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Patrick Stewart’s upcoming series reviving his iconic character Jean-Luc Picard will be very different in tone from the currently airing Star Trek: Discovery, executive producer Alex Kurtzman told fans Sunday afternoon at the show’s stop at PaleyFest.
The Discovery showrunner and captain of the ever-expanding Star Trek franchise shared few specifics of the highly anticipated untitled series during Discovery‘s PaleyFest panel Sunday afternoon in Hollywood beyond calling it a “thoughtful psychological portrait” of the respected StarFleet captain in a later chapter of his life. “The only way this show works correctly is if it’s different from Discovery,” he said of the series that will begin shooting next month and joins multiple Star Trek shows in development, including CBS All Access’ Lower Decks animated series, a Nickelodeon kids-oriented installment and Michelle Yeoh’s Section 31 spinoff — all of which will feel very distinct from one another, executive producer Heather Kadin told The Hollywood Reporter from the PaleyFest red carpet.
On stage, Kurtzman also teased that he was at Stewart’s house Saturday going over the Picard script. “I sat at Patrick’s kitchen table and heard him read the first episode,” he said. “I almost cried.”
Emotion was also heightened on the Discovery panel, as Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays protagonist Michael Burnham, was asked what it meant to lead a Star Trek franchise. “It lives in the unspeakable. Being a black woman in the midst of all this other diversity we’re championing, I can’t really describe it,” she said. “The gratitude and honor I feel to be so highly favored among these people….”
Gesturing to the cast, Martin-Green was too overcome to continue. Mary Chieffo, who plays the Klingon chancellor L’Rell, stepped in and credited Martin-Green with setting the tone on set in Toronto. “She started organizing game nights and dinners. We go out and support our bridge crew [played by local actors] when they have other things in town, and that comes from Sonequa,” said Chieffo, who began to choke up herself. “Her willingness to shine her light empowers all of us to do so.”
The panel wasn’t all tears, not with Tig Notaro on stage. The beloved stand-up’s recurring role as acerbic engineer Jett Reno came about from her 20-year friendship with Kurtzman, but she confessed that after her first two episodes, she feared the exec producer might be having second thoughts. “[Someone] sat on set and just fed me my lines,” she said of her trouble with the franchise’s signature “Treknobabble.” “I wrote Alex an email apologizing: ‘Please don’t feel like you need to keep me. No hard feelings.’ After that email, he decided to make my dialogue even harder. So that’s what I’m doing on this show: It’s a big joke to Alex Kurtzman. I was on my own show that took place in Mississippi [Amazon’s One Mississippi], and now I’m in space. Natural progression, I guess.”
Kurtzman’s faith in his castmembers extended to Doug Jones and Ethan Peck. Jones’ alien Starfleet commander Saru has undergone a fundamental evolution in the second season, losing his fear instinct in a twist that Jones said he did not see coming. “The character was developed with the understanding that he’s based in fear. I also live my life based in fear and anxiety,” he admitted. “So I understood Saru before, and now I’m inspired by him. The writers have given me hope for my own future.”
Kurtzman said the decision to change Saru’s character was partially inspired by Jones’ performance abilities. “Doug’s range is so extraordinary that it felt like we’ve told this story now of what it means to live in fear. What happens when we go the other way?” Kurtzman said, promising that the show would continue to explore Saru’s relationship with his home planet of Kaminar.
As for Spock, Peck prepared for the iconic Vulcan role by not only watching Leonard Nimoy’s performances but also reading his memoirs, I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock, as well. “I probably watched about 30 episodes trying to internalize the sound of him, the cadence,” he said. “I didn’t want to mimic him. I wanted to absorb what I could and output whatever Spock is to me.”
Kurtzman praised Peck’s deep research as one reason he knew the actor was right for the legendary part, even though the highly secretive production used a pseudonym for Spock during auditions. “[Peck] had been doing lots of work on the material even without bringing the attachment of Spock to it. That’s what I was looking for: Who’s the human being in there?” he said. “He brings a volatility that is fresh and interesting.”
Even the visual choices for Spock on Discovery are tied to story. “He’s clearly not the neat, ordered, manicured Vulcan we’ve seen,” says Kurtzman of the facial hair on Spock, who joins Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) in possessing one of Discovery‘s magnificent story-motivated second-season beards. “It says a lot about the state that [they’re] in.”
Latif, meanwhile, shared that Tyler’s second season arc — after the first-season reveal that the Starfleet lieutenant was unwittingly a Klingon sleeper agent — was about trying his hardest to make reparations for and avoid further damage to others, from ex-lovers L’Rell and Burnham to murder victim Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz): “He’s trying to stop hurting people as he goes through the series.”
Speaking of Culber, Discovery‘s second season has paid off on the promise that one-half of Star Trek’s first openly gay couple wasn’t gone for good, but with a heartbreaking twist, as the doctor broke up with Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) shortly after resurrecting with all of his old memories in a brand-new reconstituted body.
“I see it as a man who’s come back from the dead and is trying to figure out how to cope,” said Cruz, defending his character’s decision. Rapp promised that this wasn’t the end of Stamets and Culber’s relationship arc: “Things continue to evolve. We’re grateful we get an authentic, complicated and rich story to play.”
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