‘Star Trek’ has always been an ensemble show, focusing (at least in theory) more or less equally on every member of the core cast. To the extent that a given show could be said to have a focal character, it was typically the captain. ‘Star Trek: Discovery‘ changed all that, focusing its narrative not on the captain but on the character Michael Burnham, played by ‘Walking Dead’ alum Sonequa Martin-Green. Following the ‘Discovery’ panel at New York Comic Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Martin-Green for a conversation that covered everything from her experiences with fandom to Michael’s relationship with Spock.
Okay, elephant in the room. Can you tell us about your relationship with Spock?
Yes! Well, I will tell you what I’ve been telling everyone. And this is all that I can tease, but it’s a lot. It is a very complicated relationship. It is a very complicated, difficult, relationship. And we dig into it, as deep as we can go. And I really appreciate that it’s far from easy and we go there. I think it’s very courageous, especially considering the canon. I just think it’s very courageous, I think it’s very well done. And there is no stone left unturned, and it’s quite… I don’t know, it’s beautiful, but it it’s ugly, but it’s beautiful.
So Season One was very much Michael’s journey.
With that being the case, what can you tell us about your arc in season two?
Well, I will say that Season Two is deeply, deeply emotional. Season one was very emotional as well, but we go down to another level with Season Two. And there’s certainly action. And the action’s fantastic, but the emotion is really, really deep. It’s very challenging emotion as well. So I hope that you come along and risk your heart. [laughs] Because it will be wrenched from all the emotion. One thing – speaking to that emotion – is that we have a lot to deal with after this war. This war is over now, and now there is time to deal with the aftermath. Now there’s time to deal with the residual effects of this war and the choices that we had to make, and the things we suffered, and the things we lost. We have to deal with them now, and so that’s where a lot of the emotion is coming from. We’re getting acclimated to a new captain, we’re getting a little bit of PTSD from our old captain, you know? There’s a lot of bonds that have been broken, a lot of bonds that have been made anew. So it’s… I love that we didn’t just pick right in and say “Oh, it’s great now!” That’s not how it happens! [laughs] Which is amazing, I think.
How is it working with Michelle Yeoh?
Well, she’s a living legend. That’s for sure. And she couldn’t be more graceful. And she couldn’t be more humble. And she couldn’t be more kind and unassuming. She gets… [laughs] I get at her every chance that I get, like “Everybody come and look at this compilation video on YouTube of Michelle Yeoh in honor in International Women’s Day!” And she’s like, [exasperated] “Sonequa!” And I’m like, “Look what you’ve been able to do! Look what you’ve contributed, at what you’ve achieved! Look at who you are to so many people!”
She was a Bond woman!
Yes! And she was a Bond woman at a time when Bond women were one-dimensional. That was her contribution. She said, “If I’m going to do this, I need to be my own hero.” And she made it happen. And so yes, I think she’s a hero, and I’m just so honored to stand next to her.
Has working with her impacted your performance at all?
Well, she definitely impacts me in the sense that her and I get to be shoulder-to-shoulder, elbow-to-elbow, in the story together. So in that way. But she certainly impacted me separate from this show. Before this show. I was very aware of her and very inspired by her. So I tell her that every day too!
It’s interesting too, the sort of spectrum of Vulcans that we’ve seen over the years, with Sarek being a full Vulcan, Spock being half and half, and now you being fully human but sort of raised Vulcan. Do you think it makes it easier or harder as an actor to have your full humanity at your disposal in that way?
That’s an interesting question. I think that whatever the parameters of your story are, you only have as much room as you give yourself. And I think that if you set out to create – as specifically as you possibly can – within the narrative you’ve been given, you’ll find a lot of room. And you’ll find all the things that you need at your disposal as an actor. For me, being fully human, something that I noticed looking back on it – with hindsight being 20/20 and all – is that there was a sort of floodgate effect that happened with Michael Burnham. Having a cap on everything, there was more power to the boil, being fully human pretending to be a Vulcan. It’s different when you’re half Vulcan, it’s really in your DNA. But when you’re not, it’s all an act. It’s all image. It’s all forcing. It’s all control. It’s all discipline. It’s all these things. So I feel that the water is boiling, boiling, boiling underneath and there’s this really strong top on it. But eventually it blew off in season one, and I think everything came gushing out. And I remember there were people who were a little thrown off by how emotional I was as Burnham. But I do believe it was that flooding effect that happened, where it just sort off… came out. And you still see that happening because it’s still flooding out. You’ve got years and years and years that need to flood out. And a lot of things didn’t get dealt with, because it was easier to put them in the attic than deal with them, because they would make me dig into emotions that I didn’t want to dig into.
You’ve experienced fandom before, through your time on ‘The Walking Dead’. But did you really know what you were getting into when you signed on to ‘Star Trek’?
That’s another good question! I feel like I had an idea because I knew what ‘Star Trek’ was and I knew how important it was. But you can never prepare yourself for the experience. You can never prepare yourself for that, for the panel. You can’t prepare yourself for the stories that you hear, the one-on-one, like, heart-to-heart connections that you get. You have an intellectual understanding, but you don’t know. I knew intellectually what a big deal it was, but I’ve still been knocked off my feet.
The second season of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is set to premiere January 17, 2019, on CBS All Access.