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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds focuses on the U.S.S. Enterprise under the leadership of Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the captain of Starfleet’s flag ship before James T. Kirk took the helm. But the new Paramount+ series, which premieres in May, also introduces us to a (mostly) new Enterprise crew, one that includes cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), the savvy helm officer Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), and security officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), who's related to a rather infamous Noonien-Singh named Khan.
SYFY WIRE had the chance to talk with Gooding, Navia, and Chong about their respective characters, including what inspired them both within and outside Trek canon in the portrayals of their characters.
“One of the first things that I thought of was actually Galaxy Quest, which I know is not Star Trek, but everyone knows it is kind of Star Trek,” Navia told SYFY WIRE about her inspiration for playing Ortegas. “There’s this great scene in the movie when they're taking the ship out of dock and… I remember sitting in the theater being like, ‘Yo, it's no joke to be the pilot!’
It turns out that Navia wasn’t the only one on the show who thought about channeling some Galaxy Quest.
“There was one time [when] we were on set, and Anson’s sitting behind me, and he was like, ‘Melissa, have you ever seen Galaxy Quest?’” Navia shared. “ And I was like, ‘Yes, Anson, I think about it every day.’”
Galaxy Quest wasn’t the only source of Navia’s inspiration, however. “My character's last name, Ortegas, was originally a character from Gene Roddenberry's pilot, who was named Jose Ortegas, and he was the navigator,” she shared. “That character ended up becoming a different character, Jose Tyler. And so, for me as an actor, and as Latina, it was very cool to be able to take this character that never made it to the screen, and is now making it to the screen decades later.”
For Chong, a very significant aspect of playing her character was La’an's ties to KHAAAAAAN! (Excuse me, Khan). We know from promotional materials that her character is somehow related to Kirk's most lethal adversary, bit we don't know how yet. But that connection was vital for the actor to understand her confident and very capable security officer. “I just literally took what was on the page and focused more on [my character’s] connection to Khan and what that would potentially come become in the future,” she said.
Gooding, however, had plenty of material from the Star Trek universe to inform her take on Uhura, whom fans get to see in a new light as a cadet aboard the Federation flagship.
“There's so much out there that is canon, that's fan-based, everything I could possibly need at my fingertips,” she shared. “I think the work that was very challenging for me was knowing when to stop and when to not overload myself with information that wasn't necessarily helpful for where the character is when we meet her. As a young cadet, she has no idea about her future of captaining [Editor's note: Star Trek Picard Season 2 establishes that Uhura became a starship captain at some point in her industrious career]. [But] it was difficult for me to put the book down because I consider myself to be very much a student when it comes to this sort of stuff, especially when it comes to reprising an iconic legendary role.”
Gooding didn’t just pull from existing Trek canon, however, she also turned to her fellow cast members and relied on her own experiences to be the third actor to play Uhura on screen.
“We say it takes a village to raise a child and it's definitely taking a village to raise this cadet,” she said. “I want to make sure that I am of course paying homage to the Uhuras before me … the love and support that she gets from this crew and the love and support I get from this cast — it all influences, and it all bleeds into this character.”
You can see the entire Enterprise crew in action when Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres May 5 on Paramount+.