One of the breakout characters of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been La’an Noonien Singh, the Enterprise‘s security chief, played by Christina Chong. Although Strange New Worlds has many legacy characters from Trek history, La’an was new. While not a legacy character, she carried a legacy tied to Star Trek‘s past, as she is the descendent of ultimate Trek villain, Khan Noonien Singh. Although aloof and distant in the show’s first season, in season two we’ve seen her open up much more. In episode three, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” she had a brief and doomed romance with James T. Kirk. We caught up with Christina Chong about her character’s growth in Strange New Worlds‘ sophomore year.
Nerdist: At the end of season one, La’an goes on a leave of absence on a personal mission. Did you know at the time you filmed the season finale that La’an would be back on the Enterprise rather quickly, or do you think she was going to be off on a side quest for all of the second season?
Christina Chong: No, they told me very early on that it’s going to look like La’an’s leaving the show, but don’t worry, she’s not. She’s coming back. I didn’t know that she was going to come back straight away. I guessed she would, because otherwise, we can’t spend so much time with her. So I was pretty sure that she would come back quickly.
When Paul Wesley came on to the show at the end of season one as Kirk, few people would have thought he would form a unique bond with La’an, because she’s not a character from the original series. Did it take you by surprise that the showrunners were going to develop this relationship between your character and a young Jim Kirk? And what was it like getting to work so much with Paul?
Chong: So I had an inkling because that scene in the transporter room at the end of the season one, episode 10, I come down with Paul and I was like, “Hmm, why am I with Paul in this? What are they setting up here?” I had an idea, I was thinking maybe they’re pre-plotting something for the next season. And then we were doing episode one pickups, and the showrunners said, “We’re thinking of something for La’an for next season. Romance with maybe Kirk.” And I thought, “Oh, interesting.” So they’d already kind of given me a hint that it was coming. And I’d never seen Paul’s work. I was aware of him, but I’d not seen his work.
And I’d had one brief conversation with him in the first season, since we both have the same acting coach. And she said, “You need to meet Paul before, I think you guys are really going to get on. You need to really meet him before you start working with him. I said, “No, no, no. I’ll just see him on the day. It’s an acting job. I’ll fake the chemistry, I’ll be fine.” And she said, “No. Meet him beforehand, have dinner.” And then we went for dinner and yes, we got on straightaway.
In the finale of season one, they showed a brief moment of La’an joyfully hugging Pike when he comes aboard the Enterprise in the future timeline. Did knowing where she ends up in a version of the future gave her a bit of insight going into season two?
Chong: Not really, because that’s way off in the future. And I’m working with what I have here now within the parameters of the season arc. So I knew that she had to open up. But it’s a long journey from season two to the future version of La’an. But yeah, it was tricky for me to pitch where it was though. Because she can’t suddenly go from being this super reserved security chief to suddenly being all smiley and romantic. So I was having to push and pull it constantly throughout the scenes with the director. I had to figure out where the right barometer was for each scene.
In that same potential future, we see that she goes into the command structure. She becomes a first officer like her mentor, Una Chin-Riley. Is that where you personally would like to see her go, or do you have other ideas about where she ends up, or where you would prefer her to end up?
Chong: Well, I think that makes sense. I would love that because it feels like Una is her older sister-type thing. Una got her into Starfleet. She’s been her champion, her kind of supporter, confidant. And so I think she looks up to her and I think she sees that as her natural progression to do something like Una. So I think that’s completely right for her to be Kirk’s number one in the future.
In season one, La’an had a harder shell. She was someone that was very defined by her trauma. At the end of episode three, we see her come face to face with her own evil ancestor Khan when he wasn’t so evil, when he was a child. Do you feel that meeting him in that way allowed her to put her shame about her family history behind her finally?
Chong: Exactly. In that moment, there was huge growth for her. It was like the acceptance of seeing that little boy looking into that little boy’s eyes and realizing, oh, he wasn’t always that tyrant. He was a little boy and something made him like that. He wasn’t born with it. And so she chose to save him. Even at the risk of what is to come, because she’s not him, she’s not like him. She can’t do that. And now it’s realizing that she doesn’t have to carry that anymore, that good things can come from the bad. Also looking forward, looking to the positives. Looking at not being a victim of it anymore, accepting it, and moving forwards. Actually saying, “Okay, yes, this is me. I am a descendant of his, but I don’t have to carry it within me.”
Speaking of La’an’s trauma, the Gorn is a huge source of misery for her, as the only survivor of a horrific Gorn attack when she was a child. This represents a different kind of trauma that we don’t think she’ll ever be able to get past. Without giving too much away, is this something we’re going to be following up on in season two?
Chong: So that we’re talking about, PTSD really. And so I think with therapy is possible to get rid of those triggers, but I think trauma is always in there somewhere and it’s about managing it. Reframing it. And so getting so up close in person with the Gorn and finding that family, I think that’s all part of realizing that she’s not alone on this journey. Maybe they can overcome and fight the Gorn. So I think it will still be there on some level. But I don’t think she’s going to have it as close to the surface as it was in season one.
We know you’re releasing an EP soon, Twin Flames. What was it like to produce music at the same time that you’re filming a TV show that we know has very demanding hours? How did you find time to squeeze in a second career?
Chong: Well, I actually did it after we finished season two. I just put it out in the universe. I said, “If it’s meant be, it’ll be.” And so I ended up being connected to Ed Sheeran’s producer Jake Gosling, who produced the whole EP, and I was very lucky to work with him. So the single is out already. There’s going to be another single coming out July 7, and then they’re kind of dropping with the show until August 11th when the EP comes out. There are also plans to do acoustic versions, a Christmas Single, and more.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season two drops new episodes every Thursday on Paramount+.