We are only a few episodes into the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, but we're quickly getting to know all of the show's main characters. While the first few installments treated us to a team of people who could have been described as grumpy at best and sociopathic at worst, we're at last getting to see what everyone's softer side is. That includes Science Officer Paul Stamets, played by former Rent star Anthony Rapp. We got the chance to chat with Rapp about the big developments with his character, and his feelings about all things Star Trek overall.
After being introduced in episode three as a less than friendly fixture of the series, the academically inclined Stamets has begun to warm up to series lead Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). "Part of what's happening in these last few episodes is the idea of Stamets being able to get back to science," Rapp said, referencing the popular social media phraseology "I'm gonna science my way out of this." He said, "Lately, we've been using science for the sake of making things better, as opposed to using science for making something warlike. So that is returning the character of Stamets to his reason for being, which brings out some brighter colors in him ... The fact that there is this scientific collaboration between Stamets and the other characters is incredibly invigorating and meaningful to him."
Unlike most previous Star Trek series, the characters on Discovery haven't exactly been bosom buddies from the get-go. We see this in Stamets', shall we say, "salty" interactions with his fellow crewmates thus far—particularly, with his commanding officer Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and the conscripted mutineer Michael Burnham. "I think that Lorca has to earn Stamets' respect, and that may come from some indication that Lorca has some noble purpose for Stamets' science beyond just winning the war," Rapp said. "As for Burnham, she demonstrated to him in the previous episode that she has really good scientific skills. She's earned a place of respect and collaboration."
As for if and when the Discovery crew would become more familial, Rapp says we need to be patient. "One of the things that I love about it, though, is that we'll have to earn it," he said. "We don't start out that way. Any longtime Star Trek watcher can agree that so often every relationship starts out as fixed, and everyone is set in their dynamics and and doesn't change much over the course of the series run, with the exception of Deep Space Nine, and on this show we'll grow and change with each other."
As you may be able to tell from that last remark, Rapp is a lifelong Trekker himself, and a proper geek on the whole. "I was a fan of The Original Series and movies, but it was always alongside my other geeky things that I have always had great affection for," he said. "But I always just loved it, along with Star Wars, and comic books, and Lord of the Rings, and Narnia as a kid, and then as an adult Harry Potter, these things really speak to me."
Even among all these great properties, Star Trek had a special place in the actor's heart. "What always spoke to me especially in Star Trek's case, I've always been drawn to the idea of exploration and using science to solve problems," Rapp said. "I missed a lot of the shows in the '90s, because I was always working then and barely watched any television. But since joining the show, I did a deep-dive, and watched a ton of The Original Series and The Next Generation, and I've just started on the second season of Deep Space Nine. I feel like from what I've seen, our show has the most in common with The Original Series and Deep Space Nine."
Rapp's character is significant in Trek canon for a very specific reason, as he's the first openly LGBT crew member on any of the five live-action Star Trek series. As an out LGBT actor himself, Rapp is very aware of the responsibility of playing such a significant role. "One of my very best friends is a huge, longstanding Trek fan, and he's gay, and he's told me how long it's been since Trek fandom has been wanting this, and asking for it," Rapp said. "We don't take the responsibility lightly."
By "we," Rapp is referring to himself and the actor Wilson Cruz, who plays his life partner, Dr. Culber, on Discovery. Another out LGBT actor, Cruz's working relationship with Rapp actually dates all the way back to their time together on the Broadway stage in Rent. "I've known him for 20 years, he played Angel in Rent when I was still in it, so we actually did the show together for a bit," Rapp said. "I've been incredibly proud of all the activism work he's continued to do over the years. So it's this really cool coincidence that he's getting to play Dr. Culber. I just feel really fortunate that I get to share this experience with someone that I know, and that we have a good friendship and bond already."
Aside from the rather important role of being Trek's first out LGBT main character, Rapp also made a bit of Trek history recently of another kind: the first ever F-bomb in Star Trek canon, which he dropped in a scene in episode five, alongside the character of cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman). "It was really fun, because it felt really true," he said of the moment. "We were aware of it. We were very aware that, 'Yeah, this is the first one.' If you're going to drop the F-bomb on Star Trek, make sure you drop it during a scientific breakthrough! It's a word that's been around since the time of Shakespeare, so why wouldn't it be around in a couple hundred years time?"
Nearly halfway through season one, Discovery has had one of the best first seasons of any of the modern era Star Trek shows so far, and Rapp realizes the days when fans could wait a year or two for a show to "get good" are long over. "We don't get many shots at this, in this day and age of the so-called 'Golden Age of Television,'" he said. "You have to have something to say right away, or it won't matter. And since we luckily have the resources at our disposal, and we have an incredibly passionate group of writers, and we can really go for it. And we have a deep and abiding love and respect for what's come before, and a deep desire to really push it forward and make something new and relevant for today."
Star Trek: Discovery is available on the CBS All Access streaming app, and new episodes drop every Sunday night.
What do you think of the evolution of Anthony Rapp's character on Discovery so far? Be sure to let us know your thoughts down below in the comments.
Images: CBS All Access
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