but what counts is what we’re putting out there, and what we’re showing the next generations of what we could become as a planet instead of what we might become.

A reporter asked about how the show will appeal to Latinos. Goldsman responded more broadly about how the show embraces diversity:

What we are committed to is a real fractal version of the universe that diversity has become too easy of a word. We are committed to complexity and the differences in cultures and differences in biology and in preference and inclusions, these are the principles that Star Trek was founded on. So we chase those. We chase the idea that our arms are as wide as arms can be and that the show’s mission is to be inclusive. So we are very, very purposeful about that and you will see as we move forward that that’s by no means an accident.

Serialized storytelling

Akiva Goldsman did note that one thing about Discovery will be different:

We got the chance to do something pretty unprecedented with Star Trek which is to be serialized. The fact is that not only have the lines been blurred between movies and TV they have almost inverted now…Television has become long-form. It has become deep, extended, complex narrative.  What we get to do – because the culture of television watching no longer requires episodic resets – is to take characters on journeys in the same way that the ship took journeys over the course of the original series.

Sonequa cries over the passing the baton

When Sonequa Martin-Green was asked if she felt she felt a passing of the baton from past Star Trek and in particularly Nichelle Nichols, she said:

I certainly stand on Nichelle’s shoulders. I think all of us stand on the shoulders of the innovation that has been in the Star Trek canon up to now. All the progression, and now this is really a story of universality, this is a story of coming together and understanding that we are all one with all life. I don’t know if I could put it into words. I feel like if I try I could cry and it would get really messy up here…It’s such an honor and privilege to be a part of a story that I truly believe that is going to bring people together.

When asked what it is like to join a franchise that means they will become icons, Anthony Rapp also talked about who came before:

Watching what has come before us has been so profoundly inspiring. I believe Leonard Nimoy is an icon, and not just because he plays this character, but because he was an incredible actor, bringing this character to life, and showed us all the layers…of Spock. So if we do become icons, if that is true it would be weird and cool, I hope it is because we are standing on the shoulders of what came before us.

James Frain also weighed in on stepping into a known character by playing Sarek:

It is an honor. It is a responsibility. It is a challenge. The writers create the character so we deliver a version of what they do. I think what the writers are doing with this character and really with all storylines is so interesting and so complex and revealing that it is just a joy to work on. So I don’t feel troubled too much by that.

Stamets brings new mushroom tech

When asked if the show can introduce technology even though it is set before the original Star Trek, Anthony Rapp divulged a bit about his character saying:

I am a scientist with a weird field of study which is astromicrology and that has some interesting ramifications. So yes there are some new things to explore because there are space fungus and mushrooms.

When asked for an example of the kind of scientific technobble he gets to use, Rapp impressively rattled off an intriguing bit about subspace fungi:

Prototaxites stellaviatorae – a species made up of exotic matter found not only in our dimension, but also in a discrete subspace domain known as the ‘mycelial network.’

Anthony Rapp at Star Trek: Discovery press conference at Comic-Con 2017 (CBS)

Mudd reimagined

When asked about stepping into the role of Mudd, Wilson said that his Mudd is going to be a little different:

This Harry Mudd is kind of a reimagining, a reinvention in the same way so many things have been reimagined and reinvented. He’s a bit more dastardly than the original. But that character made such an impression on me and it is a dream come true to try to bring him to life with as much drama and comedy as possible.

Nerding out over the captain’s chair

When a question about what it was like to be a fan to work on the show, Rainn Wilson said

I know I am a mere supporting character, but I will say that I grew up watching the original series. At age five or six I started watching it on re-runs after school. I started building models of the Enterprise. I had books. I memorized where everything was in the ship.

To go on the ship and then I got to in my episode – without giving anything away – I got to use the transporter room! I got to be transported and I got to use a phaser and got to sit in the captain’s chair a little bit. Just iconic creations from Gene Roddenberry and his original staff and to get to relive those as an adult fan was just one of my greatest life experiences.

Doug Jones also chimed in regarding how sitting in that certain chair affected him:

I rank third in command on the bridge on the starship Shenzhou, so when first officer Michael Burnham and Captain Georgiou, played by the lovely Michelle Yeoh, we have a conference off in the captain’s ready room, and I was the next one to sit in the chair…and I wasn’t expecting it, so I’m like, “I get to put my ass in that?

Doug Jones at Star Trek: Discovery press conference at Comic-Con 2017 (CBS)

Delays, cinematography and a singing director Frakes

When asked about pushing technology, Alex Kurtzman brought up the various delays for the show:

There were a lot of questions about “Why the delay?” and the answer is because we knew we were going to be pushing the technology to a place where it took time. It just takes time to build a world right. It takes time to hire the right people to take what is on the script and turn it into something amazing. The line between film and television is blurring to the point where it is nonexistent now so the show has to look like a movie. Especially again because we are asking people to pay for it. It has to define itself as unique. It takes a good year to launch a show correctly when you factor in sets built and visual effects. If you rush those things you are compromising quality.

So we hope to innovate as much as possible and certainly pushing the boundaries of television in terms of creating CG environments….It is not just the shooting time, but the render time with CG. To do that right takes months and months and months.

We didn’t want to do the bad version of this show. We would rather take the hit. “Why are they taking so long?” than doing something faster that you hate.

There was a question about working with Oscar-winning cinematographer Guillermo Navarro on the pilot and Kurtzman talked about how they decided to shoot the show:

David Semel did a great job with the pilot. We talked a lot about how to shoot the bridge in an interesting way, and not to shoot in a sort of proscenium box…to be able to get the camera into spaces where, you know, to shoot it in interesting ways, which is a combination of choreographing a scene to motivate the camera moving, and also lighting.  We’ve figured out a way to contour the lighting so it felt more cinematic and yet so you wouldn’t have to squint your eyes to see what was happening. So very cinematic across the board. Guillermo obviously is a genius.

Jason Isaacs answered a question about what it was like with Star Trek: The Next Generations Jonathan Frakes directing an episode:

He’s still an actor. He’s a fantastic director…He is very up-tempo and funny and he can barely be contained. He is also singing all the time. He is also very finely tuned attuned to the nuances of what the actors are doing…It’s a joy to have him on.

A couple more things

  • Tribbles confirmed
  • 10 episodes have been completed

More TrekMovie SDCC17 coverage

‘Discovery’ panel report

New trailer and images from ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

IDW Panel reveals details for ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and Boldly Go comics

See ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Federation and Starfleet Props and Costumes

See ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Klingon Costumes And Props

Klingon Torchbearer Revealed + Gentle Giant Announces Discovery Collectibles

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Concept Art Details Klingon And Federation Ships

Stay tuned for even more coverage of San Diego Comic-Con.

Star Trek: Discovery premieres on September 24th on CBS with all subsequent episodes on CBS All Access in the US.  Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.


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