Interview: Blu Del Barrio On Adira’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Journey And Why It’s Fun When Jonathan Frakes Directs

Blu del Barrio joined the cast of Star Trek: Discovery for season 3 in 2020, playing Adira, the first nonbinary character in the franchise. A lot changed for Adira by season 5, like becoming an ensign, and in the latest episode (“Lagrange Point“), they go on a dangerous undercover mission. TrekMovie had a spoilery chat with the actor about what it was like getting to do some action, especially in one of those Breen suits. Del Barrio also talks about being directed by Jonathan Frakes again, how they feel about their and Adira’s journey though the series, and their hopes for the future.

“Lagrange Point” was a big episode for Adira. What do you think it says about them and their journey since being introduced in season 3?

Something I realized after-the-fact was how much they joke around in this episode, how comfortable they are on this mission that they probably would not have been trusted to do in the past two seasons. This probably wasn’t a responsibility they would have been given. I think the difference is just a lot of security. I think they feel their value. I think they feel their worth as a part of this crew. And I think that we can sort of see that in the way that they communicate and talk back and forth to Discovery while they’re on this mission.

Blu del Barrio as Adira and Anthony Rapp as Stamets in “Lagrange Point” (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

When you got the script and saw Adira was going on a very dangerous mission towards the end of the season, was there any worry they might kill off your character? Do you ever worry about that kind of thing?

I am an anxious person, so all the time. From the second I started working on Discovery to the moment I finished there was a “I’m going to get fired tomorrow” mentality. But actually, no, not for this episode. I think because there was just a lot of excitement and we were very buzzy about the finale. I was just really excited to have a part in such a big mission towards the end of the season, which wasn’t something I was expecting. I was excited for the responsibility and to be like a little action hero for a minute.

What was the biggest challenge or the most fun, as an actor?

The most fun was definitely the fighting, the combat. I came up in theater so I’ve done more stage combat than is necessary for anybody, but that is something that I was always very comfortable with and really wanted to do on the show. It was really cool to have actual combat rehearsals. The fact that I got to do it before it ended, I was really happy about. It was incredibly nice and fun to do it with Patrick [Kwok-Choon]. The only thing that made it harder was those Breen suits, which are like 70,000 pounds and very constricting. [laughs]

Going in disguise is classic Star Trek. But did you feel that Adira stood out compared to those big guys they have playing the Breen?

Yeah, that was the first thing I asked. [laughs]. When I saw all the other Breen, like I am just five foot, two. I am like the size of a shoe and they are all sky high. I was like, “This doesn’t make sense?” [laughs] I think they hid it/shot it in a really smart way. They made it so that the thing that would give Adira away is their physical tendencies. I feel like that’s what would give them away, more so than their height, maybe, in terms of how we filmed it. But yeah, if you were there in the room, you could absolutely see that I was way shorter than everybody else.

Blu del Barrio (R) with Patrick Kwok-Choon, disguised as Breen in “Lagrange Point” (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

You talked about Adira’s confidence, but we have also seen them questioning themselves this season. What do you think is driving this new confidence? Is it Rayner? Is it their space dads?

I think I think probably some of it just comes from growing up a little bit, getting a little bit older. I think it definitely comes from their space dads. I think it comes from probably feeling a little bit of the weight to get more comfortable and confident after going through a breakup and you know, not having their partner right beside them all the time. Like after a breakup, you feel, “I need to have a glow up!” I need to be doing really well, I need to be really strong in my presence here and this is the path I chose, so I want to be confident. Rayner was also a really good challenge for them. I think it was it was very fun to play on off Callum [Keith Rennie] for all of that. That definitely sent a little bit of a shock into Adira. Tilly was also really helpful and nice.

When you are doing a scene with Wilson Cruz [Culber] and Anthony Rapp [Stamets], are you playing it like a child with parents, or a junior officer with their superior officers?

Definitely more on the side of a child and their parents. I think that that relationship just went into that dynamic so seamlessly. I think that me is the actor, I forget that they’re sort of my bosses. I forget that and I think Adira does as well.

Speaking of guys in charge, your first-ever episode [“People of Earth”] was directed by Jonathan Frakes, as was “Lagrange Point.” Can you talk about how he set the table for you back then and how the dynamic has changed these years later?

That was really emotional for me to have him direct this episode and also have them direct on my first. I couldn’t have been luckier to have him direct on my first episode. For me, he is probably my favorite director I’ve ever worked with. That man is absolutely Looney Tunes, and also the smartest person in the room. He comes in with the attitude and the desire that he really needs everyone to have fun there, which is not always the energy that you get from a director. they have a bunch of weight on their shoulders and it can be really stressful environment, but it feels like his number one priority is that everybody have a good time which is wild to me. He somehow hides the rest of the inner workings and the mechanics of how he’s sorting it all out in his brain, which is like really kind and wonderful. So, yeah, it was terrifying having him for my first episode and I was very freaked out and nervous and self-conscious. And the flip side of having him for my second to last, just felt like a really big honor that I got to kind of close out that circle with him. I hope I get to work with him again in the future.

