Hannah Cheesman Talks Airiam’s Humanity On ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ And Filming “Project Daedalus”

[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR “Project Daedalus”]

 

This week’s episode was focused on the character of Airiam. Hannah Cheesman (the actress who played her), as well as some of the cast and crew, have been talking about this big moment in the series.

Honored for the opportunity to show Airiam’s humanity, and nerding out with Jonathan Frakes

Hannah Cheesman was the guest on this week’s after-show The Ready Room, where she talked at length about playing Airiam and especially what it was like filming the final episode. She also summarized Airiam’s nature, giving some background on what she was told by the creative team:

She is an augmented human. It was in the course of this season that one of the writers said to me, “Hannah, she is 67% human.” And I said, “Great, I have a percentage.” It was something to work with, especially in [“Project Daedalus”] where you see so much emotion from Airiam, whereas before we don’t see that much of her, and we don’t get to know her that much. So, it was a really nice way to dig into the human parts of this augmented human.

Taking on the role from original Airiam actress Sara Mitich:

[Airiam] was played by Sara Mitich in season one and I took over the role in season two. And Sara has actually become a great friend of mine since because she stepped into the role as the human Nilsson. Sara is an ex-ballerina and I am actually an ex-dancer as well. What is wonderful is that Sara is incredibly generous. She actually took a whole morning with me when I stepped into the role. On the bridge, she would say “this is where the spore drive is, and these are these are the buttons I would do for this action.” She also showed me her mannerisms, her movements, which coming from a dance background is a real gift, stepping into a role that doesn’t move naturally or very humanly. What I found is that I started with what she gave me and through the season really developed more.

Exploring the character more in her final episode:

It was beautiful. And it was beautiful to shoot it too. I am so honored that I was gifted an episode like this. As much as it sucks to not be around anymore, it was a wonderful role and a wonderful episode. And, you never know, it’s space…There’s always flashbacks. I got a human face. Something can happen.

She also said she was honored to have a role that shared elements with a famous android from Next Generation:

My family would watch TNG as I grew up, although I did watch the original Star Trek too, my sister and I would watch a lot of the original Star Trek. I know, so nerdy. I was a huge fan of Data and it was super-cool stepping into a role that was preceding Data. I loved Deanna Troi. I loved the Ferengi. Yeah, I was a big, big fan of that particular show.

Her inner TNG fan came out when she first met Jonathan Frakes on set during the second episode of the season:

The first time I met Jonathan Frakes was his earlier episode in the season and we were sitting waiting to shoot a scene and there he appears and I had only seen him as Number One before. So, there he is in the flesh, and I am there in full Airiam drag. And I just say to him “Jonathan, you were my first on-screen crush.” Which is a true story! He was my crush. Number One was the first person I had ever seen as a very young girl I was like “he’s dreamy.” He was really flattered.

Watch the full interview below:

Cast and crew say goodbye to Airiam and Hannah Cheesman

CBS released a video featuring the executive producers and stars of Discovery talking about Airiam’s exit from the show, and Hannah Cheesman herself.

Show star Sonequa Martin-Green:

That moment between Burnham and Airiam was really difficult to film…It is a twofold goodbye. When someone leaves, we feel it, and it hurts. And then it is hard to say goodbye to characters as well, because of the imprint they have made on the story. And Airiam has made such an imprint, because it is the first time we have really gotten to see someone like her, someone who has been augmented like her. We see her as a human being in flashback and then to know that she suffered this horrible accident. She chose to be augmented and now has devoted her life to military exploratory service in Starfleet. You know, I think that is really potent, really powerful.

Producer Heather Kadin discussed the irony of how building Airiam up made her a candidate to be killed off:

I think anytime there is a character you build up and build up and you grow to love, sadly, for story, the one where you go “Wouldn’t it be impactful if?” That is the one you got rid of.

Behind the scenes on “Project Daedalus”

During filming back in October 2018, Anthony Rapp shared a nice image from the set of “Project Daedalus,” and heaped praise on director Jonathan Frakes.


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

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Professor Spock

Star Trek Discovery has very relatable characters I can relate to personally in my life especially Airiam and Saru. I love those two. Good job Star Trek. Star Trek has characters who are better than ourselves. That is what makes it special. Star Wars has none of that. The humanity is strong in these people.

