Interview: Rebecca Romijn On Number One’s Secret And Why ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Is For Moms

TrekMovie joined a group press interview with Rebecca Romijn to talk about her role as Number One (Una Chin-Riley) in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The actress revealed how this character which, previously only appeared in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie” before Romijn took on the role in season two of Star Trek: Discovery, is being fleshed out in the new series.

Note: The interview contains some minor spoilers and has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

What excited you about what Number One gets to do and her arc over the first season?

Well, she was a blank slate of a character who was introduced in the original rejected pilot of Star Trek, and we didn’t even know she had a name. She does have a name now: Una Chin-Riley. So that was exciting, getting to have a name. She’s very, very good at her job. And I think what we see in the development, is we learn a secret about her in episode three. I think we find out that that’s why she’s so good at her job. She sort of hides behind meticulous work and she is slightly intimidating to the rest of the crew to keep her distance so that nobody finds out the secret that she’s hiding. So it’s a fun layer to play. The writers floated this idea to me pretty early on and I just thought it was such an incredible layer to the character. And we were going to keep exploring that in a pretty major way throughout the season.

You’ve talked about how Una is a blank slate character, but what of that original performance and original character do you want to endure? What do you see as quintessential to Number One?

Her fastidious, meticulous nature. She is very, very, very good. And no one loves Starfleet more than Una. That is the North Star for Una. No one loves the stars more than Una. No one loves Starfleet more than Una and she is extremely good at what she does. And in what we learn about her in episode three, we find that she’s hiding something and she keeps her distance to protect what she’s hiding.

What kind of backstory were you given on the relationship between Number One and La’an?

That La’an was like a protégé… You’re going to see more about La’an’s backstory and I think Una is very protective of La’an. And she knows that La’an had this really horrible childhood and wants to help her find levity. She wants to help her find some light in the universe. So she’s sort of taken her on as a lifelong personal project. I think she adores her.

Rebecca Romijn as Una

It’s been three years since the season two finale of Discovery and so you’ve been part of Star Trek fandom for a while. What’s the most striking thing that has happened to you or someone said to you since joining the franchise?

We’re now past the middle of our second season. We’ve made 16 episodes, and we love them all. We’re so excited to finally introduce this show. It’s like the longest pregnancy in history. I haven’t done too many of the conventions. I just went to [Star Trek: Mission Chicago] last weekend. And it’s nice. I was introduced to Star Trek by my mom at the age of eight, to The Original Series. And I think a lot of us were. I know Anson [Mount] was also introduced to Star Trek: The Original Series at the age of eight by his mom.

And I think that that’s not by accident. I think moms want to introduce their kids to Star Trek because when you look into your child’s eyes – and I can say this as the only mom on our cast, I have kids – you see curiosity. You see a need for exploration. You want your kids to think universally and think totally outside the box. And that’s what The Original Series did. It sparked a lot of conversation between my mom and me about whether or not we’re the only ones in this universe, about acceptance, about people from all different backgrounds coming together and working in harmony, and about exploration and curiosity. These are all things that mothers foster in their children. When I said that at the convention in Chicago, all day long, everybody I passed said, “My mom introduced me to Star Trek.” … I just kept hearing that over and over and over again, and I just love that. I hope we do that for a new generation of Star Trek fans.

Were you surprised at how much of a reception people gave to Una after just a few episodes in Discovery?

Again, she was never developed. So our writers are incredible. And we’ve all been having such a fun time fleshing her out. And it’s just been this great opportunity. And Star Trek is such a great platform for storytelling. And because we’re standalone episodes, each episode is a different opportunity to tell a new story with important messaging. Yeah, Una was kind of a real mystery until now. So yeah, it’s been a blast. Also, I feel very protective of her. The Star Trek fans are very protective of this canon and of these characters. And so I think I’m a caretaker. We’re caretakers. We’re custodians, taking care of these beloved characters.

Going back to your Short Treks episode “Q&A,” and Una’s connection to Gilbert and Sullivan. Did her secret talent become common knowledge?

No, I made him swear to secrecy that he would never let anybody know that Una loves Gilbert and Sullivan. Una’s got lots of secrets. You just reminded me that Unu’a got all these crazy secrets. The truth is, I as in me Rebecca, I was in the Gilbert and Sullivan troupe as a kid. I was in like six different Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. So I actually knew that song before we even shot that Short Treks. But yeah, it’s a funny connection with Spock and Una that they have that little shared memory together. 

Rebecca Romijn as Una, Anson Mount as Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock

All three of the roles played by Majel Barrett in The Original Series (Number One, Chapel, and the Enterprise computer) are in Strange New Worlds. Was there any preliminary discussion of you taking on more than just Number One?