Jonathan Frakes directing Star Trek: Discovery

Jonathan Frakes directing Blu del Barrio and Phumzile Sitole in “People of Earth” (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

Looking at Adira’s arc over these seasons and now that it is ending, do you feel satisfied or do you feel there are things you wanted to do in future seasons?

That’s a good question. I think that I am satisfied where Adira leaves off. When I think about it, it could have been much more of a cliffhanger and that would have been so much more upsetting. I think I got kind of lucky with how their story played out in season 5 and where they ended up. I think it’s a very positive note for them to end on. But of course, there was definitely a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do. I wanted them to be a part of a Mirror Universe episode. I wanted them to go on more way missions. I had a bunch of stuff that I wanted to do and you know. Trek is forever, so maybe in the future Adira can come back.

You mentioned the relationships with Tilly and we still don’t know if she is part of the new Starfleet Academy series, but if Adira were to appear in the new series, what would you like to see? As a teacher, a graduate student? Just visiting?

One of those future paths I had thought of for Adira was to follow in Tilly’s footsteps and start teaching. I think that would kind of make sense for them. I think they’d be a really fun teacher and interesting teacher to watch, because of how blunt they can be sometimes. While they are still younger, I think visiting Tilly would be something really nice to do.

There is a bit of connection as the new show is set in San Francisco, not at Starfleet HQ. One of the unique things about Adira is they are actually from Earth in the 32nd century. But we really don’t know much about that aspect of them. Did you ever get any backstory?

Thank you for asking that. That’s something that I always wanted to go back to. All I know is what was in those episodes in season 3 of showing that little tiny bit of history with Gray before The Burn. So there’s stuff that I had in my head kind of worked out. I was always hoping we would go back and maybe get a little bit more of that history of what their life was like before they went on Discovery, but nothing was ever written, so we don’t have any canon. [laughs]

Mary Wiseman as Tilly and Blu del Barrio as Adira in “Mirrors” (Michael Gibson /Paramount+)

In our interview before the season started, you talked about how important it was to you to talk to trans people and their families about how the character had impacted you. Recently, Sonequa [Martin-Green] and Tawny [Newsome] talked about feeling pressure to represent black women and being on the same high-profile show as one of the few non-binary characters on TV, did you also feel that kind of pressure to represent?

Of course, one hundred percent. All of my first season I had severe impostor syndrome and had so much anxiety around all of that and it took me a very long time to realize, well, no, that’s probably just because the representation that I’ve had on screen has not been a lot. And what I have seen is probably people who appear very confident, because you do feel that weight on your shoulders to be the best version of yourself that you can be. And then I started thinking, it’s kind of nice, maybe, for people to see someone who’s at just the beginning of their transition and going through that and going through the anxieties and the worries and difficulties of that. So as scary as it was, and kind of as vulnerable as to sort of come out on television and also go through a lot of my medical transition while I was on Discovery, I’m really proud that it’s out there for anybody who felt like me, who was at the beginning of that journey and really freaked out and maybe also had impostor syndrome. [laughs]

Here’s the Entertainment Tonight fluffy question, did you take anything from the set?  

The only thing that I have—and I’m very happy I got something—because they keep so much of stuff for the archives and for fans and stuff like that. I didn’t think I was going to take anything home but I got the backing of my chair that says “Adira” on it. And I’ll keep that forever, and a bunch of my scripts and stuff. I wish I could have kept my badge, but those are apparently very precious and we could not take that. But I do have my chair backing and I love that.

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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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I like Adira. I thought Gray was beyond annoying, but I like Adira. I’m glad they stuck around.

Same. I like Adira but they still could’ve done way more with the character overall. I don’t think there is even a real arc this season.

None, I agree. Adira’s interesting scenes were mainly in season three.

Same here. In fact one of my favorite episodes of Discovery is her S3 backstory episode. Loved her take on Frakes – clearly he is a big favorite for the Discovery crew as much as Trek fans gravitate to him.

Their S3 backstory
Their take on Frakes.

Blu- and Adira- are non-binary and use they/them pronouns. Please do not misgender them.

Thank you for pointing that out – I appreciate it.
Btw, in today’s business world, more and more people as using he, she or they in their signatures and I have found that to be quite useful, especially for those who have names that can be either gender or neutral.

I’ve really enjoyed Adira’s growth over the last three seasons. I really hope the reworked finale has some nice stuff for them.

