Interview: Doug Jones On Bonding With Tilly And Teaching Kelpien School On ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Doug Jones at the Star Trek: Discovery season 2 premiere

Star Trek: Discovery stars walked the red carpet Thursday night in New York to celebrate the premiere of season two. We’ll be bringing you interviews from there all week.

We talked to Doug Jones (Saru) about what his character’s up to this season, and what it’s like when you’re not the only Kelpien in town anymore.

We know there are going to be more missions this season. Is Saru the guy who stays on the ship to keep an eye on things, or does he get to go explore?

Jones: Both. I get to stay on the ship some, I get to explore some. I especially get to explore when we make a visit to my home planet of Kaminar, which is a big conflict for Saru because, as you saw in the Short Treks, in my backstory when I was snatched up by Lieutenant-at-the-time Georgiou, who found me and took me into the fold of Starfleet, I was told at that time I can never return. Because I’m leaving a pre-warp society secretly, and joining a warp society. And so now what? I can’t go back with the knowledge that I have. That would ruin their own natural growth, right? So how do I get back to Kaminar, then. This is going to be a conflict and – yes, there’s a lot at stake here, for Saru. And I learn things this year about myself, and some things come up that challenge my perception of what it is to be a Kelpien, what I thought I knew about being a Kelpien. There’s so much, my world’s a little bit rocked. And going back to Kaminar: can I share what I know? Wow, right? Mystery! This is a mysterious season for sure. And these seven signals in the sky, scattered throughout the galaxy … every time we follow one, there’s something to be fixed, a catastrophe to be remedied. And are they connected? That’s a question.

Doug Jones in Short Treks “The Brightest Star”

[Enter James MacKinnon, stage left, with a FanSets Saru pin on his lapel …]

Jones: This is James MacKinnon, of course, who you know, as my lead makeup artist. I’ll tell you what: being Saru, one, it’s an honor to play this smooth delightful character, but the look of him can’t happen within my own face. James is responsible for getting that on me on set and he’s got a whole team behind him. [To James] Go.

MacKinnon: It’s funny that you just said that, I just said the exact same thing about you when you’re not here. So it’s a team effort. Glenn Hetrick over at Alchemy Studios makes all these amazing beautiful creatures and Neville Page designs all of them. We all can’t do it without each other, it takes every layer and every artist in all aspects to create it. And then it’s him (indicating Doug) and then it goes on camera, so it’s like one of those things where we care so much because if you think about it, this is not a show that’s going to go 12 episodes, get canceled, maybe not go on DVD.

Jones: Right.

MacKinnon: People are going to go, ‘Episode 35, season 10, 25 seconds in, that makeup was …’ so our caring is a little elevated so we all want it to be the best.

Jones: And people ask me all the time ‘So how long does it take to become Saru every day?’ And I say, ‘months’ because of what he just said. There was months of designing and sculpting and painting of those pieces at the shop. Then James gets them on set, he has to apply it to me. That’s down to about an hour and a half now because he’s so fast and wonderful at this. He’s done more Star Treks before than this too, he’s got quite the pedigree. So to have his hands on my face is quite an honor. This is our first job together, we’ve known about each other for decades but we never got to work together until now, so it’s been a real treat for me.

Doug Jones and James MacKinnon at the Star Trek: Discovery season 2 premiere

Doug Jones with James MacKinnon at the red carpet premiere for Star Trek: Discovery season 2

(Asked by another interviewer) Now that there are other Kelpiens [in the Short Treks “The Brightest Star”], did you get to be the one to teach them how to be a new race?

Jones: When you’re the first Kelpien on a show, yes. And they cast others and its like, ‘Okay, how I walk, how I stand, how we feel, how we … ‘ – I had Kelpien school with anyone who played a Kelpien. I had to make a video of myself walking and standing, so they could get that down, and I had a little sit-down with my sister Siranna, and the gentleman who played my dad too, in the Short Trek, to talk about the threat ganglia—when do they pop out, why do they pop out—and how I hold myself as a Starfleet person but we had to kind of develop what’s life like on Kaminar before I joined Starfleet. So yeah, a lot to discover, a lot to review with anyone playing a Kelpien. Hannah Spear, who plays Siranna, my sister, is also tall, lanky, lithe, and she went through the makeup process beautifully too, James can vouch for that. She was a good trooper with all that.

MacKinnon: She’s got a great facial structure for the makeup as well.

Jones: And it was her first time doing a prosthetics makeup job. So with that in mind, she did … flying colors. And she took on the demeanor of a Kelpien just beautifully. I think you’re really going to fall in love with her even more.

Saru (Doug Jones) and Serana (Hannah Spear) in Star Trek: Short Treks "The Brightest Star"

Saru (Doug Jones) and Siranna (Hannah Spear) in “The Brightest Star”

Saru seems kind of lonely on the Discovery, is he going to forge stronger bonds with some of the other characters? And if so, which ones?

Jones: We already have kind of a chosen family on board. Even the brother-sister-type relationship that I have with Michael Burnham, will be—we were at odds with each other a lot last year in season one, we had the competitive thing with each other, we had the trust issue .. that gets overcome some in season two where we get down to the layers of love and respect and brotherly/sisterly care for each other, which is really lovely and sweet. I would’ve wanted to get us there, so we are there. Also he has kind of a father/daughter dynamic with Tilly, because she’s this new cadet, who has got a promotion to ensign now. So with Ensign Tilly—her character’s so delightful, bumbling at times—so he helps focus her. She’s in the command track now, so I want her to be the best captain one day that she can be, so I want her to learn from my mistakes and help her learn from her own too.

Saru and Tilly are going to have a bit of a father/daughter dynamic this season

More from the season 2 premiere

There is more to come from our red carpet coverage of the season 2 premiere in NYC.

Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else. The second season debuted on All Access and Space on Thursday, January 17th, 2019, and on Netflix January 18, 2019.

Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.

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Doug Jones elevates everything he’s in. What a huge addition to the Trek universe.

He deserves so much of the praise, yes. The character’s also such a great testament to the power of taking risks with creating radically new characters and not only focusing on established ones.

Like many i was skeptical after the first episode and some relatively cliche presentation, but they’ve really managed to flesh him out and he’s really come into his own as a worthy successor in the franchises long line of “stoic bridge officers” (ie: Spock, Data, Odo, Tuvok, T’Pol).

Though I do still think the funky legs are a bit much!

Yes, but his walk is natural based on his character’s abilities. And Doug rocks, I have always liked his characters.

I didn’t say it didn’t make sense! I just think it’s an overly elaborate half measure (due to limited VFX budgets) that ultimately just amounts to funny feet that we rarely see. And because it’s something that we as humans don’t have– and is so different anatomically– it’s hard to come across LOOKING natural when performed by a human, even one as graceful and talented as Mr. Jones.

It could have been done as more fully horse-like legs with VFX, but not practical for an episodic series.

I’ll admit, it’s more of a nitpick.

Definitely my favorite of the Discovery crew.

Doug Jones is such a treasure!