The fourth season of Star Trek: Lower Decks wrapped up earlier this month, and now that the SAG-AFTRA strike is over, we could finally talk to star Tawny Newsome about it. The voice behind Beckett Mariner spoke to TrekMovie about season 4, season 5 (for which voice recording has resumed), her personal fandom, and much more.
In season 4 Mariner’s arc and origin story was tied to the actual origin of the series itself. Had you known for a long time that was happening or did you find out right before?
I knew about it in kind of a vague way. I think [showrunner] Mike McMahan told me back when we were working on season 3. He said, “My long game plan is I’m going to tie our show to the original “Lower Decks” episode of TNG and I’m going to make Mariner friends with Sito,” the Bajoran ensign who died. That was all I knew. I was like, “Holy shit, this is genius!” I told him, “This is so perfect, especially for you, Mike,” because that’s his favorite episode of Trek ever, so this all makes total sense, I love it. I did not know about the Locarno of it all until I read the season 4 scripts. I think that’s when I kind of geeked out, because first of all, I love that episode “The First Duty.” I love it so much. I also love that we did the Lower Decks version of Khan: We took a character from one episode where you’re like, “Wait, that guy?” and then brought him back and made him this epic villain. I just think it’s such a funny example of what our show does best. And how to just be the weirdest iteration of a Star Trek show possible. Yeah, so I loved it.
Do you have a favorite deep cut or reference from season 4?
Well, this isn’t a deep cut, but I have been wanting to talk about this and keep forgetting. So on the picket lines this summer, early on in the in the WGA strike, I was introduced to a man named Mark Gaberman who wrote the story for “Tuvix.” It was his first-ever writing job and I met him on the picket line and was like, “Oh my God, you wrote Tuvix? Wait till you see our season 4 opener.” And we got to be friends. We would run into each other picketing all the time. And when that episode came out, he sent me this long message. He was just so touched. He was like, “I can’t believe something that I came up with has influenced canon in this way and it’s still being talked about 30 years later.” For that to be his first job and now he’s got this very cool career—he writes for Jeopardy! now. I just think that brought him such joy and made him feel so valuable in the franchise. And I just love that our little show can do that for people and yeah. That made me so happy.
So Moopsy totally blew up into a thing. Fans are making their own Moopsys. T’Lyn really blew up too. When you’re going through scripts, do you spot these kinds of things or were you surprised by how big some of them were?
No, I don’t predict stuff like that because I’m always wrong, even in live-action stuff I’ve done. I remember turning to a castmate on a live-action show and we were in particular outfits that were just like cool outfits. We thought that this show was going to BLOW up. It wasn’t just us. We were being told by people in charge like this is about to be huge, your lives are going to change. Get your addresses off the Internet, you’re going to be stopped. You’re going to be A-listers, blah, blah, blah. I remember turning to my castmate and saying, “Do you think these costumes we’re wearing are going be everyone’s Halloween costume this year?” My castmate was like, “Yeah, I think so, we’re about to be so famous.” And then it was just like such a dud. Like nothing happened. No one watched it. Nothing.
So I don’t ever predict that shit. And I absolutely love when the fandom loses their mind and goes totally apeshit for something like Moopsy because you’re just like, “Wait, what?” Like marketing and merchandising departments all over the world for franchises everywhere are trying so hard to get whatever that is. You just can’t predict it. Our fandom just went “Moopsy.” It’s going to trend for five days straight on Twitter. People I didn’t even know were talking to me about that episode. I was like, “This is delightful.” It just exploded. I love our fans.
In the Strange New Worlds crossover episode, you got to actually be Mariner interacting physically with a bunch of people. So did that change your performance? Did you have to slow down a lot?
We made some jokes about that. We added that to the text of the episode because we had a little meeting with [episode director Jonathan] Frakes and with the writers. Frakes asked me, “Do you change your voices for the animated show?” And I was like, “No, we yell and we talk fast and it’s just how animation works.” You don’t have your face and body to emote with so you have to do so much more, there’s just so much more energy and effort that has to go into your voice. Like the fandom that was angry at us early on was like, “They just yell all the time.” We were like, “Yeah, you’re correct, what’s your next problem?” We do yell all the time. That’s what animation is.
