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By the very end of the first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, you may have seen the spark of a new geeky romance. Then again, maybe not. Clearly, Ensign Tendi and Ensign Rutherford bond over nerdy technical stuff, but does that mean Trekkies are going to start shipping them as a couple? The voice actors behind the characters — Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero — are fully aware of this possibility and are totally ready for it, too. But, what they weren't ready for, at least at first, was the level of specific Trekkie technobabble they had to learn in order to get their roles just right.
Ahead of the launch of Lower Decks, SYFY WIRE got a chance to chat with Wells and Cordero about their work on the new Trek series. While listening to them talk to each other, it's very clear these are two comedic actors at the top of their game. These are professionally funny people who have figured out how to translate their skills into the sometimes difficult-to-pronounce world of the 24th century. Here's what they had to say about learning to talk the Trek talk, how they crafted their characters, and exactly what they think the fandom shipping name for Tendi and Rutherford should be.
**Light spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Episode 1, "Second Contact."**
How much did you two work on your relationship between Tendi and Rutherford? Are they friends? Are they something more?
Cordero: I don’t know [how] this is going to sound. It may sound weird, but who cares. It was easy to work on this. Noël and I already knew each other going into this show. And I think we were just as excited as the characters were to be working on this show. We have a history of improvising together and doing improv, so I think that back and forth and that comfortability was there and it was easy for us to lock in.
And yeah, it’s hard to see which way this is going to go. Are they going to best friends forever or is there going to be some kind of spark in the relationship, who knows? But I think the fact that we’re able to play it kind of open to that is kind of cool.
Wells: Yeah, I think it’s definitely in the episodes and I think that’s part of the tease and totally what the show is going for. As far as how we did it, like Eugene is saying, it was easy. But that’s because Eugene’s great. It's easy to do your work when the people you’re working with are awesome and funny. But that’s how casting works, too. They did a good job casting this! [Laughs.]
Cordero: Yes! They did do a good job. The first time we got to record, I got to see and hear Noël do the Tendi voice. And that energy got me excited to play off of that right away. When we recorded a lot of it, we were still in a studio, pre-lockdown. A lot of the ones where it was the two of us together, they tried to make sure we overlapped and recorded some of the scenes together.
I wonder if you are both ready for Star Trek fans shipping your two characters. We should maybe start braining the shipping name for Rutherford and Tendi.
Wells: Oh! "Rundi."
Cordero: Yeah, "Rundi." That’s good. I think "Rundi" is it.
Wells: Or... um... "Tenderford"? [Laughs.] Actually, no. This is often the case with me. The first time out I’m fine, and then the second time out, I’ll run something into the ground. It’s like I can’t stop myself, I’m saying, "Hey, I have like 10 more bad ideas!”
Noël, I wanted to ask you about how you approached playing Tendi. She seems super enthused and happy to be on the ship, but does she secretly want to be in charge?
Wells: Yes! And the way that I channel that is that it’s just me. I’m going in there being the person who is like, "I’m just here to learn!" But I have a joke about myself that I’m like a megalomaniacal kindergarten teacher. Like, I’m not going to hurt anybody, but I definitely want to rule the world. So, that is for sure Tendi. She wants to be in control because she thinks she knows how to do it right. And she’ll do it in a way that she thinks things will be better if you just listen to her.
Rutherford, I feel, kind of fulfills the Spock or Data role, but not really. Did you look to any of that for inspiration, Eugene?
Cordero: It was more for me, kind of like thinking about the Geordi-type character, in terms of his interaction with Data, and doing all that technobabble-type stuff. So, I watched a lot of that stuff to see how they made that seem so natural. I mean, they were saying these words that are not real worlds.
My goal was to see how Rutherford can make that kind of thing younger and more fun, but you know, still, like math words you might see in a history book. And just that he’s the guy who is excited about all the engineering stuff. So, a lot of it was just making sure it sounded like I knew what I was talking about. And then, using my excitement when I got it to make sure that excitement comes across, too.
But, he’s also not as stoic as a lot of those characters end up being. Even though he’s got the implant and everything, he doesn’t feel as robotic as a lot of those characters end up being played. That’s what makes it extra fun and a little bit new and edgy.
For research on Tendi, Noël, did you dive into anything about her being an Orion?
Wells: Well, when I did my audition, I did not know what was happening. It was like all undercover and all coded. I got sent sides for a different character, and I don’t even think I knew it was Star Trek. So, I auditioned for one character, but then, in the room, they switched it, and had me audition for this other character. They just had a picture of her, and a long line of dialogue and technobabble. And in the first take, the character was just there. I just read it and I was her. They were just like, “What the hell? How did you know how to say all that?” And they were like, "OK, can you do it one more time and can you do it this way.” And then the second time, I couldn’t really do it and I kind of lost her. But they were like “Well, we know you did it one time,” and that was perfect, so essentially, again, the second I start overthinking something, I really mess it up. And that’s just how I am as an actor. I’m either right in as the character or I’m overthinking it.
But. Part of it was just like, “Oh, she’s green. I get it.”
Can you both talk about the balance between the humor and the “real” stakes on Lower Decks?
Cordero: I felt like the only thing that needed the extra care was the technical words. Within the episodes and the way it was written, that stuff flowed really well. I get the vibe of it. So, it’s just mostly making sure we don’t get [anybody] mad in the world who might say, “Actually, it’s pronounced like this.” So, if I say it the right way, then hopefully it gets played in the right style.
Wells: The only thing that gets a little confusing is because it’s animation, you’re talking about something and you don’t know what it looks like. Sometimes you can be talking about something you’re working on, but not actually know what you’re doing. Then they have to explain what you’re doing physically as an animated character. But other than that, like Eugene says, they did a great job writing it. It’s easy to do your job well when everyone else is doing their job and the work is at a very high caliber.
I wonder if we’ll ever get to the point where we get to see you both either in green makeup or with a real cyborg implant. Maybe you could cosplay as yourselves.
Cordero: I’d do it.
Wells: Would I go green? Hmm. We’ll work on the contract.
Star Trek: Lower Decks airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access