Interview: Celia Rose Gooding, Christina Chong, And Melissa Navia Talk ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’

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.

Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura in Strange New Worlds

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.

Melissa Navia as Ortegas in Strange New Worlds

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.

Christina Chong in Strange New Worlds

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.

Strange New Worlds poster


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I know everyone has been waiting for my hair analysis for these characters (lol), so here it goes…

Otega’s haircut is not very good. If you look at the actress’s online photos, she has some really nice short hairdoos that are much better than this look — actually quite elegant. They overthought this.

Contrast that with La’an’s short doo — that’s an outstanding look.

Spock…sideburns too thin and sharp.

And Pike needs a slight haircut on his over-hang. I like the look, but it’s about 25% more massive than it needs to be.

Una’s and M’Benga’s doos hit homeruns in my book. Chappel’s and Uhura’s are solid hair entries, if not spectacular.

Just my opinion…I always try to hair with caution. :-))

So, tell me, One Lion, if your comments regarding the hair of the cast crack me up, would that be considered a hair line fracture?
(runs and hides)

…that’s just freaking awesome! :-)

Holy cow, Kerry McCluggage posts here???

Waiting for Hairy Mudd to show?

I don’t think any of Uhura, Ortega or La’an’s hairstyles are particularly flattering, they’re all a bit too masculine.

They all look pretty androgynous to me. I agree.

Spock…sideburns too thin and sharp.

And Pike needs a slight haircut on his over-hang. I like the look, but it’s about 25% more massive than it needs to be.

I’ve just posted this on the “hero poses” thread, but I’ll mention it here too: Both Spock *and* Pike have unusually long sideburns, and Pike has a very noticeable Elvis Presley/James Dean quiff too.

I think this stuff is a deliberate “1950s fashions” thing to indicate SNW’s story takes place a few years before (the very obviously 1960s) TOS.

Hair. IDIC. ’nuff said.

You must be fun at parties.

I am very much looking forward to this show! But… this line makes me cringe a bit: “Because so many bad things have happened to her…” That describes every new Trek show at this point. Just once, I’d like to see a new Trek show feature characters who aren’t broken people.

I second that emotion. The tragic backstory is so common on Picard, for example, it can pretty much be a drinking game at this point.

What’s odd is, going back and watching TNG, quite a few of those characters had lost a parent at an early age or, in the case of Tasha Yar, came from a hell planet. And yet, I never think of those people as having tragic backstories or being broken people. I guess it comes down to tone and how a show handles this stuff.

But TOS had a ton of that, even if some of it was off-screen or implied. Spock’s failed marriage. Scotty never having a girlfriend. McCoy’s implied sad background of his personal life. Kirk’s brother and his obsession related to that.

This is nothing new and is consistent with TOS. And the example of TNG kind of actually proves why you need the — TNG started out with no real conflict or issues with the main characters, and that didn’t work very well.

It had a ton of that when it was relevant to the story immediately being told. They built entire episodes around these “backstories.” They didn’t just inform character — they were the story! It’s hard to argue that most shows remember to do this these days.

Dude, I said TNG “started out” that way due to Rodenberry’s weird no conflict with the crew rule. Once we got into Seasons 3 and beyond that’s when we got the vast majority of the backstory eps you are referring to, and I agree with that, of course.

The 50 Year History two-volume set covers this well, BTW.

actually the show as a whole tended to bring conflict in from outside onto the ship before characters were able to wrestle with issues amongst themselves

I was thinking The Original Series when I made my point.

Well, one thing TOS and TNG had in common, along with an overall upbeat tone, is that they typically didn’t wallow in sorrow and tragedy and therapy for an extended period of time. Being episodic, they couldn’t. Hopefully, SNW follows that path.

Good point!

It’s a shortcut to interesting, and when TV writers have no actual life experience, this is the only path they know.

Well, Akiva Goldman is 60, and his first wife tragically died of a heart attack at age 42. Dude is now raising kids with his second wife.

Michael Chabon’s parents divorced when he was 11 years old, and though his mom raised him, she had overused marijuana. Then his first marriage ended in divocre, and later he wrote the introspective bio, Manhood for Amateurs: “The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.” The dude and his wife have been raising 4 kids.

So I’m not sure what you are looking for with that comment?

Trauma isn’t drama. Drama is conflict. Conflict is desire + obstacle. Desire drives choices, obstacles drive plot. Choices build characters, plot builds story.

