Interview: James MacKinnon Hints At Familiar Aliens Coming To ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 2

James MacKinnon at the Star Trek: Discovery season 2 premiere

Star Trek: Discovery stars and producers walked the red carpet last week in New York to celebrate the premiere of season two. We grabbed a few minutes with James MacKinnon, who oversees prosthetics and special effects makeup on Star Trek: Discovery and has a long history with Star Trek, starting way back on TNG.

What can we expect to see in season two of Star Trek: Discovery that we haven’t seen yet?

MacKinnon: Ooh! Season two. I can’t say much, but we get to have a little more growth on the characters, we get a little backstory on some characters, we get to bring some characters back from previous shows, which I will not say which ones. We get to delve into a little bit of the past and the present, and establishing more with the characters, makeup-wise, prosthetic-wise.

Can you tell us about any aliens we’re going to see?

MacKinnon: Nope. Nope. But it’s a cool amount. It’s a great thing because I’ve done five of the other television shows back from Deep Space Nine, Voyager, [the film] First Contact, so it’s kind of cool as a makeup artist to be able to … not reinvent, a little bit, so if we bring one of those makeups back again, I get to do it for a second time, and maybe it’s new products so say back in 1990, there was all foam latex, today it’s silicone. So it’s a new medium, it’s a new makeup, it’s washes instead of PAX paints, which is the product we used back then. So I get to be challenged as a makeup artist now to kind of create a new version of what I created back then with Michael Westmore on one of the shows.

James MacKinnon with David Benjamin Tomlinson as Linus - Star Trek: Discovery

James MacKinnon working on season two’s Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) (CBS)

What’s been your favorite alien that you’ve done for Discovery so far, that was creatively the most fun to do?

MacKinnon: I would have to say – I mean, Doug is amazing, just because he’s a new creature to the solar system, to the show as well. And that’s a two-hour makeup, two and a half hour makeup, what used to be four so we whittled it down throughout the season, or two seasons now. Just as a makeup artist, to take Doug Jones out of the equation—as I[‘m doing his makeup, Doug slowly disappears, and by the end, we now talk to him as Saru. So it’s great. I don’t see Doug anymore, and as a makeup artist, that’s my goal, is not to see the actor underneath the makeup. To see the character. And as he’s doing it, you see him come to life as well. So we kind of bring these two worlds, acting and prosthetics, together to create a new person or creature.

With Klingons, this season we have hair. Yes. We’ve seen a few little clips. And just evolving those makeups and evolving those characters in the show has been great too. So we get to see a little bit more, and we might get to see a little bit more with Mary as well.

Mary Chieffo as L'Rell in Star Trek: Discovery season 2

Yes, L’Rell has hair this season

(Asked by another interviewer) Is there anything you can tell us about Airiam 2.0, as Hannah Cheesman takes over the role from Sara Mitich?

MacKinnon: I don’t know anything [about why the casting change occurred], but as for the prosthetics, it is a redesign and resculpt on our behalf. As a makeup artist, you are always learning ways of doing new stuff, new techniques, and sometimes after you do a makeup, you think back and say, ‘Oh, I wish I did it some other way.’ So now, we do get to do it another way. Sometime’s there’s a layering effect, maybe where we apply the lip portion before the chin for example. Like with Mary [Chieffo], it depends on how much action she has — so if I put her lip on before I put her chin on, the layering aspect helps with action, smiling, and opening her mouth. So part of my job is to watch for these things — but with Airiam, this is just the next step in the evolution of a cool makeup.

Sara Mitich as Airiam and Hannah Cheesman as Airiam 2.0 - Star Trek: Discovery

Evolution: Sara Mitich as Airiam (left) and Hannah Cheesman as Airiam 2.0

More from the season 2 premiere

Our interviews with Jeff Russo and James MacKinnon posted today are the final two of our coverage from the coverage of the season 2 red carpet premiere in NYC. Check out all of our interviews here.


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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Luke Montgomery

They brought back the Barzan with Cmdr. Nahn. A nice nod to the only episode the species appeared in on TNG. Love that kind of detail.