Picard’s Patty

Hmm, I am starting to think the Red Angel is Airiam, who somehow survived drifting through space into the future, later being upgraded with future technology, and redeeming herself by time travelling to the past to protect Spock. The Red Angel appears to have a female shape.

Professor Spock

Picard’s Patty if Airiam was the Red Angel, that can’t make any sense. She is not from the future. What does she want from Spock anyway if that were true. Why Spock of all people in the galaxy? The Red Angel could have just randomly chosen anyone else but they want Spock for some odd reason. The Red Angel could be anyone at this point but not Airiam. The female shape of the Red Angel doesn’t solve anything but that is a good clue to determine the identity of the Red Angel.

Sean Healy

It’s all about Burnham… Captain Burnham, Queen Burnham, the Burnham who broke Spock and turned him into a angst-ridden teenager, the Burnham who started a war and then got promoted…the Burhnam who Lorka fell in love with…the Burnham who is the person who comes up with the ship-saving idea at the last minute…the Burnham who tells Pike what to do…the Burnham who even Saru has fallen in love with…All Hail Red Burnham!

MysticalDigtial

I think you are so filled with misguided rage you are literally making stuff up in your rant… I mean ‘the Burnham who even Saru has fallen in love with’ is nowhere near a thing… ‘who started a war and then got promoted’ neither is that, ‘the Burhnam who Lorka fell in love with’ and that was a different Burnham (and Lorca was a pedo)

Sean Healy

My god, you’re right…I’m talking from a different time line. (that was thrown in I two episodes ago?) and then this episode…we have been introduced to the Starfleet Super-Computer “Control” or ‘Plot Contrivance 301’. By the way, no rage here…it’s just a TV show. But I was bored waiting for my students to finish writing an essay and thought I’d have a cheeky little rant ;)

Michael Hall

If you feel that way, why didn’t you at least appreciate it when the ‘broken’ Spock accused Burnham of making everything about her? Seems you have a fellow traveler, there. :-)

Chris

I bet Sean is more right that wrong.

Michael Hall

Living itself requires that most people are right more often than not. What you get wrong, matters.

Corinthian7

@Professor Spock I assume that the Airiam is the red angel theory is based on the possibility that Airam’s memories were downloaded into the ships computer and we know from Chabon’s short that the Discovery develops an ai whilst being asked to wait at specific coordinates for a millennium. As for why she would then choose to contact Spock? Well Airam would know that she’s supposed to do that so we could be looking at a predestination paradox. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the Airam theory but it’s certainly plausible that she is the red angel. I think it’s likely that her memory’s/consciousness do evolve into Zora but I think it’s more likely that she sends somebody back in time. Therefore, I think it’s still more probable that the entity that has been observed and named as the Red Angel is still likely to be either Michael or multiple members of the crew who have each been sent back in time in different red bursts.

Trek in a Cafe

Patty, I don’t get why people don’t at least think this is possible and agree with you. Yes she died, but she is clearly the figure in the stained glass in Episode 2.

Sean Healy

It’s Michael Burnham. It’s all about Burnham. Captain Burnham, Queen Bur….oh god it’s starting again! TILLY! TILLY! I CAN’T CONTROL MY BODILY FUNCTIONS!!!! FLUSH ME OUT THE AIR LOCK!!!

Definitely makes sense. Spock said the red angel was a human. Airiam does hold all the probe’s AI data. With some sort of catalyst to revive at least the augmented part of her, she evolves into the red angel.
Red Angel’s only connection with Spock is because of Burnham, the show’s protagonist who will always be central to the plot each season.
She had Spock save Burnham as a child, she had the Discovery save another crew member’s planet (Saru), she melded with Spock because he would share his vision with Burnham, and she even told Burnham “It wanted me to kill you. Everything is because of you”.
I also have a theory that she may encounter the same sort of life form that evolved V’Ger in TMP. Her mind-meld with Spock opened his mind to sensing V’Ger, a being that communicates on a similar type of wave-length. Hence why Spock was the only person who could communicate/feel with V’Ger.

AJinMoscow

Airiam was a Red Shirt in disguise. We hardly knew ya!

