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As far as anyone knows, Section 31 Captain Leland in Star Trek: Discovery does not have a first name. On Twitter last week, actor Alan Van Sprang joked that he thought of Leland like "Cher" or "Beyonce." But after the most recent episode of Discovery, fans have a lot more questions about Leland than just his name. In "Perpetual Infinity" Leland is essentially possessed by the rogue A.I. known as Control. From here on out, Leland's fate seems to be a mash-up of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or one of Skynet's minions in the Terminator franchise.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Alan Van Sprang just after Leland's transformation in the pivotal Discovery episode. The actor revealed that not only is Star Trek the most secretive show that he worked on, but that he made one very specific choice in how to play Leland after Control took control of his mind. And yes, we talked about the Borg.
**Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 11: "Perpetual Infinity."**
When you did the recruitment scene of Georgiou in Season 1, did you know you'd be getting into something much bigger?
No, not all. When Aaron Harberts and Gretchen [Berg] called me up to do the part, I didn't have a huge idea about what Leland and Section 31 would have to do with the show. So, when Season 2 started it kind of went from episode to episode. As it progressed, it just grew in my face. I had no idea. I thought I might only be doing a few episodes. Everything is very secretive with the show, which is great. But I was never given a solid arc, to grow with. It just happened, happily enough, episode to episode. It turned into something pretty amazing.
Because of all the secrets, did you create your own backstory for Leland?
I mean, I always played him as my own protagonist. I have my own idea of who he is; he's fallible, he's human, he's trying excel in Section 31, he'd grown up in Starfleet with Chris Pike. So I had that relationship. And then with Michelle [Yeoh], in terms of the knowledge that Leland had about Georgiou being from the Mirror Universe. I just played it as if, I knew but I didn't know. But, as I said, each time we got a new script, I was as informed as the rest of the cast, crew and the audience.
Okay, so now, you've been taken over by a killer robot.
Yes. That's true.
So, what research do you do? Did you watch 2001: A Space Odyssey? Did you watch The Terminator? Did you watch dare I say it... the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation?
[Laughs] Honestly, I didn't really do much to prepare for it. I was informed and privy to all of that stuff you mentioned. I certainly knew about the Borg. I'm a big Next Generation fan, I've seen those since I was in high school, right along with the Terminator. But my take on doing something like that was that there's a fine line. Is Control a robot that's becoming a human or a robot pretending to be human? I think it's the second one, so I tried to make it as natural as possible.
With Leland — as himself — I always tried to make him cool and coy. My eye lines were distant, I'd never give people too much eye contact. But, once he became this A.I., I set my eyes directly on the other cast members. That's the change I made. This computer is smart enough, that it was trying to portray a human as part of its being. So, I tried to play it a bit more human than just being robotic, like the Terminator or whatever.
So, you're making more eye contact with people now that you're a robot than you ever were when you were a human?
[Laughs] Correct. I didn't want to make a big production out of becoming an A.I. I'm trying to humanize it. I didn't want to walk differently or act all that differently.
What was it like to fight Michelle Yeoh?
First of all, it is an honor to be on the show and to work with her. When I found out I got to fight her, it was a thrill. She's such a pro about it. The way she navigates it is completely seamless. It was like she was weaving together a sweater or something. If I was moving a certain way, she would correct me. She's a dancer as well, so it became a dance. She's so trained and easy-going. I fight a lot — in the shows I do, I fight all the time. But Michelle made it completely effortless. She gets all the kudos. She was a massive asset to that fight. It was a dream come true.
There's a Section 31 show on the horizon, not to mention Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. Are you in either?
I don't anything about it! I was as surprised as anyone when [the Section 31 series] was announced. I wish I knew! If you find out, let me know.
Leland's fate and whether or not Control is the Borg will all be revealed soon. Star Trek: Discovery's final three episodes air over the next three weeks on Thursdays at 8:30PM ET on CBS All-Access.