Interview: Sonequa Martin-Green On Facing Her Past On ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ And Her Hopes For The Future

(Getty/Paramount+)

TrekMovie talked to star Sonequa Martin-Green about the latest episode of  Star Trek: Discovery (“Face the Strange“) and how things have changed in season 5 for both the series and for Captain Burnham herself. The SPOILERS interview talks about Trek lore in season 5, how jumping back through time gave her the chance to come face-to-face with her own character evolution across the series. We also talked about her hopes for the future after the show wraps up.

This season is so steeped in Star Trek lore, starting with picking up on the story from “The Chase.” Did you have to steep yourself in some of that stuff to prepare?

Yeah. We always love being able to connect us back. And I remember when I was choosing the furniture for Burnham’s quarters, and I wanted to make sure I got a stool for my Vulcan meditation, because even though I had come out of that and had really gotten comfortable with my humanity, and we had jumped to the future away from Spock, and all of that good stuff, I wanted to keep that. Anytime we could point to iterations that come before us, we would celebrate, it would be so exciting. I knew what it was just because it was it was a it was already encapsulated in the story itself. So we were able to connect to what it was before from just connecting to what it was right then because we just sort of picked it up from where they left it off.

These early season 5 episodes show great immediate chemistry with Burnham and Rayner. As an executive producer, were you involved in the casting and can you talk about how you developed that chemistry?

Thank you for that. Well, Callum Keith Rennie is brilliant, right? The casting for this show is just one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful. I could speak about all the people that have come and gone and left a mark on our show, that’ll never be erased. Callum came into our family, we welcomed him with open arms, just like we welcomed Eve Harlow and Elias Toufexis, who play really huge roles in the final season. We hit the ground running, and I’m so grateful that you see that because chemistry is not something you can force. It’s not something you can predict, either. You have no idea if you’re going have it or not. But he’s such he’s such a brilliant actor and I’ve had the blessing to work with so many brilliant actors on this show. So as a producer, I actually was not a part of his casting. I have been a part of casting before I played a small part in the casting of David Ajala… I love him so much.

Looking at the relationship with Rayner and Burnham, it’s very unusual in the show to see a younger black woman leading an older white man, teaching him something, and I’m wondering if you had thoughts on that?

Oh, I loved that. That’s something that we talked about, me and the other producers and Michelle Paradise, our showrunner, and Alex Kurtzman as well. We felt that we had reached a point where it was time for Burnham to be the mentor. Saru leaving and going off to fulfill his own destiny, his own purpose, had a lot to do with that because he was a sort of guide and a voice of reason in that way. And his exit marked the beginning of Burnham being ready to be someone else’s guide, someone else’s mentor. And being able to give Captain Rayner a second chance was huge. That’s a big part of why Burnham is able to lead from the center out, and why she’s able to nurture people to be their best selves, because of everything that she’s been through, because of the mistakes and the moral failures and the victories as well. And so I really loved that we’ve sort of flipped it on its head and earned it at the same time. We didn’t just do it to do it, we earned it. And Burnham saw herself in Rayner even though he was this older white man, and he struggled to listen, but he was humbled through the experience as well, which could be a path that people could see moving forward.

L-R Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Callum Keith Rennie as Rayner in “Face the Strange” (Marni Grossman /Paramount+)

 For episode 4 with the two Burnhams, did you go back and watch earlier episodes to prepare?

I actually did go back in a couple of ways. I went back and watched a little bit. I went back and read a little bit from some of the earlier scripts. And I went back into my journal as the character, because I had a sort of stream-of-consciousness journal that I would keep, and I went back to that too. And man, I didn’t even know what it was going to seem like. I could hear what everybody was saying as I was shooting it, because of course, I’m looking at a double and. But once I was able to look at it in post, it’s like, “Oh, man, you really can see this.” It almost makes me want to cry right now. You really can see the growth that this character went through. What a what a gift that they gave me, that they gave Burnham, that they gave the audience, to be able to see this kind of growth. And then you can imagine it with all of the characters. I mean, think about how far Saru came. He was a completely different Kelpien from where he is now after he went through his transformation. And Culber went from death to life, literally. And we see Tilly as this sort of scared girl who becomes this leader, this woman. We see the journey that Adira takes. We see the journey that Stamets takes from this critical person to this beautiful sensitive scientist. Oh, gosh, it’s one of my favorite things about Discovery. And I just feel so blessed that I was able to watch these artists create, and that I was able to create what I what I did.