Sean Healy

I feel it’s another example of poor writing by committee to suddenly flesh out a character only to kill them off in the same episode expecting some kind of emotional hit. If you had the same writers week in week out you would have seen the development of a character who had a great deal of potential! Next to Saru & Pike she could have been the 3rd character in the series that you liked. Instead, we to shoe-horn all of this emotion, back-story, tragedy…and of course…”adoration” for Tilly that felt very convoluted. Up until this episode she had virtually no lines and no interaction with any members of the crew…let alone her “sister from another mister”. This is a symptom of a wider problem. If you had the same writers day in day out with the same director, you might have collaboration which would result in a properly fleshed out character. And it’s not just the characters that seem to lurch for episode to episode by committee…it’s the story lines as well! Take ANY ONE of the follow… Section 31, Teen-Angst-Spock, VoqTyler, Red Burnham, the Emasculation of Pike and you would still have basically the same story. Again, IF you had talented writers who could shepherd the series from start to finish, getting to know ONE director…etc…then maybe, just maybe you can pull it off. But then again, Maybe Not.

Arathorn

Exactly – what an interesting character they built…for one episode. I had the same gripe when they killed off T’Kuvma in the first episode.

Michael Hall

Not laying the groundwork for such a major story turn as a character’s death is certainly a legitimate criticism, particularly in the era of great serialized storytelling on television (an aspect of Discovery where even its greatest boosters would have to admit it’s often fallen short). Nevertheless, to be completely fair, did the fate of the Tomlinsons move you any less because you only encountered them in “Balance of Terror?” Because it sure mattered to me.

Arathorn

Regarding the Tomlinsons – Neither of those characters were ever in more than one episode. So I wasn’t really as curious about them as I was Airiam.

Michael Hall

But, respectfully, how is your curiosity germane to the issue? That the Tomlinsons were seen even less than Airiam should make you care less about their eventual fate, assuming the setup was everything.

Look, I’ve been pretty vocal about the demonstrated inability of the producers of this show to structure a story over the course of a season, or several seasons, the way the producers of GAME OF THRONES or BREAKING BAD have so masterfully done. Discovery has had its moments of value for me, but they’ve largely been one-offs. So I understand, and even agree to some extent, with the criticism that we should have known more about Airiam to fully appreciate her sacrifice that was this episode’s payoff. But that only makes me more appreciative of what Michelle Paradise was able to do with the character, managing to make time in a very busy story to humanize her to such an extent that ultimately I could care about her, and be moved by her fate. That makes “Project Deadalus” a standout Discovery episode for me and many other people (including the AV Club’s Zach Handlen, who has been very critical of the show), and based on such a notable success I’m not at all surprised that Paradise was named co-showrunner for the third season.

HubcapDave

You guys must have really been cheesed off about the episode Lower Decks in TNG…..

PEB

Exactly HubcapDave.

Arathorn

Not really. None of those characters were ever in more than one episode save for one. So I wasn’t really curious about them.

HubcapDave

Not true. One was part of Nova Squadron….and she was the one who got killed.

Sean Healy

I take your point that previous episodes of ST have had characters fleshed out and killed off in the same episodes. But the crucial difference is that in all of those previous examples, the people in question were given believable relationships – with other people not known to us i.e. Lower Decks. What we see in STDs example is having a character who is pushed front and centre of everyones lives, including the Bridge crew and Tilly *cringe* despite their being no hint of her importance to any of them previously. It seems so convoluted

Arathorn

I said “save for one”

Ambassador Sybok

I was thinking the same thing. As soon as I saw Ariam sifting through memories, I knew they were going to kill off the character. Poor planning overall. The seeds for this particular character needed to have been sewn much sooner if they wanted us to feel as bad as the characters did about Ariam’s passing. Instead, I just felt a little beaten over the head by the emotional loss the series regulars were suffering.

Professor Spock

The writers pulled a Game of Thrones with Airiam. She could have been an amazing character. Airiam had so much potential but it was wasted. So sad.

