Going All In with Star Trek: Discovery

Photo by Alex Hall

DragonConTV’s Main Events streaming went live from the Marriott Atrium Ballroom Saturday at 4PM for the Star Trek: Discovery Q&A. Erin P. MacDonald moderated the session that featured Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Noah Averbach-Katz, and Rekha Sharma. The hour was an intriguing mix of conversation about Star Trek, its importance, and the commitment required to do it well.  

The panel began with a question about the transition these actors went through as they became part of the Star Trek universe. Now that they were veterans, what advice would they give to the next generation of Star Trek actors?  Martin-Green launched the conversation by encouraging them to make sure they understood the importance of the work. Wiseman reflected upon the scope of this universe, declaring that despite her familiarity with Star Trek, “nothing” could have prepared her. There is nothing quite like it and an actor must live it to know it. 

When asked about their worst day on set, Martin-Green echoed the theme of commitment. She told the story of being buried during the filming of the Season 3 premier. When preparing for the scene, she was quite excited. When the moment came, she was “ready to go!”  Then they buried her. The weight of the soil and the darkness challenged her confidence so much that to get through it the crew had to swap out the dirt covering her helmet with rocks and make sure she had a pinpoint of light upon which she could focus. She fought through three takes, and while the day stands as one of her worst on set, the final product was dynamic and quite fulfilling. 

These actors take their craft seriously, which led to a conversation about the differences between stage and film, along with the transition that must occur when one moves from one to the other. Each requires the actor to draw from a “different place,” Wiseman declared. Theater is an “energetic and empathetic” medium in which actors pull from the energy of the audience. Acting for film, with its absence of an audience, is more intimate. Instead of the synergy between actor and audience you get the silent, intimate focus of two people speaking to one another. She described it as the difference between “pouring your heart out” and “telling a secret.”  The key is authenticity. 

Authenticity requires going “all in.”  When asked about the emotional demands of the episodes and where her emotion comes from, Martin-Green pointed to her imagination and the depth of the writing. She doesn’t pull emotion from her life. Instead, she suspends disbelief, takes ownership over the role, and goes all in. At that moment, Rapp wanted the audience to know that this was not exaggeration. Her commitment is both “immeasurable” and “not common.” 

That commitment helps the actors manage the complexity of playing the same character across different universes (Prime and Mirror). Rapp pointed out that the actors talked about that and emphasized that it was the same soul shaped differently by the world in which they lived. Martin-Green, who had to play a psychopath in the mirror universe, found it fascinating but difficult. Mirror Burnham is driven by hate and a lack of empathy. In theory it’s fun as an actor to play that, but the ugliness and weight of doing it is, she declared, “exhausting.” 

The work produced out of such commitment has an impact on the audience and can change lives. Rapp illustrated this in response to a fan’s expression of appreciation for the inclusiveness of the series. Earlier in the day at the Dragon Con Walk of Fame, a gentleman came to Rapp’s table to share with him the story of his daughter, who is coming out and has drawn strength from Stamets. In addition, watching the interaction of Paul and Hugh has helped her conservative grandparents, long time Star Trek fans, open their hearts to their granddaughter. This was an important moment in his family’s life, and Star Trek had made a real difference. 

By the end of the hour, an appreciative audience had not only enjoyed the opportunity to visit with some of their favorite actors on their favorite show but also considered what it means for an actor to go “all in.” It was, indeed, an hour well spent. 

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