Anthony Rapp Boards 'Star Trek: Discovery'

by Joel Martens

Rage Monthly

Sunday October 8, 2017

Who can forget the inimitable words spoken by Shatner's Captain Kirk, beginning each episode of Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek" television series? "Space: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Known for its progressive civil rights viewpoints and for taking on deeply ingrained cultural taboos, the series has always broken ground. Illustrated in part by the series multicultural cast, through the analogous prejudices faced by Spock because of his parent's interracial marriage and an especially memorable moment when Kirk and Uhura kiss, one of the first inter-racial kisses on American television, which was banned in several states. It's hard to believe that took place nearly 51 years ago, especially considering the challenges we're still facing on the racial and LGBT front in 2017.

Subsequent shows and films took on other taboos, and though women have been central to the various film and television crews, it wasn't until 1995's "Star Trek: Voyager" that Captain Kathryn Janeway [Kate Mulgrew] would finally become the first female captain to serve as a central character in a Star Trek television series, later becoming a Starfleet admiral for the 2002 feature film "Star Trek: Nemesis."

LGBT representation, however, has been even slower to arrive on the bridges of any "Star Trek" franchise, which has spawned six TV series and 13 feature films. Gene Roddenberry himself spoke in 1981 of having to overcome his own homophobia in a David Alexander interview in "The Humanists"; "My attitude toward homosexuality has changed. I came to the conclusion that I was wrong."

Conversely, there have been notable out cast members, such as LGBT sage and activist George Takei (Sulu) and Zachary Quinto [Spock] from the latest film franchise, who wrote via zacharyquinto.com about his reason for coming out: "It became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it - is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality," he wrote. "Our society needs to recognize the unstoppable momentum toward unequivocal civil equality for every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizen of this country."

The first clearly-defined LGBT character's moment finally came in the most current film franchise version "Star Trek Beyond," in which Sulu is briefly pictured with a male spouse and their infant child. A moment that wasn't without its controversy, most notably coming from LGBT champion George Takei. Though delighted there was an LGBT character, he told "The Hollywood Reporter," "Unfortunately, it's a twisting of Gene's creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate." Pointing out that Sulu referenced having a daughter in the original series, and since the current film takes place before that, Sulu would have had to first been gay and married, only to then go back into the closet years later.

Plotline difficulties aside, the moment has finally arrived aboard the latest starship for a regular same-sex couple [fully supported and praised by Takei]. Characters who will be played by costars Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz -- who coincidentally both began their careers together in Broadway's famed play "RENT" as characters Mark Cohen and Angel, respectively. Rapp plays science officer and fungal expert Lieutenant Stamets, while Wilson Cruz will play his partner, medical officer Dr. Hugh Culber.

Rapp sat down with The Rage Monthly to talk about his role and what it means to him.


Much has changed since your early days with "RENT." What has taking on this new "Star Trek: Discovery" role been like for you, and how did it happen?

It literally came out of absolutely nowhere... I had no idea they were even doing a new "Star Trek" series. I was offered the role without auditioning, which is something that never happens. I've always been a really big geek and a super sci-fi fantasy nerd. "Star Trek" was one of the many things I've enjoyed, but I wouldn't call myself a huge Trekkie, because to me that would be overstating the case. There's plenty of bigger Trekkies out there, but it's always been a part of my conscious and something I've enjoyed. To dive into the world and be a part of the legacy, has been incredibly gratifying and meaningful.

I can't imagine what it must be like to step into such an iconic franchise, there's such an intense legacy around the film and television series. You were at Comic-Con for it recently; what was that like?

It was super fun. We had been in our bubble for months doing the show. Tiniest little drips and drops of information had been coming out, but this was our first public event. It felt great to be public with our passion and the ideas we were bringing into the world of "Star Trek." It was a unified and unifying experience, and I think it was very well received. I understand within the fan community there's an understandable skepticism, there's a tremendous amount of protective energy around it. Whenever you care about something so much you're going to want it to be good. I'd like to believe the many steps we've taken have demonstrated our good faith and honor.

I remember when the first series came out, and watching subsequent versions on television and in film. They've each have had their merits and successes and it's so interesting to me that people continue to be so passionate about it.

It taps into so many profound things. I remember recently, I was asked by a reporter from Denmark or Finland and she asked me why I thought it's been around so long. One of the things that came to mind was that we've always gazed up at the sky and wondered what it would be like out there. I think people from the Stone Age wondered what it was like out there-it taps into something so primal-exploring the unknown and that "final frontier" touches on something deeply human. At its best over the many years, "Star Trek" has used the lens of science fiction, the lens of looking at these alien cultures and races, as a way of exploring what it means to be human. Touching on really important, meaningful themes and peopling it with characters of substance. I think all of those things combined make it something that lasts.

