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.
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.
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.
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