Interview: Mary Wiseman On Doing Some “Classic Star Trek” In ‘Discovery,’ And Tilly’s Future

The sixth episode (“Whistlespeak“) of season 5 of Star Trek: Discovery had a focus on Tilly as she joined Captain Burnham for a bit of a classic Trek adventure. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to actress Mary Wiseman about what was involved in putting the episode together and how it ties into Tilly’s arc for the season. And even though Mary doesn’t want to take direct questions on if Tilly will return in Starfleet Academy, we did get her to speak about how she would like to see the character evolve after Discovery.

In “Whistlespeak” you show all the different angles of Tilly from the friend, the jokester, the science nerd, and now this new mentoring role, like with the character Ravah. Which of these aspects do you find the most fun or rewarding to play?

It’s all good. I think the mentoring thing feels new and exciting just because of Tilly’s position. And it’s just like sweet and I don’t have to memorize long lines of numbers. So that makes it a little easier.

This was a complicated episode involving new outfits, makeup and locations. Can you talk about what that was like?

We shot in this beautiful park, which I cannot remember the name. It was a gorgeous, expansive park in Ontario. And I especially spend so much time on the ship. So, getting to suddenly be plunged into a really natural environment was really fun and engaging and different. So I loved that. And then getting to do a classic Star Trek episode where we go in disguise as the native aliens was fun. This was my first time in the prosthetics trailer, which was dope. I got to meet all those people, who are awesome. Yeah, it was really, really fun.

Compared to some of those classic disguise episodes, you got it pretty easy.

I couldn’t agree more! [laughs]

When you first got the script, did you think you would have a lot more prosthetics?

I didn’t expect it to be too extensive just because of the nature of the episode because there would be running and stuff. It would be time consuming. But timewise, we lucked out. We had like henna on the forehead. [laughs] It was pretty easy, breezy. But I’m still excited to look different and get a little bit of an alien [hair]do because I haven’t really had one in the series.

L-R Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham, Mary Wiseman as Tilly and June Laporte as Ravah in  “Whistlespeak” (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

We noticed how Tilly’s hairdo changed when she beams down and weren’t sure if that was intentional…

It was an absolute choice. We don’t have the facial markings until we beam down either. I don’t totally understand, I am not a science person, but I think it is something about the beaming down. We go into full disguise during that process, but it was definitely a big discussion.

This episode also introduced the “retinal tricorders” and since you guys have been in the future you have had the holographic tricorders. Do you ever miss working with old fashioned props?

No, not necessarily, because you’re having to pretend either way, to be honest. You’re either pretending that you’re reading something on the little tricorder or you’re pretending you’re seeing something through your retinal scanner, or whatever. So, I feel like imagination is always part of it. And you just take the time to think, “Okay, what am I seeing?” What is this technology doing for me? What does this information look like? And there’s lots of people there who are experts on what the final image will be. So you gain clarity that way, but, a tricorder doesn’t really “tricord,” so either way, you pretend.

In the recent time travel episode [“Face The Strange”] you got to revisit season 1 Tilly, briefly. When we recently talked to Sonequa [Martin-Green] about that episode, she brought up how much Tilly has changed. Did doing that little scene bring that back for you too?

Yeah, for sure. I think it made me pretty nervous in terms of what fan reaction would be. And then trying to go back and remember what she was like. I only had like two lines or something. So I was like, “How can I achieve the effect of season 1 Tilly within this time.” What was she like? Where was she rooted? So in that way, it was kind of a fun assignment.

Embed from Getty Images

Returning to “Whistlespeak” and tying into that mentorship layer we talked about, in this episode Tilly talks a lot about what’s happening back at the Academy and with her students. It feels like this episode is building up to something for Tilly. What do you see as Tilly’s big arc for the season?

Just figuring out how to reach or get through to kids who have such a different life experience than her. And for her, to translate her own experiences to be able to understand and empathize and then really be helpful. I would say that’s kind of her general arc.

If season 5 isn’t the last we see of Tilly, what do you want to never let go of? As the character grows and matures, what core aspects of Tilly should be eternal?

I think it’s something about the way that she thinks and puts information together. There will always be a flightiness a non-continuous thought pattern for Tilly. That will make her feel a little quirky and a little different. And that will remain the same forever. What changes is her own comfort with herself and the way that she operates.

Mary Wiseman as Tilly in “Whistlespeak” (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

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.  

Notify me of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

And even though Mary doesn’t want to take direct questions on if Tilly will return in Starfleet Academy, we did get her to speak about how she would like to see the character evolve after Discovery.

It seems inevitable that Tilly will be at least a recurring character on the Academy show, if not a regular. The show was back door-piloted with her as the lead in the Discovery episode about the rebuilding of Starfleet Academy.

I’m not sure that the Academy show will find success if it’s based in any way on Tilly.

It’s not going to find success, but its failure will have nothing at all to do with whether Tilly’s there or not.

I’ve seen enough of Starfleet Academy with “The First Duty” and the various adventures of “Red Squad.”

Those two episodes are IMO among the best of their respective series.



However, they don’t really say anything good about “Starfleet Academy,” do they?.

Nether does Tilly’s “backdoor pilot” last season.

If you want 50 episodes of teenagers who run the spectrum from, “painfully emo” to “don’t even want to be there” (as some of the press material has suggested) to narcissistic egotists willing to kill themselves and other people because narcissistic, egotistical children, who have been told they can do no wrong, I hope you enjoy every bit of it.

I wasn’t very sad to see the Valiant and its cadet crew meet their demise in DS9. They were terrible.

They certainly got what they asked for.

“Red Squad” was a cult of personality.

You have no particular insight here. It could be wildly successful based on Tilly is just as probable an outcome.

The succes of Adacemy will not be determined by your disliking of Tilly.

please please please don’t have Tilly be a part of the Academy show. she is insufferable, both written and acted

I hope she is a part of Academy. I love both the character and actress.

Her presence is the only interest I’d have in Academy. The character and actress here, too!

Thanks for the interview. Tilly is one of my favorite Star Trek characters of all time, so I hope that she is a lead for the Academy show.

So far, Season 5 has been just superlative Star Trek, imo. I loved the whole episode “Whistlespeak” . June Laporte was excellent as Ravah, I hope both Wiseman and Laporte return for the Academy series.
Thank you for this coverage.

I’m still convinced Academy should have been 25th Century. 32nd Century for me is DOA. The worst era of Star Trek.