STLV17 Interview: Mary Chieffo And Kenneth Mitchell Show They Really Know Their Klingons

Today, the Las Vegas Star Trek convention was an absolute marathon of Star Trek: Discovery goodness. After their first ever convention appearance on stage, TrekMovie caught up with Mary Chieffo (L’Rell) and Kenneth Mitchell (Kol) to chat about what past Klingons have inspired them, how Discovery‘s Klingons are different that what we’ve seen before, and how Star Trek can be used to tell tales as epic as The Odyssey.

Klingons that have come before

So you guys both play Klingons on Discovery. Were there any particular Klingons in Star Trek history that you’ve taken particular inspiration from?

Mary Chieffo: I will say I did have a specific eye on the female Klingons. I love all of them. They’re all really fun and interesting. K’Ehleyr was awesome in The Next Generation. I also really loved in Deep Space Nine Grilka. I loved her story with Quark and just how she ended up having to — she worked the system, and she was able to become the leader of her own house, which was, you know it is a patriarchal species, and so that was thrilling particularly because I think L’Rell follows in that vein. The fact that she is full Klingon is fun, too, but of course who doesn’t like B’Ellana?

Kenneth Mitchel: I keep going back to the first Klingon in “Errand of Mercy,” Kor played by John Colicos. He didn’t even have any prosthetics, it was just all make-up. I found what was interesting was that he played everything really subtle, and it was very complex. It was a great launching pad because the idea is that we’re trying to steer away a little bit from the idea of [the Klingons] just being these barbarians. So it was fun to go back to the first Klingon that was shown on TOS. And, then I also did some reading of “The Final Reflection” the John M. Ford book, it also was a great launching pad for understanding the depth and complexity of the Klingons.

Two Klingons, Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) and L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), on stage at #STLV 2017

On the thrill of the con

How are you guys enjoying the convention so far?

Mary Chieffo: Loving it! We’re giddy!

Is it pretty crazy being up there on stage and seeing the fans react to this for the first time? You’re finally getting to talk about it.

MC: Yeah, that’s definitely thrilling that we’re getting to throw a little bit more out there. Because we’ve been living with these characters for a while now, and it’s fun to give a little more flavor and yeah to see a genuine, positive response. You guys, Trek fans, are very special people.

KM: You quickly settle in because you feel the energy from the fans.

A lot of you talk about feeling a kind of privilege and honor to be part of the franchise. Does it change your perspective at all to see the fans the way you’ve seen them today?
KM: You know, that’s an interesting point because, when I think about it, that responsibility has been in my mind and in my head. And, when you’re here [at the convention] you’re seeing that visually. You’re seeing the fans in their cosplay and the dedication they have. You’re reminded, “Oh yeah. This is what it’s all about.”

MC: Absolutely, I think like we keep saying, I’m in this to be of service and to help tell stories. And, to already be so loved and accepted by this group of people that also loves these stories. I really feel that sci-fi in general, but particularly trek, is our modern mythology. It’s these epic tales that keep going. I think of The Iliad and The Odyssey and how they would come back to Homer and say, “please tell us more!”. I think that we really get to experience what it is to be a continuation of this story after 50 years. It’s incredible.

Kenneth and Mary in the Star Trek: Discovery museum at #STLV 2017

Stay tuned for more interviews and more panel reports from Star Trek Las Vegas.

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“we’re trying to steer away a little bit from the idea of [the Klingons] just being these barbarians.”

Um, what has Star Trek been *doing* for the last THIRTY PLUS YEARS?

Presenting them more and more as barbarians.

Agreed! They’ve largely become flat and one-dimensional cliches.

Warriors are not the same as barbarians.

Pain sticks, too much blood wine, headbutting, only able to eat raw and/or live food, violent mating rituals because yeah they’re Klingons and we have to show that even when they have sex they’re beating each other up, and lots of rash decisions just for the sake of battle… yeah I’d say Trek has kept the Klingons as barbarians/space pirates more than not.

I tend to agree. They have done stories where they show is a deeper culture. But its almost BECAUSE its different then the norm.

In TUC, you have a “smarter, gentler” Chancellor. Worf, ofcourse but they had to make him multi faceted. The Klingons were often played for laughs because of their culture. And it sometimes didnt make sense that they were a space fareing culture using this incredibly advanced technology.

Although, wasnt the story that the Klingons were low tech and were conquered by a space faring race and then revolted and just stole the tech?

Anyway…I have no problem with them wanting to explore the Klingons more. I DO get why some people want to move on from them. But I get the impression, with no proof of course, that Season 2 will probably take us in a different direction.

Ms. Chieffo,

With respect, fans aren’t what it’s all about. Fans are all too often dorks, kooks, and weirdos. (Of late, some have even outed themselves as racist trolls.). Just make a great show, and don’t worry about the fans. Thanks.

Well said. Make a great show that respects the franchise generally (you can never be all things to all people or items) and the fans will be there. Actually, even if you make a bad show the fans will be there. Its getting everyone else that is the difference between a show that appeals to fans and gets cancelled or a show that appeals to a wider audience and is successful.


“Actually, even if you make a bad show the fans will be there.”

Tell that to ENT!

And why would fans stick with a bad show; just because it’s got Star Trek slapped on it? Fortunately not all fans are suckers.

Next time, try to make your shilling less obvious.

“My job, as I see it, is not to give the fans what they want; it’s to make the fans want what I want.”

Nick Meyer, 1981

Um, excuse me? We fans are the ones that have kept Star Trek alive for 50 plus years. Don’t forget that!

Well, you may consider us all those things. But never forget we fans are the ones that have kept Star Trek alive for 50-plus years.

I’ve been around most of those fifty years, dude, including Roddenberry’s college lectures, where he would tell cheering fans about his hopes for a better world free of war and prejudice (and network executives). There are no doubt lots of good people in fandom to this day, but the community, like so much of society in general, is hopelessly fractured. I can’t say it holds much promise as a force for anything constructive anymore, other than to funnel cash into the coffers of Paramount and CBS.

I respect Gene Roddenberry for his beliefs and hopes for humanity. Star Trek has no doubt inspired many people in many ways. But It’s really nieve to believe that any one sci-fi show can actually change the world. I love it for what it truelly is, one of the best sci-fi franchises in tv history. But personally, my hope for humanity comes through Jesus Christ.

I love that Mary and Kenneth are obviously big fans of Star Trek, or at the very least have done quite a bit of research on canonical and non-canonical Klingon characters and stories.

Mary has selected some of my favorite depictions of Klingon females in the official canon. But the fact that Kenneth read John M. Ford’s superlative novel tickles me plomeek-soup-purple with glee. “The Final Reflection” is one of the best Star Trek novels ever published, and (in my estimation) the blueprint for how Klingons *should* have been depicted all along. Hopefully he’ll share the book with his fellow Klingon castmates!

September 24th cannot get here fast enough now–I am psyched!

I haven’t read the novel but I do love Mary’s choices for good female Klignon characters. I hope the writers give her as much complexity as those women have.

Steph, “The Final Reflection” is not only a great Star Trek novel, it’s a darn good science fiction novel, period. John M. Ford’s book does for the Klingons what Diane Duane did for the Romulans–he “humanizes” them, while still depicting them as distinctly, definitely alien. The story is told entirely from the viewpoint of the book’s Klingon protagonist, and puts the reader in the mindset of actually rooting for them over their Federation adversaries. It’s a terrific yarn–check it out!