What was shooting the fight between the Burnhams like?

I love that we get to see these fighting styles against each other because it’s one of the major reasons why present-day Burnham defeats past Burnham. Because now there’s a freedom and there’s a security, and you can see it in the fight. We wanted to make sure that we did that. I got to big up to Chris McGuire, our stunt coordinator, for doing that, and our director Lee Rose. Because it was important for us to showcase that contrast, that growth, that evolution in the fight as well in the physical performance.

You do a lot of stunts this season. I know there are stunt people but you also do your own. Since becoming a mom, has your attitude changed towards the stunt work?

That’s a really good question. I do love stunt work. Being a mom, I think there’s some physical things, like as our bodies change as we grow older and as I get more comfortable with my femininity, I find my relationships to stunt work and combat and whatnot changing. I still think it’s fun. I would still do it. But I don’t approach it in exactly the same way as I used to, especially now that I don’t just have a son, I have a daughter now. So it’s interesting because I’ve had to sort of look at my own womanhood and my own femininity and my own matriarchal leadership in my family. And so I think I have pulled back from it a little bit because I think there was a time where I would look at combat and things like that as a way to sort of put on a masculine shield if I’m being honest. But that’s where I was then, and that’s okay. We’re all on a journey of growth, right? And I’ve grown and evolved a lot because of Michael Burnham, because of Captain Burnham, especially.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnhams (Paramount+)

After the fight, there is a moment where present Michael is giving advice to past (unconscious) Michael. So for Sonequa, what advice would you give your past self at that moment, back when you were starting a Star Trek series that launched a whole new era for the franchise?  

That’s a beautiful question. I would tell myself to trust God more. And to give myself more grace.

So in episode four, you guys got to work with Hannah Cheesman (Airiam) again. Was that emotional for everybody?

It was emotional. We miss her. Anytime people can come back, it means a lot. We haven’t had lots of folks come back, we’ve had some. We’ve had some we had Ali [Momen] from season 1, episode one come back later. And you know, Elias Toufexis who plays L’ak in season 5, he had been in episode three of season 1. We always love it when our show family members can come back. And it was emotional, but It was also celebratory. It was like, “Ah, Hannah, what’s up?” And the subject matter of the episode especially is what made it emotional. So yeah, that was a really good time. I’m grateful we had that.

In that episode, we kept expecting Lorca to show up at some point…

Oh, I know! I know.

So, was that under consideration, or were other people under consideration too?

The thing is, no, because we didn’t know it was our last season. It was just what it was. It was this big grand adventurous, fun season with the biggest existential questions there are to ask. And that’s what we were focused on. I wonder if we were to do it again if we would be able to do something like that? But yeah, we weren’t thinking in that way at the time.

Hannah Cheesman as Airiam and Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham in “Face the Strange”

There has been talk about a lot of Star Trek movies and one of the ones apparently is still in development is written by a former Discovery writer, Kalinda Vasquez. Do you know anything about that?

No, I wish I did. I wish I did! We talk about movie opportunities a lot. We talk about possible crossover opportunities. It’s tough because where we ended up was further beyond where any Trek is gone. I think we ended in 3191. So there’s very little we can do in terms of just not breaking too many rules because when we jumped to the future, that was our last shot. But I think that there are some crossover opportunities coming up with maybe Starfleet Academy. It would be a lot of fun to do a movie. I haven’t heard anything about it, but it could be a lot of fun.

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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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This show finally won me over in season 4, and I think season 5 is off to a great start.

This season is great in spite of SMG’s presence. She’s just not a good actor. So. Much. Whispering… So. Much. Melodrama… So. Much. Overacting… Discovery has a lot to enjoy, but Michael Burnham has never been one of those things. Her character arc (imprisoned mutineer to revered captain in a short span of time) is ridiculous, and none of it was earned. I’d love to see Reno get her own show, on which she does nothing but say snarky things to Stamets, and then Book and Culber come in and act all Booky and Culbery. Sign me up! But more Burnham? Good god, no. I’d rather they started focusing on the good characters and the good actors instead.

