Interview: David Benjamin Tomlinson On The Importance Of Being Linus In ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Canadian actor David Benjamin Tomlinson has been part of Star Trek: Discovery since the first season, playing a variety of aliens. However, he is best known as the Saurian Linus, introduced in season two. Ahead of his appearance this weekend at the virtual InHouse-Con, TrekMovie spoke with Tomlinson about his time with Discovery, which continues in season three and its leap forward into the future.

Fans may know you as Linus, but that wasn’t your first entry into Star Trek Discovery. Can you talk us through your history with the show?

My first appearance on Discovery was as Or’Eq, the reluctant Klingon in the series premiere. And that character was killed off in episode four. Then I came back as a Klingon battle commander, serving Kol in episode nine of season one, and I played a gambling Klingon in the season one finale.

In addition to all those Klingons, you also played a Kelpien as well, right?

Oh yes, in season two I played a Kelpien. I was in a Short Treks episode [“The Brightest Star”] and episode six as well. I was in “Kelpien School” with Doug [Jones]. I was Kelpien Villager #1 I believe was the role.

David Benjamin Tomlinson as Or’Eq in “The Vulcan Hello”

So Linus is the second character you played that has a name. Is there any story behind the name? Like, are Saurians like Vulcans with just the one name?

No one’s no one has spoken to me about the name. I got the offer to play the character right before the second season started. And the email was. “We’d like to offer David the role of Linus the Saurian.” I was like, ‘I love the name.’ Because it just seemed like a great name, but I had no idea what a Saurian was so I had to do a bit of research, and then I was like, ‘Wow, it’s an unusual name!’ I would love to know why Linus, but I’m super glad that it is Linus.

As your research showed, Saurians have been referenced and seen briefly in Star Trek, but Linus is the most prominent. So you are essentially defining what it means to be a Saurian. How does a Saurian walk? How does a Saurian talk? What has gone into how you are developing Linus?

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s really interesting. This, this is a weight that I realized, ‘Oh, I’m going to play this character. This is amazing!’ And I and I did I started to research it, and I realized, ‘Oh, this is going to be the first prominent Saurian.’ And then I felt the responsibility of contributing to canon in a way that was responsible and meaningful.

And so I worked with a movement coach and Doug and I chatted a bit about it. I did a bunch of research online, just looking at reptilian posture. And then the very first thing we did with him was we were shooting the elevator scene. And I was very stressed out. I just wanted to do this right. It gets in your way as an actor when you get in your head like that.

So I got into the turbolift, and we start rehearsing the scene and Sonequa [Martin-Green] comes in, and it’s like one o’clock in the morning. They’ve been shooting all day and we’re just shooting this little before the end of day and Sonequa comes in and she’s – as always – full of energy and delight and she loves the prosthetic. We rehearse the scene, and I had a little noise prepared for when she asked him about the throat. And I just made this noise and she just started laughing and everyone started laughing. And she was like, “Oh, no, it’s gonna be a long night with this one.” And there was so much joy and laughter in that moment that all of my overthinking, kind of just went away. And in the back of my head, I sort of heard a voice and it was just like, ‘Oh, I know what this is. I’ve got this.’

The energy of Linus sort of came in. It sounds a bit odd, but I discovered this character in this really beautiful moment of freedom. And so I follow that voice wherever it takes me now and that’s given all of the things that I researched and went through in terms of the movement and conversation, I follow that energy and it all comes together in this way. And so that is how I am contributing with this character.

David Benjamin Tomlinson’s first scene as Linus in “Brother”

There is an element of fun with Linus. Do you see him as a comic character, do you like playing for humor?

Oh, I love playing a comedic character. I don’t know that I look at him as a comedic character. The thing that really speaks to me about Linus is that he is a slightly awkward individual, but he’s confident about that. I certainly have struggled over the course of my life with feeling like where I fit in and don’t fit in and feeling awkward in situations. Somehow he carries his awkwardness with this confidence. He is who he is. He likes who he is. So the comedy that comes out of that sort of generates itself. I don’t necessarily play him for laughs. I sort of play him true and the laughs result.

I’m curious about who exactly is Linus. When Doug and I last talked, he says that Linus shows up here and there. So, what exactly is your job on the ship?

To be completely honest, I don’t know. I know that he’s a science officer. No one has sat me down and said specifically this is what he does. I certainly have created a narrative for him in terms of sort of what he’s up to, very in the sciences, and the science end of things. But I love that there’s no fixed location for him because that means that I get to pop up all over the ship and in different sets. That makes it very exciting to see how he’s going to be in different places.

So no writer or producer has given you a backstory, or the Saurian backstory? You are kind of making it up as you go along?