It never came up, but that’s a hilarious question. I appreciate the question, but that never came up, though.

You have been lucky enough to be involved in a lot of projects from X-Men, Chuck, and the DC cartoons. And now you’re in Star Trek. Do you seek out these more nerdy roles or is this just something that’s brought to you?

I would say I definitely have an inner nerd that I embrace. I don’t necessarily seek them out. Except I will say that the more fulfilling female characters are usually within that genre… Especially as the mother of daughters, those are the roles that are more interesting to me to play.

More to come

TrekMovie will have interviews with more of the Strange New Worlds cast including Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and others in the coming days, so stay tuned.

The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will arrive on May 5.

Strange New Worlds poster


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geez, even in a neutral body position the costumes are puckering in the field of the piece of fabric and along the seams… for cryin’ out loud Paramount, you can’t fix everything in post – especially in HD!!

You know, their are times when I question the sanity of some Star Trek fans.

Same here. There is nothing wrong with these uniforms. They’re cool-looking and flattering.

I start questioning the sanity all the time after reading the comments. It’s difficult to actually find something positive in all the negative comments. And the comments are SO repetitive too. I didn’t think it was possible, but it seems Star Trek fans have actually got worse than the complaining of Star Wars fans.

worfsayingsomeinfirstcontact.gif

I don’t really see it myself. To me it just seems that a few Picard maneuvers are needed.

Well, yeah.

That’s what happens when you put actual cloth costumes that aren’t skin-tight on human bodies. :)

no, this is what happens when you don’t fabric that is heavy enough for a camera-ready costume. Dragon-con proves this every year…

I could sit here and talk about how folds and “puckering” are good and make costumes look more real, and when costumers on TV shows try too hard to avoid folds it’s both unnecessary and ugly.

But at the end of the day, the truth is that nobody cares about what you’re talking about. Move on.

I’m really happy for you that you’ve found something to complain about. You do you! :)

Heavy fabric under bright lights = sweaty, uncomfortable actors. I’d much rather have a little puckering along the seams. :-)

I’m shocked you didn’t count her arm hairs.

I think the costumes are pretty good, considering they’re probably trying to be different than the TOS versions. But I don’t understand why these uniforms can’t fit as well as the 1960s versions. The TOS versions seemed to fit better. Fabric?

The TOS versions were cut very tightly. Which cut down on wrinkles, but was very unforgiving when it came to carrying a few extra pounds. (*cough cough Bill Shatner cough*) :)

The original TNG ones were so bad for being overly tight they had to replace them with looser fitting ones to avoid injuring the actors.

Right. And the original Discovery uniforms didn’t look like a picnic to wear either.

yes, the fabric was heavier, put the costumer and seamstresses also knew the difference between a costume and a shirt – – that’s why you can actually see the stitching on the uniform hems – the Captain’s is actually puckering along the hem – how do you dry-clean that 3 or 4 dozen times in a season of shooting?

I just can’t imagine how this stuff will look reaching, running, and scuffling with the baddy of the week.

They should have hired one of the terrific costumers that outfit the best uniforms at Dragon-Con every year.

Costumes at dragon con are fine for cosplay. I’ve been there. Impressive stuff for fan made attire. Keep them away from Trek.

I’m actually surprised at how much I like the costumes. After really disliking the DSC uniforms (which again, is nitpicking, if the show were better I could easily overlook them), these are both excellent updates to the classic uniforms while still somehow looking like they belong next to the Discovery costumes.

Very impressive work. Hoping we see an update to the captain’s green tunic and we’ve already seen the away jackets, which are a nice touch.

She is a Gilbert and Sullivan fan… my interest has shot up. That’s super cool.

Same, we need more Gilbert and Sullivan in Trek again :)

“Mr. Worf, do you know Gilbert and Sullivan?”
“No sir, I have not had a chance meet all the new crew members since I have been back.”

Q & A is a good watch in preparation for SNW’s….

I’m actually thinking about doing a Pike mini-rewatch. I’ll start with The Cage first obviously and then some of the Discovery episodes. Brother for sure, If Memory Serves (works great for both Pike and Spock) and the final three episodes of season 2 followed by the relevant Short Treks. Not sure I will yet and if only I can make the time.

I have always been a fan of Rebecca’s, since the first X-Men film.
So,LET’s GO!

I have no idea if this show will be any good, but that lady is smokin’ hot. That is all.

A redone TOS era show with awesome people exploring space is def the way to bring in people vs complex Time loop Trek the fourth generation combined with the second next generation or whatever..

