Interview: Wilson Cruz On How “Jinaal” Sets Up The Rest Of The Season For Culber On ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

Wilson Cruz interview from the Star Trek: Discovery season 5 premiere in NYC

The fifth and final season of Star Trek: Discovery premiered on Thursday, April 4. On April 3, there was a premiere event in New York, where the first two episodes were screened at a movie theater on the Upper West Side. TrekMovie interviewed Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber) on the black carpet to talk about his scene-stealing work in the most recent episode, “Jinaal,” the status of Culber’s relationship with Stamets, and his hopes for the upcoming Starfleet Academy show.

“Jinaal was a mountain I had to climb.”

In episode 503, Dr. Culber lends his body to an ancient Trill symbiont so one of its former hosts, Jinaal, can take Michael and Book to one of the clues they need to find the Progenitors’ technology. Cruz changed both his physicality and his voice when he played Jinaal, making it completely believable that he’d become someone else. The actor told us how stressful it was when he first got word of what he’d be doing:

“I mean, when I tell you the anxiety involved in creating this character… Jinaal was a mountain I had to climb. And thank god, they sent it to me a little early, I had a couple of weeks to figure it out. And you know, what’s really great is they were like, ‘You could do whatever you want.’ Not great! Because as an actor, you need some boundaries, you need some parameters to work with, and they were like, ‘We trust you.'”

This wasn’t what he wanted to hear, though, as he said his next thought was “Don’t do that” (with a laugh).

“So then I kept coming up with ideas, because you know, my imagination goes wild, I’m going to try to all these millions of things and not be able to settle on anything. But thank god that I got to do that episode with Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala, who—you know, I love all of our actors. But  to have them to bounce ideas off of—David even lent let me his acting coach to prepare some stuff, just to figure it all out.”

Book (David Ajala), Culber (Wilson Cruz), and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in Star Trek: Discovery's "Jinaal"

Book (David Ajala), Culber/Jinaal (Wilson Cruz), and Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green)

Playing Jinaal “set up the rest of the season”

At the end of the episode, we see Culber contemplating the experience he’s been through with Michael at the ship’s bar. Cruz told us this experience will have resonance throughout the season, which is why it mattered so much to him.

“It was really important for me to get it right, because it really set up the rest of the of the season for me. And I really wanted Jinaal to stay with Culber throughout the season, and you’ll see why towards the end. But you know that that in some way, he affected him even after it was all over.”

Despite the pressure, he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“But it was so much fun. I cannot begin to tell you, to be that person who had been locked up, right, outside of the physical world for 400 years—I think it was that they said, I can’t remember now completely, I think maybe more like 800—I can’t remember, don’t quote me on that, mija! But when he’s allowed to be in the physical world again, that there was such awe and reverence and play in him, right? Like, yes, he had a mission, but also like, oh my god, I’m in a body, I can feel myself, I can jump on things, I can enjoy the physical world again. And there’s a bit of childlike energy in that that I played with, and he’s a little bit of a menace too, which I enjoyed. It was so much fun. I can’t begin to tell you how much.”

Wilson Cruz in Star Trek: Discovery "Jinaal"

Jinaal wakes up in Culber’s body

We asked if his experience as a temporary Trill host was going to affect his relationship with husband Paul Stamets.

“I think these two people have been through so much that I don’t think anything at this point shakes them. I mean, I came back from the dead! Anything after that is like, ‘Oh, so you were someone else? Okay, cool.’ I think they’ve been through a lot. I think they are solid. And I think we see that Stamets is going through his own challenge right now, of his own legacy and what it means for him, right? And above and beyond everything, we’re concerned about our charge. We’re concerned about Adira this whole season, because they grow into themselves in a major way as well, and they take on a new responsibility. And we get to embrace that new challenge for them. And, and you know how parents are, they’re like, ‘Oh, I want to protect you. But I also want to let you grow.'”