Afterburn

That one kind of bothered me, the Barzan’s were portrayed as a race that wanted little to do with the wider galactic affairs. I know it’s not impossible for some to have gone out and joined Starfleet, but as Danpaine says, plenty of other alien races that it seemed a bit odd to pick out a Barzan…

Also odd that their facial apparatus hadn’t changed design in 80 some years…

Also odd that their facial apparatus hadn’t changed design in 80 some years…

That’s a strange critique, why would a breathing assist apparatus need to significantly change appearance? Design for design sake isn’t really something you see in functional medical-type devices.
SCUBA gear hasn’t really changed much since its introduction in the 1940s, nor has something like an oxygen concentration feed tube to a person’s nose.

Afterburn

I said it was odd, not terrible.

ML31

I can’t help myself but I find that complaint odd coming from someone who is fine updating the tech of an entire era to the point where it doesn’t look like it belongs in said era at all. I wouldn’t think you would be pleased with the appliance unless it looked like it was better than the one used 80 years later.

Afterburn

Well good for you.

Frank Mondana

Maybe because Star Trek TOS filmed 50 years ago on a small budget and that the some of our current real tech already exists and is more “futuristic” than what was shown then.
Or do you think tech just stopped developing so there should be no updates?

ML31

What does that have to do with someone having an appliance that looks like it is better than one that was presented as state of the art some 100 years later? I don’t think you are understanding the context here.

slider

Good point.

Tuskin

facial apparatus is pretty different. The one in TNG appeared be right in the mouth, while the one in DSC is pretty far from it.

dsgsdg

Yeah they cocked that up in disco

Who cares

Starfleet is known to accept Academy applicants from species that are not members of the Federation. The guys with the chlorine breather on their chest from TNG come to mind, Saru of course, in the old novels Picard’s tactical officer on Stargazer was a prince on his homeworld. An idividual Barzan joining, even thousands, would not affect their entire civilization.

Afterburn

Again, in-universe it’s not unbelievable, but seems like an odd choice for the producers to have picked, as if someone was just perusing Memory Alpha for funky aliens, with no further thought.

Danpaine

I hope they stay away from TNG-era aliens, personally. There are plenty of TOS-area aliens to mine and expand upon. Let the Picard or any other shows set post-Nem go to that well.

JAGT

TOS-area aliens to mine and expand upon

but not too many makeup-heavy ones. And out of those we have already seen Tellarites, Andorians, Orions… well, and Klingons obviously, just not of the TOS-kind. So what others could there be that wouldn’t violate canon? We’ll likely see Talosians even though I’m curious about the way they will try to fit them in. But others, like the Gorn or Vians, can hardly be mined to any meaningful extent.

ML31

I don’t know… Why not go back and look at the reception scene from Journey to Babel and find one of them? Personally I always wondered why we never saw Andorians or Tellerites on TNG.

Tuskin

To be fair, we did see a Holographic Andorian in TNG.

From what I heard with TNG, after Season 1 tried to stay away from TOS as much as possible because of Gene, but once he left they were more lenient.

ML31

I’ll take your word for it as I have only seen the bulk of the TNG episodes only once. I guessed it was mostly Roddenberry trying to stay away from TOS. But I always felt that was a disservice. I was happy as hell to see them turn up on Enterprise. Really liked what they did with the antenna.

Tiger2

That is the problem with most TOS aliens, majority are really human looking. And don’t get me wrong. same in the TNG era, but there are a lot with heavy make up features as well. But I would be happy if they did more things with Andorians again. They became one of my favorite TOS species thanks to Enterprise, it would be nice to see a story line made around them again instead of just background characters.

But I don’t really care who shows up, as long as it fits the story and doesn’t stretch canon to a ridiculous level doing it.

Tuskin

Well, they kept the Trill in DSC season 1 finale the same as DS9. So they’re not against doing human looking aliens.

Tiger2

No I didn’t mean that. I’m fine if they bring in human looking aliens. That has never bothered me at all. But the make up artist seems to be talking about prosthetic aliens so I’m guessing he’s hinting at aliens with some facial make up of some kind (although that would include Trills). That said they may update more TOS aliens and alter them more for 2019 like they did the Klingons (hopefully not THAT much though lol).

Tuskin

Ah my bad

Afterburn

Hm, maybe it’s time we retcon them!

FLB

We know there was a war at some point with the Federation, but at what point exactly was the first contact with the Cardassians? Was it ever established?