Sean Healy

The writers lost me a while ago. I’m sitting here trying to sum up the story line for this episode but I keep getting tied up in Knots. So…the red Angel leads the Discovery to Space Google who downloads everything into the Computer. Then, after flushing the prime director down the can the Discovery encounters a temporal vortex which pulls the shuttle in. A evil space probe from the future then downloads Space Google SkyDrive from the Shuttle or the Discovery…at some point…this results in a virus being uploaded to Battle Angel Alita who gets taken over by….Control? Or by the evil space probe brain? Or are they the same thing? Anyway….Spock knows about the Red Angels but doesn’t…but the Red Angel is trying to warn them by…leading them to Space Google and starting everything again? I mean…then you get to Section 31 secret base which has…..BLADE MINES!!!! but it’s now a super computer…who wants Space Googles SkyDrive…and the evil entity controlling Battle Angel Alita wants to help control? or is control? and what about Voq and L’Rell and Tyla and Burnham and Stamets and Culber and Tyler and Culber and Spock and Burnham and Pike and Saru and…..AGHHHHHHH

Michael Hall

Well, Steve King once demonstrated that you can make any story, however beloved, sound trite, absurd, or pedestrian by simply detailing its plot, particularly if you’re willing to lay on the sarcasm with a trowel. Epic fail, sorry — and if this is the way you conduct your classes, I sincerely pity your students.

Chris

There is no reason to be mean, his take on the story line was funny

Michael Hall

‘Funny’ in a very dreary, hackneyed sense maybe. I say this as a connoisseur of inspired snark, even (and sometimes, especially) when it’s directed at things I like.

HubcapDave

Funny like a rubber crutch….

Arathorn

A rubber crutch is funny

Jako

dude…. the plot maybe isnt good but it is actually very simple.
If you dont get it… its on you.

Funny is: even in your summary it is pretty clear what is going on.

Alan

Is that sarcasm because anything that comes out of the Kurtzman lineage including Discovery is anything but clear. The overarching storyline is incredibly opaque and doesn’t make any sense at all.

Michael Hall

Insisting the fault lies with others for saying they understand something when you don’t is not a good look.

Hannah Cheesman did a marvellous job with her role.

It’s good to see her getting strong reviews and profile for it.

However great the writing or directing if she didn’t have the talent and skill to deliver the performance, the final scene would not have been compelling.

I’ve also been thinking about how Discovery S2 has provided two great performances through a mask by women (Cheesman as Ariam, and Hannah Spear as Saru’s sister Sirrana).

There is also the recurring masked role of L’rell by Mary Chieffo.

Roles in masks (vs body paint) have often been the domain of men. They are often conceived as ‘monsters’, but Trek is creating a space for strong, beautiful and alien female roles.

It’s a worthwhile contribution to highlight.

Jako

I am sorry but … what?

“Roles in masks (vs body paint) have often been the domain of men. They are often conceived as ‘monsters’, but Trek is creating a space for strong, beautiful and alien female roles. ”

often? Do you have any stats to back this? I doubt it!

Clive

I believe that airiam was at one point 100% human; she herself chose her bizarre and unnatural transformation into a robot

Jemini

I wonder why Pike didn’t do the same.

Michael Hall

The nature of their injuries was completely different.

Duncan MacLeod

And Pike knew what happened to Airiam

Jako

you believe that she was 100% Human at one point?
Did you paid any attention watching the episode?
It is on screen that she was and that there was an accident!

Jemini

I don’t think it’s the last we see of her. The fact she’s part human is no coincidence.

Sean Healy

Maybe she gets put back together by mushrooms?

Eric

Season 2 of Discovery (IMHO) has definitely been better than season 1. Two of the better episodes this season have been New Eden and Project Daedalus. Maybe Frakes knows something about this Star Trek thing? ;)

JGo

Not even close, episode 9 was an awful attempt to bring way too much emotion to star trek. The show is going backwards & not making much sense in doing it.

Capt Steve

Looks like Johnathan Frakes has lost some weight. Maybe he’s prepping for a role in the Picard show???

Logician

Yeah, agree – he’s looking positively Riker-esque right there.

Afterburn

Wish he’d prepped like that for These Are the Voyages, considering it was a flashback. His weight actually means less here– no reason a 60+ year old Riker has to be slim.