One of the earmarks of the films and of the television series is that it has taken on social issues well before when they were politically correct. I think it's true with the gay characters being introduced on Discovery. Did you feel any kind of pressure around taking this on?

I wouldn't call it pressure. Any time I take on material, I like to be able to stand behind it. It doesn't mean however, I'll agree with everything the character says or does. I've played killers, a eugenics proponent on "The Knick," and I didn't agree with one word that came out of his mouth, but what I believed in was the story being told. In "Discovery"'s case, if there were something that felt really out of sort I couldn't stand by, then yeah, I'd feel a certain kind of pressure. Everything Aaron [Herbert] and Gretchen [Berg], our show runners, and the writing staff have put forth have sold that he's a human being. He's a complicated human being, just like every other complicated human being, and I'm excited to bring him to life. The fact he's in a relationship with a man is just another fact about him. To me, it's representative of where we are now, and more of where we'll be in the future. It won't be such an issue.

I'm gratified to hear that in the end, he is basically just another character on the show. Being gay doesn't define him or set him apart from others, it's just a part of who he is.

Yes. Not to say that it's minimized, but it's akin to Sonequa's (Martin) character being a black woman; there's no material that addresses either of those facts. She just is who she is and just does what she does. Similarly, Lieutenant Stamets is a gay man, who's gay, a scientist, persnickety and smart.

How would you say this show compares to the other series?

I would say ours shares DNA with all of them. I'm only deeply familiar with the original series, "Next Gen," and I'm only in the first couple of seasons of "Deep Space Nine." "DS9" was the first of the series that did long-form storytelling, with six episode arcs. Even in coming seasons-knock on wood; (laughs) hopefully we'll have so many seasons-It will be a long form story, so that's different. And, just by virtue of the visually stunning sets and camera equipment at our disposal, along with the practical effects of 3D printing with props and costumes, that sets us apart from the others. Our series is a 15-episode arc, relationships between the characters aren't static and grow and change or evolve over time. Events happen and have ripple effects.

Is there anything that really surprised you about being a part of the series?

I'm not sure that it really surprised me, though It's been super gratifying and fun to find out who among my friends are Trekkies. (Laughs) Lashaun is a wonderful actress, I've known for years and I was actually doing a benefit with her the day I found out. When I told her, she could barely breathe, because someone she knew was going to be a part of it. Beyond that, honestly, I'm not sure anything has been super surprising. I feel like I had a kind of primer in fandom by being a part of "RENT," although "Trek" fandom is a world unto its own.

I remember in the original series when Kirk and Uhura kissed and it created such a controversy. That's one of the things I love about the power in television, it really does inform the people who watch it introducing them used to things they may not have been comfortable with before.

I totally agree, just by virtue of the fact that when you see the pictures of our cast, there's an array of people in the picture together. Yes, it's just an image, but images are also signifiers and meaningful to people. It may seem like a silly thing, but there was a Trek fan, a young Asian woman who posted a picture of herself cosplaying as Picard. She also posted a picture of Michelle Yeoh and said, "Now I can actually be the captain, I don't have to imagine myself as an old, white English man. I can be an Asian woman as the captain." That was very cool.

How nervous are you about the series premiere?

It's such an interesting time for "Star Trek: Discovery" to hit the world because of the topics that it takes on. Intergalactic interspecies relationships and all of that, there are some interesting parallels in our current world. We've been in our little bubble and it feels like finally we're about to give birth. But, I do believe our show will resonate with some of the things going on today. Hope beyond hope, I've only seen the trailers and the clips-a teeny bit of one minute here, one minute there-the couple things I've been in when I've had to re-record dialogue or add little extra things. Those glimpses have been great, but they're not finished; they don't have the score, they don't have the final visual effects and they're out of context. I'm happy with what I've seen, but I'm really looking forward to seeing it all in context and being a part of this. I never envisioned myself being a part of any of these things. As a reader of comic books, as a lover of "Lord of the Rings," a lover of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek"... I never really thought, "I'm gonna do that one day," never once.

I guess that what comes of "Boldly going where no one has gone before..."


"Star Trek Discovery" streams new episodes on Sundays on CBS All Access. For a full schedule, go to cbs.co. It is also available to stream on CBS All Access at cbs.com/all-access

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