Anthony Rapp can currently be seen as Lt. Commander Paul Stamets on Star Trek: Discovery, but he is well known to an array of audiences from stage and screen. He was greeted with a standing ovation as he arrived in the Marriott Imperial Ballroom Friday at 11:30AM for his solo panel.
Throughout the panel, Rapp was warm and gave thoughtful and thorough answers to the questions that covered his time in RENT and If/Then as well as plenty of questions about ST: Discovery. Right off the bat, the audience encouraged Rapp to lead us in a sing-along, which he started in a low register, and then saved a real moment of singing together for the end of the panel.
The showrunners of ST: Discovery were specifically looking to cast an out gay actor for the role of Stamets. Rapp found out about the project when his agent called and said that they wanted him to be part of the show, though initially in a smaller role. Rapp immediately said yes because he’d also been a fan of Star Trek and is a certified geek in his own right. However, they were still looking for their Stamets when they realized they already had Rapp as part of their show and offered him the role. A friend of Rapp’s who is a much bigger fan of Star Trek helped him prep for the role by giving him a curated list of episodes to watch.
Having the role led Rapp to read more about the real Paul Stamets, an American scientist who studies fungi. Rapp did say that there was only a little overlap between the real and fictional Stamets: they both have a love and a passion for science and are incredibly loyal people, but that’s pretty much where it stops. “The real Paul Stamets in my experience is not in any way persnickety… or mean.”
One of the key things about having Rapp as Stamets and having Wilson Cruz play his husband, Dr. Hugh Colber, is the authenticity that both actors bring to their roles. They are the first openly gay characters in the Star Trek franchise, and now have essentially adopted a non-binary character, Adira, played by Blu del Barrio. When asked whether Rapp had any input or influence on that part of the story, he said that while the writers and creators are very open and collaborative, that he did not have any input on it.
“I have come to love the idea that Stamets doesn’t know what’s coming, so I don’t need to know what’s coming until the script comes,” he added. “Knowing in advance won’t necessarily give me anything.”
Rapp also said that he immediately fell in love with del Barrio, and he was very excited that the story developed into what it has because it felt very organic and special. He also said that he and Cruz have become mentors to del Barrio and Ian Alexander, who plays Grey Tal. He said that both actors have taught Rapp and Cruz a lot about being authentically yourself and standing up for yourself in a world that feels hostile to you.
While they have finished filming all of Season 4 of ST: Discovery, they haven’t officially been greenlit for Season 5. But Rapp said that he expects they will be as one of the tentpoles of the streaming service Paramount+.
When asked about the thing he’s most proud of, Rapp didn’t hesitate to say, “I’m really most proud of being part of the original cast of RENT and being on Star Trek: Discovery.” He went on to say that he was really proud to be part of two such culturally important pieces of art that mean so much to so many people. “I can stand behind every word that is said in them and the principles and values that they stand for.” He said also that he is really proud of his work as an actor and of his activism, trying to use his platform for good.
One role that Rapp would love to play and hasn’t (yet) gotten the chance to is Iago from Othello. “I think it’d fascinating to explore someone who is so destructive.” Rapp was also unequivocal in declaring that his first love is for the stage, even though he feels privileged and lucky to be in his first role as a series regular on TV. He particularly loves the rigor involved in going up night after night and telling the same story but making it special for the people who are there on the night. But at the same time he loves the variety of doing a TV show.
With the new movie of Johnathan Larson’s (creator of RENT) show Tick, Tick, BOOM! coming out on Netflix soon, the audience was thrilled to have Rapp tell us some memories of Larson. He said that he wasn’t expecting Andrew Garfield, who plays Larson in the movie, to look so much like him and that it was intense for Rapp to watch the trailer. Rapp said that one of his favorite memories of Larson is when he had his “peasant’s feast” at Christmas when he normally would have all his friends over to have a pot luck, but the year of doing the off-Broadway production, he had the cast over instead. Larson spoke really eloquently about why he had created RENT and what it meant to him and the people he had lost that they were now going to bring it to life. Because Tick, Tick, BOOM! is so autobiographical of Larson, Rapp said that it is always intense for him to watch the show and he is really looking forward to seeing it. “So much of Tick, Tick, BOOM! is about his own fear of failure and it’s just another reminder that he didn’t live to see the kind of success he was about to experience. It’s a lot to be with.”
Though Rapp is new to Dragon Con, he is not new to conventions, having co-created Broadway Con (https://www.broadwaycon.com/) for the lovers of all things Broadway. Rapp is also an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons, running his own game at home. He sported a trans-inclusive Pride colored D20 on his t-shirt for the morning’s panel.
After the panel, Rapp kindly took a couple of minutes to chat with the Daily Dragon.
Daily Dragon (DD): I know you just got here, but what do you think of the con so far?
Anthony Rapp (AR): Well, there’s a very warm, sweet energy here, that’s for sure.
DD: Yes, you are going to find that all weekend long. We don’t often get people who sort of cross over from Broadway to Sci-Fi. Is it at all different for you getting this broad range of questions from RENT to Star Trek?
AR: I always thought there was sort of a Venn diagram of RENT fans and Star Trek fans and other fandoms. I think it’s not mysterious to me why there is that for those two properties.
DD: With the emphasis on social justice and equality and equity…
AR: Yeah, and community. Whoever you are, whatever kind of person you are in both of those pieces you are fully celebrated as yourself and encouraged and allowed to be yourself. So I’m not surprised by that at all and it makes sense to me.
You can see Anthony Rapp along with other guests from Star Trek: Discovery Saturday at 4PM and Sunday at 1PM, and catch up on the series on Paramount+.