Herding Cats: An Hour with the Star Trek: Discovery Cast Plus One

Photo by JP Luckenbach

If there was any doubt that Star Trek is still going strong as a franchise, the attendance at the Saturday 2:30PM panel in the Marriott Atrium put that to rest. The panel was nearly full as Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz, Blu del Barrio, and Michelle Hurd all took the stage together. It was a rambunctious start, with Cruz and Hurd particularly having a lot of fun with each other as they settled into their chairs. Part of the fascination was the note pads that were provided to them, so Rapp decided to create a self-portrait. And then del Barrio decided to also draw Rapp. Though the tone of the panel would often turn serious and emotional, it was clear that everyone was having fun up there from the start.

One of the early questions was from an aspiring actor who wanted to know if the guests had any tips on auditioning. Hurd recounted something she had been told when she talked to the show runners after booking the job from her self-tape (which was 11 pages of material!). They said through her performance that she told them who Raffi was. She went on to say, “Make a strong choice. Know your characters… We always think that we are trying to please the person who we are auditioning for. ‘I hope this is what they want.’ They actually don’t really know what they want. They wrote something and they are literally hoping that someone walks through that door and brings it to life.”

Rapp noted that he screwed up during both of his auditions for RENT but he still got the role. He said, “People worry so much about being perfect during an audition, and it’s not at all what’s most important. And if the people on the other side of the table or are watching the tape are concerned with you being perfect, then you probably wouldn’t want to work with them anyway. That’s not where the real special stuff happens.”

Much of the conversation during the panel revolved around the queer representation from all of the characters the guests are portraying. One question was about how the actors felt being the face of gay representation, which led to a funny moment when del Barrio said, “I really thought you were going to ask how it was being gay. ‘How is gay?’” Rapp added on that Blu would pull out a flow chart, to which del Barrio replied that it would be color-coded. Hurd finally gave an answer to the question, saying that she was proud to be “loud and proud.” She added that she was “glad that Star Trek is smart enough and brave enough to tell the stories of people who have been here since the beginning of time.”

Cruz also gave a heart-felt response. “I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that in the span of 30 years we have used the medium of television and film and culture to educate and inform people about who LGBTQ people are in reality, and not the monstrosity that some may deem us to be.” He went on to say that in telling all of these diverse stories that we have not only freed a community but a whole society to look more deeply at who they actually are. Cruz said through difficulty of the isolation of COVID, so many more people have come out because, “we started to realize, much like Doctor Culber, that when we’re given a second chance at life, we have to make the most of it. How can we make the most of it we’re not actually living our true selves?”

Rapp added that he was standing on the shoulders of people like del Barrio and Ian Alexander because their generation is demanding to be seen for who they are, not just asking permission. Del Barrio got weepy with that response and replied that they are fully standing on their shoulders (meaning Cruz and Rapp), “so now it’s a weird circus where everyone is standing on everyone’s shoulder.” They went on to say, “There is a huge change within the youth that is growing up right now, that like you said is incredibly loud, mainly out of anger and exhaustion but also able to do so because of technology and because of community. And they’re so fierce… when I met Ian they helped me figure my stuff out in a way that I wasn’t able to do when I was younger.”

A lot of the discourse online about the new Star Trek series is about how political it is perceived to be and one of the questions for the panel was about how Star Trek can be a driver of political change, especially when they have a guest star like Stacey Abrams on. Hurd and Rapp made sure to point out that Abrams is a die-hard Trekkie. Rapp went on to say that Roddenberry believed that “if you hold up a picture of what can be, it can start to take root in what is… Trek has always said that we want to talk about the world that can be, and that in and of itself is inherently political because it is about moving people. And politics is just people talking, what they believe to be possible and what can be possible. So you have these images of these people working together… in our show, we have a Black woman captain, that’s possible.”

Cruz followed up by invoking “infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” He said if that is true, and it is our aim, then progress toward that has to be modeled and that science fiction helps us imagine what the future is going to look like and what it is going to take. “What Star Trek poses as a possibility for humanity, what we’re saying on the show is that we’re stronger together. When there are diverse points of view it’s a more efficient way to the best possible result.”

Photo by Max Caracappa

The whole panel wasn’t quite so heavy, there were questions about pranks and what were their favorite things that ended up on the cutting room floor. Del Barrio said that Sonequa Martin-Green is the easiest to prank and scare because she is so trusting but that she gets really excited and laughs a lot, so it is really fun. Rapp added that Martin-Green will jump on people for fun, with her legs and arms around their back. As for scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, Cruz lamented that a scene featuring him shirtless in the bathroom in Season 2 was cut, while Rapp said that he’s learned not to read early drafts of the scripts because he kept getting attached to scenes that would be cut later.

A slightly odd question was about whether any of the guests were going to be leaving their shows and Cruz and Rapp countered that they were just filming Season 5 on Thursday. Cruz also teased that Season 5 was his favorite season yet, but he refused to say anything more about it.

After the panel, Hurd, del Barrio, Cruz, and Rapp took a moment to chat with the Daily Dragon about found family and the family atmosphere off screen, especially as it relates to the relationship between del Barrio and Cruz and Rapp. At the end of the panel, Rapp alluded to a certain amount of parental sentiment toward del Barrio.

Cruz said, “When we speak to that, we see ourselves and our experiences as young men who started very early in this industry working and being openly gay for so much of our careers, so that when Blu came and joined our cast, we saw a piece of ourselves in them. We wanted to ensure that their experience was better than ours, or at least as good as ours. That’s what we do – it’s called community. We take care of each other. They had come from London, they were going through a life experience, and we wanted to make sure that they felt supported. Especially when we work with them, we’re in a foreign country… it would have been irresponsible had we not stepped up.”

Rapp said, “It’s also parental to tease…”

To which the Daily Dragon had to clarify whether it was parental or whether it was big brother. Del Barrio said it was both. “Which is what I think found family ends up feeling like. It sort of feels like every amalgamation of family in the people that you choose to be there. It does feel like all of them, and it’s at least for me very necessary. I’ve got some family still with me but some not and I would not be in the same spot confidence-wise, feeling safety-wise if I didn’t have these two. I genuinely think of them as parents or at least in that spot for me, which is a lot. I know I am going to be in their life for the rest of their lives.”

Hurd said that she also has a sense of family on Picard. “It’s interesting for me because I do for some reason have this maternal thing which just comes innately, it just happens. But then it’s sort of weird when huge adult human beings are like, ‘I just feel like you’re my mom!’ I think it comes with the territory when you get to bring to life characters that have complexities and insecurities and vulnerabilities and then you’re interacting with characters that have that, we can’t help but be protective and have Michelle’s actual feelings to make sure that the person I’m working with is safe and taken care of, and then the character feeds into that. It’s part of the writing, part of the world of Star Trek and what they do to create a family.”

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.