We chatted to Star Trek‘s Ash Tyler and Captain Gabriel Lorca, aka Shazad Latif and Jason Isaacs, about their Discovery characters, shared trauma, fan theories and more…
What was your relationship to Star Trek before you were cast?
Shazad Latif: My granddad was obsessed with it, my uncle had every episode on VHS. I grew up with TNG, which was on after Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.
Jason Isaacs: Yeah I’m so much older than you. I watched the original series when I was a kid, crammed on the couch with my brothers and parents. We always argued about which of the existing three channels we should watch, but we never argued when Star Trek was on, so I watched TOS on repeat many many times and I’ve watched nothing since then. None of the other series.
Did any of that pre-knowledge inform your performances?
SL: When I got the job I watched stuff in order to enjoy the world, but not to influence any sort of creative process.
JI: I’ve no interest in being a pale shadow of Bill Shatner’s genius, but then they told me the story and it’s such a story of our times, born of our times, it’s one long 15-hour rich, complex novel. When someone dies you’re still upset a week later whereas in TOS whatever happened you were rebooted to zero. I just wanted to make sure I was doing nothing like what you’d seen before.
There are a lot of purist fans out there, how have you reacted to some of the negative feedback?
SL: When we make it I’m enjoying what we’re doing and the rest we don’t have any power over. It’s like a painting, if people don’t like it then they don’t like it. We can’t really do much about that.
JI: I thought it was just a sign of how unbelievably passionate and protective they were of this legacy, and before we were on the air they were reacting to a trailer or something. Micro-analysing every frame of it. Now that we’re on, I’m a bit disappointed that the dissent has died down. I liked when people were outraged by things, and mostly everyone’s loving it all over the world now. I seek out those people who are upset because they’re always more passionate, first in line to watch it and first to hit the internet afterwards. They’re probably more die hard fans that anybody else.
Every new series that came along was hated instinctually by everybody and slowly they were won over. I think we’ve won them over. Quickly, which is a bit of a shame.
How is it hitting a global audience all at once, which is still a relatively new idea?
JI: You don’t think about it when you’re doing it – I’m just looking in Shazad’s eyes trying to get the scene done – and then if you thought about the 100 million people who are analysing your every move and where you’re putting your hands you couldn’t get out of bed.
Your two characters are especially bound together because of how they met and their shared trauma – how are you approaching that underlying aspect?
SL: Well we’ve got seven more hours to explore exactly that, and everything’s come to a head now.
JI: The great joy for us as actors is that the characters are so rich and deep and they can do what we all do in life. They can be inconsistent or egotistical or heroic. They can change, and their relationships change and deepen and they carry all of that history and interaction, which has never been the case before in Star Trek.
Episode five was a turning point for the narrative of the show, how was it taking the lead on that?
SL: It was fun doing an episode in one space.
JI: It was like doing a play. A lot of it’s like doing a play because, for all the massive spectacle and different planets and creatures, we’re all in one giant green box in Toronto. So all of it’s much like doing a play with the same actors and the same sets. But when you go to work and do your scenes, you don’t think about it. You’re the lead in all of your scenes. There’s a great lesson in drama school – if you have one line in a film you’re the lead in the story of your life that overlaps with the thing you’re being paid for by one mind. Everyone’s the lead in their own life journey.
Shazad, you’ve probably been asked this by everyone today, but are you a Klingon?
JI: I can’t believe you’re not asking me – there’s a fan theory that I’m a Romulan!
SL: That’s not the same thing. There are crazy fan theories which is, like you were saying, the power of Star Trek fandom, they’re great detectives and some things they get right and some they get wrong.
JI: I love it. The madder they are the better – superb!
How do you feel about that way of watching TV now, where it’s kind of a detective game?
SL: I don’t know why you’d want to know so much before, I get that it’s because they love it.
JI: Well it’s a mystery that they’re trying to guess. The big thing for me, not the theories because one of the great things about this Star Trek particularly in our dark and troubled times, our credits run and the debate starts. The worst thing you can be is something where the credits run and people say “What shall we eat?”. It actually affects people and they’re thinking about it. Although it’s on Netflix it’s not bingeable so there’s a week to talk about things like there is with Game Of Thrones. The thing that bothers me – networks have asked me to live tweet shows I’ve been in before, and I want people to watch the telly not look down at their phones or iPads. Watch it and talk about it afterwards.
Is one of the reasons you signed on because of how prevalent those issues that Star Trek has always been about are right now?
SL: It wasn’t really that I was interested, I didn’t really get to choose. I had to take the job (laughs). I’m not in that position yet. But yeah that’s the whole point of Star Trek.
JI: Yeah you take good acting jobs that are interesting and challenging, and something you haven’t done before. But I’ve got two teenage girls and if they’re looking at the news and reading newspapers, they’re being told – unlike when we were growing up – that people in charge are childish or racist or homophobic or sexual predators. The world seems a very unsafe place and more and more divisive. There’s the rise of the right and so to get to do the job that we love but also be part of telling a story that sends a message of optimism. It says that maybe in the future, if we get it right, we won’t be judged by gender or the colour of our skin or our sexuality. Even species on our show. There’s an extra bonus for us that you’re putting something good out in the world when we’re getting pumped some very toxic stuff from powerful people.
Was there a moment on set where you got giddy about being on Star Trek?
JI: I was always giddy because I could barely fit into my costume. Nobody eats when you’re wearing those things because it’s like wearing on external gastric band. There’s quite a lot of giddiness on a physical level.
SL: The phasers; the transporter room is always fun.
JI: First time I said “energise” and looked around wondering why everyone else wasn’t saying “Fuck he just said energise!”. They’d already been there a few weeks.
What was easier to master – the action or the Star Trek-ian dialogue?
JI: Star Trek-ian? I like it.
SL: Stamets, Tilly and Saru have a lot of it.
JI: Displacement small hub drive. That’s not easy to say. We don’t have to speak Klingon, and we get to do a second take. And God knows we do way more than second takes when you have to do a bunch of science gobbledigook.
SL: Throwing your neck back a lot when taking a fake punch…
JI: Yeah getting hit by a torpedo and the ship rocking from side to side without looking like an idiot. One of the big things, weirdly, is what to do with your hands. Because there are no pockets in space and there are no props. Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker in TNG, came to set one episode and he had a top tip. He said “Are you having trouble with your hands?” and I said “Yes I am! How the fuck did you know that?”. He said he did a lot of crossed arms acting, and gave me the tip never to start a scene with my hands on my hips – you won’t get them off.
So is there a really good gag reel in our future?
JI: Who knows, I don’t know what they’re doing with the gag reel.
SL: There should be loads of footage.
Obviously there were behind the scenes changes at the start of the show…
Did that affect you at all?
SL: Well they were writing as they were going, there was a general thing where we might get scripts a little bit later…
JI: We’re in Toronto, and all the blood and guts is being spilled in LA. So we’re pretty insulated from it. There’s not one successful series that hasn’t had that as part of its genesis. Game Of Thrones, one of the most successful shows in the world, essentially reshot most of its pilot, and my friend is on Westworld which they also reshot a lot of. Lord Of The Rings was shooting forever and Titanic went twice over budget. So we’re in pretty good company with our troubled genesis.
If there was any other captain you’d serve under, who would it be?
JI: I would never serve under anyone.
You’d be the captain!
JI: I’d have them pushed out of the airlock immediately.
SL: Actually I wouldn’t mind serving under someone else…
JI: How dare you! How fucking dare you! That’s an instant demotion.
Jason Isaacs, Shazad Latif – thank you very much!
Star Trek: Discovery season 1 is available now on Netflix.