So we were like, “Well, we have to have a nod to that.” Because what I don’t want to do is come on to Strange New Worlds where everyone’s a very restrained, incredible on-camera actor and kind of talks like a very hushed moment, I don’t want to be in there screaming in Una’s face. That’s just not the look I want. So yeah, we made a little joke about it. Other than that, like our physicality, we did mute a little bit just because we are not cartoons. But a lot of it we tried to stay pretty faithful. The one thing I couldn’t do that was really bummed about is Mariner crosses her arms all the time. And I couldn’t do it in that costume because of where they placed our lav microphone. It made it muffled. So I didn’t get to do any good Mariner arm-crosses.
Speaking about fans who get mad at things, what do you think of those who dismiss all the Easter eggs and deep cuts in Lower Decks as just fan service?
Look, I think that our show does a good job of also telling great stories and honoring Star Trek canon and being really funny and having incredible character moments. So the fact that we also managed to shove in so many references and deep cuts, I just think that’s a testament to the writing. The show wouldn’t be good if it was just fan service. We wouldn’t have four seasons. You can’t do four seasons of just fan service. The studio or somebody would have been like, “Okay, that’s enough” after 10 episodes. So I kind of just don’t think those criticisms are at all even valid because it just wouldn’t be as popular as it is.
You as Mariner, even if you weren’t actually recording in the booth with them, have had scenes with some of the greats like Jonathan Frakes, Robbie McNeill, John de Lancie, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, and all these people. So is there someone else on your bucket list that you would love to have scenes with your character?
Oh, man. I think I think fans heard about me gently yelling at Mike McMahan when he almost didn’t put Mariner on Deep Space 9 at all [in “Hear All, Trust Nothing”]. He had her on that side plot and her damn candle party and I was so mad. I was like “If you don’t let me, Tawny Newsome, talk to Nana and Armin at some point in this damn cartoon, I’m going to haunt you for the rest of your life.” So he fixed that because I’m a huge Major Kira-stan. I’m also a huge Jadzia Dax-stan. I don’t know how we do that. There’s gotta be some timey-whimey shenanigans? Yeah, anyone from Deep Space Nine would be such an incredible honor. It would blow my mind to get to talk to any of those people. Some are more difficult to achieve than others based on who was canonically alive in 2381… but there’s always a way.
You are a big Star Trek fan, especially of Deep Space Nine, but are there gaps? Have you made your way through everything?
I’ve seen some of the original [Star Trek:] The Animated Series. I know I’ve seen every Original Series episode, but I have not rewatched them. There’s some I’ve rewatched a bunch of times, but there’s plenty that I’m just like, “Wait, what happened?” And I’m not as versed on Voyager. I did a rewatch in college, I think, and that was the last time I saw it. So definitely at the top of my brain are Deep Space Nine and TNG and then the new stuff. I have gaps like everybody else, but also just being in the franchise in so many different ways, I’m just having so many conversations with people about it that even if I haven’t seen that particular Voyager episode recently, I’ve been talking about it a lot. I also have weird phantom fandom about shit, where I’m like, “Did I watch that or did someone just describe it to me over and over again?” [laughs] Like I’ll tell people “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that” and then really no, I’ve just heard about it or had it summarized for me so many times. And then I’ll watch the episode and I’m like, “Wait, what is this?” Yeah, it’s confusing but I’m steeped in it in a lot of different ways.
What is it about Deep Space Nine that you love so much?
I think that when I was very young and starting to watch it, I know that my dad was very excited to see a Black captain. And my dad was very excited to have a show about a Black family that was not about racial trauma. It was something he could watch with his very young daughter and it was just space shit. It was sci-fi and they happen to be Black. And then of course, we get those incredible episodes that do deal with race, but it was just something that my dad could show his kid and not have it be about slavery or about some Black person in the ’50s who had overcome some hardship. Those stories are important, but you just get tired of it as a person of color in this country and you just want wish fulfillment.