Adira (Blu del Barrio) on Trill, before breaking up with Gray (Photo Credit: John Medland /Paramount+)

About that  joke…

We couldn’t resist asking about Jinaal’s line “This guy really works out” once he’s in Culber’s body and asked if the line was improvised by him or came from the writers after being inspired by his Instagram feed.

“I would never write that!” he told us, laughing.”But I know what you’re talking about, because someone else mentioned it to me in an interview today. And I was like, ‘What joke?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, apparently that one landed?’ I mean, yes. He works out.”


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Would he like to show up on Star Trek: Starfleet Academy?

Sonequa-Martin Green, Doug Jones, Blu del Barrio, and Mary Wiseman have all answered questions about their possible involvement in the upcoming Star Trek: Starfleet Academy show. We had a fun exchange with Cruz about extending Culber’s stay in the Trek franchise after Discovery‘s season finale.

TrekMovie: “The Starfleet Academy show.”
Wilson Cruz: “Yeah, I’ve heard of it!”
TrekMovie: “Do you see a role for yourself in it? Would you love to come back?”
Wilson Cruz: “Listen, I’ll say this once and I’ll say it again: My phone number is exactly the same. I have the same email. Alex [Kurtzman] and I are close. I am at his beck and call. I would love to revisit Culber and if that opportunity arose, we will make that happen.”

Culber (Wilson Cruz) contemplates the events of "Jinaal" on Star Trek: Discovery

Wilson Cruz as Culber, contemplating his experience as Jinaal. (Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+)

Hear audio clips on All Access Star Trek

You can hear some of these audio clips on the latest All Access Star Trek podcast.

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuted with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery also premiered on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season is available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuted on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.

Note: The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

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Cruz nailed it as Jinnal. He became a totally different character, down to mannerisms. He gave me Lee Van Cleef vibes, which is saying a lot.

He was really great.

Mr. Cruz knocked it out of the park with Jinaal; he was just excellent. I know that actors spend their lives pretending to be various people, but to watch him walk differently, talk in a different register, hold his body differently … I’ve seen actors who can’t do what Mr. Cruz did there, so major kudos!

Agreed, wholeheartedly.

Cruz is an excellent actor. This, however, is not an excellent episode, unfortunately.

While I thought the episode itself sucked, I really did like Cruz acting in this. He was a lot of fun to watch.

I thought the same. Boring, predictable episode (who DIDN’T see coming that the journey through the quarry was a test?), but Cruz did an outstanding job in his portrayal. Culber IS Cruz, Jinaal was NOT!

That was exactly the problem. Every single moment of this episode was 100 percent predictable. This was Discovery at its worst.

Hopefully their attention to Adira is more sustained and meaningful than Stamets’ off-handed “Oh, give him my love” remark this week, meant for Gray. I know Stamets is supposed to be obsessed about his legacy now, but the writers and actors made such a deal about Gray being this family’s other adopted child and this is the extent of the meaningful development that idea has ever been afforded.

Cruz did a very good job inhabiting a new, playful, and lively character. And I saw him once randomly in Provincetown – can confirm: he works out.

Gray has never had any respect from the writers. I’m OK with that, though, since the actor sucks.

He was the best part of the episode. Loved his performance.

Wasn’t he killed in season one?

Wasn’t Spock killed in The Wrath of Khan?

Your point?

Yes. Memory Alpha has an up to date summary of his character arc.

Star Trek, lately, has little room for one-episode guest stars. However, Jinnal was a compelling way for us to see Wilson Cruz. I really enjoyed the performance and this episode.

Cruz was amazing as Jinaal. Stunning. Brilliant.

Oh, boy. After two stellar episodes, this was one of the worst in the show’s history. If this is setting the tone for the rest of the season, I’m frankly worried.

I completely tune out when Trek goes to Trill or it is a trill episode in general. Always strongly disliked their culture. Needless to say the episode was a dud for me. Cruz was amazing, I’ll give them that. Good for him, always liked him.

He was superb in this episode