STLV17 Interview: Sam Vartholomeos and Wilson Cruz Give New Character Details, Talk Relationships on ‘Discovery’

After the Discovery actors took the stage here in Las Vegas, TrekMovie got a chance to chat with Sam Vartholomeos (Ensign Connor of the USS Shenzhou) and Wilson Cruz (Doctor Hugh Culber on the USS Discovery) about their characters. Sam also revealed his character’s first name for the first time, Ensign Danby Connor.

Getting to know Connor and Culber

Both Sam and Wilson revealed details about their characters, which so far we have learned very little about. Connor is a Starfleet man to the bone, and Culber has “a heart of gold.”

How is your first convention going?
Wilson Cruz: Awwweeeesommmmeee!
Sam Vartholomeos: Yeah!

Tell me a little bit about each of your characters. Who are they? What are they like?

SV: I play Ensign Danby Connor of the Shenzhou. He is Starfleet through and through, and that’s what I like about him. There are no conflicts with the Prime Directive, there are no conflicts with anything [from Starfleet]: their mission statement, nothing.

WC: I play Doctor Hugh Culber, the medical officer aboard the USS Discovery. He is the genius doctor you’ve always wished for with a heart of gold. He shares his heart with his fellow crew member Lt. Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp.

I definitely want to ask you about that. You’re a part of Star Trek’s first gay couple on television, and certainly one that we will see for more than a couple of seconds on the screen. Do you feel a sort of responsibility there?

WC: [Laughs] Yeah. A deep, deep responsibility and great humility. But, you know, not overwhelmed by it. It just felt like it was a long time coming. I feel a responsibility to the thousands of LGBT fans, and so as I continue to play this character I feel like I keep them in mind, but I also want to be true to the writing that’s been given. What’s great about the way that the show is handling it is it’s not like we are having a special two-hour episode about gay relationships in space. It’s not that. They just happen to be in love, and they happen to be coworkers. And, I hope by the time we get to [the 23rd] century that it will be exactly like that. I think it’s a powerful message to send that in the future we will have same sex couples and little brown people in space who are doctors and scientists discovering the universe.

Wilson Cruz poses next to a Discovery medial uniform

Culber and Stamets’ Charged Relationship and Connor’s Crossed Wires

How would you describe the relationships between Culber and Stamets?

WC: The easiest and most succinct and… best way to keep my job answer is that… opposites attract.

Alright, intriguing! How about you, Sam, does your character have a lot of relationships close or otherwise? Maybe you go head-to-head with people sometimes? Who are the people that Ensign Connor interacts with?

SV: All I can say is that when someone goes against Starfleet or contradicts Starfleet, Connor’s wires get crossed. What do you do when your fellow colleague goes against that?

So, Connor is very by the book.

SV: That’s right, he’s very by the book.

WC: He’s a soldier through and through.

SV: Yeah, like I said, he’s Starfleet through and through.

Sam Vartholomeos reveals that Ensign Connor’s first name is Danby

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I’m definitely going to enjoy these two!

I look forward to seeing their relationship as well. They seem like they are going to be the most prominent Starfleet couple on the show. I haven’t heard of any other federation characters having a love interest on the ship. Yet anyways! These kinds of relationships, when written well, can add a “family touch” to the show. I am thinking specifically of Sisko and his family and how that exploration helped to enrich his character in so many ways. Although there are other examples throughout the franchise to compare them to.

Finally, us LGBT people get to see ourselves as part of the universe of the Trek we love. Sad that we had to wait 50 years for this vision of the “future” to include even the reality of our existence… especially considering that the shows’ various creators love to pat themselves on the back for how progressive and socially aware they and their shows are. Finally, Trek will take one more step to living up to its inclusive hype.

There were lgbq?2 members on TNG. I remember reading that’s why in the early episodes you saw men wearing the skirt uniforms. Also ds9 address it with the Trill. And I would say the issue is not that the characters are gay, but the produces say, “Look we have gay characters” defining them solely by that fact. Had they not mentioned anything upfront, wouldn’t that have better made their point of inclusiveness and not defining someone by their sexuality?

