Interview: Babs Olusanmokun & Jess Bush On Character Relationships In ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’

Babs Olusanmokun and Jess Bush - Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - TrekMovie

At the Strange New Worlds premiere event in New York, TrekMovie spoke with Babs Olusanmokun, who plays Dr. M’Benga, and Jess Bush, who’s taking on the role of Nurse Chapel, to find out more about their characters’ relationships with the rest of the crew and what to expect as the seasons unfold.

Babs Olusanmokun

Captains and doctors tend to have a special relationship in Star Trek, and we know that Dr. M’Benga and Captain Pike have some history together. Can you characterize their relationship for us?

That’s a relationship of trust, respect, a shared history, adventure, and we will nurture that more and hopefully show more of that going forward.

Will we get to see some of that history in the future, any of their past together?

We will have to ask the powers that be.

We know you have a background in jiu-jitsu, but you’re playing the doctor. Do you get a chance to use that in the show?

I think as time goes, the character will be unfurled and revealed. And perhaps this is one of the things we find about him. Perhaps not. But yeah, all the qualities that I, as an actor, embody… perhaps they will be touched upon.

Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga

Jess Bush

So based on the first five episodes, you have very defined relationships right away with a few characters… 

You think so?

Well, you have some flirtation with Spock, a professional history with M’Benga, an adventure buddy in Ortegas. What’s your favorite dynamic or character pairing so far? 

So far, what I’m really enjoying exploring is my friendship with M’Benga. Yeah, it’s really nice. It’s something that builds slowly over time. I think we also have quite a lovely shared history before you meet us in the show. And it’s just a really precious friendship. We both really support each other. We both kind of keep each other’s secrets, you know, this is really like a lovely, safe relationship.

Are we going to get into your backstory together at all? 

Oh, yeah. You’ll have to wait and see.

Jess Bush as Chapel and Babs Olusanmokun as M’Benga

So what’s been your big “OMG I’m in Star Trek” moment?

Oh, I mean, it’s every day! Still! I think the moment was… so before the season starts, we do a camera test where they try the hair, they try the makeup, they try the costume separately. And they put it all together on one day, and they put you on the bridge. And they point all the cameras at you and just check that it all fits. And there was this moment where I put everything together for the first time, and walked through the dark studio. And this person from costume came up with a velvet-lined box with the delta shield badge, and just put it on me. I was like, that was a moment. It really like stood out. Yeah, it was so surreal.

So you’re about a season and a half in, filming-wise. Without spoilers, do you have a favorite episode you can tell us about? 

Yes. I do. It’s my favorite because… ooh, how do I say this without spoiling anything? Chapel peels back some of her layers, I think. There’s something that forces her to kind of go somewhere that she’s not comfortable in and it results in a very big step towards growth, personal growth for her. So that was really delicious to experience as an actor.

She seems to avoid being vulnerable.


Are we going to get a lot of her character arc over the course of the show? Do see that growth as seasonal or more episodic?

It’s more seasonal.

Obviously, the character is very different from the one we saw before. So what would you say is the biggest thing that you kept from the original Nurse Chapel?

When I watched Majel’s performance, what I distilled from her performance was her kind of dry wit, and her candor, and her kind of no-bullshit kind of vibe…  she just had some witty snapbacks, you know? Like every now and then she’ll just drop something and you’re just like, “Yeah girl,” you know? She didn’t have that much in the way of screen time in TOS, but she’s funny. She’s really dry, just really funny. And I think I just kind of distilled that from her and then used that as a seed. And that was in collaboration with Akiva and Henry, the showrunners… they work together to be like, what is this, and what can we germinate from that? And we have license to kind of flesh out who she is, and reimagine her in 2022. Make her relevant, you know? And it’s just been delightful. It’s been a great creative challenge.

Jess Bush as Chapel

Still more SNW interviews to come

We still have more gold carpet interviews from the New York premiere of Strange New Worlds with the cast and creatives. Check out our earlier interview with Henry Alonso Myers. Plus see our interviews with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, cast members Anson Mount and Rebecca RomijinChristina Chong, Celia Rose Gooding, and Bruce Horak.

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New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada. In New Zealand, it is available on TVNZ, and in India on Voot SelectStrange New Worlds will arrive via Paramount+ in select countries in Europe when the service launches later this year, starting with the UK and Ireland in June.

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This is an insightful interview. Thanks Laurie.

There’s been a lot comments from fans here and on other boards – after just one episode – that this Chapel is a different character entirely.

The thing is that she’s a civilian coming into a military-type hierarchy. More, she has an established research work relationship with her superior M’Benga.

We haven’t yet seen her temperament filtered through the expectations and culture of Starfleet.

Also, with that transition behind her, maturity and acerbic but emotional McCoy as her superior, we SHOULD see a different side of her.

I have to agree here. Different character altogether, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I felt the TOS Chapel was pretty insipid.

Insipid? In what way?

Really not sure.

People in the armed forces really talk about how people’s work demeanour changes when they come into a military structure and experience things that don’t happen on “civvy street.” They also mellow out and show more of themselves when they move into other types of work after the military.

Chapel has a trajectory to make before we have any idea who Chapel is through the filter of being an experienced Starfleet officer.

We could see that in TNG when captain Jellico took over from Picard.

Same here. I’d apply that to Uhura as well, though it’s not as severe in her case, at least so far.

Jess Bush is quite attractive, I must say.

Must you?

(She really is, though.)

Jess and seems great. Her Chapel has the feel of a “modern” young person, but that isn’t something I have an issue with. I think there is a lot of room to build off of Majel Barret’s portrayal, especially since were seeing her at a different point in her life. In all of this talk of romance however, I do wonder, shouldn’t she be with Roger Korby at this time?

I was also wondering about Roger Korby. Maybe by this time Chapel already was with Korby and broke up with him. He’s probably an android by now.

I’m guessing they just went their separate ways before the first episode. Gives him plenty of time to make all of his discoveries and turn into a robot.

I’ve been a lover of all things Star Trek since the first season of TOS. I’ve seen every episode of TOS so many times I could probably quote my favorite characters lines from memory.

With every new movie or series
presented to the public, I’ve wondered how or if they could win over die hard fans like myself. SNW Did!

While I truly love all things Star Trek, barring a few disappointments along the way, I was sold with episode 1 of SNW.

There are only two times since I discovered TOS that I felt the same depth of excitement and emotional connection as I did the first time I watched the show.

For me, it was the 2009 movie Star trek, and now Strange New Worlds. They managed to transport me back into the Star Trek universe just as TOS did as a five year old child. That’s a win in my book! BTW, sorry for the transport pun. Lol! Jim

Me too. In my case TOS already existed for a long time when I saw it in the 80s. My Star Trek TOS was Battlestar Galactica back then. I grew up with the TOS-movies and only saw the whole series completely 20 years ago along with reruns of TNG, DS9, VOY and the then new series ENT. To be honest I ignored the other shows in the 90s because they didn’t have the NCC-1701 in it.
I was very excited when Star Trek and the NCC-1701 came back in 2009 and then again last week. To be honest, I was also excited when DSC and PIC started, but not that emotionally. I saw Star Trek 2009 3 times in cinema and SNW 3 times last weekend. I had goosebumps each time I saw the NCC-1701. I still have various 2009 Star Trek posters on the wall since then.

These cats ain’t never heard of Roger Korby.

I bet there would be an outrage if Korby appeared and was played by an asian actor, even if 99,9% don’t know that character.

I liked it, but, I hope it doesn’t become woke-ish, and soap opera-ish. Good story telling is a symbiosis between the story line and characters as they grapple with the ramification and implications.