Acting and Activism with Star Trek: Picard’s Michelle Hurd

Photo by Steven M. Diaz

The Trek Track at Dragon Con 2022 welcomed Star Trek: Picard’s Michelle Hurd to the Sheraton Grand Ballroom Friday afternoon for a free ranging Q&A. Moderated by DCTV’s Crispy, the conversation began with him asking Hurd about her impressions of her first Dragon Con. Beyond the cosplay (which she finds “amazing”) Hurd is excited to be able to see and catch up with colleagues at the convention. She pointed out that while the world of actors and acting is small, they don’t tend to spend lots of time together and she values opportunities to catch up.

Hurd’s focus on people dominated the hour. The child of actors and activists, she finds getting to work on Star Trek very exciting for a number of reasons, but most especially because “Roddenberry wanted to tell the story of all of us.” Focusing on the community, the “all of us” is a real passion to Hurd. Her goal, she declared, is to find ways to “help the many.”

An important way to help is to bring attention and light to problems and challenges that people face. She pointed out that one of the great luxuries of science fiction lies in the fact that you can safely tell stories, “stories of everybody,” that in another context would be problematic. This is the fundamental power of art, but it is a defining characteristic of Star Trek. The franchise’s long history of inclusion and representation was the reason that as a child it was one of the few television programs Hurd’s family watched together. Hurd’s father wanted his children to be “seen” and Star Trek was one of the few shows in which that happened.

Having the chance to tell stories about people and exploring their “perfectly imperfect” nature is what brought her to Picard. Her audition for the role of Rafi Musiker came with little notice and at a very busy moment in her life. Asked to film an audition tape on short notice she was a bit dismissive until she read the character breakdown. She described an immediate connection. Rafi was “known” to her and hit “close to home.” A “courageously flawed” character, this was the type of role that an actor wishes for and dreams about. After reading that breakdown, Hurd absolutely wanted the role.

In her portrayal of Rafi she’s gotten to really explore the complexities of both the human condition and society writ large. In season one she got to tell the story of one person’s battle with addiction. It was important to Hurd that her character be seen as both struggling and valuable; that she still be a part of the community even though she grappled with the challenge of addiction. It required courage to tell Rafi’s story, and Hurd was up to the task.

Season two, with it’s time travel context, allowed her and the cast the opportunity to examine social and cultural issues that define contemporary American society. A stand out illustration of this was the examination of immigration. That arc “cast a light” on the issue. It examined and considered immigration in America from an angle most never see: that of the immigrants and those committed to help them. It was the power of art, and more specifically Star Trek, that allowed her and her cast mates to safely conduct that examination.

Sensitivity and empathy are defining traits of Michelle Hurd. It appears in her portrayal of Rafi Musiker and shapes her advocacy. As a union activist, anxious to “help the many,” Hurd looks for opportunities to make a difference. On Picard, Hurd insisted that the hair and make up team include artists of color. She spoke of experiences in which the make up people on a show had neither the experience or make up necessary to work with her skin tone, instead sending her to special effects for a base. For her, its important for producers to recognize the reality that a diverse cast requires a diverse team to support them. The Picard production team listened, and the make up team was diversified. Michelle Hurd celebrates humanity, warts and all, both on the set and off.

Star Trek: Picard is available on streaming on Paramount+. Michelle Hurd is appearing here at Dragon Con on panels Saturday and Sunday.

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