TrekMovie joined a group press interview with three members of the bridge crew for the upcoming series Strange New Worlds. Celia Rose Gooding (Cadet Nyota Uhura), Christina Chong (La’an Noonien-Singh), and Melissa Navia (Erica Ortegas) gave us some insights into what to expect from their characters.
Note: The interview contains some minor spoilers and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Celia, how much inspiration did you take from the original character, and how are you bringing that towards your new role in this younger Uhura?
We’re getting to see Uhura get her space legs, as opposed to her sea legs. And it’s incredible. I, of course, did a lot of studying of Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura. Actually, my first introduction to her as a character is from my mom, who is a huge Trekkie. She used to take my sister and me to watch the new movies. And I remember running to the front row and watching it by myself and craning my neck up to look at Zoe [Saldana]. And I just remember being so captivated by her. She knew how brilliant she was. It wasn’t something that she had to make a spectacle of. It was just something that when she needed to be that capable, brilliant person she was to be just that.
And then with Nichelle, she has this grace and this glamour. Of course, she had that intelligence and her brilliance. And I think that that’s the thing that I’m trying to carry in this very young version of her. This understanding that she knows even more than she probably thinks she knows. And she is much smarter than I think she assumes of herself. But the newness and the unsurety is something that I am weaving through this character, as we get to know her season to season. We know where she ends up. And we know who she ends up being. But we don’t really know how she got there. And it’s my job to sort of take that and use it to influence her growth and to monitor, ‘Oh, this is how she developed this personality trait.’ Or as she’s gotten comfortable, she’s been a lot more this or more that. And that is something that I’m excited for the audience to sort of mark through the first season and of course, in the seasons to come.
Melissa, you have this freedom in Ortegas, in that she isn’t a previously established character. And you don’t have the Noonien-Singh baggage that La’an has. Can you talk about the process of making your mark on the Enterprise and being the best pilot in all of Starfleet?
Thank you. No pressure. So when I first auditioned for the role, there’s a thing that you say as an actor when the right role comes along and it’ll be right and it’ll be the one. And the writing was so wonderful and I felt this connection to Ortegas. I knew it was Star Trek. And the breakdown was that she was a combat veteran, a skilled pilot, can handle a phaser, and can crack a joke when a joke needs to be cracked. And I felt just that the audition lines I got were so much me and also in the future.
I like to say Ortegas is like a cooler version of me in the future. In the future, I’d love to fly a starship. And so, when I booked the role, I also got the added element of this is a brand-new character that gets to interact with all these legacy characters, which is going to be a lot of fun for fans. But this idea that she’s so confident, but not cocky, and in a lovable way. Not in an obnoxious way. Because she is really skilled, Pike trusts her, intrinsically. And she has such great trust in the rest of her crew. And that comes off. And when somebody is so good at their job and trusts everybody equally in their workspace, then you’re allowed to kind of joke and play. And that really comes off.
But she loves the adventure of what she does. And she also takes it really seriously. And so we get these great episodic adventures, where you get to see the toll that it takes when lives are on the line. And so I’ve just been having a blast creating this character, and also looking back to all the Star Trek pilots that have come before, the characters that fans are already comparing her to, even though they haven’t seen anything. And so I’m trying to make my own mark on it by just bringing myself to it. And then also just letting what the writers have created just come to the screen. And I’m also taking a lot of what the fans love about Star Trek and putting that into Ortegas. Like she loves Starfleet in the way that fans love Star Trek.
Melissa, was it intimidating to be cast alongside actors who were already established in Star Trek: Discovery but are now part of a show that was demanded by the fans?
Yeah. When I booked the role, the first thing is you find out is there are a lot of Trekkies in your life that you didn’t realize were Trekkies before. And one of my brothers-in-law is a Trekkie, and he texted me to ask if it was Strange New Worlds. He said: “This is the one we’ve been waiting for.” And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” I already knew it was a really big deal. And I was incredibly happy to have Anson [Mount] and Rebecca [Romijn] and Ethan [Peck] as our one, two, and three on the show because they had been on Discovery. Knowing that the fans loved them so much and it was the reason that our show exists and that I have a job right now; that meant a lot to me.