There was not a lot of discussion about it off the top. I don’t know, I don’t know if they had plans for Linus, to be fair. I think it’s a character that everyone really connected with, shooting that elevator scene. And they started looking for other places for the character to show up. It’s a show that already has so many characters. It’s such an amazing strong ensemble. So for Linus, I think the prospect of adding another prominent character into the mix makes it even more of a juggling act. I like that he shows up when he does and how he does.

This all reminds me of how in season one a supporting character, Airiam, really popped with fans even before the first episode even aired. Then the writers started leaning into it and she became more prominent. Could this be a double-edged sword, as things didn’t end well for Airiam?

I have such affection for the character of Linus that if something untoward happened to him, it would be really hard. Because I’ve fallen so in love with the character. Playing him is such a delight. And I love being in that skin.

It can be a bit of a double-edged sword, I guess. The attention is great. And the fact that something is connecting with cast and crew and fans is good. But yeah, it maybe puts a target on your back. But, hopefully, that would lean in the direction of, ‘Oh, we’re going to explore this character a little bit more.’ When they don’t pay a lot of attention to you, it means you’re ripe for storytelling when they need a story and they don’t have one.

David Benjamin Tomlinson as Linus in “Through the Valley of Shadows”

And we do learn more about Linus in season three?

Yeah, there’s a little bit more.

So for season three, the show is going through a big change of setting with jumping forward in time. In a sense, it’s a new show. Just being there on the set with the cast and the crew and everyone, is it the same show, and is the vibe the same? Or does it feel different now that the show has kind of found this whole new place to tell stories?

That’s a great question. You know, the anchor of the show is this intersection of people coming together to make these stories. The heart of it is this collection of people, the writers, the crew, the cast, and everyone coming together in this space to tell these stories. And those people largely haven’t changed. So the show continues to become its own and find its own path. But the love and affection that everyone has for what they’re doing, that hasn’t changed at all. So while we’re telling new stories and going to new places, the show still feels like the show to us because there’s still all of this remarkable enthusiasm and affection and delight in what we’re doing.

How important has Doug Jones been to you in developing Linus and your other characters?

Doug has been an unbelievably remarkable ally on set. He is unbelievably good at his job. And he is so generous with his insights and his support. It’s been an amazing experience to be able to watch him and learn and talk to him about the process and listen to what he has to say. And there’s no competition. We’re all there to learn and discover and he’s been an incredible ally. To be on set with him is one of my favorite things. Over the course of the three seasons, we have developed a really easy, supportive, super affectionate rapport. The conversation is always free-flowing and the support is always there. He’s hugely complimentary. He’s hugely supportive. He’s amazing! And he does that for everybody, not just me. He’s a real bright light on that set.

Has becoming Linus changed your life or is it just another day as an actor?

Oh wow. Becoming Linus has changed my life. I’m learning this new craft, this this this this art of being a prosthetics actor which is a really interesting use of my skill set, and which I am very excited about. But I’m also getting to work with this unbelievable cast and crew and laughing a lot and then being embraced by a community of fans that are so affectionate and so talented and love and support the character in a way that I can’t not be changed by this experience. I’m super humbled by it. I’m super grateful that I get to contribute in the way that I am contributing

Which is why it was important to me to be to do it as not just another day at the office. I’m going into contribute something meaningful, that’s going to resonate. And the only way to do that is it has to resonate with you. So yeah, I do feel like it’s been a big change and an exciting one. And I don’t know what lies ahead, but this so far has been remarkable.

My last question: Why is Saurian brandy so good?

[Laughs] From the way that everyone talks about it, it has got to do something with the potency. Whenever it comes up, Saurian brandy is talked about like the way tequila is talked about. It’s something very potent, very powerful, and can lead to some tricky situations.

I would very much like there to be a Linus Saurian brandy moment on the show, absolutely. I think that would be pretty fun.

David Benjamin Tomlinson having his Linus makeup applied by James MacKinnon

Join David Benjamin Tomlinson on Sunday, August 8th at the InHouse-Con Star Trek event

The guests for the August 8th event include three Discovery actors: Sara Mitich (Airiam 1.0, Lt. Nilsson), David Benjamin Tomlinson (Linus), and Hannah Spear (Siranna). Also joining is DS9/Voyager/Enterprise guest star Michael Krawic (Samuels, Rahmin, Stron). The panel pass costs $3.99 and you can also purchase autographs and video chats with the guests. More information and tickets available at coolwatersprods.com.

 


Keep up with all the Star Trek interviews at TrekMovie.com.

Subscribe
Notify me of
25 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Are Saurians members of the Federation?

I’ve heard of his species before on Star Trek somewhere. Can’t seem to remember it.

Linus is very cute for a Saurian. He is the baby Yoda of Star Trek. That is the best compliment I can come up with.

