Star Trek: Discovery’s Mary Wiseman On Tilly, Short Treks, and Food Fights

We talked to Star Trek: Discovery's Mary Wiseman about her role in the first Short Treks mini-episode.

Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is one of Star Trek: Discovery‘s most likeable and relatable characters, which is why it’s no surprise that Tilly is the focus of the franchise’s first of four planned Short Treks, mini-episodes set in the world of Discovery.

In “Runaway,” available to watch via CBS All-Access now, Tilly encounters an alien stowaway named Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip) who has come aboard Discovery illegally. Over the course of the 15-minute episode, Tilly helps Po stay off the radar and decide what she wants from her future. In the process, Tilly’s own future ambitions are affirmed. Basically, it’s great.

Den of Geek had the chance to speak to Mary Wiseman last week about how “Runaway” connects to the larger Star Trek: Discovery universe, doing voice work for Star Trek Online (a free-to-play online game for PC, Xbox One and PS4), and what it was like filming that one-sided food fight…

Den of Geek:  I’m curious if you know what went into the process of deciding which characters would get their own Short Treks episode?

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Mary Wiseman: I have no idea, but I feel really lucky that I got chosen.

Yeah, I mean, from where I’m sitting, Tilly is one of the most popular characters on the show, so I think that says a lot that she’s also the one who gets not only Short Trek, but the first Short Trek.

Oh, that’s nice of you to say.

Do you get that sense as an actress from the feedback you’ve gotten from the show so far?

I definitely have gotten feedback, and a lot of people dress up as Tilly. It’s still kind of hard to wrap my mind around, but it’s exciting. It makes me feel really good that she’s been embraced as much as she has personally and otherwise. I’m just going along for the ride. It’s crazy.

We get to see Tilly having a conversation with her mother in “Runaway.” How was that for you as an actress to get that piece of your character’s puzzle?

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Oh, I was so grateful for that scene. Tilly talked about her mother a couple times, which always left me quite curious, and I kind of heard whisperings among the writers and what they think that relationship was like. But to actually get a scene where I kind of feel that frustration. I get to track that relationship, how they go back and forth, what cycle they fall into as a mother and daughter. It was invaluable to me, for the rest of Tilly’s journey also knowing that puzzle piece.

You spend most of your Short Trek building a relationship with this new character Po. Why do you think she was a good character for Tilly to bounce off of and for us to learn more about Tilly’s character through?

One thing is about Po is that she is younger than Tilly is. Po is an adolescent, and we see Tilly has this relationship with her mother—who is someone she looks up to, who is a caregiver—that is a bit fraught. And then Tilly comes across a bit younger person. She is frustrating, and Tilly is trying to give and Po won’t accept it. The difference [between Tilly and her mother] is in the way that Tilly decides to deal with Po.

That echos many more of her relationships on Discovery. When she first came on, she’s the cadet. She’s the lowest person on the rung. People don’t really get her. And then a couple of more experienced people reach out their hands and greet her and help her on her way, help her back. Tilly used that example to do that with Po, I think.

Yeah, I love that. So I’m curious what the relationship between the Short Trek and the Star Trek: Discovery series. If people don’t watch the Short Trek, will they be missing vital information for Season 2 or is this more like a supplementary thing?

It’s definitely supplementary. You’ll still absolutely be able to watch Season 2 and get it all out. Short Trek, we think that it exists somewhere in that era of time, after the first season, maybe during the second season, but it’s absolutely supplementary. You will miss nothing if you don’t see it. But, that being said, please see it. It’s a great opportunity for Tilly to be on her own and have to work through crisis on her own, without all of her mentors around.

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Yeah, there’s so much good character stuff in here that I think you don’t get as much–the smaller stakes story, I think you don’t get as much time for in the series so I really enjoyed watching it.

Oh that’s great, thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Yeah, is there any chance, have you talked to the writers about this or did it come up, that we’ll see Po or Tilly’s mother again?

I really don’t know. I think it would be interesting to me if we did. Her mother continues to be part of her world.

I’m always really curious what new directors bring to different stories and I know you’ve had a few female directors over the course of the first season and with this short. Could you talk about working with Maja Vrvilo and what she brought to the Star Trek universe?

She’s amazing. She’s a really lovely director who also a love for the community and for the story of things, which as an actress is super valuable to me. Having a woman in that spot, I mean, the crew is predominantly male. To have a woman at the top of that chain, as the leader is informative for what we do every single day, being Starfleet officers in a time when gender is something that’s taken for granted. I don’t know, I think that we take a lot of instruction and information away from that, watching women at the helm.

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Definitely. I know you recorded some voiceover for the Star Trek Online game. Had you ever done anything like that before?

Oh my gosh, no. It was truly a first-time experience for me. I was nervous going in, but the people there made me feel so comfortable and I was so happy with this part of Tilly’s story and that I got to be part of it. We start at the Academy and see a different part of her life, which is really cool.

That is cool, I always want a Star Trek or a Starfleet Academy TV show. Maybe this game is for me.

I know right? Saved by the Bell in space would be so great.

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I’m curious, doing specifically a voice performance, did that change at all your performance of Tilly? 

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I was nervous because I’d never done it before. I didn’t know what it would feel like and if it would feel true to Tilly, genuine to the story that we’ve been telling thus far. But then I got in there and just the words that they wrote were so good, it just felt like Tilly, it felt like they got her voice and her joy. So I went in there and it felt super right, right away. It felt like Tilly but at a different point in her life, really happy with it. By the end I was really, really great at it.

Cool. And the DVD and Blu-ray for Season 1 are coming out in November. I’m curious, for you personally are you excited? I know there’s some people who maybe aren’t as comfortable, don’t know as much about subscribing for CBS All-Access, who might be more comfortable with DVD and Blu-ray format. Are there people in your life who are like, “I’m gonna watch the show now that I’ve found it on DVD”?

Some people just like to have a tangible object in their hand and I respect that, and I’m super glad it’s gonna be available to even more people, you know that’s what we want is for people to see our story. For me, personally, I don’t know, I was talking to someone else about this, like having a tangible object you can hold in your hand of your work is very exciting and I’m super excited to get that DVD/Blu-ray in my hands.

I noticed that one of the featurettes on the DVD is about the on-set food stylist specifically, which I was especially curious about after watching the “Runaway” short because of the food fight scene.

Do you work with the on-set food stylist at all? Or is that something that completely happens elsewhere?

OK, I absolutely do. If you watch the first season, Tilly is always eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and this is something we came up with together that I thought would be appropriate. So you can see a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then some celery sticks and carrot sticks. It’s like an elementary school lunch. I absolutely have worked with them. It was really fun getting to talk with them about that. They were so accommodating.

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The one-sided food fight in the short was a very smelly situation. I thought it looked really cool and it was really fun but I will never forget how it smelled to have all that food just on the floor.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 premieres in January, but you can watch Short Treks episode “Runaway” right now on CBS All-Access.

Kayti Burt is a staff editor covering books, TV, movies, and fan culture at Den of Geek. Read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter @kaytiburt.