Interview: Anthony Rapp On Stamets Balancing Science And Family In ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 4

With this week’s release of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 on Blu-ray and DVD, TrekMovie had a chance to chat with series star Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets) about that last season, and what is next for his character in season four.

Stamets has gone through a lot of changes over three—presumably four—seasons. So what do you see as quintessential to the character that remains? And what do you see as his long arc for where he is headed?

I think one of the most quintessential things is his unfailing work ethic. And then there’s an ongoing threat of work/life balance that extends throughout all the seasons, but sometimes gets a little more intense than others. But yeah, Stamets will work into the wee hours any day of the week to get it done. Also, there’s an expectation of his colleagues that they should do the same. That’s pretty quintessential.

And the long arc isin terms of the work/life balancemore and more of a deep appreciation for what family means. And what love among intimate, close relationships means.

Season three saw a lot of that work-life/family-life balance, especially with the introduction of Adira, but also in dealing with The Burn. Being a bit of a nerd yourself, do you relish all that science-y stuff? And which takes more prep time, the technobabble plot-driven scenes or emotional character-driven scenes?

The science takes a lot more prep time just because of the language. It’s much easier to memorize things that are more about real-life emotional stuff, just because it’s more familiar. And it’s easier to kind of get in the groove of the emotional. Memorization is not just about memorizing the exact words. That’s a big part of it. But it’s not just like plugging words in your brain, it is also like getting inside the groove or rhythms of the emotional life of the scenes. So when it’s really technobabble, it does take more technical work to kind of just go, ‘Okay, yeah, this is what I’m saying here.’

But because the technobabble that we’re given is always grounded in real science, and we have an amazing team of scientists that advise our writers. So they always make a real efforteven if it is fantastical in some ways, it’s still grounded in something that’s theoretical or real. So there’s always something to Google. There’s always an idea or concept that allows me to get inside it and allows it to be resonant and beyond just simply words on a page. But it does take more prep time to memorize those scenes and try to get them into a rhythm that makes sense.

Anthony Rapp as Stamets and Blu del Barrio as Adira in “Scavengers”

What do you like doing more? The emotional or science?

Well [long pause]… The actor part of me loves the emotional stuff because it’s nice and chewy. But I really do enjoy the challenge of having to do like a speech about the intricacies of some science-y things. They’re both fun. But my muscles are a little more supple with the emotional stuff. If that makes any sense.

At the end of season 3, Stamets got into conflict with Burnham in a serious way. Is that a challenge, being that she is the lead character and supposed to be the hero? How do you play that dynamic without coming off as the bad guy?

It’s not my concern about coming off as the bad guy or not. My concern is to try to find the truth of the moment. And if you’re a person in life and you’re having a really intense confrontation with somebody—even if you love and respect them—if you really told the truth, I don’t think you’d be looking inside yourself and going, ‘I don’t want to be a bad guy here.’ You are just reacting. He is responding.

I was very grateful that Jonathan Frakes was the director of that sequence, because he’s such a sensitive and present and character-driven and story- driven director. When I read the script and I saw those scenes, and then I found out Jonathan was directing, I was very relieved and grateful that I felt like we would be in excellent hands. So yeah, it’s just a matter of just diving in and going for it and then trusting that he would say, ‘Okay, can you just sort of recalibrate this moment a little bit?’ Having that trust and safety with him made all the difference.

And it’s just about telling the truth and going for it. It made a lot of sense to me emotionally that even somebody as rational and intelligent as Stamets could get caught up in the way that he did. Grief is not rational. So, anything that would trigger the trauma of the profound loss—even though he got Hugh back, it was still an incredibly traumatic event. It made total sense to me that he would react the way he reacted.

Anthony Rapp as Stamets in “There Is A Tide…”

The final scene of the season is celebratory with Michael as captain and everyone in their new uniform. But you are sort of the odd man out and don’t seem happy. Was that in the script, or a personal choice, or did it come from the director?

Yeah, it’s a personal choice. I don’t think Stamets would say, “Michael, you cannot be captain.” But something happened between us that was painful. And it’s hard to be like super-cheerleader, ‘rah rah’ in a situation where there’s some lingering pain. But it’s not insurmountable pain. It’s not forever ‘we can never be close again’ pain. But it was painful. So it makes sense to me that it wouldn’t be like, ‘I’m going to be cheering you on right now.’ And that was supported by [Olatunde Osunsanmi], who was our director of the finale. I didn’t want to make it like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m gonna kill you,’ but it’s a subtle thing of, yeah, it’s hard for me to be like 100%, totally happy right now.

And is this something that carries over into season four?

There’s a little bit of dealing with it… there’s been some time for things to settle. And then the way that it’s addressed is an interesting and an honest way.

You’ve had time to change your uniforms again to the more colorful ones. So a very important question—are they more or less comfortable? Weren’t the original (season one to three) uniforms not the most comfortable?

These are super comfortable! They almost feel like pajamas. The material that’s being used just hangs really well and is soft and warm. And I really liked the blue, especially for me. If I were wearing mustard, I would be kind of sad. With my coloring, if I were wearing mustard I would look like a dead person. So I’m grateful that I get to wear the blue, still being a scientist. Yeah, they’re very, very, very comfortable. I didn’t find the original uniforms to be uncomfortable but there’s a nice difference that these are even more comfortable. And I think that people will agree that they look really good on camera.

