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Star Trek's newest star, Amrit Kaur, explains how damn hard it is to get on the Enterprise
Barring flashbacks, or some kind of kooky time-travel telepathic projection in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, the latest episode of Short Treks will mark the final appearance of Anson Mount's Captain Pike in the contemporary Star Trek landscape. (Unless of course that rumored Pike series Trekkies want gets greenlit.) And yet, in the newest Pike-era Short Treks, "Ask Not," our beloved Enterprise captain is hardly the focus. Instead, the story is all about newcomer Cadet Sidhu and a very rigorous test she endures to get a spot aboard the famous starship.
Sidhu is played by actress Amrit Kaur, who brings an impressive cocktail of vulnerability and strength to the role. In the first few seconds of the episode, she's tossed a phaser and told to guard a prisoner: Can she do it? Will she crack?
SYFY WIRE chatted with Kaur ahead of the debut of "Ask Not" to get inside the mind of her character and figure out what any of this means in the larger scheme of Star Trek.
**Spoiler Warning: There are full spoilers for "Ask Not" below.**
There are two major twists in "Ask Not," one that happens at the beginning and one that happens at the end. The first twist is that Cadet Sidhu, stationed on Starbase 28, is tasked with guarding a mysterious prisoner, who turns out to be Captain Pike, accused of mutiny. But the second twist is one from classic Trek canon; this whole thing is a giant test, designed to see if Cadet Sidhu would crack under pressure. Prior to this, both Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley) and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) faced tests like this in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the TNG episode "Coming of Age," respectively. But, as Kaur explains, the background of Star Trek hardly mattered for how she approached the part.
"I was not a Trekkie, but I do love sci-fi. Growing up I had more Bollywood and Indian cinema. So I didn't really get access to American film until I went to university" Kaur says. "So, I didn't really take the experiences from other episodes to play this part. Because that's not really what my process is about."
Kaur describes her acting approach as "substitutional personalization," which means, all the science fiction elements become real people and things from her own life, allowing her to feel the emotions more fully. Which, when you consider how allegorical Star Trek is in general, this process makes a ton of sense. It also explains why the character of Sidhu and Kaur herself seem so similar. The part wasn't written for her, but she reveals that once she got it, the name of the character was changed. "This was an open-ethnicity part. But, after they cast me, they made the name more Indian," says, before delving into how she tackled the role in her head.
"My process for acting is very based on the personal. So, I had a personalization of my studio [of actors], that I study with, and they are like my family. I imagined they were on the USS Bowman. I wanted them to be safe and my heart would break if they were going to die," Kaur explains.
"I really have to credit my acting coach, Michèle Lonsdale Smith, who told me: 'This is a dream part. This is a dream part. And this is fantastic. But you're not going in to do Star Trek. You're going in to tell the story.' So, I had to tell the story of a woman who is smart, her husband is on another starship, the USS Bowman, but at the same time, she's faced with someone she's admired [Captain Pike] who she has to imprison."
In the end, it turns out Captain Pike was testing Sidhu, the starship Bowman was not in danger, and everything was a complicated way of making sure she was the kind of person who makes difficult decisions in tough spots, something Pike values for members of the Enterprise crew. The story ends with Sidhu meeting Spock and Number One and taking her station in engineering on the Enterprise. Kaur explains this moment of acceptance like this:
"It was pretty brutal. But I think once I'm out of it, I think I know how hard it is to get into the Enterprise. So, in hindsight, I'm like, it makes sense, but yeah, it was a devastating test. I know that the process to get into the Enterprise is difficult; I've seen this process with other people. So, in that sense, I'm not too angry. I'm just happy it's done and I got in. And working with Anson was a direct parallel; even though he's very far into his career — he never made me feel like I was new. He made me feel like I belonged. It's about time!"
But what a minute? When does this happen in the Trek canon? If Cadet Sidhu just joined the USS Enterprise, could we see her again? Does this all happen before Discovery season 2 or after? If we did get a Pike series, would Sidhu be that hypothetical show's version of Cadet Tilly?
"Right now, it stands on its own," Kaur says, explaining that the show's creative staff didn't make it clear when the story happens in the Trek canon. "But, I don't really need to know that stuff, you know? I just need to make the circumstance real."
So for now, this is not only the last we'll see of Captain Pike but also of the wonderful Cadet Sidhu. Unless of course, something changes. Amrit Kaur is ready to beam back on the Enterprise should her bravery be needed again.
"Of course I'd come back," she says. "I would be so grateful. Knock on wood. This is me knocking on wood."
Short Treks: "Ask Not" is streaming now on CBS All Access.