Bringing Something “Strange” and “New” to Trek

Photo by Michael Hampton

The first big room panel of the Trek Track kicked off with three guests from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Friday at 10AM in the Hyatt Centennial II–IV ballroom. Jess Bush, Anson Mount, and Ethan Peck joined Trek Track director and moderator Garrett Wang to talk all things strange and new.

While the audience was sorting itself out, Wang opened with a couple of questions about how much they knew about Trek before getting their parts, and some of the costuming choices for Captain Pike (Mount) and Spock’s (Peck) characters between their appearances on ST: Discovery versus Strange New Worlds. Bush said that she was aware of Star Trek prior to being cast as Nurse Christine Chapel but not the full scope of it or its cultural impact. She said when Trek fans talk about the show, “your whole body lights up.” Mount, on the other hand, was a Trekkie growing up, so he was fully aware of what he was doing and getting into and the legacy involved with the show. When Discovery was casting for Captain Lorca, Mount read for the role and was eager to get on the show, but when Jason Issacs was cast instead, he was grateful to be able to pivot over to Pike. Peck talked about his audition process where he was at first given a dummy script to read with no indication of the character that he was being considered for. But when they called him back, it was more obvious from the second script that he was reading for Spock. After recording his second audition, he felt very good about his chances and how it had all gone, even though he was nervous leading up to it. But then the production staff called him and asked him to come in again because the sound hadn’t recorded on the tape. Peck ended up having to do the whole thing over again.

When it came to the question of the hair and makeup differences, Wang said that he imagined there was a “captain’s salon” there on set just for Mount to be able to get his hair that high, or as Wang put it “Johnny Bravo that hair”. Mount said that for Discovery his hair was originally long and was going to be higher but that the wind on the Pinewood studio lot was so intense it was causing problems with the hair style. So, he eventually asked the hair department to cut it, which is why it is different for Strange New Worlds. Wang also called attention to some of the fan-made t-shirts and references to Pike’s hair, including one t-shirt that refers to it as Pike’s Peak.

As for Spock’s look, when we meet him in Discovery, he is in a very different place psychologically and emotionally, and his look reflects that. The beard Spock has was Peck’s own facial hair and he wore wigs, but now on Strange New Worlds, it is his own head of hair.

One of the audience questions was about how much research into their characters from the existing Trek canon the actors did and how did they balance staying true to that canon but also making the characters their own. Peck noted that there was a great team of Trekkie writers in the room who are dedicated to consistency and constancy, but also that there was an appropriate balance of source materials between them as actors, the legacy content, and what was on the page.

Mount said, “I believe in doing my research. I also believe in stealing.” He went on to say that he did study Jeffrey Hunter’s performance in the original Star Trek pilot episode, but ultimately, he realized that he was playing Pike at a different time in his life, which allowed him to expand on that performance.

Likewise, Bush studied Majel Barret’s performance in preparing for Chapel. She also worked with a dialogue coach to get her American accent in tip-top shape. She said that in her native Australia, if you want to work as an actor that you have to have a perfect American accent, but she worked with the coach because an accent is more than just how the words sound; it’s how you hold your body and the cultural rhythms and gestures that go along with it. Most importantly, Bush said that with her Chapel she wanted to “do service to the things women weren’t allowed to do in the original series.”

Mount was asked about how he felt when he learned he was going to get to do the famous voiceover at the start of each episode, and he said it was his number one question for show-runner Akiva Goldsman. He was very excited when he learned that he was going to get to do it, but they didn’t record it until the series was finished. Mount said he found himself rehearsing it in his head in many ways, some of which he demonstrated for us, including a high-pitched version that Wang commented would have made for a very different opening. He also talked about “not trying to out-do Shatner” when he finally did record the opening monologue. Mount said that when he met Shatner, he told him about recording it and that Shatner responded, “I don’t think I ever got it right.” Which blew Mount’s mind as he considers him to be the gold-standard for everyone else who has ever gotten to record those famous words.

One of the audience members, who noted that they are a nurse themselves, asked Bush if she brought any of the hardship from the last couple of years for the healthcare profession into her portrayal of Nurse Chapel. Bush first took the time to thank them and any other people in the profession for all their hard work and dedication during these pandemic times. She did go on to say that she wanted to honor that work in her performance as well.

Mount was asked about the first time he got to sit in the captain’s chair on the bridge, especially as a Trekkie, and he said that when he sat there for the first time, he got strangely emotional. He talked about how he used to play Star Trek as a child with friends of his and that in that moment he realized he was sort of still doing it. Mount said it felt like a full circle moment to him.

On the question of legacy, Peck was asked how he balanced being the grandson of Gregory Peck with trying to forge his own path as an actor. He said that his perspective on that legacy has changed as he got older. When he was younger, it was something that he wanted to reject, but that now he realizes that he is really lucky to be part of that legacy.

All three actors teased a little bit of what they are looking forward to in the upcoming Season 2. Peck said that he’s hoping they get to explore Spock’s relationship with Sybok, while Bush said that there is a lot coming up for Chapel that is new for her. Mount said that he has pitched some things to the writers that they are all very excited about and they are making some things that he is particularly interested in. He didn’t say much, but he did note how pleased he was with the writers’ decision to bring in the Gorn as an enemy instead of going down the well-worn Klingon path.

Mount, Peck, and Bush took a moment after the panel to speak with the Daily Dragon about whether they were nervous about how the Trek community would respond to the show. Bush said that before the show came out, she was. “We hadn’t seen it ourselves and knowing that we have such a legacy to live up to and build upon was nerve wracking. But I had my first convention last week and it was f*cking brilliant. I love it so much. You guys, as you said in your words, are rabid in the most beautiful way.”

Peck said that the response has been both validating and exciting. “I was super terrified that I would be rejected, and it’s been sort of the opposite. I am so proud and just satisfied and thrilled to be here and a part of this.”

Mount likened it to buying the best Christmas present for your loved one that you can think of. “Of course, you have butterflies to see their face when they open it. But we’ve all bought the wrong present at different times in our lives. So, you kind of temper that excitement. We were pretty sure we had something in the can, but Ethan reminded me the other day that we were shooting in a bubble without even supervising producers there much of the time. We’d come to the end of the day and just…” He shrugged.

“They would just let us rip, for like months” added Peck.

“Maybe it’s good?” continued Mount. “But when I saw it before it aired with the screeners, I was pretty sure that we got what we wanted. In terms of the response, I expected people to like it, but I did not expect, 98% on Rotten Tomatoes was in the offing. It’s been just a continual blessing the response from the fans to our work.”

Author of the article

Max sees to the needs of her kitty overlords; polices the grammar on all kinds of published material including signage, menus, and food packaging; and cuddles with her wife while watching her favorite shows (Our Flag Means Death, Killjoys, Sense8, and Doctor Who among them). She continues to be far too excited to be working for the Daily Dragon.