Last edited 1 month ago by Faze Ninja

I assume they’re in the Federation but I honestly couldn’t tell you if that has been categorically confirmed in canon. You’ve probably heard of Saurian brandy, that gets mentioned a lot in Trek and I know there was a Saurian in Star Trek the Motion Picture.

There are a surprising number of grey-area species, for sure. Even Betazed was never explicitly mentioned as a member.

Really? I had no idea but then I guess there’s lots of Federation worlds we haven’t even seen or heard mentioned onscreen as well.

Ferenginar is not a member, in fact they have their own small collection of systems and worlds.

Yeah I’m a long term fan Paul so I watched the show when the Ferengi Alliance were introduced to canon as an enemy in TNG. It was just a surprise that Betazed had never been formally mentioned as members although I think we can all agree that it’s heavily implied.

Saurian brandy is frequently mentioned in TOS, along with payday references. I’ll regret this, but in the post alcohol, post payday replicator friendly universe, if your entire society is built around crafting a particular drink really well, what’s a hard working Saurian to do? Knit?

Guinan seemed to have some sort of tardis style under the table drinking cabinet that seemed well stocked enough to keep both the Saurian and Romulan drinking industries in business ;)

Yes, they were admitted largely on the strength of their brandy making capabilities.

That’s what most people say, but I have it on good authority that Saurian Brandy was invented by a little old lady from Leningrad.

I think she invented Scotch as well; very talented old girl.

Little known fact about Saurian Brandy: it was a promoted by the Federation in an attempt to curtail all the illegal shipments of Romulan Ale that were making their way to Federation planets.

Sly, TonyD. 👏

The little old lady from Leningrad had better be careful; it would eat into vodka sales, which are a big deal.

Notes for ST:TMP indicate the Saurians are at the very least, Federation-friendly. “SAURIAN – A lizard person, very able, excellent space officers. Learned to communicate in Earth tongue, have complicated vocal language of own. Have upright, direct posture. Intelligent. Can breathe a number of gases. Valuable in exploration of new areas because of enormous strength due to four hearts.”

Saurians have been part of Star Trek going all the way back to the very first season of TOS. That show had many references to Saurian brandy. The first Saurian to be shown on screen was in The Motion Picture, after which Saurians frequently showed up in the comics for a while.

Somewhere I have a ST:TMP trading card of a Saurian in a Starfleet uniform.

That’s not conclusive evidence for being a member of the Federation. See Saru, Worf, or Ro Laren for examples of Starfleet officers from non-Federation planets.

I didn’t appreciate the snotty sneeze elevator scene, but Linus is growing on me.

There seems to be some intentional good-hearted innocence in the character, along with the confident awkwardness. It’s a good balance for the edginess of characters like Stamets.

It’s not going to be particularly fondly thought of in light of the Pandemic of 2020, that’s for sure.

I didn’t appreciate the snotty sneeze elevator scene, but Linus is growing on me.

The elevator scene reminds me of that idiot Connolly, a character the producers introduced just so that they could kill him off in a way that got feminists cheering. So ridiculous.

Well, Connolly is a character who certainly was too “ballsy” for his own good. I myself find it very amusing that people feel attacked by this (called out even?). The hothead redshirt* type was and is a staple of Star Trek since you know… 60s Star Trek. I would even argue that the first cocky, arrogant and overly confident character in Star Trek was Gary Mitchell – you know, he was in the Pilote Episode!…

Besides, there are plenty of cocky, overly confident side characters in ensemble action movies etc. without much of a background, who are only there to get themselves killed early on (which is of course a trope to show the danger / raise the stakes for the main characters). Now, I will say that this is for sure a tired trope, and DIS brings not much new to the table to spin it – but your antagonism to feminism seems a bit misguided.

*yes, its not always red, not even in TOS

As a dude myself, I would never have thought of that interpretation unless keyboard warriors, such as Steve, hadn’t brought it up first.

Always looking for issues to complain about, instead of just enjoying something for what it is.

While I won’t deny we all tend to view life, and especially art, through our own personal biases and blinders, I think that interpretation says more about Steve (and others like him) than it does the intent of the writers. You are seeing what you want to see.

It’s possible that, since I don’t interpret the scene that way, it’s simply a reflection of my own blinders: I don’t walk around life actively – or passively – looking for “grievances” against men.

(Plus, it’s not like DIS hasn’t killed off female characters, either…)

Last edited 1 month ago by Matthew D.

Brilliant

Linus-my favorite character.

Here’s a link to the Saurians on Memory Alpha:
https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Saurian_(species)

Check out the picture from TMP. Hilarious! Looks like someone on the Enterprise has a cheap velociraptor Halloween costume.