When people think about ‘Star Trek’ “going boldly…,” it’s often in the sense of some sweeping, dramatic turn. It’s the nature of the phrase, really. But sometimes the small moments can be just as bold. Like, say, a shot of two men brushing their teeth together. It was that small moment at the end of ‘Choose Your Pain’ that established Lieutenant Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber as the first openly gay couple in the televised history of ‘Star Trek’ (with the Kelvin timeline iteration of Sulu having been subtly – and almost inconsequentially – outted at the cinema in ‘Star Trek Beyond’ a year earlier). Sadly, this groundbreaking (for ‘Star Trek’) relationship seemingly came an end with Culber’s shocking death in ‘Despite Yourself’, though we have since learned that he will be appearing – in an as yet unknown capacity – in the second season. While at New York Comic Con, we were lucky enough to speak with both Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, who of course play Stamets and Culber, respectively. In the course of our conversation, we discussed Stamets’ character development, working with Tig Notaro, and desperately tried to figure out what Mr. Cruz could even say.
So Wilson, what kinds of questions can you even answer?
Wilson Cruz (WC): I will attempt to answer all of your questions. [laughs]
Anthony Rapp (AP): That’s a very political answer!
Were you guys disappointed at all to see the relationship between your characters seemingly end as quickly as it did in the first season?
AR: I didn’t know what was going to happen. Like, I don’t always want to know all the things that are going to happen, because I’m in this show and the character doesn’t know so it’s nice to kind of discover as it goes on. What the producers had told me was that something rough happened, so I didn’t know what that meant. We broke up, we got sent to a different ship, we died, whatever.
WC: He doesn’t like to know ahead of time. So, of course, he comes to me, “Now what happens?” [laughs]
AR: So it was intense, but it also felt, like everything else, it was done in a way that felt very… It wasn’t just arbitrary. You know, it was meant to have an impact. And it was meant to be shocking. Not just for shock value, but deeply upsetting. And so that… I mean those were all reasons to do it that were beyond just any sort of like half-assed anything. So it was great also to learn that our story would continue in what I think has turned out to be a really interesting way.
WC: I didn’t know until about a month before we shot the episode. And as I’ve said, it gave me a time to process my Puerto Rican… response. [laughs] But as you’ll see throughout the second season, there’s a real reason why things happened the way they happened. And that had to happen in order for him to go through what he’s about to go through. Which for me, was really satisfying just as an actor, to be able to do. And as a fan of the show, right? That we get to tell the story in a real fleshed out way. But it doesn’t come without a price.
Anthony, you’ve said in the past you’re something of a ‘Star Trek’ fan.
AR: Well, I’m not a hardcore Trekkie like my friend Bill is, but yes.
WC: It’s all relative. [laughs]
Does having that sort of background improve your performance or do you think it would be better to go in without that knowledge or baggage as the case may be?
AR: Well, I can say that it’s just been a source of inspiration to me, to be able to watch the incredible work that has been done over the years by wonderful actors, and the writing and the ideas and themes that have been dealt with have made me really that much more inspired to be a part of it than I already was. Before I got cast, I had never seen ‘Next Gen’. I’d been working as an actor at a time when there was no Tivo. So I couldn’t… I just wasn’t… I missed all of it. I was working. So to go back then, and witness the incredible work of Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, and the writing of episodes like ‘Darmok’ and ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’ and ‘Measure of a Man’… To me, that’s the epitome. Because I was already familiar with the great stuff of the original series. To see how that could continue through the age made me, like, so happy that I got to be a part of this. And I watched the original series But having that knowledge of the original series as a kid all the time, and I’d seen the original movies and the J.J. Abrams movies. It’s always been a part of my overall nerd love. But then I did the deep dive into understanding how it’s continued. But having that knowledge of the original series… Knowing the ways and seeing the ways that our show will stitch up into it, especially given I know that some people are really skeptical about that – even the other day, someone on Twitter accused me of lying that we’re in the Prime Universe, for instance.
WC: That was yesterday. [laughs]
AR: I find it really satisfying as a long term fan of these things to see how much care is being taken to make sure that all that stuff does fit together. But it is asking something of the fandom to have faith. And as we all know, many fandoms have been betrayed often by things, so I understand sometimes why they’re skeptical. But they can have faith.
Some of Stamets’ rough edges were smoothed out over the first season. Does that continue this year?
AR: To some degree, but there’s moments. [laughs] I was looping the other day – rerecording dialogue and adding some new dialogue – and Tig Notaro and I have a couple of sparky moments that were very fun to play.
Speaking of Tig Notaro, she’s known for a very dry, deadpan style comedy. Did you ever have trouble keeping it together when you had scenes together?
AR: Yes. Mostly because she has a terrible time memorizing her lines. [laughs] She will be the first to tell you this. When we were sitting in the chairs between takes, she was running the lines perfectly. Then she gets on set and she’s like, “What is it? What is it? Huh? What?” [laughs] But then she does a great job ultimately.
WC: I enjoyed her thoroughly.
AR: She never panics, though! She’s never like, “Oh God!!” She’s just like, “What? Huh?”
She doesn’t strike me as the panicky type.
AR: She’s a phenomenal human being.
WC: You’ve never met a more even-keeled person.
AR: Yeah. Joyful to work with.
WC: She’s so great. So funny.
The second season of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is set to premiere January 17, 2019, on CBS All Access.