Dude, buy a q-tip a clean out your ears if you can’t hear.

Pardon?

Dude, go away.

I’m glad you are enjoying the final season, but I have to disagree with your take on SMG. I think she’s a wildly talented actress who has been a real shining light during what has been an (at times) uneven Star Trek show. I think the idea that she whispers all the time is overblown. I don’t have difficulty hearing her and I don’t think she’s quiet at all. But I recognise that it is all subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinions.

I find her character can be enjoyable on rare occasions, but her arc is so uneven (like the whole show) it’s hard to take her seriously.

The focus on Burnham is also really annoying. Old Trek would give entire episodes to specific members of the crew, but on Discovery, the only one who got an episode like that was Airiam, far too late, and that’s literally it. So basically, Burnham has to save the galaxy on her own again and again.

I haven’t always been wild about Sonequa Martin-Green’s performances, but I thought she did a fabulous job playing both S1 Burnham and S5 Burnham!

one thing that they kinda got rid of quickly with her was that she was raised by vulcans. her character completely forgets that after season 2

Yes, and it’s annoying. The writing has been all over the place, which has been so cringey to watch. She goes from being the perfect Vulcan to crying every episode.

I did think they should have eased her back into her Starfleet mold a bit more gradually. She’s delightful as the free and uninhibited version we see in the season 3 premiere, but she reverts pretty fast. Apart from sparring with some authority figures and letting her hair down, the effect of that year was a little too muted for my taste.

She was already overtly emotional before season three, so that doesn’t explain it.

I guess this wouldn’t be the first iteration of Trek to succumb to the “telling instead of showing” trope. That’s the frustrating thing about Discovery in general, so many great ideas and potential but wasting it all with the warp speed exposition dumps and character “development” while spending huge amounts of time on scenes which don’t add much to the experience.

Still can’t understand why Lorca isn’t back. These flashback type episodes are perfect for this opportunity. Maybe Jason Isaacs is too expensive for a single episode.

It would’ve been too big. A reappearance of Lorca would’ve overshadowed the episode. His return should come with an episode of its own, not be shoehorned into an episode that was going a different direction imo. If they’d have included him here, it would’ve pulled away from other things. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see Lorca too, but maybe a future streaming Disco movie would be a better place for it!

Good questions.

I thought she was just fine in TWD but couldn’t stand her in DSC. Badly written all around. Just my opinion. Cheers to her fans and fans of the show. She seems to be a nice person.

Looking at the relationship with Rayner and Burnham, it’s very unusual in the show to see a younger black woman leading an older white man, teaching him something, and I’m wondering if you had thoughts on that?

I hate when anyone brings up race it makes absolutely no difference what the colour is of anyone’s skin, this is something that was handled so well in earlier versions of Trek and handled so badly in later versions.

In TV interviews with SMG, she seems very happy. I wonder if she’s glad it’s over.
Spending six months in Canada, away from family, may be challenging for her as a mother.
Look, DSC is what it is. Burnham whispers; she cries sometimes. I turn up the volume on my center speaker. She finally seems believable when she’s in a fight scene. She’s more comfortable with it.
A young family lives down the road from me. The father is white, and the mother is black. Their daughter loves Captain Burnham. I’m glad she gets to see herself on screen, and it inspired her imagination.
That’s what Trek does. It inspires one’s imagination.
My role models are Kirk/Pike/Picard/Sisko.
Seeing young ladies cos-playing as Burnham and Tilly makes me happy. They get to participate in Trek.
My brother is gay.
He’s happy that he sees himself as normal on TV.
Do I wish there were strong male characters on DSC? Of course, I do.
I’ve come to terms with DSC, which wasn’t made with me in mind, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

I know Anson’s family comes back and forth. I don’t think his daughter is school-age yet. That, and his wife is Canadian. At least she was living in Canada when they met.

Yes, that’s their family home. When Anson was filming Hell On Wheels, he met his wife there (IIRC). That makes me think she might be Canadian or a landed immigrant.

I help a vendor at various Trek conventions throughout the year. I met his wife briefly in the UK. She was very friendly to me, as Anson always is.