When I was referring to life experiences, I was not implying that nothing bad has ever happened to the people writing TV, merely that they do not have a constellation of experiences, either in multiple industries, different environments, different types of people to inform their characters and stories.

Lorna have you forgotten Tasha Yar? She was from a failed colony drowned in anarchy and violence. Broken people are people too and deserve representation.

The issue isn’t having broken people in Trek, it’s the number of times they use that as a backstory. And modern Trek sure keeps hitting that trauma button over and over, arguably to the point of absurdity.

Come on, folks, not everyone is Batman.

In fairness, I imagine it would be extremely difficult to write all of the content to fill up a 10-season story arc without resorting to having several characters have personal issues to deal with.

I am right now doing a personal though exercise on this, and I can’t come up with one serial story arc stream series that doesn’t do this?

Also, Lower Decks has a field day with this sort of “flawed character with personal issues and baggage” writing, yet I hardly ever hear this critique regarding that Trek series?

Every character has personal issues, but how many can be the broken type who is mainly known for their brokenness? Again, the issue isn’t about having a character with a dark past in Trek, it’s about making so many characters like this specific, tragic, melodramatic character that’s been everywhere in television and movies for the past decade or so.

Sisko, Kira, Worf, and so many other characters on DS9 could’ve easily been that; they suffered various tragedies before the series began, and throughout its run. But none of them were really what I’d call “broken.” They had many aspects to their characters.

As for Lower Decks, I can’t comment. I’ve never watched the show.

Yes, Thaddeus, that’s much closer to the problem. That, and the forced melodrama of it all. It’s often written like a tear-jerking soap opera. Ensign Ro had some intense moments, revealing her backstory too. Kira, Sisko, all haunted people. But it was used and written differently, filmed and acted differently.

And the character didn’t make if past season one, so they dispatched the only “broken person story” on TNG just as we were learning more about it. So that’s not much of a point to make — it almost proves the opposite point given they kept all of the “no conflict” crew members for season 2 while dispatching here.

Not everyone can have such a Happy Backstory Like sisko…. Erm… I meant kira….. No? No, No, No …. I meant Worf…. Sigh, also not right …. Lets try… Tom Paris…. Convicted criminal? Damn…. Chakotay…. Ex terrorist? Hmm …. Obrien…. It has to be obr….. Shite… War Trauma…..i give Up …. ;)

EXACTLY !!!!!

Every Trek show has featured broken people. Haunted people. You people love to rewrite history because you don’t like the new shows. You identify the wrong things that aren’t done well.

Having “broken characters” isn’t one of the flaws of DSC and PIC.

I don’t know who “you people” are, but I (the person to whose post you’re replying) have been a staunch champion for all the new shows, both here and elsewhere. I have always, consistently, said I love them and the old shows. Never once have I ever said otherwise, even when I’ve expressed disappointment with specific characters. That doesn’t negate my point that the new shows spend too much time with characters wallowing in their broken pasts. So the sentence “You people love to rewrite history because you don’t like the new shows” is nonsensical gatekeeping.

That’s ok if you don’tknow who i’m talking about. I do. You’re oneof them. Trust me, no gatekeeping here. You’re free to be a fan, and i’m free to criticize your nonsense.

You overstate your case a bit, but I agree with the general point you are trying to make.

Yeah, that’s NOT gatekeeping. For context: “DISCO isn’t Star Trek” and “this isn’t canon” is gatekeeping.

Every Trek show has featured interesting (and fun) characters not defined by their tragic past, too! Maybe Strange New Worlds will have some, but I don’t think this creative term has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point.

This. There is such a toxic groupmind on this website that lives to tear down the new shows.

Yep!

RED SQUAD! RED SQUAD! RED SQUAD!

While I was never a huge fan of Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, I did like the fact the character got real development (with an actual first name and everything!) and face time. We got to see her as a bigger part of the ensemble and become a fully three dimensional character. Oddly we still never really got much of a back story though but that was true of pretty much the entire cast minus Kirk and Spock basically. So that tradition held up well lol.

So I’m even more excited to see what they will do with this Uhura because it looks like we are finally just going to learn more about her. I’ve already heard about her description in a scene from the first episode several months ago where she talks about herself at a dinner party. I swear we learn more about her in that one scene than we do in 3 seasons of TOS and 9 movies lol.