In addition to that, I always was obsessed with Jadzia Dax. I was obsessed with that relationship that she has with Ben Sisko where you can have a friendship that transcends all these different generations of hosts and that transcends gender. You have this woman who presents one way, being called “Old Man.” I just felt like the way that they played with gender was so mindblowing to me as a young teen. And honestly, as a comedian, some of those Ferengi episodes are such bangers, like they’re such comedy bangers. To have Andrea Martin and Wallace Shawn, those are just full flat-out sitcoms, just hard, hard comedy. It might as well have been a half-hour sitcom with like an audience out front. And then the next episode is like the absolute brutalities of war. That tonal shift is wild as hell, but for someone like me—I do have wild tonal shifts like that in my own work—I just loved it. I just thought it was so beautiful. Sorry, I could go on about Deep Space Nine forever.
DS9 had a really good balance of episodic and serialized storytelling and Lower Decks has been doing some more serialized stuff but now Mike is saying next season will be more episodic. Do you have a preference?
I think I like episodic because I think it keeps the stories self-contained and bouncy. They kind of just get to solve their little problem of the week. I just love a goofy little alien of the week problem that has a little bit of hidden pathos and lots of fun and funny. But I don’t think this season was all that serialized, so I don’t draw a huge distinction between what they did in season 4 and what I’m seeing them do in season 5. I think it’s all great. I love season 4. Season 5 is shaping up to be great.
I think season 4 has been the strongest season so far.
Yeah, I just think we’ve earned so much of the audience’s trust now. And the audience just knows our characters so well that we can do a whole episode where they’re just telling stories about being trapped in a cave. I think that’s beautiful.
In the season finale, we saw how Mariner has gone through this shift. So she’s going to try to not self-sabotage anymore and Mike McMahan said she will be “more joyful.” So, are you playing her differently now that you’ve started recording for season 5?
I am not playing her differently. I am noticing in the writing though, yeah, she’s not just sabotaging for being reckless’ sake. She’s not just being self-destructive without a purpose anymore. She’s having to really grow up and choose the moments where she’s going to rebel. She doesn’t suddenly become a total rule follower. That’s just not Mariner, no. She’s got to be a little more judicious about when she’s acting out and why and what the value of that is. There are some moments where I do have to do some different things with my voice and that is all I will say. There’s some opportunities for a different shade of Mariner that you’re going get in season 5.
Because everything’s up in the air with Paramount, there has been some talk about how long Lower Decks and the other various Trek shows will last. Realistically, how long do you see Lower Decks going?
I think the show can go as long as Mike has interesting, beautiful stories to tell about these characters. I think we’ve seen that he’s managed to really get a lot of mileage out of us. I think he’s really found ways to deepen their backstory. Just look at Tendi. The jokes about Tendi from season 1 in the fandom were we don’t know anything about her to the point where in season 2 we have Mariner making a joke, like “What’s your first name? D’Vana?” And now we have all of this. Tendi has such an incredible story, and we’re going to see more of it in season 5. We’re going to see more cool Orion stuff. The way we are adding to Orion canon in our show more than almost any other Trek show has done.
So, I really see a world where we could go on and on and on and not run out of stuff to talk about. It’s just a question of, does Mike want to keep doing it? I know we all do. I know Jack [Quaid] and I are like, “Yeah. We’ll do this forever.” Why would why wouldn’t we? I really want to see us in more live-action. I want to see Tendi and Rutherford. I’ve been I’ve been doing live comedy on stage with Eugene Cordero for years. He’s one of my dear friends. And I’m like, “We need to be in a live-action Trek together!” So that’s what I’m pulling for.
And so if the show goes on and you get bigger promotions, how long can you stay “lower deckers?”
Well, I think we’d have to stretch the meaning of a lower decker. I think it could turn into a lot of how we are lower deckers at heart, even though we’re all fleet admirals or whatever. Because at a certain point, they got to rank up. But I don’t know, maybe some of them will leave Starfleet? I don’t think that the show hinges on their actual rank. I think we’ve proved that their friendship and the types of things they want to focus on is more the story… I’m a grown-ass woman. I feel like a lower decker every day.
More from Tawny Newsome
Tawny Newsome is also a writer on the upcoming show Star Trek: Starfleet Academy and she gave us an update from the writers’ room. You can catch the full audio interview in this Friday’s the All Access Star Trek podcast.
Keep up with news for the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.