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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Romijin, Christina Chong, Celia Rose Gooding, and Bruce Horak.
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 Select. Strange 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.