As you say, Stamets is in science. You mentioned in a recent panel he got a promotion. So does that make him officially the head of science, now that Michael is captain?

I think so, yeah. Stamets’ primary science is astromycology and biology, but he is so smart he is able to dive into any aspect of it. He has a wide range of interests and is able, when called upon, to spearhead a project that is science-based and he will go whole hog.

And now he also has Adira as not only a family member, but also a protégé and partner. And Adira is also a brilliant scientist. They’re younger than Stamets but really, super smart. They’re probably even a better mathematician than Stamets is. But yeah, there’s no like official designation to Stamets like Chief Scientist, but probably he would see himself as the Chief Scientist.

Doug Jones as Saru, Mary Wiseman as  Tilly, Anthony Rapp as Stamets, and Blu del Barrio as Adira in “Terra Firma, Part 1”

Right, because we’ve talked about this before, how people conflate science and engineering and see Stamets as an engineer or even Chief Engineer, and I know it’s important to you he is seen as a scientist.

It’s understandable because the spore drive is part of engineering, because it has to be, it is part of what makes the ship move. And it’s located in engineering. He has kind of co-opted that space and he knows things about the warp core and systems of the ship, but he is not the one pulling all those strings and making all those decisions.

The big bad for season four—as has been discussed by the showrunners—is essentially a science bad guy. It’s an anomaly, not a person. We see Stamets talk about it in the trailer. So does that kind of bring Stamets more into the foreground?

Yeah, Stamets is tasked with trying to figure out what the hell this thing is and what it’s doing, and why it’s doing what it’s doing. I think it’s a way of creating a story that in some ways responds to what we’ve been dealing with on our planet for the past year and a half or so. There’s this thing that happens that kind of throws everything into disarray and it’s inherently mysterious as to why it’s doing what it’s doing. But we have to respond to it we have to try to find some way to solve it and put all our heads together to make it stop if we can. But because there isn’t an easily identifiable motivator, that makes it so much harder.

Anthony Rapp in the season four teaser trailer

You and Sonequa [Martin-Green] are still confirmed for the big Las Vegas Star Trek convention in early August. Do you think that’s still a go and there are no worries about production getting in the way of you going to Vegas?

Yeah, I’m actually wrapped for my part of production. So I’m done. I’m definitely free. I can’t speak to everybody else, because there’s still some shooting in one location and Stamets was not a part of that location. So I’m not a part of that shoot. So, I don’t honestly know if who all will definitively be in Vegas.

Returning to Frakes directing, he told me you were shadowing him on set. Did you have a chance to direct an episode?

I didn’t get to direct a season four episode. With COVID protocols, it would have been really, really hard. On top of everything else going on, to give me my first episode in the middle of all, that was a bit of a understandable leap for production and for CBS and Paramount Plus. But I am still crossing my fingers that the opportunity will come. Tunde continues to also be a tremendous mentor to me. Frakes has continued to be a great mentor to me. I’ve availed myself as much as possible to the opportunity to continue learning and absorbing everything I can and I’m still certainly ready to dive in, especially with Tunde. He would be there every step of the way to just help ensure my success. But the idea of my first professional film or television directing job being with this show—I’ve known this crew for four years now—it would be the best environment in which to get to do that. I would have so much support. It would be an amazing feeling.

Finally, Alex Kurtzman keeps talking about doing a musical episode. Have you talked to him about it?

I haven’t talked to him about it. But I’ve had been on panels recently with [co-showrunner] Michelle Paradise and it keeps coming up. Wilson [Cruz] and I keep poking her about it. So, we’ll see. I don’t want to push anybody into anything, but it would be fun.

The planet of the singing people, it’s easy…

Sure. Sure!

Anthony Rapp singing on the Discovery set on Carpool Karaoke

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 available now on Blu-Ray/DVD

You can pre-order the Blu-ray set for $34.96 at Amazon.

The limited-edition Blu-ray Steelbook can be pre-ordered from Amazon for $39.99.

You can also pre-order the DVD set for $29.96 at Amazon.

TrekMovie will have a review of the new set next week along with a giveaway contest.

Find more news and analysis on Star Trek: Discovery.

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Good interview. Thoughtful answers.

He and Anthony Cruz are great at conventions. I help a vendor at various shows. I gave each of them their fan set character pin. Anthony wore his on his jacket. They take the time to speak and say hello to anyone who comes up.

I’ll be honest, until I read this interview I always looked at Stamets more an engineer than a scientist. But as said, since he’s always in engineering thanks to the spore drive, probably why I saw him that way.

A musical? I love music, but I am afraid of what could happen. Not a very good idea. Have you seen the Disco Team singing with James Corden!?

Rapp has been in Broadway musicals, so he’s a real singer, and Cruz is, too. Not so sure about the others…

I’ll see your Star Trek and raise you one Star Trek. Buckle up, Season 4 is gon be bananas.

Memo to Stamets: you have an awesome job on a freaking starship and your spouse is with you. So stop whining and just get the job done…kind of getting tired of your never ending, largely self-created drama.