The Hearts and Minds of Discovery

The Trek Track welcomed Mary Chieffo, Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Shazad Latif to a “Star Trek: Discovery Q&A” in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom Friday afternoon. A warm and welcoming crowd lined up to ask questions during the hour-long session. To no one’s surprise, the first question was about the potential of a Pike spinoff. The “Captain,” Anson Mount, spoke for them all, saying that they had no idea. He went on to say that such decisions are made at the corporate level by people “we’ve never met and never will.” They will, quite simply, do a cost-benefit analysis and make a decision. He tried to put the issue into perspective by admitting that, regardless of the future, he has never seen anything like the phenomenon that is Star Trek: Discovery. For him, what he’s been able to do by joining in this particular creative process has been “fairly overwhelming.”

The session offered attendees a number of insights. Mary Chieffo, working on her first series, came to realize that characters developed on the go. They evolved and grew through the creative process of producing a series. The panel had been asked about interactions with the writers, and Mount pointed out that it was a real luxury to have a member of the writers’ room present during the production of each episode. Mount, a graduate of Sewanee and Columbia University, where he earned an MFA, talked about how rare it was to actually have a writer on the set. Most production companies don’t appreciate the value of it. He referred to a script as a blueprint. When an actor sees something that’s off, having a member of the writing team on the set gives you an ability to address it on the spot. Everyone involved, from production staff and writers to the actors, is engaged in a creative process that is growing and developing in real time.

Asked about his evolution as an actor, Mount’s answer was an interesting reflection on the profession in America. He argued that he had to realize that method in acting was a misnomer. For him, method refers to a school while technique refers to an actor. Further, schools of acting tended to create gurus. What he had to realize was that every actor is a unique individual. He found that he had to reinvent himself and “navigate the architecture” unique to each role. The pivotal experience in coming to these realizations was the time he spent as a teacher, for teaching “forces you to clarify everything!”

When asked if they experienced terror when stepping into such iconic roles, it was Ethan Peck who proclaimed, “Yes!” Peck admitted that at the beginning he was unsure of himself and his direction. The early days were particularly difficult as he tried to get at the character of Spock and understand the character’s emotional center. Obviously, Peck got where he needed to be, but more than that he learned a great deal through the process. He admitted that he tended to be internally hysterical, thinking that the role would crush him. Spock, he declared, taught him a lot about balance, and declared that rather than destroy him as he feared, the role had made him stronger.

Becoming stronger and more powerful, encapsulates Mary Chieffo’s assessment of her experience as well. Chieffo argued that she had been spoiled by the diversity of the cast on Star Trek: Discovery, which all agreed was a real strength. What’s needed, she argued, was for her to be a stronger advocate for diversity behind the camera and in all areas of the production process. Diverse voices need to be heard throughout, and stories need to be told through the lens of their experience as well. Her work on this series has empowered her to become “the champion, the advocate,” not just for diversity in the creative process but to become the advocate of stories she wants to see told. She wants to see more powerful, interesting, complex female characters out front. Chieffo is so driven by this she’s getting involved in production and may well find her way to directing in the future.

The bond among the cast echoed throughout the hour as both Latif and Chieffo spoke of the difficulty of saying goodbye to Sonequa Martin Green at production’s end, but Mount touched everyone’s heart when he admitted that his most difficult moment was finishing that final scene of the last episode and then having to put down and say goodbye to his beloved pet dog. As the hour closed, an appreciative audience realized that in the hands of such talented, engaged, and compassionate artists, Star Trek’s future is very bright indeed.

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