'Star Trek: Discovery' star Sonequa Martin-Green loves that series is staying true to canon
Two familiar faces are returning to the Star Trek universe on Discovery but they are going to be played by entirely different actors. Captain James T. Kirk’s predecessor Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and a younger, hipper Spock (Ethan Peck) appear in the show’s second season.
“We love that,” series star Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Commander Michael Burnham, tells the Sun. “I love that my character is a part of that family — Spock, Sarek, Amanda (Grayson) — they’re an institution in the Star Trek canon. I love that I have a place there.”
Michael Burnham is Spock’s foster sister and she goes on a mission to find him in Season 2 of the Toronto-shot series, which blasted off earlier this month on Space and Crave with a premiere episode that saw Pike commandeering the Discovery.
“We love that some of the characters will be perhaps a little more familiar to Trekkers and Trekkies,” Martin-Green, 33, says. “Captain Pike, Spock and Number One (played by Rebecca Romijn), we get to see these characters breathed to life by these incredible actors.”
Since the end of the original Gene Roddenberry-created series in 1969, Star Trek has had a new life in film and television. Discovery, which is set 10 years before the adventures of William Shatner’s Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s half-human/half-Vulcan on TOS (The Original Series), introduces new characters to the Star Trek canon.
Also on the horizon, a stand-alone series revisiting Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, a possible spinoff centred on Michelle Yeoh’s Discovery character Philippa Georgiou, and an R-rated feature film from Quentin Tarantino.
“I love that’s where I’ve been placed in this ongoing story,” Martin-Green says.
On one of the coldest days Toronto has experienced this winter, Martin-Green, who rose to prominence as Sasha on The Walking Dead, spoke about the legacy of Star Trek and what she hopes to see if she ever makes it into space.
What’s it like to be part of this new extension of the Star Trek universe? Discovery came along — it’s the first Star Trek show since Enterprise ended in 2005 — and kicked things in a new direction.
That’s definitely what we were trying to do. Exactly what you just said — we wanted to kick it to people in a new way. We wanted to bring this legacy to a new generation of people, pun intended. But it’s been a difficult balance. We have to be brand new, yet familiar. That’s a tricky place to be. It’s almost like walking a tightrope. We wanted to establish our own identity and we wanted to explore new things. Today’s society is different and each iteration of Star Trek has always mirrored the society that it’s in. Now, things are very different, especially in this Trump era, and we have to reflect that. But at the same time, we have to have this connection to the canon, so it’s this balance of establishing our own identity and making those hardcore Trekkers and Trekkies proud. It’s about making them proud, but also grabbing new people as well.
Star Trek has also been a show that’s challenged conventions. What’s it like to be part of this storytelling narrative that pushes those boundaries?
You know, it’s absolutely necessary that we challenge the norm. That we don’t conform to European standards of beauty and that we don’t conform to close-minded thinking and those paradigms we should leave in the past. We’re thrilled and honoured to do that, episode by episode, each storyline at a time. And I do think, because of what we’re doing and the power of storytelling, we’re able to help shift what people believe. Being part of something that’s already had that kind of impact is exhilarating. It’s also incredibly humbling and can be overwhelming at times, to be honest.
In the first season, Michael Burnham had a fall from grace and she had to build herself back up. This second season is going in a completely new direction. How have things changed for her?
It’s been quite a journey. Michael started on top of the world and then lost it all. (Throughout Season 1) she had to climb and claw her way back up. What was most important to me in Season 1 was this idea of redemption… having to struggle for that and fight for that was a big part of my journey as Michael Burnham during Season 1. I was reinstated at the end of Season 1, so there was this professional absolution and there were some restoration to some of the relationships as well. Now, in Season 2, we’re excited because we go places that we just weren’t able to go last season.
Hipster Spock, as Stephen Colbert referred to him, and Christopher Pike are two iconic Star Trek characters and they both appear this season.
I love that they show up because we always have that deep, deep, deep connection to the canon. Also, being 10 years prior to TOS, it helps strengthen that connection as well. So I love that we’re getting to see these pillars in the Star Trek lore. Other than that, I will say things are deeper and also brighter in Season 2.
You mentioned the canon. How do the writers, how do you yourself, keep all these timelines straight and make sure it all syncs with what’s to come in the movie and TV show timelines?
I have to credit our amazing writers for keeping all of that stuff straight. We have a group of people who are die-hard fans and they LOVE this franchise. They grew up with this and it’s important to them. We have a Star Trek novelist on our team. They know what they are talking about. They’re the resident encyclopedia for all things Trek. When we all of a sudden are wondering what floor a particular room on the ship might be, we text them and ask. If you could see the writers’ room, the walls are covered. It’s like one of those scenes in a movie where the serial killer has all their plans on the wall with the pins and the strings. We also have (co-creator) Alex Kurtzman, who is so boldly and brilliantly helming our show now. He has his experiential knowledge having worked with J.J. Abrams in the past.
Star Trek turns 53 this year. Is it something you think will still be going strong in another 50 years?
That it’s still something that’s capturing people’s imagination 50 years from now is something we all hope happens. That’s why it’s so important to tell a story that makes you look to the future. I remember seeing something on YouTube where some people were a little upset that we had such advanced effects on the show. They were arguing that since we are 10 years before TOS, we shouldn’t look the way we do. But if we were to change then you lose the spirit of Trek, which is to make people look to the future. If we looked like they did in the ‘60s, then all you’d be thinking about was the ‘60s. Obviously, we are so much further ahead as it relates to special effects and technology and we have to reflect that. We have to take it further because that’s where we are now. But in order to look to the future you have to present a future that would be futuristic to us, today, in 2019.
Will Discovery ever catch up to show us a young Kirk or a young Bones or a young Uhura? Will we meet those characters down the line?
(singsong voice) Maybe.
Do you think you’ll get to space one day?
I would love to. But really, all I want to do as far as space is concerned is I want to get in that ship, I want to blast off and I want to get just past Earth’s atmosphere and I want to turn and be able to look at Earth. That’s all I want to do. I want to see Earth from that perspective and then we can go back down.
Discovery is one of the largest television productions in Toronto. Do you have any hidden gems in the city that you like to visit?
You know, I haven’t found a hidden gem in Toronto. I love it there; it’s like New York City Jr. to me. But I don’t get to see much, so when people ask I say, “I can tell you everything there is to know about Pinewood Studios.” Maybe that’s my favourite place.
Star Trek: Discovery airs Thursdays on Space and is available to stream on Crave the following day