TrekFan

I am guessing that spending time as ‘chef’ aboard the NX01 in These Are The Voyages, he was tasting a lot of what he was cooking with the crew! ;)

Afterburn

Any chance this season’s struggle with AI will result in a new computer system throughout starfleet designed by, and voiced by, Rebecca Romijn’s “Number One”?

kmart

I think BEST OF TREK or some old old fanzine had the idea that the planet dominated by women mentioned in TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY is where #1 retired to, hence the same voice.

Michael Hall

One of the best endings to a Trek episode in living memory, whatever the episode’s flaws. And I sincerely hope, for the sake of that ending’s impact, that the character of Airiam is well and truly gone.

Jacob mitchell

I feel like they hammered and publicized her death and departure a little too emphatically. I can’t help but have the feeling that they’re trying to obfuscate her “death” in space to later on be very much alive. Plus, why change the actress? I smell a cover. (Especially after the eye rolling decision to say Culber would come back on the After Trek filling his death.)

Why change the actress?

Speculation: So that Sara Mitich could remain on the show. I could see the producers coming to Sarah and laying out what they had in mind for season two, and she requested a change of character so that she could stay with the show.

Again, this is entirely, purely speculation on my part.

Michael Hall

That was certainly my speculative take on it as well. Perhaps they could now start to give some attention to Miich’s character, before they decide to kill her off. :-)

Pretty sure it’s less about staying on the show, considering she went from recurring cast to a guest star with two small appearances so far this season, and more likely it’s because Mitich is busy. She’s also a writer/producer of her own TV show called Bottled Up, and was involved in a number of projects throughout 2018 (when DSC S2 was filming).

Good point Matt.

Most of the Canadian cast in the bridge crew appear to have very active careers in Canadian productions.

Some of them seem to be viewing their work on Discovery similarly to the way Colm Meany describes his original recurring role as the originally nameless transporter chief on TNG.

Meany has said that these kind of recurring roles provide a steady source of income and guild status while actors are pursuing other kinds of shorter term projects.

Mitich may have been seeking a hiatus in her recurring role just when the showrunner wanted to feature Airiam.

Michael Hall

So in essence she left the role just as it became meaningful. With that kind of timing, it’s a surprise to me that I wasn’t the one playing Airiam. :-)

Michael Hall

Interesting. But as she apparently didn’t need the work, I wonder why she would bother at all for such an (again!) small and ill-defined role.

Because they like her? and she likes them?

Michael

I’m sure this has been said many times, but perhaps Airiam is the Red Angel. It makes sense. They clearly have identified the red angel as human, from the future. That could be a misunderstanding or perhaps an advanced race brought her back, with limitations.

The one thing I really hope they don’t do is make the red angel some sort of Borg connection. perhaps a pre-evil Borg. Star Trek has a tendency to turn their villains into good people, or at least create a lot of grey area. It would also completely destroy the whole faith discussion they have going.

Jemini

She can be. The fact they made a point she was part human is no coincidence.

Professor Spock

Airiam could be a Red Angel. Who knows at this point.

Alan

This “mystery box” about who the red angel is doesn’t interest me at all. I don’t care who it is. It isn’t an interesting or creative storyline to have a mystery character that everyone is trying to figure out who it is. That’s just lame storytelling.

Michael Hall

To you, obviously. Not everyone is a fan of mysteries, or science fiction, or tractor pulls. That’s just the way the world works.

Jako

Was a reason given why they changed the actress but kept the old in the show?

Mark Calcagno

I’m wondering the same thing myself

No, but as Matt and I have noted Sarah Mitich has other projects, including a co-production on a Web series.

Her new character 2:53:55 PM Nillson appeared in the first episode, but then was on hiatus until episode 8. It may have been scheduling…

Ad Astra Per Aspera

Interesting to note that the admins threatened to ban Professor Spock for “spamming” but Sean Healey is allowed to do it to disparage the show without consequence.

Interesting….

Afterburn

Why is that interesting? PS was spamming. I have never seen SH before today.

Silvereyes

How is presenting one’s opinion disparaging or spamming ?

Professor Spock

I wasn’t spamming okay. I’m not banned so…

Olaf

God, Sonequa is so annoying. Almost as much as Burnham ;-)