That choice to integrate her into Spock’s and Sarek’s family is a big creative swing, and is either going to have huge dividends, or it’s going to blow up in your face. I’m sure you guys went back and forth in the room before you made that choice.
Oh my God! We went back and forth and back and forth. Bryan Fuller was one of those people who said, “Let’s do it.” And the thing that’s fantastic about Bryan is that he has the currency and the cache, not only from just who he is as a writer and his track record, but also as someone who has lived and loved the Star Trek universe since he was a kid, since he wrote on Voyager, etc, etc. And he was the one who said, “We’re doing this. I’ll handle the fans. I’ll handle the blowback.”
Only somebody like Bryan can make that choice, and he embraced it wholeheartedly. Had Bryan not been a part of the show, I don’t know that anybody would have had the courage to say, we are doing that. He gave us the courage. Again, this is a friendship that goes back to 2003. Bryan taught me and Gretchen [Berg] so much about television writing. He’s been a friend and a mentor.
And knows Trek.
He knows Trek. It’s in his blood. He brought the two of us to the party, and I will never not give him credit for that, because he really did bring us to the party. He opened up a toy chest and said, “This is an okay toy chest to play in.” So there we are.
Does the streaming service allow you to push the envelope of what we’ve known as Star Trek content?
The streaming service has definitely allowed us to push boundaries. We can do nudity. We can do violence that we can’t do on broadcast. We can have language.
For us, it has to be really carefully considered. One of the most important things that Gretchen and I have been learning since we came on the show is, just how anecdotally people come to Trek by way of their mother, their father, their older brother or their older sister. How many families watch the show, took in the show, turn it off, had a debate. It really is a property that is passed down generation to generation.
So if you’re going to do something like language, or a little nudity, or a little extra violence — which that’s one of the sad things about where we are in terms of media: violence is accepted; sexuality, maybe not so much. We’re taking great pains to make sure that nothing feels gratuitous if we’re doing it. That if language is involved, it might be language that’s celebratory.
We have a moment where three of our scientists have just pulled off the most incredible thing ever. They are talking about concepts that are so above everybody else’s head, and one of them says, “This is so fucking cool.” And she’s a cadet, and she’s catches herself, and she looks at her boss, because oh my God, she just dropped an F-bomb. And her boss, played by Anthony Rapp, turns to her and says, “You’re right, cadet — this is fucking cool.” So in a moment like that, where I feel like we’re celebrating smarts and people who are at the top of their game. It’s rare when we’ll do it, but if we do it, we want to make it feel organic.
As diverse as Star Trek has been, as progressive as it’s been, you guys get the first shot at portraying a homosexual relationship with no sci-fi hook to it. They’re just people. Tell me about that.
As a gay person, as a gay man, and again, this was something that for Bryan was very important to him to do. We said, “Absolutely. It’s important to do.” So the character that he created, Lieutenant Paul Stamets, is gay. I feel like the way we’re treating him and his partner — Anthony Rapp plays Stamets. Wilson Cruz plays his partner Doctor Hugh Culber, who’s a medical officer on the ship — what I’m most proud about is we’re just playing them like any other couple.
I always feel like visibility isn’t super important, but visibility in the right way is: these are people. They work on a ship. They happen to date. That throws them into conflict. We get to see how the conflict works its way out on the bridge and on missions, and then we get to see how they bring it back home. What I’m most proud of is that we tried to jut carve out those simple, everyday, life moments that any couple enjoys. I’m really proud of Wilson and Anthony, the way they portray it. It feels so real, and it doesn’t feel like it’s trumpeting itself just to trumpet itself. And they go on quite a journey. Gay, straight, whatever, everyone will see themselves in that couple.
Is it safe to call this in some ways an origin of the Prime Directive? Is that what you guys are getting to?
That’s a very interesting question. We had talked a lot about that. The Prime Directive comes up a lot. The syntax for the Prime Directive has changed in different versions of the show. I would say, when it comes to the Prime Directive, what we’re most excited about is how the Prime Directive can be applied to one’s self.
What I want more than anything else is for the person who’s a diehard Trek fan to be streaming the show, and the kid walks through in front of the TV, or the wife, or the boyfriend, or the girlfriend, and says, “What are you watching?” and suddenly gets engrossed in the scenes enough to sit down.
What we want more than anything else is for these characters to pull you in, and these stories to pull you in, because we’re dealing with universal themes, and real human beings who are finding themselves, and the sci-fi and all that fun is like the icing on the cake. So I hope it’s the show that everybody watches in the house.
Star Trek: Discovery debuts Sunday, Sept. 24 on CBS and CBS All Access.
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