I think the ship was righted there this season and Adira got a decent progression. In season 4 they were somehow less confident, put-together and assured than when they started in season 3.

Annoying character imo and such paper-thin character development.

One of my favorite characters along with Tilly!

The word that best describes Adira is ‘dud’. What a dud character. Bland, pointless, zero charisma.

Adira exists because the writers and producers wanted to burnish their progressive credentials with a non-binary character, but they couldn’t think up any more traits for them other than the constant diffidence. immaturity, and social awkwardness.

The social anxiety and imposter syndrome that Blu del Barrio speaks of profoundly seeps into their performance. Emmy-level material this is not. (They do, at least, outshine the truly awful Ian Alexander, who had even less of a reason to be crammed into this season.)

That they view their relationship with Culber and Stamets as one of “space dads” doesn’t help, either. They is supposed to be a professional military officer, not someone who needs a parental figure every step of the way. Again, the anxiety is showing by virtue of this immaturity. Adira is a modern-day Peter Pan, a metaphor for the emerging generation plagued by extreme anxiety that resulted from helicopter parenting.

Even Wesley Crusher, who was underage when he first set foot on board the Big-E, eventually grew up, asking for his own quarters in “Journey’s End.” (I’ll concede that the events of “Lagrange Point” at least addressed this concern.)

The character is virtually unwatchable, and it’s a travesty that they have gotten more screentime than Saru or even Owosekun or Detmer.

Oh, and another thing. I get that it’s Hollywood and “weird” just means it’s Tuesday, but still, that goth makeup on the red carpet is performative as hell.

Very, very well said.

Absolutely spot on 👍

The character is totally unnecessary, just another version of Tilly without the humour

One reason I appreciate Reno so much is that she brings a completely different side of humor to the proceedings. Now that Stamets is warm and fuzzy the only acerbic edge to the show is with Reno and Rayner, and the former gets to twist that into something funny. It’s a good counterbalance to the nervous energy that Tilly and Adira often have.

Rayner Is such a good character a shame we only get one season of him

I know his arc is to embrace Burnham and Tilly’s brand of encouragement and personal connection, but damned if I don’t enjoy his blunt professional distance and tough love approach to his job.

At least we got THAT!

Yep 👍 and only that

Stamets was an interesting character in the first season, precisely because of the sardonic/acerbic edge. He reminded me of Rodney in STARGATE ATLANTIS, or even Toby Ziegler in THE WEST WING. No more; he’s been neutered since they time-jumped.

Exactly, he was such a better character now he starts freaking out if anyone he knows has to leave the ship.

Now he’s just annoying. His puppy dog expression and warm and fuzzy personality are… annoying, to say the least.

It’s not a great fit for Rapp what he’s playing now. Does not help that he has way more “tell don’t show” type development now.

I struggle with that sometimes in principle – sometimes the only way to know someone has evolved is to have them say it or for another character to point it out. And we mustn’t forget that on TNG characters like Beverly and Geordi would often be lucky to get this kind of character attention, blunt though it may be. But what works best is things like seeing how Picard warms to Wesley over the years, or even watching “Bold Boimler” come to fruition in a crisis. Seeing Tilly spell it out to Adira and the audience that they have grown and can take more responsibilities isn’t my favorite method of conveying growth. Even making that conversation about Adira be between Tilly and any other character -but- Adira would deliver the same information but feel less clumsy. Then it’s suddenly more layered and rewarding when Adira does take on the away mission and bridge duties while Tilly and co beam with pride. Discovery now wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s affirming but makes for a hamfisted show at times.

Subtlety isn’t something Discovery has ever been.

It’s a real bummer that Frakes is still in “director-jail.” Almost every actor says he is their favorite, and it shows in their performances. Here’s hoping that Matalas will hire Frakes for the Vision show, and maybe he can get more work in the MCU and/or other Disney productions after that.

It’s really only “director jail” for movies. The man is worth tens of millions, now largely due to his being quite in demand as a TV director, and often for TV shows that have lavish budgets.

Roxann Dawson has shot for Marvel (Agents of SHIELD, which Frakes also directed). She occasionally was mentioned as a contender for a jump to the movies, but TV is where the steady employment is.

Robert Duncan McNeill might be in the best position out of the Trek school of directors as he also has recent EP credits. But they all seem very happy doing what they do now.

Poor Garrett Wang :( His co-stars got meal tickets for life with the DGA memberships.

True. But I gather he wasn’t displaying the kind of eagerness to learn that his costars had when it was important.

Hope we see Adira and Blu del Barrio in future Star Treks.

same!!! :P I feel so shocked to read some of these comments, Adira was my favorite character from Discovery!! I geuss everyone just has a different opinion but I loved them so much and want to see more!!!

i love Blu!!