We all felt nervous but in a good way. We had leaders at the helm that had already done this. And so having Rebecca, Anson, and Ethan there – like I kept saying at the start, “If I had to pick a captain, it would be Captain Pike.” I just had absolute loyalty to the three of them. And then being able to create this character next to these legacy characters of Spock, Uhura, Dr. M’Benga, Nurse Chapel, and Number One, and we never got her story, so all these decades later we get to see her story. And Captain Pike — people who I spoke to who weren’t even huge Star Trek fans, were like, “Oh, yeah, Pike, who was there before Kirk.” People know the backstory. And I was like, “My goodness.” On so many levels, it’s been a wild ride. I’ve been doing my best. I joke when I’m flying the ship, I’m flying the ship. I take it super seriously. I know how that starship runs. You can make fun of me, but as soon as I think it’s just a prop in front of me, we might as well go home. The responsibility is not lost on any of us.
All of you who spend a lot of time on the bridge set, how much were you told about how your various stations work and how does the set inform your performance?
Christina Chong: For me, I asked and was told basically make it up yourself. [laughs] So I had a lot of fun kind of like deciding which one I’m going to use and I would switch it and it would change all the time. But what I would do is I would make sure that whenever I did press a button, because normally I’m pressing a button to deploy weapons, so it’s obviously a huge dishes decision to press the red button, or whatever color button. So I endow it with something super important that I’ve personally used in my own life to make it feel real for me and therefore the audience in the moment.
Melissa Navia: For me and the helm console, I was doing these Zoom sessions with the graphics department and with people who have been with Star Trek for the last 30-40 years and asking about like the engines and the way everything works. And apparently, word got out that Melissa is a little loony. Like she really thinks she’s flying a starship. But for me, it was important to know like how am I going to impulse? How am I going to warp?
There are times when I’m doing evasive maneuvers, where Pike will give me an order and I’ll be like, “On it.” But it won’t come up on my screen, so I’d be straight up texting graphics, and I’d be like, “Can you guys give me something?” And they’ll be like, “Well, it probably won’t play in the episode.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s playing in my face.” So they would like to create all these things for me and I want to change this screen and that screen. I also think it’s really important for the fans. I know that they’re going to be fans who know more about the Enterprise than I do, even though I’ve been doing my research. So for me, it was just kind of like when I’m there I’m flying and there will be times when Anson would be speaking to somebody on the view screen and I’d have a little quip and I’d miss it. And Anson’s like, “Melissa.” And I’m like, “I’m so sorry, I’m flying.” I’m so focused. [laughs] So I’m the dorky one on the bridge, for sure.
Celia Rose Gooding: I press as many buttons as possible. I remember the first day I established that the red alert button is the farthest button away from me which probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world. [laughs] But I am very much a person who’s like, ‘It’s always going to be the right thing.’ It may be in a different place but I’m sure the continuity fans are going to be like, “She didn’t press that button the last time!”
One of the themes that come up on the show is whether or not things are predetermined, or whether or not there is free will. Which one would you say your character relates to the most?
Celia Rose Gooding: Because of the past that she’s had, I think Uhura will grow into understanding that there is a lot more free will and that she determines her own future. But I think at the moment where we see her in the first episode, I think she’s very much someone who’s like, ‘The universe happens to me. I am not something that happens with it.’
Christina Chong: I would say La’an is more on free will, for sure. Because so many bad things have happened to her and she’s been through so much, it’s that need to control. And I think when you need to control something, your will is as strong as it can be. And controlling the uncontrollable is one of her struggles.
Melissa Navia: I think it’s the same for Ortegas. It’s free will. It’s this idea that you create your future. But I’ll say personally, for myself being infused into the character, there’s also a certain level that things happen for a reason. And I think we see some beautiful elements of that in season one where we don’t know why things happen as they happen, but the right people are put in the right place at the right time. And there are certain things that we just can’t understand. So in that way, there’s kind of like a mix of that.
Of course, we see Captain Pike going through the struggle and how that changes how you live in life. And so there are things that are personally happening with me, personally happening with the cast, that we are using to inform our characters. I think we all kind of are trying to figure that out and season one. And that’ll continue on to season two, which we’re currently filming.
More to come before May 5
That’s it for the Strange New Worlds junket interviews, but we will have more interviews from this weeken’ds New York red carpet premiere. Check out our earlier interviews with: Rebecca Romijn, Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Jess Bush & Babs Olusanmokun.
The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will arrive on May 5 on Paramount+. Strange New Worlds will stream on May 5 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series will air on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and stream on Crave in Canada. Additional international availability to be announced at a later date.
Find more stories on the Star Trek Universe.