The actors panel at Star Trek Las Vegas featured members of the cast who were not at San Diego Comic-Con. On stage were Mary Chieffo (Klingon commander L’Rell), Kenneth Mitchell (Klingon commander Kol), Sam Vartholomeos (U.S.S. Shenzhou Junior Officer Connor), and Wilson Cruz (U.S.S. Chief Medical Officer Hugh Culber).
Kol revealed – a different Discovery Klingon
Much of the panel was dedicated to talking about the Klingons, and included the first reveal of Kenneth Mitchell’s Kol. The actor explained how his character may be more like Klingons we are used to:
He is very complicated. He leans more towards some of the Klingons we are familiar with. He is very powerful. He does have a line I can paraphrase which does explain some of these things. He says “All I see is another attempt by humanity to rob us of our identity.”
And Mitchell later revealed that Kol is from the house of Kor and Mary joked “you might have heard of that.”
Different houses – different Klingons
Mitchell got more specific about differences between the Klingon houses during the Q&A. A fan said he felt the Klingons on Discovery look too different from previous iterations and asked for reassurance that “we are not losing the Klingons we know and love.” Mitchell explained we have only seen some of the Klingons from Discovery:
The images that you have seen so far are one house led by T’Kumva. Today you just saw the first image of [Kol]. So even in the wardrobe it is starting to venture to the more traditional Klingons. More leather and a different set of armor. And the series itself is going to explore 24 different houses and the leaders among them. And you will find different complexities and different ideologies amongst those houses. And so what you have seen already in these images is mostly just from one house. You are going to start to explore further into the Klingons, and each of those houses has a different set of physical looks and variations as well as ideologies.
Mary Chieffo also provided some more detail on her character and her house … or houses:
L’Rell is from two houses. She is House T’Kumva and House Mo’Kai [Editor’s note: The one canon reference to House Mo’Kai was in Voyager‘s “The Killing Game Part 1”]. You get a great kind of interesting exploration of what it is to be of two different ideologies.
She also weighed in on the design of the Klingons. She used L’Rell as an example:
Obviously the hair was the biggest thing people noticed, or the lack thereof. And I will attest to the fact there is a reason my ridge goes back the way it does. There are sensors and pheromones…There is a whole reasoning behind it that is adhering to what has always been true in Klingon canon…So I deeply believe we are in line with what has come before but is also adding a new kind of nuance.
Compassion for the Klingons
The war with the Klingons is the backdrop for the show, but Mary Chieffo noted how the Klingons are not portrayed simply as bad guys:
The compassion we are giving the Klingons – who you could say in this story are bad guys – but the way the writers so beautifully crafted this story we really get a window into who we are, our humanity or Klingonanity…It is not black and white. The world is not that simple. People on both sides do things that they regret and they do things that they are proud of. Both sides have a deep, deep capacity to love and to feel.
Speaking Klingon makes a difference
One big piece of news that came out of San Diego Comic-Con is that the Klingons will speak in Klingon with subtitles on Star Trek: Discovery. After demonstrating some Klingon speech, Mary announced that the person handling the translations is Robyn Stewart, whom she described as the leading Klingon grammarian in North America. There is also a dialect coach who works with Robyn and is on set every day to work with the Klingon actors.
Kenneth gave some more detail on the process:
It’s an incredibly complex language. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with [Klingon language inventor] Marc [Okrand]. But it is complicated for a reason so it feels alien. Because it is incredibly difficult and I don’t speak the language it takes a lot of muscle memory to memorized each separate syllable over and over and over. My kids think I am crazy walking around my house reading out these lines. But at the end of the day it is worth it. It adds such an amazing texture to the show and a real essence to help the audience learn about the culture.
Mary noted how using the Klingon language was a way to adhere and expand Trek history.
There been much so much discussion about adhering to canon and speaking the language. Sticking to the roots of this series is giving the Klingons a 3-dimensional quality. It makes sense that when we are speaking to each other we are speaking in our native tongue and really adding a fluidity and nuance. Robyn does these great back-translations so you get the meaning of each word. Marc Okrand wanted it to be as alien as possible, as opposite of English as you can make…we don’t take it lightly in taking the amount of time it takes to make sure each word is pronounced correctly.
The importance of Hugh and Paul’s relationship
Wilson Cruz was asked about the relationship between his character and Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and he noted why portraying Star Trek’s first gay couple on TV is important:
For anyone who doesn’t understand why this is such a big deal, it is because there is a kid out there who is going to turn on his TV sometime in September or October and he is going to be a young little boy or girl who is questioning their sexuality or orientation, and they are going to see two men love each other and be there for each other and support each other and be in awe of each other’s genius. And it isn’t going to an issue. It’s not something we are going to explain to you. It is just going to be what it is.
Their Star Trek histories
The actors started off talking about their experience with Star Trek. Mary said she started getting into Star Trek with the 2009 movie which lead her to review all the other movies and much of the other TV shows, noting:
I have really fallen in love with the franchise as a whole.
Sam said that when he was a kid, his dad got him into Star Trek, and he remembers really loving the whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He said he really got into the movies and now said it was an honor to be part of it.
Kenneth said he was familiar with Trek but didn’t really get into it until getting the job on Discovery. As he is playing a Klingon, he has been reviewing the Klingon-centric episodes, noting “Errand of Mercy” as a standout.
Probably the one with the oldest connection to Trek is Wilson Cruz who said his real introduction was with Star Trek: The Next Generation, calling himself “obsessed.” He also relayed this story from after he got hired on the show:
I wrote a little note to [showrunners] Aaron [Harberts] and Gretchen [Berg] and to the head of CBS casting saying “Thank you, because as a young Latino kid in Brooklyn and in the Inland Empire [near Los Angeles] in California, all I ever wanted to do is be on Broadway and be on Star Trek.”
Stay tuned for more from Star Trek Las Vegas including more coverage of Wednesday Discovery panels and interviews with the actors.