They didn’t have a gay character in TNG… hell, it was a fight to have Guinan say the line “when two people love each other” as opposed to “when a man and a woman love each other”… and when they were also going to have a gay couple holding hands the idea was nixed by the higher ups. In another episode Frakes wanted the androgynous alien he was flirting and having a relationship with to be played by a male actor, didn’t happen. Hawk bin first Contact was supposed to be gay, again, never came up.

Also it seriously doesn’t sound like the defining characteristic of these two characters is their homosexuality… it’s just news because Star Trek finally joined the 21st century.

The only people who seem to think being gay is the defining part of the characters is the people saying they should just keep quiet and stop making it the defining part of the characters. it isnt.

A lot of “I dont have a problem with gays, I just dont want to see it, hear it or be told about it”.

I hope they show these two regularly affectionate. And hell, give us a hot and heavy sex scene between the two. It would be the easiest way to weed out bigots on the Trek forums! :-)

@TUP: Oh my, yes. Star Trek, for all of its advanced ideals, has a depressingly large number of homophobic fans.

Stamets is an astromycologist who is socially awkward as a result of usually being the smartest person in the room. Culber is a doctor, possibly chief medical officer, with a personality that is the “opposite” of Stamets. How are these characters being solely defined by their sexuality?

You think they had men where “skirts” in TNG because they were gay? Oh boy…

Jerry, Im not going to say you’re a bigot but you definitely dont get it. So better to keep quiet on the subject.

Fuller didnt hold a press conference and jump on the table and yell “gay!” over and over again. He’s a gay producer creating a new Trek series which is considered by many mainstream media to be a trail blazer in diversity. OF COURSE he was going to be asked.

Regardless of the very very minor instances of Trek dealing with this in the past, this trail blazing show that pushed the boundaries in the 60’s has never had a gay regular. Especially TWO gay regulars in a relationship like any other.

Whether you like it or not, it IS relevant and important. the LGBT community has not achieved equality yet, and thus the efforts must continue. Its all about normalizing reality so that 1) people struggling with these issues dont feel so alone 2) bigoted people are forced to keep quiet or, hopefully, reexamine their beliefs and change.

Pretending gays dont exist doesnt make it better, not at all. It might seem like an over compensation, but maybe it is and thats ok. Its needed. Its what the media asked about so they feel its important.

I am not sure most heterosexual people would be that comfortable walking around in a skirt-like uniform in your local shop or street… thats just the reality. I mean, I wouldn’t. I know damb well I would be getting some pretty worried looks!

I think it was Roddenberry’s view that by the 24th century, people would be much more comfortable wearing skirts, no matter the gender. If women are expected to be comfortable in clothing that was historically coded for men, then why not men in clothing historically coded for women?

@ Eric: Yeah, it’s kind of strange that it’s perfectly acceptable for women to wear clothing that was traditionally worn by men, but it’s still a big fuss for many if men were women’s clothing. It’s just something that many of us are socially conditioned from a very young age.

For most of antiquity, men and women wore dresses, that’s why you see togas and such from ancient times. It was only with the popularity of horseback riding in recent centuries that men switched to pants.

Being gay has nothing to do with men who wear women’s clothing. One is cross-dressing, the other is your sexual preference.


1) So Uhura wasn’t heterosexual?

2) So why would a gay man be any more comfortable in a skirt than a straight man? Do straight men not get to wear shorts, either?

3) Ever heard of Scotland?

4) Well, I’d not be confortable wearing Decker’s moose knuckle onesie either, and I’m a gay dude (but hey, maybe fashion will change in 200 years).

” I remember reading that’s why in the early episodes you saw men wearing the skirt uniforms”

I hope you’re kidding. Good grief.

There were no gay characters on TNG. Having a straight man in a woman’s body (Trill), so to speak, isn’t gay (and the female Trill is a step too far for Crusher).

If you’re saying it shouldn’t be a big deal within the world of the show (at least to other humans), I agree.

But look, for better or worse, this became part of the marketing. For years, there’ve been questions about why Trek doesn’t have gay characters and whether the next show/movie have them. So, this time, they had an answer.

But are you saying they should have keep it secret? Why? Should the fact that Janeway is a woman or Sisko is a black man have been guarded until the premieres? For both shows, news stories at the time made a big deal about it (bigger than this) – stories need an angle and that’s just how it works – but the shows themselves sure didn’t.