Danpaine

No, it seems not. They first showed up on-screen in “The Wounded” (cool episiode), but that wasn’t first contact with them. As opposed to the Ferengi – who DID make first contact on-screen with the ENT-D crew, I believe.

GWMF

In the Autobiography of Picard it’s during his time on the Stargazer. Betacanon at best though.

ML31

I do not think it was ever established. I just figured it was in that no mans era from TUC to TNG.

Tiger2

It wasn’t but we do know Cardassians are at least known about in the 23rd century because Uhura ordered a drink named after them in the KU.

Danpaine

Nice catch, Tiger. At least they were introduced in the TOS era in THAT timeline.

Tiger2

Yeah exactly. It now basically gives them an excuse to use them on some level if they wanted since that’s literally the only reference we know about them prior to TNG. And KU and PU timeline are essentially identical until Vulcan is eradicated. So it doesn’t stop them at all.

ML31

In the KU they seem to have contacted them earlier than they did in the Prime. That was how I retconned that little bit in that flick.

Tuskin

Dax in DS9 mentioned meeting a Cardassian on Vulcan in either the 22nd or 23rd Centuries.

Afterburn

Good catch!

Who cares

Not sure when it was but it was before Pike became captain as his service record shown on screen includes a Cardassian related medal first mentioned in DS9.

Andrew SD

Speaking of Airiam; unlike some I’ve been on board and loved Star Trek Discovery from start. The only real issue I’ve had with the show is Airiam. What the eff is this??!! Is this an android? Is this a robot? Is this a cyborg? Is this of Earth or some other alien culture? Is this an experimental computerized officer that is apart of the ship? And wasn’t this creature/device like third in command in the first session, though Burnham probably out ranks her in this one and may now be? I swear I lose sleep over this LOL.

She’s an augmented human. They finally settled on what she was during the first season.

https://trekmovie.com/2017/10/24/the-ever-evolving-augmented-airiam-from-star-trek-discovery-revealed-again-on-after-trek/

The current actress playing Airiam 2.0 (Hannah Cheesman) recently said so too
https://twitter.com/HannahCheesman/status/1086526746881445888

She’s a Lt. Commander. Remember in Season 1 Burnham had no rank, she’s a civilian (effectively she’s a convict on work release) science advisor. So Airiam was 3rd in line, after Saru, when Lorca was off the bridge.

Now that Burnham has her commission back she’s a commander in the sciences but of course has command training (before her court martial she was also a commander, in the command track). So now she’s chief science officer and 3rd in line after Saru, and the new captain (currently Pike).

Andrew SD

Sigh… Now I can sleep at night LOL

ML31

So she’s a Borg then. LOL

Tiger2

I truly hope we get a story or at least some background about her this season. It’s characters like her that fascinates me about Star Trek in general. I’m shocked they didn’t make her a main character.

Mike2

Cool to see someone on working on Discovery that has roots in ST going back to TNG. Also loved seeing the nod to the Okudas in Pike’s service record. With other ST series in development, would love to see more of this. Not that I want new Trek to look and feel like its predecessors, but I think it can only benefit from the insights of those who have been involved in the production of earlier iterations of ST. A good balance between continuity and fresh thinking.

Tiger2

Well they did have Joe Menosky who actually produced or written around 60 episodes on TNG, DS9 and VOY. Was also the one who came up with the ’47’ concept in his episodes. Sadly he jumped to the Orville this season but yes they do have a few production designers from the former era around at least.

The Collector

The STD hacks are going to shoehorn the Borg in, aren’t they? If Admiral Cornwell is assimilated I’ll change my mind and be on board with this. Awful character and terrible acting.

Danpaine

I’ll be very surprised if the writers can restrain themselves from bringing the Borg in. Typical, lazy and uninspired if they do.

ML31

I would not be surprised if they do the Borg somehow. They couldn’t resist it even on Enterprise. Although I am really hoping they don’t.

Tuskin

How can someone be this wrong?
And no, they’re not going to bring the Borg in.

slider

They’ll probably show their origin or some rubbish like that.

FASAfan

I think one of the worst decisions in TNG was to purposefully ignore the TOS races like Andorians, Tellarites, etc. As we all know, even Vulcans were rare until later and even then uncommon.

TMP had an amazing array of races that were hardly ever seen again except for comics and roleplaying game books. I loved seeing the Saurian in S2E1.

Integration, people!! Keep it up!!