Also don’t know why but reminds me when my gf (wife now) heard stories of how I was a super Trekkie as a kid and got me a TNG gift and could tell I was just pretending to like it. So I explained how Time Trek TNG isn’t the Trek I liked. Anyway she researched it and then wore a TOS uniform for Halloween… the ST II TWOK maroon uniforms are no longer my favourite Star Trek uniforms lol

My mom introduced me to Trek as well. TOS. I was *much* younger than 8. :)

Anthony, make sure to ask Ethan about what’s up with the sideburns. And other important issues like that. ; )

Her Number One was a hit the minute she transported on the Discovery lol. It’s amazing what fans gravitate too so quickly. But she definitely fits the role and certainly looks like she will be a lot of fun to watch. And I like when she says how devoted to Starfleet the character is. Most Starfleet officers seem to view Starfleet and the Federation as almost a religion but it’s something many were all born into I guess and literally willing to sacrifice their lives for it, so not a shock. I did like shows like DS9 and Voyager because they had characters who questioned the great Federation for a change but even many of those came around in the end. It is like root beer after all! ;D

Let me solve this one for you. The fans immediately liked Number One character and Pike on DSC because, unlike other characters on board the Discovery, they acted in a collected, professional way. They didn’t shout, cry, cheer, swear, run, dance, stutter, mutiny. In other words: they behaved like highly trained Starfleet officers, like ambassadors of Earth and the Federation.

I didn’t say it was a mystery. I liked her immediately too.

And some characters you just have an instant liking for. I knew I was going to love Janeway 30 seconds into her first scene. And 25 years later, still do!

My Mom introduced me to Star Trek when I was a kid too. But only because she know I was a TJ Hooker fan lol.

Hope this ends up a largely family friendly show, unlike S1 of Discovery and all of Picard to date. Kids need some Trek optimism and inspiration right now just like us adults…

Just out of curiosity, would you consider DS9 “family friendly”?

I always find it very odd the way people single out Disco as not catering to the “family” audience when it’s actually no darker than what’s come before it. I just finished a rewatch of DS9 and was amazed at how I’d forgotten about what an incredibly dark and brutal turn the stories took during the end of the Dominion War (think the female changeling ordering the extermination of the entire Cardassian population).

It’s hard to really put my finger on it, and I’m not saying you’re doing this, but I think a lot of people confuse “family friendly” with “meant for kids”.

I would consider DS9 “family friendly”. It certainly isn’t “kid” friendly, but DS9 was something designed for practically all audiences.

I was 9 when the show premiered and was watching it from the start. Some of the deeper/darker themes of the earlier seasons were lost on me at that age, but it’s stories and conflict were something I could enjoy alongside my parents and my sibling, and I found greater appreciation for the stuff I missed as a kid watching the show.

I’d say that DS9 was handled more *maturely* than Discovery or Picard have been handled.

The themes of DS9 could be dark, but the show wasn’t brutal, at least compared to the kind of pervasive brutality that has appeared in Secret Hideout Trek. I’m not personally phased by violence or language or an overly depressing tone, but there’s a time and place for all of that. Trek shouldn’t be the place to show Icheb getting his eye removed from it’s socket or continually trying to humanize Empress Space Hitler. There’s a lack of optimism that is pervasive in Discovery and Picard that is off-putting to a lot of the detractors. More people should be concerned that production has been floating the idea for 4+ years about creating a show centered around a truly detestable (and evil) Starfleet organization.

It appears that Discovery S3 was meant to set up the S31 show, but look what happened instead!

I’m actually much more concerned that the Trek fanbase can no longer even agree about what Trek means, or is supposed to mean, at all. I’ve been a fan since the Seventies, and that wasn’t the way it was back then.

On the TNG blu ray extras the writers did talk about a strain of negative fans even back then. Almost all the writers quit after season 3 because of it. Not sure how prevalent it was I didn’t talk to other fans back then just enjoyed the show.

Every since SNW was announced with that title–no “Enterprise” or “Pike” in sight–I’ve hoped that when canon no longer allows Spock, Pike, and the Enterprise to be the focus that we get Captain Chin-Riley own her own ship, exploring even more strange new worlds… And heck, now we’ve got a Kirk, so we could have guest appearances of the ship and crew of Kirk’s Enterprise! There’s plenty of space between TOS episodes to allow for other “previously unseen” adventures for them.
I know, I know, THIS show has to happen first…but I like the idea that things could continue on beyond the constrains of the timeline, and I think she’d be a great one to lead the way.

That would have been pretty cool if they had had her play both Number One and Nurse Chapel.