But I hope we’re far enough along in television that no, the characters won’t be defined by being gay (nor was Sulu defined by being Asian or Scotty defined by being Scot… – hmm, maybe not the best example.)

Being gay does not equal wearing skirts nor vice versa. That was not the reason for the ‘skants’. They were designed to show the equality of the sexes in the 24th century.

How does it make enjoying the program better seeing a character placed there simply to pander to you?

Just to get that right: If I’m white caucasian, every white caucasian character in every show out there is just placed there to pander to me?

In the same way that seeing white males as captains “panders” to the majority population in the United States.

I’ll always see Lt. Hawk as he was written in the novel despite not having said one thing about his personal life in the film First Contact.

Im really enjoying learning more about the characters. Im intrigued by Connor.

Star Trek has sort of flirted with the idea of the young character who grows into a leader. Took awhile with TOS for obvious reasons.

TNG at first wanted it to be Wesley but he sucked (I loved the 7th season decision to have him leave the academy). I suppose Data became that character where it wasnt just about a discovery of humanity, but he grew as a leader. There was that episode where he was put in charge of a ship. And in one of the weird episodes, Riker forgot everything and was happy to find Data was his first officer…it was like an acknowledgement that he had achieved that.

DS9…hmmm, I guess they didnt really have anyone. Bashir to a degree because he was so naive at the beginning. And then Worf but he wasnt a young character but his switch to command etc.

Voyager gave us Kim but he never really grew. Paris did more so but he had a cieling. And with Enterprise I think the idea was Mayweather would grow into that role and he never did.

So Connor…well, who knows. But if he’s a “soldier” and a “Star Fleet Man”, it gives us a young character who’s always “by the book” and will in turn realise that being a leader means knowing when to bend the rules. That was always my favourite aspect of Kirk. He worked for an organization that absolutely needed officers who followed the rules but the truly great ones knew when not to and there was no instruction booklet on when and how, he just knew.

It seems the show will be following two characters like that because hasn’t Cadet Tilly been described that way as well? It should still be interesting though because they will have different crews and different missions exerting pressure on them that will cause them to question just how much they will want to adhere to that rule book of theirs.

Well, two of the most-watched and popular serialized shows, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, have featured gay lead characters for years without making the least bit of a big deal about it. For Trek of all franchises, which has always promoted inclusiveness, *not* to do it in a present-day incarnation would have been a glaring step backwards and perhaps even the kiss of ratings death.

Having a gay character, or not, will not be the kiss of death for this show. Bad plot, bad characters, and not igniting your fan base will be.

I think I finally have figured out what has been bothering about the set up to discovery. Star Trek has always been a franchise to set trends. Star Trek is what tirned tons of kids into scientists and astronauts. And yes it held a mirror up to our culture, but it did it a way that makes us dream. From cell phones to iPads, countless products got their start on Star Trek. To me discovery doesn’t dare anyone to look forward. The best teaser for Star Trek I think is just the teaser trailer for instellar. DONE.

Anytime I want to find out what it must feel like to be an alien and utterly incomprehensible to all humans, I come here.

Apparently, gay men like dresses. And we don’t deserve to be on TV shows because pandering.

I once had a well-meaning Trekmovie commenter tell me that I was lucky to be gay because life is all about getting laid and didn’t have to worry about finding a solid partner or raising kids. That perception doesn’t reflect my life.

And I’m a white dude. I can’t imagine what the internet’s like for people from other races/cultures/religions.

I just don’t understand how trying to show a bit more of humanity as it actually exists (diversity) – take a random five people off the street in the city where I live and chances are that none of them would be white – or trying to treat people with respect (political correctness) can be seen as a bad thing by anybody.

I realize these are just opinions, but it’s depressing.

Ugh. Sounds like more Days of Our Lives, soapy pretentious prattle. And it has nothing to do with it being 2 guys…I hated O’brien and his wife’s domestic squabbles as well as Worf’s challenges at being a single parent and multiple flings. Everyday soapy sudsy normality that I prefer left out of my science fiction adventures. Sadly, they’ve already stated that there isn’t much plot to these episodes, that they are mostly character driven. My definition of “escapism” isn’t exactly escaping into other people’s dysfunctional angst-ridden lives.

As a very proud lesbian I look forward to watching the relationship between Culbertson and Stamets. It’s about time and I applaud Paramount for doing it!