She was really the one character I wanted to see on this show from TOS so happy she’s there.

What did you find lacking in Saldana’s Uhura out of genuine curiosity? What did you think of the other reincarnations of the TOS characters in the Kelvin films?

Overall, she’s fine. I don’t want to give off the impression I don’t like her, but unfortunately she was just basically the sassy girlfriend in these movies and little else.

I thought how she was used in the first movie was good! Like I said she got real development and how they played her off with Kirk and then revealing her relationship with Spock worked great. I don’t have an issue with how she was used in the first movie. But I thought in the other movies, they would go farther with her character since it was clear she was going to have a bigger role than the original character. I just wanted to see a different angle, a bit more of who she was. Like for example, maybe her and Spock visit her parents to wherever they are living and we got a chance to meet them. Learned something about her that way like her upbringing or why did she join Starfleet? Maybe we learn how she speak so many languages? An obstacle she had to deal with that she overcame on an away mission. Or meet a best friend she grew up with and the friend hates she’s in Starfleet or something. Just little things like that you would see in a normal story. Nothing overly dramatic, just a little more character driven and the focus is about her.

But in STID what we got was she was mad at her boyfriend because he was willing to die, they talked it out and made up in the end.

In Beyond, she and her boyfriend broke up because he was thinking about leaving the Enterprise, he basically changed his mind in the end and they got back together.

That was basically her entire story in the sequels.Did we learn anything else about her in those movies other than she’s a good fighter? Nope! I like how strong and assertive she is, but actual character development beyond just her and Spock would’ve been interesting too. And I know what I am suggesting could not even happen in STID or STB because those are big popcorn action movies and so it’s just go-go-go-go! There is no time to create any real moments when you have two hours, seven characters and a story that requires something getting blown up or shot at every 15 minutes. The nature of those movies don’t give you a lot of moments to do just other things with your characters if their names aren’t Kirk or Spock basically which I understand.

That’s why I’m happy we have SNW now, because they will have the time to do stuff like this. It doesn’t mean they will lol but they can at least. And like I said in the first episode we will actually learn quite a bit about her that we never knew in just one scene. It would’ve been nice if we got something like THAT in the movies as well.

Sorry, I ranted so much in my post I completely forgot about your second question lol. I was only going to write about 5 lines about Uhura but I just kept rambling on! Sorry.

To answer the second, I like ALL the characters in general (and all the actors are great), but the first film it’s like they all just graduated high school or something and not really serious officers like in TOS. But I know they are all suppose to be pretty green and ‘younger’ so I was OK with it. I did have issues with Kirk in the first film however, he just acted too much like a jock with daddy issues and I REALLY didn’t like him! And yeah I never could accept how he became Captain. It was silly then, it’s still silly now (sorry). But by STID and Beyond he at least acted more like a Starfleet officer and matured. Scotty comes off a little too clownish compared to the original but accepted it. And I like Quinto’s Spock but never felt like he captured the role that well and waaaay too much crying lol. I prefer Peck’s Spock by a light year. The rest were fine.

I like Ortegas already. Melissa Navia seems pretty jazzed to be flying the Enterprise (though, in fairness, who wouldn’t be)?

I love Melissa Navia’s dedication to making it real! Ms. Navia, I don’t know if you’ve heard this anecdote yet, but back in the 60’s when they were making TOS, a studio suit said to Bob Justman, “The problem with you Star Trek people is you think that ship’s really up there.” And Mr. Justman looked him in the eye and said, “It IS!”

It was the conviction on the part of the people making TOS that the ship really WAS up there that helped to make it so very real to all of us. Thanks for continuing the tradition, for taking it seriously and really flying that ship!

that’s an awful lot of red shirting happening there….

Sounds Great.
Can’t Wait.

the hairstyles are fine. move on.

People are free to post opinions that differ from yours. Move on.

The focus on female hairstyles is…. pretty gross tbh

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.” 

Well, I know who I’m rooting for.

Exactly! She’s so very committed to making it real, and I LOVE that.

Melissa, if you’re readng this, or having it passed along to you, DO KNOW: YOU are an incredible addition to this cast. Thank you for the heartfelt words and true understanding that you have the “role of a lifetime” — and beyond the charisma and acting chops you possess, you ‘get’ the gravitas of the show and your presence. Much love and respect.